Human Rights Developments
Nineteen ninety-two was a watershed for Afghanistan. The U.N.-sponsored peace talks that appeared to be making progress at the beginning of the year came to an abrupt end on April 15 when President Najibullah was prevented from leaving the country. In the months that followed, thousands of refugees streamed back into the country even as Kabul was rocked by the worst fighting there in 14 years of war. Steady rocketing and shelling in August by the forces of the radical mujahidin leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar killed at least 2,000, most of them civilians. Hundreds of thousands fled the city and remained in makeshift camps along roads leading to Pakistan. By year's end, international interest in the conflict had all but vanished and Afghanistan appeared to be on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe.
On March 18, 1992, President Najibullah announced that he had agreed to cede power as part of a negotiated arrangement with the U.N. Secretary General's Special Representative in Afghanistan, Benon Sevan. The resignation was intended to pave the way for a U.N.-brokered agreement on a transitional government. But on April 15, Najibullah was blocked from leaving the country by members of his own party who were allied with mujahidin rebels controlling Kabul's airport. Since then, Najibullah has remained in hiding in Kabul.
Two prominent members of the government were killed during the takeover. Minister of State Security Ghulam Faruq Yaqubi was assassinated shortly after Najibullah was deposed, although his death was reported as a suicide. Abdul Karim Shahdan, the chair of the National Security Court, was abducted and murdered by unknown assailants a few days later. A member of a government security force answering to the Ministry of the Interior was beaten and shot dead in front of a Reuters cameraman after being discovered hiding in a ministry office. Although the new ruling council eventually declared a general amnesty, there were other instances of summary execution and reprisal killings by various forces after the coup. In the northern city of Mazar-i Sharif, a number of government soldiers were reportedly shot dead by a militia-mujahidin coalition that took over the city.
Over the next two weeks, street battles broke out between the forces of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and those allied with Ahmed Shah Massoud, the powerful commander of the Jamiat-e Islami organization from northeastern Afghanistan who is an ethnic Tajik. On April 28, the Interim Council of the Islamic State of Afghanistan, under the presidency of Sigbatullah Mojaddedi, assumed authority in Kabul, as agreed to by all the major Sunni mujahidin leaders at a meeting in the Pakistani border city of Peshawar after the coup. However, the council's authority did not extend beyond Kabul. Elsewhere, local governing mujahidin councils, where they existed, or individual commanders, assumed control.
The council immediately announced its intention to enforce Islamic law throughout the country. The notorious Pul-e Charkhi prison was opened, and all detainees were released. A mass grave long rumored to exist outside the prison was discovered, but no significant exhumations or forensic investigations wereconducted.
Hekmatyar rejected the authority of the Interim Council, which controlled Kabul through mainly Tajik and Uzbek security forces. In early May, his forces bombarded Kabul with rockets, killing at least 73, most of them civilians. Serious fighting also broke out between the Saudi-backed Pashtun Sunni Ittehad-e Islami party and the Iran-backed Shi'a Hezb-e Wahdat party in Kabul. Both groups engaged in deliberate abductions of civilians of the Hazara and Pashtun ethnic communities. Hundreds were killed, and as many as 1,000 detained and tortured before a cease-fire eventually took hold in June. Continuing tension between ethnic groups erupted in other violent confrontations throughout the remainder of the year.
On June 28, Burhanuddin Rabbani, the head of the Jamiat-e Islami party, became president of the interim council, peacefully taking over from Mojaddedi. Within a week, Hekmatyar, who had allied his forces with the mainly Pashtun Khalq faction of the former communist party, attempted to seize power and launched an all-out assault on the city. He evoked Pashtun nationalism in claiming that his motive was to drive out the Uzbek forces of General Abdur Rashid Dostam, who had formerly supported Najibullah and had allied with other mujahidin leaders to launch the April coup. In the month of August alone, a bombardment of artillery shells, rockets and fragmentation bombs killed over 2,000 people in Kabul, most of them civilians. Hospitals were unable to perform surgery during the assault, which contributed to the number of deaths, especially of children. A two year's supply of fuel was also destroyed. By the end of the month, 500,000 had fled the city, erecting tent camps along the roads outside Kabul. Other refugees, including Hindu and Sikh minorities, fled the country.
