The civil war in Afghanistan, a geopolitical battleground during the cold war, is once again being sponsored by outside parties: Pakistan, Iran, Russia, and other neighboring countries, with the United States and India working in other ways to influence the war's outcome. A country whose main economic activity is as a global arms market and smuggling hub is threatening to become, again, a theater of geopolitical competition. Meanwhile, the humanitarian toll of twenty years of fighting-some 1.5 million deaths and the massive displacement of populations, famine, and the ruin of the country's economic base-has not figured prominently in international policy on Afghanistan. Instead, several members of the Six Plus Two contact group, the six countries bordering Afghanistan, plus Russia and the U.S. that are nominally committed to negotiating an end to the war, are providing military and material support to Afghan parties that have committed gross violations of the laws of war.1
The general outlines of the delivery of military support to both sides-the Taliban in Kabul and the loose coalition of forces known as the United Front2-in Afghanistan are well known to experts monitoring the situation but not to a wider public. In light of the possibility of broadening military sponsorship of the warring factions, Human Rights Watch has investigated the delivery of arms and other forms of military aid to both sides and the impact of this aid on human rights. This report details the nature of military support provided to the warring parties, the major transit routes used to move arms and other equipment, the suppliers, the role of state and nonstate actors, and the response of the international community. The implications of foreign military assistance go beyond Afghanistan, as the war also poses a threat to regional security: armed groups in neighboring Uzbekistan and Tajikistan are obtaining military support from the well-supplied Afghan factions.3
Both the Taliban and the United Front have failed to ensure that the fundamental human rights of the Afghan population under their control are protected. Some five million are refugees, with the remainder displaced throughout the country because of fighting between Taliban and United Front forces and the devastating effects of a three-year drought. Millions inside the country are facing starvation and drought, some of the world's highest infant and maternal mortality rates, and a health care system in ruins.4
While the international community has provided some assistance to address the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, some members simultaneously are fueling the war. Moreover, U.N. sanctions imposed on arms and fuel to the Taliban in December 2000 are one-sided and strongly influenced by short-term U.S. and Russian interests, not humanitarian goals: the U.S. seeks to induce the Taliban to hand over Osama bin Laden, the exiled Saudi billionaire suspected of orchestrating the 1998 attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania; Russia seeks to curb Taliban support for insurgents in Chechnya and states of the former Soviet Union, like Uzbekistan.
Supporting the United Front are Iran and Russia, with secondary roles played by Tajikistan and, at least until 1998, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Kyrgyzstan. Iran has provided weapons, large-scale funding, and training. Russia has played a crucial enabling role in the resupply of United Front forces by arranging for the transport of Iranian aid, as well as providing direct military assistance itself, including transport helicopters in late 2000. Military assistance to United Front forces has crossed the Tajikistan-Afghanistan border with the active collusion of the Russian government.
Almost none of the arms transfers that have gone through has been publicly documented via submissions to the U.N. register on conventional arms. In fact, several of the implicated governments also participate in the so-called Six Plus Two contact group whose mandate is to negotiate a settlement to the war and whose members have publicly pledged not to provide military support to Afghan combatants. (See below.)
Since then the Six Plus Two contact group has met periodically under the auspices of the U.N. secretary-general's special representative on Afghanistan but has made little progress on any of its stated goals of encouraging respect for human rights, negotiating the terms for peace, or curbing the flow of arms. In September 1999, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan criticized unnamed members of the group for continuing to fuel the conflict, saying they were "paying lip service to their own stated intentions."9
Concern for human rights has not played a significant role in resolutions adopted by the U.N. Security Council on Afghanistan. Under pressure from the U.S., the Security Council has responded to the Taliban's continued resistance to demands it extradite Osama bin Laden and close alleged terrorist training camps by imposing sanctions on the Taliban. In October 1999 the U.N. Security Council adopted Resolution 1267 banning all aircraft "owned, leased or operated by or on behalf of the Taliban" from landing or taking off from any member state, and freezing all financial resources of the Taliban outside Afghanistan.10
The Taliban's failure to implement resolution 1267 led to an expansion of the sanctions regime with Resolution 1333 on December 19, 2000, by which the Security Council further imposed an arms embargo on the Taliban, banned travel outside Afghanistan by Taliban officials of deputy ministerial rank, and ordered the closing of Taliban offices abroad.11 The Security Council action led to steps by U.N. member states to incorporate Resolution 1333 into their domestic law. On March 6, 2001, for example, the Council of the European Union adopted Regulation 467 incorporating the terms of the U.N. resolution.12 The European Union has had an arms embargo in place against Afghanistan since December 1996, covering all parties to the war.13
Security Council Resolution 1333 also called for the appointment of a committee of experts to make recommendations as to how the arms embargo and the closure of alleged terrorist training camps could be monitored. The committee's report was presented to the Security Council on May 21, 2001.14 Its primary recommendation was that the Security Council set up a special U.N. office for sanctions monitoring and coordination for Afghanistan that would include "sanctions enforcement support teams" to be based in each of the countries neighboring Afghanistan. The teams' task would be to "improve the effectiveness of [these countries'] border control and counter-terrorism services." The committee also recommended that "urgent consideration" be given to specifying "aircraft turbine fuel, and special fluids and lubricants needed for use in armoured vehicles" in the embargo.15
Record on Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law
The examples of human rights and humanitarian law violations by the Taliban provided in Chapter II date primarily 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 detainees in the north-central province of Samangan, and forced relocation and conscription. Many of the human rights and humanitarian law violations committed by the United Front forces date from 1996-1998 when they controlled most of the north and were within artillery range of Kabul. Since then, the United Front has been on the defensive in its home territories, but there have nevertheless been reports of abuses, including summary executions, burning of houses, and looting, principally targeting ethnic Pashtuns and others suspected of supporting the Taliban. The ethnicization of the conflict in the north raises grave concerns about further reprisal attacks on civilians by both sides.
