Parties to the Conflict23
The Taliban are the product of the network of private, rural-based madrasas (religious schools) in Afghanistan and the neighboring areas of Pakistan. During the war against the Soviet Union (1979-1989), these schools constituted one of the important sources of recruitment for mujahidin-the guerrillas fighting Soviet forces in Afghanistan.24 The Taliban leaders are for the most part mullahs-religious leaders-from Qandahar province trained in madrasas affiliated with the Deobandi movement in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.25 The head of the Taliban, Mullah Muhammad Omar, assumed the title amir-ul momineen (commander of the faithful); he is assisted by shuras, or consultative bodies. Mullah Omar renamed the Islamic State of Afghanistan the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan in October 1997. Arguably the most powerful agency within the emirate is the Ministry of Enforcement of Virtue and Suppression of Vice (al-Amr bi al-Ma'ruf wa al-Nahi `an al-Munkir), which is responsible for the enforcement of all Taliban decrees regarding moral behavior.26 The Taliban bases its demand to be recognized as the legitimate authority in Afghanistan largely on the claim that it has brought security to the country's population after years of anarchy under the warlords that preceded it. In most of the areas it controls, the Taliban administration operates as a repressive police state. Most government offices barely function. After it emerged in response to the failure of the mujahidin parties to establish a stable government, the Taliban quickly attracted the support of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia which provided the military and financial resources to make the Taliban an effective military force. An estimated 8-15,000 of the Taliban's fighting force comprises non-Afghans-nationals of Saudi Arabia, other Gulf states, and even China.27 Through cash payments or other incentives the Taliban has also secured the support of former mujahidin groups, particularly those associated with Hizb-i Islami.28 In October 1998 a breakaway faction of Hizb-i Wahdat-i Islami-yi Afghanistan (Islamic Unity Party of Afghanistan), led by Hujjat-al-Islam Sayyid Muhammad Akbari, sided with the Taliban. Akbari is a non-Hazara Shi'a from the Qizilbash ethnic group, with religious training in Iran.
In 1996, the groups opposed to the Taliban formed an alliance called the National Islamic United Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan, commonly known as the United Front, which supports the ousted government, the Islamic State of Afghanistan (ISA). The president of the ousted government, Burhanuddin Rabbani, remains the president of the ISA and the titular head of the United Front. The real power is the Front's military leader, Commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, who is also the ISA's minister of defense. The alliance receives assistance of various kinds-military, financial, and diplomatic-from Iran, Russia, and neighboring states. The precise membership of the United Front has varied from time to time, but includes:
· Jamiat-i Islami-yi Afghanistan (hereinafter known as Jamiat). Jamiat was one of the original Islamist parties in Afghanistan, established in the 1970s by students at Kabul University where its leader, Burhanuddin Rabbani, was a lecturer at the Islamic Law Faculty. Although Rabbani remains the official head of Jamiat, the most powerful figure within the party is Ahmad Shah Massoud. Both Rabbani and Massoud are Tajiks (Persian-speaking Sunni Muslims) but from different areas. Massoud's ethnic power base has historically been in Parwan and Takhar provinces, where he established a regional administrative structure in the late 1980s, the Supervisory Council of the North (SCN, Shura-yi Nazar-i Shamali). Massoud has received significant military and other support from Iran and Russia, in particular.
· Hizb-i Wahdat-i Islami-yi Afghanistan (Islamic Unity Party of Afghanistan, hereinafter known as Hizb-i Wahdat). The principal Shi'a party in Afghanistan with support mainly among the Hazara ethnic community, Hizb-i Wahdat was originally formed by Abdul Ali Mazari in order to unite eight Shi'a parties in the run-up to the anticipated collapse of the communist government. Its current leader is Muhammad Karim Khalili. The leader of its Executive Council of the North, Haji Muhammad Muhaqqiq, commanded the party's forces in Mazar-i Sharif in 1997. Hizb-i Wahdat has received significant military and other support from Iran, although relations between Iranian authorities and party leaders have been strained over issues of control. The party has also received significant support from local Hazara traders.
· Junbish-i Milli-yi Islami-yi Afghanistan (National Islamic Movement of Afghanistan, hereinafter known as Junbish). Junbish brought together northern, mostly ethnic Uzbek, former militias of the communist regime who mutinied against President Najibullah in early 1992. It also included former leaders and administrators of the old regime from various other ethnic groups, mainly Persian-speaking, and some Uzbek mujahidin commanders. In 1998 it lost all of the territory under its control, and many of its commanders have since defected to the Taliban. Its founder and principal leader was Abdul Rashid Dostum, who rose from security guard to leader of Najibullah's most powerful militia. This group took control of the important northern city of Mazar-i Sharif in alliance with other groups in early 1992 and controlled much of Samangan, Balkh, Jowzjan, Faryab, and Baghlan provinces. A coalition of militias, the Junbish was the strongest force in the north during 1992-97, but was riven by internal disputes. Since 1998 the Junbish has largely been inactive, although Dostum returned to northern Afghanistan in April 2001.
· Harakat-i Islami-yi Afghanistan (Islamic Movement of Afghanistan). This is a Shi'a party that never joined Hizb-i Wahdat, led by Ayatollah Muhammad Asif Muhsini, and which was allied with Jamiat in 1993-95. It has since fought with Hizb-i Wahdat in central Afghanistan. Its leadership is mostly non-Hazara Shi'a. Its most prominent commander is General Anwari. The group has received support from Iran.
