Any understanding of the current abuses committed against Pashtuns in northern Afghanistan must take account of the severe abuses that the Taliban regime committed against non-Pashtun ethnic groups in northern Afghanistan, even though many ethnic Pashtuns living in northern Afghanistan did not participate in abuses against their neighbors. The brutality of Taliban rule in northern Afghanistan has left many communities targeted by them with grievances that, in the absence of judicial mechanisms for accountability and redress, are being addressed in a vigilante fashion.
While the current abuses have taken place against the background of a legacy of Taliban atrocities, it would be a mistake to view the attacks against Pashtun communities solely as reprisals for past abuses. Local commanders and their soldiers, not the civilian communities most affected by Taliban abuses, carried out the majority of the abuses documented in this report. These actions have taken place, moreover, in a broader context of insecurity for civilians, in which northern Pashtuns are acutely vulnerable because of their present lack of protection.
Northern Afghanistan, in contrast to the largely Pashtun south, is a complex ethnic mosaic. Groups with a long history of settlement in the region-Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras, Turkmen, and Persian-speaking Arabs-are interspersed with the descendants of more recent arrivals, including nineteenth and early twentieth century refugees from Central Asia and Pashtuns whose settlement was promoted by successive Kabul-based governments.22
The mainly Pashtun Taliban movement pragmatically accomodated non-Pashtuns in some parts of the north, but in other areas curtailed their access to vital land and water resources.
In large parts of northern and central Afghanistan, Taliban rule was extended through the cooptation of non-Pashtun commanders. After its initial conquest of the central Hazarajat region in September 1998, for example, the Taliban withdrew most non-local forces from several districts and left them under the nominal control of Hazara commanders who had changed their allegiances.23 In other areas of the north, such as Balkh and Kunduz, Taliban rule expanded with the critical support of local Pashtun commanders,24 and Pashtun communities in these areas were correspondingly privileged under Taliban rule. Ethnic Uzbek refugees from Balkh province, interviewed by Human Rights Watch in Pakistan during August 2001, described a pattern of encroachment on their land by ethnic Pashtuns, with the support of the local Taliban-sanctioned administration.25 According to U.N. staff who were then based in northern Afghanistan, such encroachment was often legitimized by the manipulation of land deeds.26
The Taliban also exacted ruthless reprisals against minority communities that were perceived to have supported its rivals. In several cases, its forces carried out large-scale summary executions of Hazara, Uzbek, and Tajik civilians or systematically destroyed homes and means of livelihood-effectively preventing the return of displaced populations. In some depopulated areas, such as Robatak, on the border between Samangan and Baghlan provinces, or in the lower Bangi valley in Takhar province, new migrants-Pashtuns and Gujjars, respectively-settled on land that had formerly been occupied by Hazaras or Tajiks and Uzbeks.27
What follows is an overview of cases documented by Human Rights Watch and other independent observers in which Taliban forces carried out targeted reprisals against non-Pashtun minorities:
· Yakaolang and Bamiyan districts, June 2001: After retaking central Yakaolang, Taliban forces under the command of Mullah Dadaullah burned about 4,500 houses, 500 shops, and public buildings. As they retreated east, they continued to burn villages and to detain and kill Shi'a Hazara civilians in villages and side valleys in eastern Yakaolang and the western part of Bamiyan district. Several refugees described witnessing the subsequent movement of ethnic Pashtun pastoralists into the valleys, and the grazing of large herds of sheep on their farmlands.28
· Zari, Balkh province, May 2001: After a week-long occupation by General Abdul Rashid Dostum's forces, Zari-a mainly Uzbek-populated area-reverted to Taliban control. While most civilians fled to the hills south of central Zari, many of those who remained or who returned reportedly were killed by Taliban forces reoccupying the district. Refugees also reported the arrests of civilians who returned to Zari and their transportation as prisoners to Kandahar, and the burning of some homes.29
· Yakaolang district, January 2001: Taliban forces massacred over 170 Shi'a Hazara civilians after retaking control of Yakaolang district from the United Front factions Hizb-i Wahdat and Harakat-i Islami. The victims were herded to assembly points in the center of the district and several outlying areas, and then shot by firing squad in public view.30
· Robatak pass, May 2000: Taliban forces summarily executed at least thirty-one Ismaili Hazara civilians near the Robatak pass, northwest of the town of Pul-i Khumri. These were men taken during sweep operations throughout Samangan and neighboring provinces in late 1999 and early 2000.32
· Northeastern Afghanistan, July 1999: A series of Taliban offensives was marked by summary executions, the abduction of women, forced labor of detainees, the burning of homes, and the destruction of other property and agricultural assets, including fruit trees, one of the mainstays of the local economy.33 According to one human rights researcher, in Khwajaghar, near Taloqan, 3,000 houses were systematically destroyed in July, and in Shamali, north of Kabul, detainees were used for mine clearance.34 The affected populations were mainly Uzbek and Tajik.