Each of the parties to the conflict is obligated to abide by international humanitarian law as it applies to non-international (internal) armed conflicts. This includes Common Article 3 to the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 and the 1977 Second Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions (Protocol II), as well as the relevant customary international law. Afghanistan is a party to the 1949 Geneva Conventions. While Afghanistan is not a party to Protocol II, its fundamental provisions reflect customary international law.
To date, neither the Taliban nor the United Front has demonstrated an intention to abide by international humanitarian law. Each faction has publicly stated a willingness to adhere to international limitations on the use of antipersonnel landmines: the United Front in 1996, the Taliban in 1998. However, the United Front has not signed the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty and admits to using landmines.16 No independent observers have been able to verify the Taliban's compliance with the ban.17 Both sides have cooperated to a limited extent with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in facilitating access to some, but not all, detainees and captured prisoners.
A Call for
a Comprehensive Arms Embargo
A number of governments in the region, including some that have expressly agreed to withhold military assistance to any Afghan party, continue to provide military support. They have supplied weapons, ammunition, and fuel, all of which have been used in direct or indiscriminate attacks on civilians and civilian property, including aerial bombardments and shelling, reprisal killings of civilians, and the summary execution of captured soldiers and noncombatants.
The international community has failed to hold Afghanistan's warring factions accountable for violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. Within the discussions of the Six Plus Two contact group, human rights and humanitarian law violations have not figured prominently. This international indifference, exemplified by the continued supply of military assistance by governments that have pledged otherwise, has helped foster a culture of impunity in Afghanistan that makes continued violations all but inevitable.18
Existing U.N. sanctions against the Taliban, imposed to compel the surrender of Osama bin Laden, do not address the larger issue of the war's impact on the civilian population. Needed is concerted, targeted, and determined international action aimed at ending abuses by all parties to the conflict. Human Rights Watch favors a comprehensive and enforceable international arms embargo on all Afghan parties that have been implicated in serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law and have not taken appropriate steps to prevent further abuses or prosecute those responsible. States that continue to provide military assistance, even in the absence of a comprehensive arms embargo, become complicit in the violations committed, and should be held accountable by the international community.
Human Rights Watch is well aware that enforcing an embargo on all parties without indirectly benefiting one over the other would be a formidable task. Supply routes for the United Front are both less numerous and far more accessible than those for the Taliban. (Thus Human Rights Watch could provide greater detail in this report about arms supplies from Iran and Russia than about arms flows from Pakistan.) A two-sided embargo that did not take these differences into account could inadvertently benefit the Taliban, freezing the military situation, including the Taliban's advantage in weaponry, in place. In imposing such an embargo the Security Council would therefore have to take specific steps to rigorously implement and enforce it on the Taliban in particular.
An unofficial arms embargo study produced by the U.N. Secretariat in late 1998 or 1999 highlighted the difficulties of cutting off the flow of weapons from Pakistan to Afghanistan. Pakistan's border with Afghanistan is 2,430 kilometers long, much of it lying in sparsely populated, mountainous, or desert terrain. There are two principal roads: the two-lane road between Quetta and Qandahar is capable of carrying up to 11,000 metric tons of cargo a day; the two-lane road between Peshawar and Jalalabad is capable of carrying 21,000 metric tons of cargo a day.19 While these two roads could be monitored fairly easily, it is virtually impossible to monitor all of the secondary, minor, routes and trails which could be used to bring in small arms and ammunition, as they were during the Soviet occupation in the 1980s. Most of these roads traverse tribal areas on both sides of the border and have long been used for smuggling goods between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Migratory populations on both sides move across the border with little regard for state boundaries. Pakistan's formal administration of these areas is minimal, which facilitates smuggling operations.