· Ittihad-i Islami Bara-yi Azadi Afghanistan (Islamic Union for the Liberation of Afghanistan). This party is headed by Abdul Rasul Sayyaf. During the war against the Soviet occupation, Sayyaf obtained considerable assistance from Saudi Arabia. Arab volunteers supported by Saudi entrepreneurs fought with Sayyaf's forces.
Until August 1998, the northern areas under control by United Front forces had four main administrative and political centers: Mazar-i Sharif; Taloqan, the headquarters of Ahmad Shah Massoud's SNC; Shiberghan, Abdul Rashid Dostum's headquarters; and Bamian, headquarters of the Hizb-i Wahdat administration of Hazarajat. On paper, Dostum was deputy to the president of the ISA and military commander of the northern regions; Muhammad Muhaqqiq was minister of internal affairs; and an official of the Akbari faction was a deputy prime minister. However, these four leaders did not merge their military and command structures, and they did not come up with a unified strategy in their struggle with the Taliban. Each had different patrons among Afghanistan's neighbors, and the latter's interests fueled divisions among their clients.
A History of Foreign Intervention
On April 27, 1978, the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), a small, factionalized Marxist-Leninist party, took power in a coup.29 The government then embarked on a campaign of radical land reform over the opposition of regional elites. The campaign was accompanied by mass repression in the countryside that resulted in the arrest and summary execution of tens of thousands.30 Those targeted included political figures, religious leaders, teachers, students, other professionals, members of ethnic minorities, particularly Hazaras,31 and members of Islamic organizations. The government's repressive measures, particularly its attempt to reform rural society through terror, provoked uprisings throughout the country. Alarmed by the deteriorating situation and the prospect that a disintegrating Afghanistan would threaten its security on its southern border, the Soviet Union airlifted thousands of troops into Kabul on December 24, 1979. The president, Hafizullah Amin, was assassinated after Soviet intelligence forces took control of the government and installed Babrak Karmal as president.32
The Soviet occupation force and the Karmal government sought to crush the uprisings with mass arrests, torture, and executions of dissidents, and aerial bombardments and executions in the countryside. These measures further expanded the resistance to the communist government in Kabul and fueled a flow of refugees out of the country that soon reached five million out of a population of about sixteen million.33 Islamic organizations that became the heart of the resistance based themselves in Pakistan and Iran. Seeing the conflict as a cold war battleground, the United States and Saudi Arabia, in particular, provided massive support for the resistance, nearly all of it funneled through Pakistan (with China, France, and the United Kingdom also playing a part). The arms pipeline gave Pakistan a tremendous ability to bolster parties in Afghanistan that would serve its own interests.
Negotiations to end the war culminated in the 1988 Geneva Accords, whose centerpiece was an agreement by the Soviet Union to remove all its uniformed troops by February 1989.34 The last Soviet troops did leave Afghanistan that month. With substantial assistance from the Soviet Union, the communist government of Karmal's successor, Dr. Najibullah, former head of the Afghan intelligence agency KHAD, held on to power through early 1992 while the United Nations frantically tried to assemble a transitional process acceptable to all the parties. It failed.35 On April 15, 1992, the mujahidin took Kabul. Eleven days later, in an agreement that excluded the Shi'a parties and the Hizb-i Islami led by Gulbuddin Hikmatyar-the protégé of Pakistan-the parties in Kabul announced that Sighabutallah Mojadeddi of the Jabha-i Najat-i Milli (National Salvation Front) would become president for two months, followed by Prof. Burhanuddin Rabbani of the Jamiat-i Islami for four. Rejecting the arrangement, Hikmatyar launched massive and indiscriminate rocket attacks on Kabul that continued intermittently for three years, until he was forced out of the Kabul area in February 1995.
In June 1992 Rabbani became president of Afghanistan, while Hikmatyar continued to bombard Kabul with rockets. The U.N. reported that 1,800 civilians died in rocket attacks between May and August, and 500,000 people fled the city. In fighting between the Hizb-i Wahdat and another mujahidin faction, Sayyaf's Ittihad-i Islami, hundreds of civilians were abducted and "disappeared."36 When most of the parties boycotted the shura that was supposed to elect the next president-after Rabbani manipulated the process to place his supporters on the council-Rabbani was again elected president in December 1992, and fighting in Kabul intensified. In January 1994, Hikmatyar joined forces with Dostum to oust Rabbani and his defense minister, Massoud, launching full-scale civil war in Kabul. In 1994 alone, an estimated 25,000 were killed in Kabul, most of them civilians killed in rocket and artillery attacks. One-third of the city was reduced to rubble, and much of the remainder sustained serious damage.37 In September 1994, fighting between the two major Shi'a parties, the Hizb-i Wahdat and the Harakat-i Islami, left hundreds dead, most of them civilians.38 Thousands of new refugees fled to Pakistan that year.
By 1994 the rest of the country was carved up among the various factions, with many mujahidin commanders establishing themselves as virtual warlords. The situation around the southern city of Qandahar was particularly precarious: the city was divided among different forces, and civilians had little security from murder, rape, looting, or extortion. Humanitarian agencies frequently found their offices stripped of all equipment, their vehicles hijacked, and their staff threatened.
