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Pakistan, Iran, Russia Fueling Afghan Civil War
(New York, July 13, 2001) The United Nations Security Council should impose a comprehensive embargo on all military assistance against all warring factions in Afghanistan, Human Rights Watch urged today.

The Role of Pakistan, Russia, and Iran in Fueling the Civil War

July 2001

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"The international community has failed to hold Afghanistan's warring factions accountable for violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. Civilians are at the center of this conflict, and their well-being must be at the center of the solution."

Joost Hiltermann
Executive Director, Arms Division

In a new report released today, Human Rights Watch accused Pakistan, Iran, and Russia of providing military support to Afghan factions with a long record of committing gross abuses of human rights. Other states in the region have also contributed to the ongoing war.

"The civil war in Afghanistan has been absolutely disastrous for civilians," said Joost R. Hiltermann, Executive Director of the Arms Division of Human Rights Watch. "An arms embargo is the only way to stop the human rights violations they have suffered."

The 55-page report, "Crisis of Impunity: The Role of Pakistan, Russia, and Iran in Fueling the Civil War in Afghanistan," details the nature of military support provided to the warring parties; the major transit routes used to move arms and other equipment; the suppliers; the role of state and nonstate actors; and the response of the international community. Human Rights Watch conducted research on military assistance to the Taliban and the United Front over a two-year period, traveling to both Kabul and areas of Afghanistan under United Front control, as well as Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Pakistan, and interviewing government officials, members of the diplomatic community, military officers, civil servants, journalists, academics, and others.

In calling for an embargo on military assistance, Human Rights Watch said that enforcement measures should be carefully structured to ensure a two-sided embargo would not benefit one side, the Taliban, at the expense of the other, the United Front. For reasons of geography and other factors, an embargo is more easily enforced against the United Front than the Taliban.

Lifting the embargo should be made contingent on concrete steps by the factions to end gross violations of human rights and bring perpetrators to justice, Human Rights Watch said.

In the war, all major factions have repeatedly committed serious violations of international law, including killings, indiscriminate aerial bombardment and shelling, direct attacks on civilians, summary executions, rape, persecution on the basis of religion, and the use of antipersonnel landmines. Most of the recent violations, especially summary executions and indiscriminate aerial bombardment, have been by the Taliban, while the United Front has failed to hold its commanders accountable for past abuses.

Many of the factions' violations can be shown to have been "widespread or systematic," a criterion of crimes against humanity. Direct attacks on civilians and indiscriminate attacks resulting in civilian casualties may amount to war crimes under international humanitarian law.

The report charges that Pakistan has violated the U.N. arms embargo on the Taliban imposed in December 2000 by permitting arms to cross its border into Taliban-controlled territory. The Taliban is the Afghan faction in power in Kabul; Pakistan has been its principal international sponsor. Official denials notwithstanding, Pakistan has provided the Taliban with military advisers and logistical support during key battles; has bankrolled the Taliban; has facilitated transshipment of arms, ammunition, and fuel through its territory; and has openly encouraged the recruitment of Pakistanis to fight for the Taliban. In addition, Saudi Arabia has provided funds to the Taliban, while private actors and some officials benefit from the smuggling that links these countries.

Supporting the coalition of opposition groups known as the United Front are Iran and Russia, with secondary roles played by Tajikistan and, at least until 1998, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Kyrgyzstan. Iran has provided weapons, large-scale funding, and training. Russia has played a crucial enabling role in the resupply of United Front forces by arranging for the transport of Iranian aid, as well as providing direct military assistance itself, including transport helicopters in late 2000. Military assistance to United Front forces has crossed the Tajikistan-Afghanistan border with the active collusion of the Russian government. In general, Human Rights Watch supports international sanctions against governments and rebel groups that have engaged in a practice of gross violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. Such sanctions include the imposition of embargoes on arms and other forms of military assistance by the international community. Likewise, governments that provide military assistance to abusive states and rebel groups should be held accountable for the resulting abuses.

The humanitarian toll of twenty years of fighting-some 1.5 million deaths and the massive displacement of populations, famine, and the ruin of the country's economic base-has not figured prominently in international policy on Afghanistan, Human Rights Watch said. Existing U.N. sanctions against the Taliban, imposed to compel the surrender of Osama bin Laden, the Saudi national suspected of having orchestrated the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, do not address the larger issue of the war's impact on the civilian population.

"The international community has failed to hold Afghanistan's warring factions accountable for violations of international human rights and humanitarian law," said Hiltermann. "Civilians are at the center of this conflict, and their well-being must be at the center of the solution."

In calling for a comprehensive embargo on arms and other military assistance, Human Rights Watch said that Pakistan, in particular, should be pressed to comply with the embargo, especially to prevent the re-supply of ammunition and spare parts to the Taliban. Pakistan should also be urged to accept U.N. monitors to work alongside its own customs personnel, and steps should be taken to penalize Pakistan if it fails to comply with the U.N. embargo. Such measures should be designed to minimize any adverse humanitarian impact in Pakistan.