· Dara-i Suf, July-August, 1999: Taliban forces bombed the town of Dara-i Suf, a Northern Alliance-held, predominantly Hazara enclave in Samangan province, with incendiary cluster munitions; ground forces burned down the entire central market and destroyed wells and homes.35
· Mazar-i Sharif, August 1998: After capturing Mazar-i Sharif, Taliban troops rounded up and summarily executed at least 2,000 civilians, the majority of them ethnic Hazaras. Thousands more, including ethnic Uzbek and Tajik men, were detained. The Taliban governor, Mullah Manon Niazi, made inflammatory speeches in which he held Hazaras collectively responsible for the murder of Taliban soldiers in Mazar-i Sharif in 1997 and ordered them to become Sunni Muslims or risk being killed. Many civilians were also killed in aerial bombardments and rocket attacks as they tried to flee the city. There were reports that in certain Hazara neighborhoods women were raped and abducted by Taliban troops.36
The grievances of Hazara, Tajik, and Uzbek communities in large parts of the north run deep and must be addressed. International financial support will be needed to facilitate the return and rehabilitation of communites that were displaced as a result of conflict-related violence. The victims of the Taliban's abusive reign deserve justice, and the perpetrators of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other serious human rights abuses must be brought to account before fair and impartial courts. Equally vital is international support for the creation of mechanisms that can impartially resolve disputes between communities over access to land, water resources, and property that underlie many of the communal conflicts in the north.
Despite the cycle of abuses between non-Pashtuns and Pashtuns in northern Afghanistan, tensions between the communities themselves are not unsolvable. Human Rights Watch researchers found a significant number of cases in which Tajik farmers had sheltered Pashtun families who had fled from their homes, and one case in which Hazara elders successfully interceded with Hizb-i Wahdat forces that were attacking internally displaced Pashtuns in their area.
22 The Pashtun presence in the north dates to the 1880s and early 1890s, when Amir Abdur Rahman Khan, the Durrani Pashtun ruler in Kabul, forcibly relocated thousands of Ghilzai Pashtuns and members of other rival tribes from southern Afghanistan to the north. Later settlers, such as the Shinwari Pashtuns who began moving to Kunduz from eastern Afghanistan in the late 1940s, came voluntarily. Both the forced and voluntary migrants were allocated land by the central government, a development that fostered tensions with communities that consequently lost access to farmland and pastures. Louis Dupree, Afghanistan (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980), pp. 188 and 419; Asger Christensen, "Afghanistan: Can the Fragments be Put Together Again?," Nordic Newsletter of Asian Studies, Nordic Institute of Asian Studies, 2001, no. 4.
23 Chris Johnson, "Hazarajat Baseline Study - Interim Report (Part I)," U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, March 2000, p. 5 and Appendix D.
24 Human Rights Watch, "Afghanistan: The Massacre in Mazar-i Sharif," A Human Rights Watch Short Report, vol. 10, no. 7 (C) (November 1998), p. 3; Michael Griffin, Reaping the Whirlwind: the Taliban Movement in Afghanistan (London: Pluto Press, 2001), p. 177.
25 Human Rights Watch interviews with N, aged forty-five, and K.H., aged thirty-five, (ethnic Uzbek refugees from Zari), Quetta, Pakistan, August 17, 2001.
26 Human Rights Watch e-mail communication with a former humanitarian worker in northern Afghanistan, January 23, 2002.
27 Human Rights Watch e-mail communication with a former humanitarian worker in northern Afghanistan, January 23, 2002; confidential field report by an international NGO, November 15-17, 2000, on file at Human Rights Watch.
28 Human Rights Watch, "Afghanistan: Ethnically-Motivated Abuses Against Civilians," A Human Rights Watch Backgrounder, October 2001.
30 Human Rights Watch, "Massacres of Hazaras in Afghanistan," A Human Rights Watch Short Report, vol. 13, no. 1(C) (February 2001), pp. 5-8.
31 Human Rights Watch e-mail communication with a human rights investigator, March 2001.
32 Human Rights Watch, "Massacres of Hazaras in Afghanistan," pp. 8-10.
33 U.N. Special Rapporteur of the Commission of Human Rights, "Question of the Violation of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms in Any Part of the World: Report on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan submitted by Mr. Kamal Hossain, Special Rapporteur, in accordance with Commission resolution 1999/9," E/CN.4/2000/33, January 10, 2000, pp. 12-13.
34 Human Rights Watch interview with a human rights investigator, Islamabad, May 2001.
35 Human Rights Watch interview and e-mail communications with a witness in Islamabad who investigated the incident, November 2000-May 2001.
36 Human Rights Watch, "Afghanistan: The Massacre in Mazar-i Sharif."