Even if the U.N., with the aid of neighboring states, is not capable of monitoring every crossing point into Afghanistan, monitoring fuel delivery points as well as major and secondary routes could curb arms deliveries to the Taliban significantly, while sending a crucial political signal to the Taliban's primary ally, Pakistan, that the international community is serious about addressing the crisis of impunity in Afghanistan. Pressure could be placed on Pakistan to comply with the U.N. embargo, especially to prevent the re-supply of ammunition to the Taliban. Ammunition deliveries are more easily concealed and therefore require additional attention and commitment by responsible customs authorities. A successful international embargo on arms and other forms of military assistance will require both committed monitoring by the U.N. and a commitment by the relevant states to fulfill their international obligations to abide by such an embargo.
The embargo should not be lifted against any faction until it has made significant progress toward ending gross violations of human rights and humanitarian law and bringing the perpetrators to justice.· Human Rights Watch calls on the U.N. Security Council to impose a comprehensive embargo on arms and other military assistance against all warring factions in Afghanistan.
The ban should include all forms of military and security assistance, including the provision of arms, ammunition, other military materiel, spare parts, military training, military advisers, and combatants.20
The embargo should be strictly implemented, monitored, and enforced, and care should be taken to enforce the ban fully against all parties. The Security Council should take all necessary steps to ensure the embargo does not help one side at the expense of the other. To this end, the Security Council should deploy a sufficient number of international arms monitors on the ground in Afghanistan and surrounding states to inspect key border crossings and airfields. If it proves politically impossible to station international arms monitors inside Afghanistan, then urgent consideration should be given to the stationing of such monitors in countries neighboring Afghanistan, as proposed by the U.N. Committee of Experts on Afghanistan in May 2001. While not the optimum solution, this could be an adequate solution if in fact it is implemented as proposed by the committee and sufficient monitors are deployed.
Pakistan, in particular, should be put under pressure to comply with the embargo, especially to prevent the re-supply of ammunition and spare parts to the Taliban. Pakistan should also be urged to accept U.N. monitors to work alongside its own customs personnel, and steps should be taken to penalize Pakistan if it fails to comply with the U.N. embargo. (Such measures should be designed to minimize any adverse humanitarian impact in Pakistan.) Pakistan has already publicly agreed to an arms embargo against both sides in the civil war. What remains is to hold Pakistan to its word.
The arms embargo should include benchmarks against which the warring sides' compliance with international human rights and humanitarian law can be measured. This would allow for a progressive lifting of the embargo-on either or both sides-as compliance improves. Such benchmarks might include actions by any party to the conflict to (1) declare its intent to comply with its international human rights and humanitarian law obligations, and implement measures to that effect, (2) prosecute human rights offenders among its personnel, and (3) accept international human rights monitors in the territory under its control.
Any arms embargo, including the existing one against the Taliban, needs to minimize negative humanitarian consequences. It should be accompanied by measures to ensure Afghan civilians have full access to humanitarian assistance. Although some Security Council members have characterized the sanctions imposed in December 2000 as "smart sanctions" because of provisions specifically designed to ensure continued delivery of aid to civilians, we believe these provisions do not go far enough.
We are aware that flights by Ariana, the Afghan national airline, could be used to circumvent an arms embargo. This concern, however, can be addressed by having arms embargo monitors inspect Ariana flights for arms shipments, and by imposing an additional ban on fuel and lubricants used for military purposes, as proposed by the U.N. Committee of Experts on Afghanistan.21 Fuel reaches the Taliban through only two transshipment points from Pakistan and one from Turkmenistan, and these could be monitored by U.N. personnel on the ground in these two countries. Care should be taken, however, to allow the import of fuel intended for civilian use so as to minimize the U.N. sanctions' humanitarian impact. The Security Council should use means that are the least restrictive on the civilian population in achieving its goals. In this case, inspection of flights and fuel is preferable to an absolute ban on all international flights. On human rights and the crisis of impunity:· We therefore urge, in particular, that the Security Council withdraw the existing ban on all international flights by aircraft owned, leased, or operated by the Taliban-a ban it imposed as part of sanctions in October 1999-and replace it with a ban on military flights and other flights that contribute to the Taliban's military effort.