It was against this background that the Taliban emerged. Former mujahidin who were disillusioned with the chaos that had followed the mujahidin victory became the nucleus of a movement that coalesced around Mullah Mohammad Omar, a former mujahid who had returned to his home village of Singesar in Qandahar province in 1992 where he became the village mullah and head of the local madrasa. The group, many of whom were madrasa students, called themselves taliban, meaning students. Many others who became core members of the group were commanders in other predominantly Pashtun parties, and former Khalqi PDPA members.39 Their stated aims were to restore stability and enforce (their interpretation of) Islamic law. The Taliban's first military operation has acquired mythic status in Taliban ranks: In early 1994 the Taliban attacked the headquarters of a local commander who had been responsible for numerous rapes, murders and lootings. Similar campaigns against other warlords followed, and the Taliban soon gained a reputation for military prowess and acquired an arsenal of captured weaponry. By October 1994 the movement had attracted the support of Pakistan, which saw in the Taliban a way to secure trade routes to Central Asia and establish a government in Kabul friendly to its interests.40
The Taliban's first large military operation took place in October 1994 when it seized the Pasha munitions depot and the town of Spin Boldak on the Pakistani border, held at the time by Hizb-i Islami commanders. The capture of the arms dump provided them with an enormous quantity of military materiel, including rockets, ammunition, artillery, and small arms.41 Two weeks later the Taliban freed a Pakistani trade convoy that was being held by commanders demanding exorbitant tolls outside Qandahar; the convoy's real objective was to examine the feasibility of constructing a rail line along the route-a priority for the government of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.42 Shortly thereafter the Taliban took control of Qandahar after the local commander, loyal to the Rabbani government, ordered his forces not to resist.43 In the process the Taliban captured heavy weapons and aircraft, including MiG fighters, helicopters, and tanks. The Qandahar attack was also notable for the appearance of large numbers of Pakistani madrasa students serving as soldiers for the Taliban, most of whom entered Afghanistan by bus at the newly-seized Chaman/Spin Boldak crossing with the knowledge of Pakistani border officials.44 By December 1994 the Taliban had spread north and east to the outskirts of Kabul and west toward Herat. Pakistani traders who had long sought a secure route to send their goods to Central Asia quickly became some of the Taliban's strongest financial backers.
In January 1995 the Taliban advanced on Kabul, squeezing Hikmatyar between their forces and the ISA forces of Defense Minister Massoud.45 In February, Hikmatyar abandoned his position at Charasyab and left behind significant stores of weapons. Under an apparent agreement with Massoud, who was preoccupied with fighting Hizb-i Wahdat, the Taliban occupied the base at Charasyab. A massive assault by Massoud against Hizb-i Wahdat then drove its leader, Abdul Ali Mazari, to strike a deal with the Taliban. But after a faction of Hizb-i Wahdat joined with Massoud instead, Massoud launched a full-scale assault on the Taliban, driving them out of Charasyab.46 Combat resumed in the late summer and fall of 1995, with the Taliban defeating ISA forces in the west and occupying Shindand and Herat by September 3. The occupation of the strategic town of Herat by the Taliban was a terrible blow to ISA forces, and cut off the land route connecting the ISA with Iran. The Taliban's innovative use of mobile warfare hinted at a Pakistani role in the capture of Herat (see Chapter III).
In 1996 fighting shifted to the east, and the string of Taliban victories continued, culminating in September in its greatest victories to date, the seizures of Jalalabad on September 11 and Kabul itself by the end of the month, although the bulk of the United Front forces holding the city were able to withdraw to the north intact. With the fall of Kabul, the battle lines in eastern Afghanistan largely stabilized, cutting across the fertile Shamali plain. Until early 1999, Massoud remained within artillery range of Kabul and repeatedly fired rockets into the city. Though he denied targeting civilians, many were killed, including more than sixty-five in a two-day attack in September 1998.47 Sometime after Massoud's loss of Kabul, he began to obtain military assistance from Russia as well as Iran.
In the west, fighting resumed in 1997 as the Taliban attacked the predominantly Uzbek Junbish forces commanded by General Dostum. Dostum had carved out what amounted to a mini-state in northern Afghanistan comprising five provinces and administered from Mazar-i Sharif, and up to this point had appeared to be one of the strongest powers in Afghanistan. Hizb-i Wahdat also maintained a significant force in Mazar-i Sharif (which has a large Hazara population) in an uneasy alliance with Dostum. As had happened elsewhere, however, the military stalemate was broken when one of Dostum's deputies, Gen. Abdul Malik Pahlawan (generally known as "Malik"), allied with the Taliban and turned on Dostum on May 19, 1997, arresting a number of Junbish commanders and as many as 5,000 soldiers.
Pakistan was quick to seize the opportunity to recognize the Taliban as the government of Afghanistan, on May 25; Saudi Arabia followed on May 26 and the UAE on May 27.48 But the fortunes of the Taliban were suddenly reversed at the end of May as the alliance with Malik disintegrated, apparently after Taliban troops began trying to disarm the local Hazara population in Mazar-i Sharif. As the Hazaras turned on them, the Taliban soon found its fighters trapped. Hundreds of Taliban soldiers were killed in the streets of Mazar, and some 3,000, most of whom were in Dostum's headquarters at Shiberghan, were taken prisoner by Malik. Nearly all of these detainees were then summarily executed.49 Within days, the remains of the Taliban occupation force had been driven from the city and commanders loyal to Malik had regained control of Jowzjan, Sar-i Pol, and Faryab provinces, establishing a front line with the Taliban along the Morghab river in Baghdis province. However, the Taliban were able to consolidate control over the province of Konduz, a predominantly Pashtun pocket in the north that had come under its control after the Pashtun shura switched sides.50
The Taliban troops in Konduz attacked west towards Mazar-i Sharif in early September 1997, after being reinforced with men and munitions airlifted from Kabul and gaining further aid from the defection of several commanders holding positions in the area. In fighting over the next several weeks Taliban forces were again pushed back to Konduz. During its retreat, the Taliban attacked villages along the way, killing at least eighty-six civilians.51 In August 1998 Taliban forces opened their third assault on Mazar-i Sharif, and this time took the city decisively. They massacred at least 2,000 people, most of them Hazara civilians, after they took the city, and killed an unknown number of people in aerial bombardments.52
In August 1998, the United States launched air strikes against reputed training camps near the Pakistan border. The strikes, which the U.S. justified as attacks on the headquarters of Osama bin Laden, came in the wake of the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es-Salaam. Following these strikes, on August 20, the U.N. and most international humanitarian agencies withdrew their staff from the country. In September 1998 the Taliban took control of the predominantly Hazara town of Bamian, west of Kabul; local activists and foreign observers documented reprisal killings in the city after the takeover.53 Massoud remained within artillery range of Kabul and repeatedly fired rockets into the city, killing civilians, while claiming to be targeting the airport, which is on the northeastern edge of the city. (See below.)
