The final withdrawal of the Soviet forces from Afghanistan in February 1989 was seen as the first step toward ending Afghanistan's civil war. Two years later, that war -- largely unnoticed by the outside world -- goes on, and all sides to the conflict continue to engage in grave human rights abuses and violations of humanitarian law.

By early 1991, as negotiations between the Soviet Union and the U.S. for a settlement to the conflict remain stalled, the outbreak of war in the Persian Gulf further complicated the chances for peace in Afghanistan. Although the countries allied in the Gulf War include those that were most divided over Afghanistan, their temporary alliance has not led to agreement over a settlement to the Afghan conflict.

Divisions between the administration and U.S. intelligence officials over policy in Afghanistan, the new chill in U.S.-Pakistan relations following a cut in U.S. aid, and the Soviet army's increasingly hard-line position on foreign policy suggest instead that the opening that appeared in 1990 offering a chance for peace in Afghanistan is fast closing. Before it does, both superpowers and the international community should urge all parties to the Afghan conflict, and their foreign sponsors, to take steps to end the abuses and ensure that the rights and security of all Afghans are protected. Such measures would include at least the following:


    · Throughout the conflict, forces on all sides have used methods of warfare -- including Scud missiles and Sakr rockets -- which are inaccurate and which consequently cause disproportionate civilian casualties. All parties to the conflict should desist from using such weapons, and their foreign sponsors, including the United States, the Soviet Union, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, should stop supplying them, and should call publicly for an end to indiscriminate attacks.

· While reports of summary execution of captured prisoners and reprisal killings of civilians by government forces have declined, such incidents continue to take place. Such abuses are in violation of international humanitarian law, and the government of Afghanistan should promptly investigate all reports of such killings and prosecute those responsible. The reduction in the number of reported incidents does not diminish the government's obligation to make every effort to investigate such abuses, make the findings public, and bring to justice those responsible as a way of preventing similar abuses in the future.

    · Members of militia forces allied with the government are bound to conduct their military operations in accordance with the laws of war. The government of Afghanistan should exercise greater control over the recruitment, training and supervision of such forces and prosecute militia members who have engaged in abuses.

    · Mujahidin forces have also engaged in the summary executions of prisoners and other violations of the laws of war. Members of the resistance forces should comply with the provisions of international humanitarian law relating to the treatment of civilians and prisoners during periods of armed conflict.

    · All parties to the conflict should make available all maps of minefields and cooperate with efforts by international and private agencies in mine clearance.

    · While conditions for sentenced prisoners have improved markedly in government prisons, conditions for detainees remain precarious. The government of Afghanistan should grant the ICRC immediate access to all detainees, and ensure that detainees have access to defense counsel and to family members. Conditions in detention centers should be brought in line with the U.N. Standard Minimum Rules for Treatment of Prisoners. All reports of torture and mistreatment should be promptly investigated, and those found responsible for abuses prosecuted. The powers of the Attorney General should be strengthened as a check against illegal detention.

    · The government of Afghanistan should ease restrictions that have prevented the formation of genuine opposition parties and an opposition press. Such measures would include ending all forms of censorship and restrictions of freedom of speech, promoting the establishment of independent publishing houses, and curtailing state security surveillance at the university.

    · Pakistani authorities should fully investigate reports of murder, torture and kidnapping by mujahidin parties that have occurred inside Pakistan, and prosecute those responsible for abuses. Pakistani officials who have participated in such abuses should also be prosecuted.

    · Pakistani authorities should not permit mujahidin factions to hold prisoners inside Pakistan, and should permit international humanitarian organizations immediate access to all Afghan detainees in Pakistani jails. The preventive detention provisions of the Pakistan Frontier Crimes Regulation Act should be abolished. The Bush administration should call publicly for an end to these abuses, and press Pakistani authorities to prosecute mujahidin members who have committed such abuses.

    · The U.S. Congress should conduct an immediate investigation into the CIA's activities to ensure that the CIA is not implementing an independent foreign policy in Afghanistan, and investigate reports that CIA officials, together with the Pakistan ISI, have encouraged indiscriminate attacks on cities which have caused heavy civilian casualties.

    · If the U.S. and the Soviet Union reach agreement on a political settlement to the conflict, they should support a transition process in which all sections of Afghan society will be permitted to participate. If elections take place, measures must be taken to ensure the immediate and future safety and rights of Afghans in the cities and of returning refugees.