Finally:· All parties to the conflict should make a public commitment to abide by international human rights and humanitarian law guaranteeing the protection of civilians, and should investigate and prosecute military personnel responsible for violations.
A Note on Methodology and Sources Human Rights conducted research on military assistance to the Taliban and the United Front over a two-year period. From May to August 1999, Human Rights Watch researchers traveled to both Kabul and areas of Afghanistan under United Front control, as well as Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Pakistan. Human Rights Watch conducted additional research in Pakistan and Afghanistan in 2000 and 2001. Human Rights Watch also requested permission to travel to Iran but was unable to visit the country because of unacceptable conditions imposed by the Iranian authorities. In the course of these visits and follow-up research conducted by telephone and electronic mail, Human Rights Watch interviewed government officials, members of the diplomatic community, military officers, civil servants, journalists, academics, and representatives of humanitarian and development organizations. Most of those interviewed spoke with Human Rights Watch on condition of anonymity, fearing reprisal. While we would prefer to quote sources for attribution, we are compelled to resort to the option of not naming them in cases in which a genuine threat to their lives and work exists. 1 The Six Plus Two contact group includes: China, Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, the Russian Federation, and the United States.· Human Rights Watch calls on states that are providing military support to the Afghan parties to stop doing so, even in advance of a comprehensive U.N. arms embargo. Neighboring states that have permitted the transshipment of military supplies to the warring sides should see to it that such transport end immediately.
2 The use of the names "Taliban" and "United Front" in this report constitutes a form of shorthand; these are the names most familiar to the public. The Taliban movement, now in control of some 90-95 percent of the territory of Afghanistan, established as its administrative body the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA), headed by Mullah Muhammad Omar. The ousted government, officially known as the Islamic State of Afghanistan (ISA), is nominally supported by a loose coalition of groups, the United National Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan, or United Front. In fact, the ISA is principally made up of the Jamiat-i Islami-yi Afghanistan under the leadership of Burhanuddin Rabbani (who is also the president of the ISA). The United Front's most powerful military commander is Ahmad Shah Massoud, who is also the ISA's minister of defense. The ISA continues to hold Afghanistan's seat at the United Nations.
3 For example, the government of Uzbekistan alleges that the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), an armed militant organization opposed to President Islam Karimov, receives support from the Taliban. Ahmed Rashid, "Inside the Insurgency in Central Asia," The Nation (Lahore), April 3, 2001.
4 According to the 1998 report by the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Afghanistan, one-quarter of all Afghan children die before they reach the age of five; life expectancy rates are estimated at forty-four years for women and forty-three for men; maternal mortality rates are the second highest in the world; safe water reaches only 12 percent of the population; health services reach only 29 percent of the total population, and only 17 percent of the rural population; and literacy rates are estimated at 30 percent, and at only 13 percent for females. See U.N. Special Rapporteur of the Commission of Human Rights, "Situation of human rights in Afghanistan: Interim report on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan, prepared by the Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights," A/54/422, September 30, 1999.
5 Human Rights Watch obtained this information from several sources in Pakistan and Afghanistan, none of whom may be publicly identified. Interviews and e-mail communications in April and May 2001.
6 Statement made by a Taliban official, Kabul, October 2000, and communicated to Human Rights Watch, and Human Rights Watch interviews with diplomatic sources in Islamabad, October 2000.
7 In the report, Annan expressed his distress that "a significant number of non-Afghan personnel, largely from Pakistani madrassahs, are...taking active part in the fighting, most, if not all, on the side of the Taliban," and that "there also appears to be outside involvement in the planning and logistical support of [the Taliban's] military operations." 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, p. 13. The U.S. government was sufficiently concerned about the possibility of Pakistani involvement in the capture of the town of Taloqan by the Taliban in September 2000 that it issued a démarche to the Pakistani government in late 2000, asking for assurances that Pakistan had not been involved. The démarche listed features of the assault on Taloqan that suggested the Taliban forces had received outside assistance in planning and carrying out the attack. Human Rights Watch interviews with diplomatic sources, Washington, D.C., December 2000.
8 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.