In late July 1999, at peace talks held in Tashkent, the Six Plus Two contact group issued the "Tashkent Declaration," which called on all parties to resolve the conflict through "peaceful political negotiation," and pledged "not to provide military support to any Afghan party and to prevent the use of our territories for such purposes."54 Almost immediately afterwards, both the Taliban and the United Front resumed fighting, with the Taliban focusing its efforts on territory held by Massoud's forces north of Kabul. As it pushed north, the Taliban forced civilians from their homes and then set fire to houses and crops, and destroyed irrigation canals and wells, ostensibly to rout opposition sympathizers but effectively preventing the residents' return. In the Shamali region, men believed to be loyal to Massoud were arrested or shot, and women and children either fled or were taken to Jalalabad and Kabul. Over four days in August the U.N. estimated that over 20,000 people arrived in Kabul, bringing the total to close to 40,000 in a two-week period. Thousands more fled to the Massoud-held Panjshir valley. In September, Taliban fighter planes bombed Taloqan, the capital of northern Takhar province. In October the U.N. imposed sanctions on the Taliban, banning Taliban-controlled aircraft from takeoff and landing and freezing the Taliban's assets abroad.
In mid-2000 the Taliban mounted yet another offensive-again with considerable backing from Pakistan. On September 5 the Taliban captured Taloqan. Fighting in the area, combined with the effects of a severe drought, drove thousands of civilians from the area east to Faizabad and Pakistan or north to Tajikistan. As of June 2001, Massoud's forces had regained territory to the north and east of Taloqan but remained well outside the city itself. His headquarters were reported to be in Khoja Bahauddin in northern Takhar province.55 Elsewhere, forces believed to be loyal to Ismael Khan and General Dostum were responsible for guerrilla attacks on Taliban forces in western and northern Afghanistan in April and May 2001.
Violations of International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law
The applicable humanitarian law includes article 3 common to the four Geneva Conventions of 1949, the 1977 Second Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions (Protocol II), and the customary laws of war. These apply to both state and non-state forces involved in an internal armed conflict. Afghanistan became a party to the Geneva Conventions in 1956. Although Afghanistan is not a party to Protocol II, its fundamental provisions reflect customary international law.
Common article 3 to the Geneva Conventions provides that civilians and persons no longer taking an active part in the hostilities (including captured members of opposing armed forces) shall be treated humanely. Prohibited at all times are violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture, taking of hostages, outrages upon personal dignity, and summary trials.56
In the conduct of military operations, international humanitarian law makes a fundamental distinction between combatants and non-combatants. Legitimate military objectives include combatants, weapons, convoys, installations, and supplies. The civilian population and individual civilians are prohibited from being the object of attack. Acts or threats of violence against the civilian population that spread terror are also prohibited. Moreover, objects normally dedicated to civilian use, such as houses, schools, and places of worship, are presumed not to be military objectives. Only if they are being used by the enemy's military can they lose their immunity from direct attack.
Indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks are prohibited. Indiscriminate attacks are those not directed at a specific military target, or those carried out in a manner or with weapons that cannot be so directed, and thus will strike military objectives and civilians without distinction. Disproportionate attacks are those where the expected if unintended civilian casualties would outweigh the importance of the military target to the attacker.
International humanitarian law has historically restricted use of the term "war crimes" to international armed conflicts. Increasingly, serious violations of international humanitarian law committed in non-international armed conflicts have been recognized as war crimes as well as crimes against humanity.57 There is little to distinguish the summary execution of non-combatants or an attack on civilians committed in an international armed conflict and in a civil war. All such acts must not only be condemned, but its perpetrators prosecuted.
Until recently, prosecutions for crimes committed during the course of a civil war were considered the sole purview of the national courts. The International Law Commission's 1996 Draft Code of Crimes against the Peace and Security of Mankind accepts that certain acts committed in violation of the laws or customs of war (namely, acts prohibited by common article 3 and Protocol II) constitute war crimes when committed in internal conflicts.58 The international criminal courts for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia treat certain violations committed in civil wars as war crimes. The 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court has defined as war crimes serious violations of common article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, such as the execution of non-combatants.59 Also considered as war crimes are "[o]ther serious violations of the laws and customs applicable in [non-international] armed conflicts," such as attacks on the civilian population and rape.60
Crimes against humanity, first articulated in the 1907 Hague Convention, have been defined as "widespread or systematic attacks" directed against a civilian population whether during war or peacetime. The Rome Statue of the International Criminal Court includes as "crimes against humanity" attacks directed against the civilian population, including murder, extermination, rape, and persecution of certain identifiable groups, such as ethnic and religious groups.61 Crimes against humanity are deemed to be part of jus cogens, the highest level of international legal norms, and thus constitute a non-derogable rule of international law. As such they are subject to universal jurisdiction, permit no immunity from prosecution, and do not recognize "obedience to superior orders" as a defense.
