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Afghanistan: Return of the Warlords
Human Rights Watch Briefing Paper
June 2002

(download PDF version - 20 pages)
Key Sections

I. Introduction

II. Subversion of the loya jirga process

III. Threats to women's security and their rights

IV. General Insecurity and Lawlessness

V. External Factors in the Reemergence of the Warlords

VI. Conclusion and Recommendations

  • Halt assistance to the warlords
  • Expand security forces
  • Counteract the influence of warlords during the loya jirga process
  • Institute a system of accountability for violations of human rights in Afghanistan

Related Material

A Human Rights Watch Question and Answer on Afghanistan's Loya Jirga Process
April 17, 2002

Afghanistan: History of the War
Backgrounder, October 2001

"Taking Cover: Women in Post-Taliban Afghanistan,"
A Human Rights Watch Briefing Paper, May 9, 2002

Afghanistan: Human Rights Watch Key Documents

VI. Conclusion and Recommendations

In many ways, Afghanistan today resembles Afghanistan in the early 1990s, when regional commanders were consolidating their power before the onset of the savage civil war that followed the fall of the Soviet-sponsored communist government. Many of the actors, domestic and foreign, are the same as a decade ago. However, in 2002 the international community has a direct stake in, and considerable influence over, Afghanistan's future. It is crucial that the United Nations, the United States and its coalition forces, and Afghanistan's neighbors act to prevent a reprise of Afghanistan's bloody past.

Any future Afghan government, along with the international community, the United Nations, the United States, and Afghanistan's neighbors, must:

Halt assistance to the warlords.
The direct and unconditional assistance to local commanders in the south of Afghanistan, undertaken by different parties and nations for different reasons, should immediately stop if regional security and stability is to be restored. All outside actors who are directly supporting local military forces should immediately halt this assistance and coordinate further assistance to local areas and commanders through the United Nations, and the interim authority (and its successor).

U.S. coalition forces should immediately cease their direct support to individual local warlords and try to create with the interim authority (and its successor) a more stable centralized command structure. All armed groups outside the control of the central government must be disarmed. The possible involvement of other countries, and the ability of local warlords to augment their income by engaging in extortion, cross-border smuggling, and the drug trade, greatly weaken one of the central tenets of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, namely, the use of reconstruction aid as an instrument of ensuring good behavior by local commanders.

All donor nations must rigorously enforce their "conditionality criteria" to ensure that development aid is not supplied in areas where local commanders cannot ensure security and basic human rights.

Expand security forces.
The loya jirga process does not signal the end of the need for international involvement in Afghanistan's reconstruction. The reemergence of regional warlords at a time when any Afghan central government still lacks the ability to project itself beyond Kabul places the burden on the international community to help maintain the security necessary for civil society to take root in Afghanistan. The need for expanding peacekeeping forces in Afghanistan is not going to go away. Recent events, and the deteriorating security situation detailed in this report, demand that the members of the U.N. Security Council, and particularly the United States, revisit and reevaluate their refusal to commit resources to expanding security throughout Afghanistan, both in the south and to other areas of Afghanistan.

Counteract the influence of warlords during the loya jirga process.
The Special Commission and United Nations should rigorously challenge all candidates who do not meet the eligibility requirements set out in the Special Procedures for the loya jirga, which require, among other things, that representatives affirm that they do not have histories of committing war crimes or other serious human rights abuses or of engaging in drug smuggling or other criminal activity. Furthermore, the Special Commission for the loya jirga process should use its "appointment power" carefully (the commission is allowed to appoint over 400 representatives directly to the body) to ensure that the loya jirga is not dominated by commanders who are hostile to the peace process.

Institute a system of accountability for violations of human rights in Afghanistan.
The Bonn Agreement included institutions designed to begin the process of establishing accountability in Afghanistan, such as the Human Rights Commission and the Civil Service Commission. These institutions have not yet begun effective operations. The United Nations and the international community should assist these institutions to robustly investigate and address past and present human rights abusers. The international community should support efforts to promote justice for human rights violations, particularly by strengthening Afghan institutions of justice that respect internationally recognized norms.