According to our research, heavy fighting broke out last week south of Mazar-e Sharif between the two major northern factions, led by the Deputy Defense Minister Abdul Rashid Dostum and Atta Mohammad, an ally of Defense Minister Fahim. More than twenty combatants were killed before a peace agreement was brokered by the U.N. Since then, Human Rights Watch has received confirmed reports of hundreds of troops from both factions entering the city to be rearmed.
Heavy factional fighting has also been reported in recent weeks in areas adjacent to the Iranian border. These conflicts have forced the U.N. to halt the return of Afghan refugees to parts of Farah and Nimroz provinces. In the last two weeks, fighting between warlords in Gardez and Khost has killed at least twenty-five civilians and injured scores of others.
We note that ethnic minorities and women are especially vulnerable in this general climate of insecurity. Targeted attacks by armed factions - including looting, beatings, extortion, murder, and rape - have already uprooted thousands of ethnic Pashtuns in northern Afghanistan. Afghan women of all ethnicities have been compelled to restrict their participation in public life to avoid being targets of violence by armed factions and by those seeking to enforce repressive religious edicts.
The ongoing loya jirga process, which will culminate in the selection of a new government in June, is also in jeopardy. The abuses cited above suggest that military commanders and warlords may use intimidation and violence to keep minority or opposition candidates from participating in regional meetings or traveling to provincial election sites.
In meetings with officials from your government, the U.N., the United States, and other coalition partners, Human Rights Watch has found awareness of these security concerns and even of the need for a larger ISAF, but we have largely encountered resistance to actual expansion of ISAF. Many officials told us that the political will does not exist to supply the troops necessary for an expanded force, and that the United States specifically has blocked efforts to allow the force to be expanded.
The current debate, as we understand it, centers on how the U.N. and coalition partners can best improve security in Afghanistan by using the tools that are already on the ground - the "tool box" approach. Security Council meetings over the last month have discussed such possible tools as: Increased U.N. civilian affairs and human rights monitoring;
Conditioning development aid so that factional leaders do not receive development assistance in their territory unless they maintain peace;
Continuing use of the good offices of Mr. Brahimi and the U.N. mission; and
Efforts by coalition forces to pressure warlords through threats or incentives.
Human Rights Watch supports increased monitoring but we have concerns about the consequences and effectiveness of the other tools listed above. For example, efforts to channel developmental aid through warlords implicitly legitimate and reinforce their rule by undermining central authority. Such measures may in fact cause security to deteriorate. We also believe that these mechanisms, even if taken together, are not adequate for the job.
Long-term plans to reconstruct the Afghan police force and national army, which we support, cannot guarantee security in the critical short-term. Despite the technical assistance now being provided by various countries, both the police and army are still years away from being able to ensure security throughout the country.
We therefore urge you to consider new measures in cooperation with other nations to improve the security situation nationwide. We specifically call on you to promote measures that would allow an expansion of security forces (ISAF or otherwise) outside of Kabul.
We stress that these discussions need not proceed on an "all or nothing" basis. Even if a nationwide security plan is not immediately feasible, various intermediary measures can be explored. These can include exploring region-by-region deployments, basing reconnaissance or rapid reaction forces in Kabul, and deploying existing coalition forces to improve security in effected areas.
Thank you for your consideration of these matters.