The examples provided below of violations of international humanitarian law committed by the Taliban date, for the most part, from 1999-2001 when its forces were on the offensive or occupying captured territory. These offensives were accompanied by the use of scorched-earth tactics in the Shamali plains north of Kabul, summary executions of prisoners in the north-central province of Samangan, and forced relocation and conscription.
Many of the violations of international humanitarian law committed by the United Front forces described below date from 1996-1998 when they controlled most of the north and were within artillery range of Kabul. Since then, what remains of the United Front forces, those fighting under Commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, have been pushed back into defensive positions in home territories in northeastern and central Afghanistan following a series of military setbacks. There have nevertheless been reports of abuses in areas held temporarily by United Front factions, including summary executions, burning of houses, and looting, principally targeting ethnic Pashtuns and others suspected of supporting the Taliban. The various parties that comprise the United Front also amassed a deplorable record of attacks on civilians between the fall of the Najibullah regime in 1992 and the Taliban's capture of Kabul in 1996.
What follow are some examples of violations of international humanitarian law committed by the Taliban and parties constituting the United Front. They are by no means comprehensive, merely indicative of the warring parties' conduct. They are listed here to underscore the seriousness of the situation in Afghanistan and the urgency of responding to the human toll of war. A note follows on human rights violations committed by the various parties in the territories under their control.
· January-June 2001: Fighting between forces of the Taliban and the United Front factions Hizb-i Wahdat and Harakat-i Islami in and around the town of Yakaolang in the Hazarajat region led to a series of reprisals by Taliban troops against local civilians, who were mainly ethnic Hazaras. In January the Taliban massacred 176 civilians after retaking control of the town of Yakaolang. They lost and regained control of the town two more times over the next five months. In June Taliban troops summarily executed an unknown number of civilians and burned much of the town's center before being forced to withdraw from the town. 62 Also in January 2001 Taliban forces summarily executed at least thirty-one ethnic Uzbek civilians while retreating from Khwajaghar, in Takhar province, during battles with United Front forces.63
· August-October 2000: According to displaced persons who had fled to United Front-held Faizabad, the Taliban bombed residential areas of Taloqan and surrounding villages in the weeks before the city fell to them on September 5, 2000. Bombs, shells, and cluster munitions were heavily used throughout the city, destroying many homes. After the Taliban consolidated control of the villages, its forces carried out summary executions of suspected sympathizers of United Front commander Ahmad Shah Massoud.64
· May 2000: Taliban forces summarily executed at least thirty-one 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 2000.65
· July-December 1999: A series of Taliban offensives in the north was marked by summary executions, the abduction and "disappearance" 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.66 According to a U.N. report later that year, "The Taliban forces, who allegedly carried out these acts, essentially treated the civilian population with hostility and made no distinction between combatants and non-combatants."67 According to one human rights researcher, in Khwajaghar, near Taloqan, 3,000 houses were systematically destroyed in July, and in Shamali, detainees were used for mine clearance.68 In July-August Taliban forces bombed the town of Dara-i Suf with incendiary cluster munitions; ground demolition forces burned down the entire central market and destroyed wells and homes.69 In December Taliban forces massacred ethnic Uzbek civilians in the village of Khoja Kuliob, Aibak district, Samangan province.70
· August 1998: After capturing Mazar-i Sharif on August 8, more than a year after some 3,000 of its soldiers had been captured and murdered there, 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 accused the Hazaras of murdering Taliban soldiers 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, a number of women were raped and abducted by Taliban troops.71
· September 1997: Retreating Taliban forces summarily executed ethnic Shi'a Hazara villagers near Mazar-i Sharif after having failed to capture the city. According to the U.N. Special Rapporteur for Afghanistan, fifty-three villagers were summarily executed in one city, Qezelabad, and some twenty houses set on fire. In the village of Sheikhabad, some thirty elderly people were reported to have been summarily executed. Killings of a similar type were also reported in other villages in the area.72
· In addition, the Taliban has committed other serious violations of internationally recognized human rights outside of the context of armed conflict. Minorities have suffered from discrimination and other abuses, including arbitrary arrest and torture. Summary trials of suspected criminals frequently result in harsh sentences involving corporal punishment under the Taliban's strict interpretation of Islamic law. In areas under their control, Taliban authorities have enacted policies prohibiting women from working outside the home in activities other than health care, although the policies are not uniformly enforced. They have prohibited women from attending universities and have closed girls' schools in Kabul and some other cities, although primary schools for girls operate in many other areas of the country under Taliban control. The Taliban has enforced a strict dress code for women and the religious police have beaten women on the streets for violation of this code. Men have also been beaten or fined for dress code violations or for having beards that are too short.
