VI. U.S. POLICY
Since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979, the goal of U.S. policy had been to secure the withdrawal of Soviet forces from the country. To that end, U.S. policy-makers allocated an estimated $2 to $3 billion over the course of the past decade in military and economic assistance to the resistance forces.52 Throughout the war, the U.S. has granted Pakistan wide discretion in channelling that aid to the groups that based themselves in Peshawar, giving relatively limited consideration to the politics of these groups or to their human rights records.
In the months preceding the Soviet withdrawal, U.S. policy-makers believed that the Soviet departure would result in a battle for control that would quickly find these resistance groups in power after ousting the government of President Najibullah. That prognosis proved false, and instead what has followed in the wake of the Soviet withdrawal has been a protracted civil war which has continued to cause devastating civilian casualties on all sides. Despite the changed nature of the war, U.S. policy changed little throughout 1989, remaining committed to securing a military victory for the mujahidin.
Since early 1989, the Bush administration has also supported the Peshawar-based Afghan Interim Government, and has attempted to promote it as a representative body acceptable to the Afghan people. However, the AIG has failed to win the support even of mujahidin commanders from the parties that formed it, and is seen by many Afghans as a tool of Pakistan's own political ambitions and not as viable or legitimate leadership structure. The Pakistan ISI has continued to work for the pre-eminence of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, going so far as to attempt in September 1990 to make Hekmatyar the defense minister of a reorganized AIG.53 Resistance sources in Peshawar claim that that effort was blocked by U.S. intervention.
By November 1990, U.S. and Soviet officials appeared to be nearing an agreement on a political settlement that would include internationally supervised elections in Afghanistan.54 However, while State Department officials have pursued negotiations toward such a settlement, in October 1990, U.S. diplomats and intelligence officers in Pakistan backed a Hezb-e Islami (Hekmatyar) offensive on Kabul, directed by the ISI.55 Many resistance commanders opposed the Pakistan-sponsored offensive on the grounds that it would cause extensive civilian casualties and was aimed at building up Gulbuddin Hekmatyar at the expense of other mujahidin leaders.56
Support by the CIA for the offensive exposed a rift between the agency and the State Department over U.S. policy in Afghanistan. According to press reports, by January 1991 the CIA was continuing to push for a military victory for the mujahidin. New York Times correspondent Clifford Kraus, who interviewed Robert M. Kimmitt, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, reported that "in recent weeks Kimmitt has battled with Central Intelligence Agency officials who would like to unleash the guerrillas in Afghanistan in one last effort to defeat the Soviet-backed government of President Najibullah ... [Secretary of State] Baker wants to work closely with Moscow to coax the rebels and the Najibullah regime into democratic elections." During the interview, Kimmitt stated, "If they have a problem at the agency it is with me carrying out a policy that has been set down by the Secretary and reaffirmed by the President during the June summit ... I have no hesitation in saying that their problem is not with me but with the senior leadership of this department and this Government. I think they are just bucking policy."57
The mujahidin's failure to deliver any significant military victory since the Soviet withdrawal appeared to be the reason for the October 1990 $50 million Congressional aid cut to the resistance, the first since the war began, and for the decision to withhold half of the remaining $250 million subject to another vote in 1991. The administration initially argued against the aid cut, saying that it would send the wrong signal at a time when negotiations toward a settlement were making progress. On November 30, President Bush vetoed the bill, apparently because of a provision limiting the executive's opportunities to solicit third country support for covert operations. (The provision relates not to Afghanistan but to the Iran-contra controversy.) The House and Senate Select Intelligence Committees have scheduled reconsideration of the bill forearly 1991, and are expected to offer modified legislation which would not significantly alter the aid cut.
Throughout the war, U.S. policy-makers have vigorously condemned Soviet and Afghan government human rights abuses but have been reluctant to condemn publicly human rights abuses by elements of the resistance because these groups have received U.S. aid. These abuses have included indiscriminate attacks on civilians, summary executions of prisoners, politically-motivated killings of relief workers and intellectuals, and the imprisonment and torture of political opponents.
In written responses submitted for a hearing before the House Subcommittee on Asian and Pacific Affairs on July 18, 1990, the State Department stated that civilian deaths resulting from the mujahidin's attacks on the cities were "the regrettable result of attacks on militarily significant targets." In fact, heavy civilian casualties are the predictable result of the mujahidin strategy. Moreover, the military impact of the rocketing of the cities has been negligible, in part because of the notorious inaccuracy of the U.S.-supplied Sakr rockets used by the mujahidin and the inadequate training of resistance troops. Again, in written responses submitted for a hearing before the House Subcommittee on Asian and Pacific Affairs on November 2, 1990, the State Department excused these attacks on the grounds that the "military installations" targeted were "located in or near residential areas" and that the mujahidin "express deep regret for civilian casualties." The administration should have used the opportunity of the hearings to call upon the mujahidin, and Pakistan, to desist from practices which incur such heavy civilian casualties. The U.S. should also call for a halt to the supply of weapons that disproportionately kill civilians, including Sakr rockets. A moratorium on arms deliveries to mujahidin parties that have engaged in gross human rights abuses is long overdue; however, the Bush administration must also lean on U.S. allies who keep such groups supplied. Without a similar commitment from Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, a decision to cut U.S. deliveries may do little to stop the arms flow.