After weeks of bloodshed, a cease-fire took hold on August 29, and most of the few foreign diplomats and relief staff were evacuated from Kabul. At the end of the year, there was no expatriate U.N. presence in the city although U.N. personnel remained in Herat and Mazar-i Sharif. The International Committee of the Red Cross (icrc) handed over control of its hospital in Kabul to the government, citing fear for staff security. Prospects for a lasting cease-fire remained dim.
Refugees continued to return to rural areas of Afghanistan in huge numbers from Pakistan, despite the threat of fighting and the danger from land mines. According to the icrc, the frequency of mine injuries tripled after April.
In November, Hekmatyar's forces, together with guerrillas from some of the other parties, barricaded a power station in Sarobi, 30 miles east of Kabul, cutting electricity to the capital and shutting down the water supply, which is dependent on power. His forces and other mujahidin were also reported to have prevented food convoys from reaching the city.
On November 23, Minister of Food Sulaiman Yaarin reported that the city's food and fuel depots were empty. There were also reports of food shortages in central and eastern Afghanistan and in Herat.
The Right to Monitor
No known domestic human rights organizations were in place in Afghanistan at the end of 1992. The country was in such a state of chaos that even had such organizations been allowed to function by law, their ability to do so would have been limited by the severity of the fighting. By year's end, Asia Watch had received reports of arrests in Kabul of persons suspected of opposing the ruling council or elements of it, including Zia Nassery, a U.S. citizen of Afghan origin who was detained in October.
Despite the substantial role the U.S. played in supporting the mujahidin throughout the war, the U.S. administration paid little attention to the crisis in Afghanistan after the April coup. Even Hekmatyar's brutal attack on Kabul in August, carried out with U.S.- and Saudi-financed weaponry, merited only a belated condemnation more than a month after it occurred.
On January 1, 1992, the agreement signed in September 1991 between the U.S. and the then-Soviet Union banning supply of lethal aid to their respective clients in Afghanistan went into force. The agreement also called for the withdrawal of major weapons systems provided by the two superpowers, but U.S. efforts to secure the return of Stinger missiles that had been supplied to the mujahidin proved fruitless. For their part, the Russians also failed to retrieve Scud missiles supplied to the Najibullah government, some of which were seized by Hekmatyar. In this period, Hekmatyar-who had stockpiled large quantities of arms during the war-also reportedly continued to receive support from former officers of Pakistan's Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and other sources in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Middle East.
For fiscal year 1992, the U.S. requested $60 million for cross-border assistance and $6 million in food aid to be delivered to Afghanistan through the World Food Program. The administration also requested $20 million in aid for Afghan refugees in Pakistan and reconstruction of the Afghan countryside. On April 8, the U.S. announced that it would provide 10,000 metric tons of wheat for needy residents of the capital.
In April, as the mujahidin were advancing on Kabul, the U.S. welcomed their success after what State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler called "a long and bitter struggle for self-determination which won admiration and support from around the world." At the same time, the U.S. stressed its support for a strong U.N. role in resolving the conflict and urged all parties "to use the utmost restraint...[and] not resort to violence." In June, the State Department welcomed the "peaceful transfer of power from Mojaddedi to Rabbani," and again called on "the Afghan factions to continue a peaceful political process which will lead to a government acceptable to the Afghan people." The statement also called on the Afghan parties to "honor the cease-fire" but neglected to acknowledge that the most serious threat to the "peaceful process" came from the forces of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who long received much of the weaponry financed by the U.S. andits allies.
Hekmatyar's attack on Kabul in August received scant comment from U.S. officials at the time. It was not until October 2 that the State Department issued a strong statement naming Hekmatyar and condemning his "recent savage bombardment." It added that "these actions, taken in pursuit of personal ambitions, were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of innocent people in Kabul. We condemned these ruthless actions and will continue to oppose any one who uses violence to subvert the political process."
The Work of Asia Watch
On May 28, Asia Watch appealed to the interim council to take urgent steps to safeguard the rights of all Afghans and ensure that the armed forces abide by standards of human rights and humanitarian law. On June 5, Asia Watch and Middle East Watch jointly issued a press release condemning continuing attacks on civilians and urging Saudi Arabia, Iran and Pakistan to use their leverage with various Afghan factions to end the bloodshed. Asia Watch also met with U.N. Special Representative Benon Sevan and senior U.S. officials to discuss concerns about the humanitarian crisis in the country.