· Late 1999 - early 2000: Internally displaced persons who fled from villages in and around Sangcharak district recounted summary executions, burning of houses, and widespread looting during the four months that the area was held by the United Front. Several of the executions were reportedly carried out in front of the victims' family members. Those targeted in the attacks were largely ethnic Pashtuns and, in some cases, Tajiks.73
· September 20-21, 1998: Several volleys of rockets were fired at the northern part of Kabul, with one hitting a crowded night market. Estimates of the numbers killed ranged from seventy-six to 180. Although a spokesperson for United Front commander Ahmad Shah Massoud denied targeting civilians,74 the attacks were generally believed to have been carried out by Massoud's forces, who were then stationed about twenty-five miles north of Kabul.75 In a September 23 press statement, the ICRC described the attacks as indiscriminate and the deadliest that the city had seen in three years.76
· Late May 1997: Some 3,000 captured Taliban soldiers were summarily executed in and around Mazar-i Sharif by Junbish forces under the command of Gen. Abdul Malik Pahlawan. The killings followed Malik's withdrawal from a brief alliance with the Taliban and the capture of the Taliban forces who were trapped in the city. Some of the Taliban troops were taken to the desert and shot, while others were thrown down wells and then blown up with grenades.77
· January 5, 1997: Junbish planes dropped cluster munitions on residential areas of Kabul. Several civilians were killed and others wounded in the air raid, which also involved the use of conventional bombs.78
· March 1995: Jamiat forces were responsible for rape and looting after they captured Kabul's predominantly Hazara neighborhood of Karte Seh from other factions. According to the U.S. State Department's 1996 report on human rights practices in 1995, "Massood's troops went on a rampage, systematically looting whole streets and raping women."79
· On the night of February 11, 1993 Jamiat and Ittihad-i Islami forces conducted a raid in the Hizb-i Wahdat neighborhoods of West Kabul, killing and "disappearing" Hazara civilians, and committing widespread rape. Estimates of those killed range from about seventy to more than one hundred.80
· In addition, the parties that constitute the United Front have committed other serious violations of internationally recognized human rights. In the years before the Taliban took control of most of Afghanistan, these parties had divided much of the country among themselves while battling for control of Kabul. There was virtually no rule of law in any of the areas under their control. In Kabul, the Jamiat, the Ittihad, and the Hizb-i Wahdat all engaged in rape, summary executions, arbitrary arrest, torture, and "disappearances." In Bamian, Hizb-i Wahdat commanders routinely tortured detainees for extortion purposes.81
23 The following list is adapted from Barnett R. Rubin, "Persistent Crisis Challenges the UN System," UNHCR Writenet, August 1998, http://www.unhcr.ch/refworld/country/writenet/wriafg03.htm.
24 They were particularly prominent in two mujahidin groups, the Harakat-i Inqilab-i Islami (Movement of the Islamic Uprising) of Mawlawi Muhammad Nabi Muhammadi and a breakaway faction of Hizb-i Islami (Islamic Party) led by Mawlawi Yunis Khalis.
25 The madrasas are affiliated with Dar-al `Ulum, an Islamic seminary in the town of Deoband, India, about ninety miles northeast of Delhi. In the mid-nineteenth century Muslim religious scholars there launched a reformist movement emphasizing education in the fundamental teachings of Sunni Islam. Through the network of madrasas established by its graduates throughout India and Pakistan, the Deobandi movement, as it came to be known, has had considerable influence on Muslim politics in the subcontinent. See Barbara Daly Metcalf, Islamic Revival in British India: Deoband, 1860-1900 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982). In Pakistan, ulama (religious scholars) associated with the Deobandi movement established their own organization, the Jamiat-i Ulama-Islam (JUI) to propagate their beliefs; in the 1960s the JUI became a political party. When Afghan refugees began pouring into Pakistan after 1978, the JUI set up hundreds of madrasas for refugee boys. Many Taliban leaders studied at the JUI seminary, Dar-al `Ulum Haqqania in Akhora Khatak, between Islamabad and Peshawar. The head of the seminary is Maulana Samiul Haq, a former member of Pakistan's National Assembly and Senate. See Ahmed Rashid, Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000), pp. 90-91.
26 The ministry reportedly is funded by Saudi Arabia. Rubin, "Persistent Crisis...."
27 Human Rights Watch interview with a military expert in Islamabad, and information provided to Human Rights Watch, 2000.
28 Buying support has been common practice throughout the war. The Islamic Party of Afghanistan (Hizb-i Islami-yi Afghanistan) led by Gulbuddin Hikmatyar was favored by Pakistan throughout the war with the Soviet Union and later when it attempted to oust the Rabbani government. After the Taliban became Pakistan's favored client in 1994 and, following a series of military advances, succeeded in capturing most of Hikmatyar's heavy weapons in early 1995, Hikmatyar nominally joined Rabbani's ISA as prime minister in June 1996 (as had been agreed among the parties in March 1993) but continued to fight Massoud. As of June 2001, Hikmatyar controlled few military or political resources.
29 The PDPA was founded in Kabul in 1965 after then-King Zaher Shah promulgated a number of reforms that permitted political groups to organize for the first time. In 1967 the PDPA split into two factions: Khalq (masses) and Parcham (flag). Both factions drew support from the same Pashtun ethnic base, although the Parchamis had some support from other ethnic groups and included some members of the ruling elite. The Khalqis advocated more radical measures, including social and agrarian reforms, than did the Parchamis. In the late 1960s and early 1970s a number of Islamic organizations also formed at Kabul University which were opposed to the communists and all foreign interference in Afghanistan. In 1973 the king's cousin, Daoud Khan, ousted Zaher Shah in a nearly bloodless coup. As Daoud began distancing his government from Soviet influence, the Khalq and Parcham factions of the PDPA reunited in resistance. The assassination of a Parchami leader on April 17, 1978 provoked widespread protests to which Daoud responded by arresting the PDPA leadership. PDPA officers in the military then launched a coup, killing Daoud and seizing power. For the origins of the war, see Olivier Roy, Islam and Resistance in Afghanistan (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), and Barnett R. Rubin, The Fragmentation of Afghanistan: State Formation and Collapse in the International System (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995).