At the November 2 hearing, the State Department also stated that "reports of human rights violations" by the mujahidin are brought "to the attention of resistance leaders." Regrettably, such expressions of concern have seldom been made public, diminishing their force. The administration also acknowledged, in statements submitted for theNovember 2 hearing, reports of human rights abuses within mujahidin prisons. The administration's assurances that these reports were being investigated were welcome. However, statements calling for access to these prisons by international humanitarian organizations would go further toward ending these abuses.
In a welcome gesture, in mid-November 1990, a letter was sent to six of the mujahidin factions by the U.S. special envoy to the Afghan resistance, Peter Tomsen, regarding the massacre of government soldiers at Tarin Kot and other incidents. In that letter the State Department strongly condemned the execution of prisoners under any circumstances, calling such executions gross violations of the laws of war.
However, U.S. officials have been unwilling to pressure Pakistani authorities to investigate those abuses that have occurred in Pakistan, and to prosecute those responsible for torture and murder. In written responses submitted for the July 18 congressional hearing, the State Department went so far as to credit the Pakistani authorities with conducting "a serious investigation" into the 1988 murder of Professor Sayd Majrooh. In fact, the Pakistani police resisted following credible leads implicating Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's faction in the murder. Dozens of similar murders have been carried out with impunity by elements of the mujahidin.
Even though the Pakistani ISI has participated in these abuses, and has pushed commanders to launch attacks which have disproportionately killed civilians, U.S. officials have not pressed the Pakistani authorities about these abuses, nor publicly called for an end to such attacks, as they should. The U.S. should also call for the abolition of the Frontier Crimes Regulation Act, and urge Pakistan to ensure that Afghan prisoners are not subject to arbitrary arrest by any agency operating inside Pakistan. Mujahidin forces are not legally empowered by Pakistani law to make arrests, or mete out forms of punishment that are reserved to the state, and such acts by the mujahidin should not be tolerated by the Pakistani authorities.
If the U.S. and the Soviet Union do reach agreement on a political settlement to the Afghan conflict, they should support a transition process in which all sections of Afghan society can be represented, under the aegis of a neutral organization, such as the U.N.If elections -- or a more traditional process by which Afghans can choose their own government -- are to take place, measures must be taken to ensure the immediate and future safety and rights of Afghans in the cities and returning refugees.
52 The precise amount of covert aid that was supplied is not known. According to James Rupert, an assistant foreign editor of the Washington Post who has covered the Afghan war since 1985, aid to the resistance increased dramatically after 1981: "The United States was at first not so generous. The CIA, apparently unconvinced that the mujahidin could really win the war, resisted a large covert aid program. But congressional supporters of the mujahidin pushed the Reagan administration to enlarge the program from a reported level of $50 million in FY 1981 to $630 million in FY 1987. U.S. officials cited over the years in the Washington Post, the New York Times and other media gave figures for the annual military aid allocations that, totaled from FY 1980 through FY 1989, equaled about $2.8 billion ... This does not include more than $150 million in food, surplus (non-lethal) Defense Department equipment, and transportation assistance given the guerrillas and their supporters under a program administered by the U.S. Agency for International Development." See James Rupert, "Afghanistan's Slide Toward Civil War," World Policy Journal, Vol. VI, No. 4, Fall 1989, pp. 759-785, p. 759, 781 fn. 1.
53 Hekmatyar suspended his participation in the AIG in mid-1989 following the massacre by Hezb-e Islami forces of Jamiat-e Islami prisoners in the Farkhar Valley, and the subsequent investigation conducted by the AIG. For further details about the incident, see pp. 54-55, 106-107.
54 Negotiations between the U.S and the Soviet Union over a transition process leading to elections remained stalemated over the question of what role Najibullah would play in the interim period and also on the terms for an aid cut-off to both sides. For further details of the negotiations, see pp. 18-19.
55 Some administration officials who were opposed to the offensive and who have opposed the ISI's attempts to promote Hekmatyar, attach greater importance to the shura of top commanders that met at the same time to plan an alternative political and military strategy.
56 See Steve Coll and James Rupert, "Afghan Rebels Veto Drive for Kabul," Washington Post, November 4, 1990. Hekmatyar, who has always been favored by the ISI, received the largest share of U.S.-supplied weapons throughout most of the war. In November 1989, the administration reportedly decided to stop providing Hekmatyar with military support directly funded by the U.S. However, at the same time the U.S. and Saudi Arabia agreed to a $715 million covert aid package to the mujahidin, of which the Saudi portion (approximately $435 million) was not subject to any restrictions and went primarily to Hekmatyar. See Robin Wright, "U.S. and Saudis Agree to Fund Afghan Rebels," Los Angeles Times, November 19, 1989.