"Annan Accuses `Peacekeepers'
for Afghanistan of Taking Sides," Reuters, September 28, 1999,
10 United Nations Security Council, Resolution 1267 (1999), October 15, 1999.
11 United Nations Security Council, Resolution 1333 (2000), December 19, 2000. The resolution specifies with respect to an arms embargo in paragraph 5 that "States shall (a) Prevent the direct or indirect supply, sale and transfer to the territory of Afghanistan under Taliban control as designated by the Committee established pursuant to resolution 1267 (1999), hereinafter known as the Committee, by their nationals or from their territories, or using their flag vessels or aircraft, of arms and related materiel of all types including weapons and ammunition, military vehicles and equipment, paramilitary equipment, and spare parts for the aforementioned; (b) Prevent the direct or indirect sale, supply and transfer to the territory of Afghanistan under Taliban control, as designated by the Committee, by their nationals or from their territories, of technical advice, assistance or training related to the military activities of the armed personnel under the control of the Taliban; (c) Withdraw any of their officials, agents, advisers, and military personnel employed by contract or other arrangement present in Afghanistan to advise the Taliban on military or related security matters, and urge other nationals in this context to leave the country."
12 Council of the European Union, "Council Regulation (EC) No 467/2001 of 6 March 2001 prohibiting the export of certain goods and services to Afghanistan, strengthening the flight ban and extending the freeze of funds and other financial resources in respect of the Taliban of Afghanistan, and repealing Regulation (EC) No 337/2000," doc. no. 301R0467.
13 Council of the European Union, "Common Position of 17 December 1996 defined by the Council on the basis of Article J.2 of the Treaty on European Union concerning the imposition of an embargo on arms, munitions and military equipment on Afghanistan," 96/746/CFSP, doc. no. 496X0746. The embargo was re-confirmed in a common position of the council in January 2001. Council of the European Union, "Council Common Position of 22 January 2001 on Afghanistan," 2001/56/CFSP (January 22, 2001), art. 2(g). The ambassador of Sweden to Pakistan, Peter Tejler, in May 2001 offered an implicit criticism of the one-sided nature of the U.N. sanctions on the Taliban by stating, at the conclusion of a visit to Afghanistan as part of a three-member E.U. delegation, that the E.U. has been a strong proponent of an arms embargo on both sides: "The European Union in 1996 called for an embargo of all weapons to Afghanistan. We do not differentiate between parties and we encourage others to do the same." Kathy Gannon, "EU fails to get Taliban back to talks," Associated Press, May 4, 2001.
14 United Nations Security Council, "Letter dated 21 May 2001 from the Secretary-General addressed to the President of the Security Council," S/2001/511, May 22, 2001, appending the "Report of the Committee of Experts appointed pursuant to Security Council resolution 1333 (2000), paragraph 15 (a), regarding monitoring of the arms embargo against the Taliban and the closure of terrorist training camps in the Taliban-held areas of Afghanistan," May 18, 2001.
15 Ibid., p. 16.
16 See International Campaign to Ban Landmines, Landmine Monitor Report 2000: Toward a Mine-Free World (New York: Human Rights Watch, 2000), pp. 455-56. The ousted government, the ISA, continues to hold Afghanistan's seat in the United Nations. As such, it is empowered to sign international agreements, including the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty.
17 Both Pakistani- and Iranian-made antipersonnel mines have been found in Afghanistan, suggesting that both sides have used mines, and the United Front is known to have also used Indian-made landmines. Human Rights Watch interview with a military expert with experience in Afghanistan, February 2001. India regularly denies that it provides any assistance to the United Front.
18 In a statement in response to reports of human rights abuses by the Taliban in the town of Yakaolang on June 10-11, 2001, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in the words of his spokesman, expressed "dismay at the persistent failure of the warring parties to abide by international humanitarian norms and to hold those responsible for gross violations of human rights accountable for their actions. [The Secretary-General] urges the international community and human rights organizations to explore new approaches that would prevent further abuses and put an end to the climate of impunity." "Secretary-General Disturbed by Reports of Anti-Civilian Violence, Continued Human Rights Abuses in Afghanistan," SG/SM/7846, AFG/138, June 15, 2001, available at: http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2001/sgsm7846.doc.htm.
U.N. Secretariat, "A Review of
the Options on Embargo of Military Supplies to the Warring Factions in
Afghanistan," undated "Non-Paper" (1998 or 1999),
20 The ban should cover the types of military support as specified in Security Council Resolution 1333 (2000), paragraph 5. (See above.)
21 U.N. Security Council, "Letter dated 21 May 2001," p. 16: "The Committee recommends that urgent consideration should be given to aircraft turbine fuel, and special fluids and lubricants needed for use in armoured vehicles, being specified in the embargo." The chairman of the committee, Ambassador Menkerios of Eritrea, provided further clarification about this recommendation in a later discussion in the Security Council. U.N. Security Council, 4325th Meeting, S/PV.4325 (Resumption 1), June 5, 2001, p. 8.
22 The committee proposed that the unit be based in Vienna. Human Rights Watch believes that it would be more effective if based at U.N. headquarters in New York.