30 Subsequent governments have said that some 12,000 people were executed just in Pul-i Charkhi prison in Kabul in this period; as many as 100,000 may have been killed in the countryside. See Roy, Islam and Resistance in Afghanistan, pp. 95-97.
31 The Hazaras are a predominantly Shi'a minority. The central mountain area of Afghanistan, where Hazaras have lived for centuries, is called Hazarajat. Other minority ethnic groups include the Tajiks and the Uzbeks.
32 Barnett R. Rubin, The Search for Peace in Afghanistan: From Buffer State to Failed State (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995), p. 29.
33 The precise figures are not known. Roughly three million settled in Pakistan and two million in Iran.
34 The accords made no provisions for civilian advisers. Another provision of the accords was that the U.S. stop aiding the mujahidin. Protesting that so long as the Soviet Union continued to aid the government in Kabul, this constituted unacceptable asymmetry, the U.S. made a formal reservation to the accords.
35 Under pressure from the U.N. negotiator, Benon Sevan, Najibullah had announced his resignation on March 18, 1992. But the announcement, together with the collapse of the Soviet Union, "created a vacuum of power in Kabul into which the regional and ethnic coalitions rushed." See Rubin, The Search for Peace..., p. 128.
36 Rubin, The Fragmentation of Afghanistan..., pp. 272-73.
37 Amin Saikal, "The Rabbani Government, 1992-1996," in William Maley, ed., Fundamentalism Reborn? Afghanistan and the Taliban (New York: New York University Press, 1998), p. 33.
38 In its annual human rights report for 1994, the U.S. State Department estimated that some 2,650 people, most of them civilians, were killed or injured in the fighting in the last two weeks of September 1994 alone. United States Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 1994 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1995), p. 1203.
39 William Maley, "Interpreting the Taliban," in Maley, ed., Fundamentalism Reborn?..., p. 15.
40 Anthony Davis, "How the Taliban Became a Military Force," in Maley, ed., Fundamentalism Reborn?..., p. 43; and Rashid, Taliban: Militant Islam..., pp. 24-25.
41 Anthony Davis notes that no outsiders witnessed the Taliban seizure of either Spin Boldak or of the arms depot, and that no one knew for sure how much weaponry and ammunition was actually in the Pasha dump, leading to the possibility that descriptions of the dump as "massive" may have been a smoke screen intended to conceal the fact that the Taliban were now receiving supplies from Pakistan. Davis, "How the Taliban...," p. 46.
42 Among the passengers on the convoy were two Pakistani intelligence officers. Davis, "How the Taliban...," pp. 47-48; Barnett R. Rubin, "The Political Economy of War and Peace in Afghanistan," World Development, vol. 28, no. 10 (2000), p. 1794; and Rubin, The Search for Peace..., pp. 138-39.
43 Davis, "How the Taliban...," p. 50. Davis notes rumors that a massive bribe was paid to the Jamiat commander to secure his cooperation with the Taliban attack; similar rumors have attended most of the Taliban's other military successes.
44 Ibid. This phenomenon would become a standard practice, with the Taliban issuing regular calls to Pakistani madrasas for volunteers in advance of significant offensives. (See below.)
45 These included 220mm Urugan multiple-rocket launch systems, ammunition, and an Mi-17 transport helicopter. Davis, "How the Taliban...," p. 53.
46 After the debacle at Charasyab, the Taliban apparently retaliated by killing Mazari, who died under disputed circumstances in the Taliban's custody. Ibid, pp. 57-58.
47 "New Rocket Attack on Afghan Capital," BBC News Online, September 22, 1998,
48 These three states remain the only ones to have recognized the Taliban as the Afghan government. The Saudi ambassador was withdrawn from Kabul in August 1998 to protest the Taliban refusal to surrender Osama bin Laden, a Saudi citizen, to Saudi authorities following the August bombings of U.S. embassies in East Africa. Since that time, Saudi diplomats have made occasional visits to Kabul. The UAE Embassy is reportedly empty (although a number of Islamic charities based in the UAE maintain active offices), and only Pakistan maintains a fully staffed, active embassy in the city. No Western country maintains an active embassy in Kabul, although French diplomats fly into the city on a regular schedule to maintain the French embassy buildings. Human Rights Watch interview with a staff member of an international nongovernmental organization (NGO) in Kabul, July 1999; also "Chechen Embassy Opens in Kabul," Associated Press, January 24, 2000.
49 Human Rights Watch has conducted interviews with a range of sources familiar with the incidents in Mazar-i Sharif, including Western diplomats, journalists, and residents of the city, most of whom must remain anonymous. For more information see Human Rights Watch, "Afghanistan: The Massacre in Mazar-i Sharif," A Human Rights Watch Short Report, vol. 10, no. 7 (November 1998), p. 6. See also Maley, "Interpreting the Taliban," pp. 11-12.
50 See, for example, Jake Border, "Taliban Turnaround," part 2, Soldier of Fortune, vol. 24, no. 3 (March 1999), pp. 62-63. At that time, Konduz sat on a critically important road junction connecting the Junbish forces to the west with Massoud's troops in Takhar province to the east. Konduz is also connected to the river ports of Imam Sahib and Sher Khan Bandar, which lie to the north on the Amu Darya river. The loss of Sher Khan Bandar was particularly bitter for the United Front, as the port has well-developed cargo handling facilities. Control of Sher Khan Bandar has see-sawed back and forth between Jamiat and Taliban forces since 1998, but without control of the Konduz road junction the port cannot be used to supply the United Front forces.
51 These incidents were investigated by the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and are summarized in U.N. Secretary-General, "Situation of human rights in Afghanistan," Report of the Secretary-General, E/CN.4/1998/71, March 12, 1998.
52 See Human Rights Watch, "Afghanistan: The Massacre in Mazar-i Sharif."
53 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, p. 11.
54 Tashkent Declaration on Fundamental Principles for a Peaceful Settlement of the Conflict in Afghanistan, Tashkent, July 19, 1999, http://afghan-politics.org/Reference/Accords/Tashkand/text_of_the_tashkent_declaration.htm.
55 Amir Shah, "Russia giving opposition helicopters, Iran giving military advice: Defector," Associated Press, February 24, 2001; and Patrick Graham, "Deep in the Bomb-Strewn Hills of Afghanistan, the Lion of Panjshir Wages War to Defend His Valley," National Post (Canada), May 5, 2001.
56 Protocol II elaborates upon common article 3's requirement of humane treatment and provides a more comprehensive list of protections for civilians in internal armed conflicts. These include, for instance, prohibitions on the desecration of corpses and the recruitment of children under fifteen into armed forces or groups.
57 For example, see John Dugard, "Bridging the gap between human rights and humanitarian law: The punishment of offenders." International Review of the Red Cross, no. 324 (September 1998), pp. 445-53; and Steven R. Ratner and Jason S. Abrams, Accountability for Human Rights Atrocities in International Law: Beyond the Nuremberg Legacy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001, Second Edition), pp. 98-107.
58 International Law Commission, Draft Code of Crimes against the Peace and Security of Mankind (1996), art. 20, e-g.
59 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), art. 8(2)(c). The ICC statute is available at
60 Ibid., art. 8(2)(e).
61 Ibid., art. 7(1).
62 Human Rights Watch, "Massacres of Hazaras in Afghanistan," A Human Rights Watch Short Report, vol. 13, no. 1 (February 2001), pp. 5-8; Human Rights Watch, "Afghanistan: Inquiry Needed into New Abuses: Arrests, Burnings of Homes Reported in Yakaolang District," press release, June 14, 2001; and "Secretary-General Disturbed by Reports of Anti-Civilian Violence, Continued Human Rights Abuses in Afghanistan," SG/SM/7846, AFG/138, June 15, 2001, http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2001/sgsm7846.doc.htm.
63 Human Rights Watch e-mail communication with a human rights investigator, March 2001.
64 Information provided to Human Rights Watch from interviews conducted with witnesses in the area, October 2000. See also U.N. Secretary-General, "The situation in Afghanistan and its implications for international peace and security," Report of the Secretary-General, A/54/918-S/2000/581, June 16, 2000, p. 9; U.N. Secretary-General, "The situation in Afghanistan and its implications for international peace and security," Report of the Secretary-General, A/55/393-S/2000/875, September 18, 2000, p. 7; and U.N. Secretary-General, "The situation in Afghanistan and its implications for international peace and security," Report of the Secretary-General, A/55/633-S/2000/1106, November 20, 2000, pp. 12-13.
65 Human Rights Watch, "Massacres of Hazaras in Afghanistan," pp. 8-10.
66 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.
67 U.N. Secretary-General, "The situation in Afghanistan and its implications for international peace and security," Report of the Secretary-General, S/1999/1145, November 16, 1999.
68 Human Rights Watch interview, Islamabad, May 2001.
69 Interview and e-mail communications with a witness in Islamabad who investigated the incident, November 2000-May 2001.
70 Human Rights Watch e-mail communication with a human rights investigator, Islamabad, May 2001.
71 Human Rights Watch, "Afghanistan: The Massacre in Mazar-i Sharif."
72 U.N. Secretary-General, "Situation of Human Rights in Afghanistan," Report of the Secretary-General, E/CN.4/1998/71, March 12, 1998.
73 Information provided to Human Rights Watch based on interviews with displaced persons in Mazar-i Sharif in June 2000.
74 "New Rocket Attack on Afghan Capital," BBC News Online.
76 International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), "Afghanistan: Indiscriminate rocket attacks on Kabul," ICRC News 98/38, September 23, 1998. The news release said that the attacks were "concentrated in the northern part of the city...notably striking the night market."
77 Human Rights Watch, "Afghanistan: The Massacre at Mazar-i Sharif."
78 Amnesty International, "Afghanistan: Civilians Targeted in Shelling Attacks" (Press Release), AI Index: ASA 11/01/97, January 8, 1997.
79 U.S. Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1995 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1996), pp. 1288 and 1292. The report elaborates: "Medical workers said that they knew of at least 6 rapes and 2 attempted rapes. Social taboos against revealing rapes are so strong that it is impossible to know how many rape victims there actually were."
80 The incident is described in S.S. Mousavi, The Hazaras of Afghanistan: An Historical, Cultural, Economic and Political Study (Surrey, U.K.: Curzon Press, 1998), pp. 198-99. Human Rights Watch also interviewed a source in Islamabad familiar with the incident.
81 One form of torture used by the Hizb-i Wahdat commanders in Bamian involved tying detainees inside gunnysacks along with dead bodies. In a notorious incident in Kabul in 1994 that amounts to a war crime, a Harakat commander executed and decapitated five Pashtun prisoners on the eve of cease-fire negotiations with a Pashtun commander. Human Rights Watch e-mail communication with a human rights researcher in Islamabad, May 2001.