Shoor Darya Valley
Fifty-eight-year-old M.A. was at home on November 10 when the Uzbek looters first came to the village. He had just heard on his radio at 6 a.m. that the Taliban had abandoned Mazar-i Sharif, and at about 10 a.m. saw a group of armed Uzbeks come on donkeys to the river and cross over toward MK village. Most of the other villagers ran away, but M.A. stayed home. Then the armed Uzbeks came to his home:
The looting continued for almost the entire month of Ramadan, according to M.A. and other villagers: "After that [first day], they came twenty more times, every day during Ramadan until it was finished. Then there was nothing left."120
M.J.M., a sixty-one-year-old village elder of MK village, also told Human Rights Watch that his property was looted and that he had been repeatedly jailed and beaten by Uzbek soldiers, resulting in the loss of a testicle:
On December 15, 2001, forty-eight-year-old A.M., a resident of MK village, decided to return home from fifteen months of refuge in Iran, confident that the fall of the Taliban had significantly improved the situation in his home area. He traveled by bus from Iran to Dawlatabad, the nearest town to MK village, but was arbitrarily arrested, beaten and robbed as soon as he stepped off the bus:
The abuses in MK village were still continuing when a team of Human Rights Watch visited the village on February 21, 2002. As the Human Rights Watch team entered the village, they saw two armed Uzbek men leave the village on motorbikes. M.J.M., a sixty-one-year-old elder of the village, explained what had just happened:
Some of the villagers of MK village freely admitted that prior abuses committed by their villagers against Uzbek neighbors contributed to the current cycle of abuse directed against their community. One villager explained what had happened, saying that Pashtun villagers had "borrowed" money from Uzbek villagers when the Taliban first came to power:
A second villager used the same "borrowing" euphemism, saying that "it is true that Pashtuns borrowed money from the Uzbeks when the Taliban came to power, and probably also people from this village [did this.]"125 But he claimed that the land and property disputes actually went quite a bit farther back:
However, many of the villagers who were affected by the looting did not benefit directly from the oppressive nature of the Taliban regime, or participate in abuses against other ethnic communities.
According to the villagers, their security situation improved somewhat when Junbish leader General Dostum appointed a new area commander who had tried to stop some of the low level commanders from looting. But the severe looting jeopardized their long-term ability to support themselves, and incidents of harassment and abuse still occurred: "We are still afraid. We have lost our lands, we are hungry, and we do not dare go out to get food or to get international aid."127
Haji Mullah Hashim and Khoja Abbas Villages
A fifty-year-old man who wished to remain anonymous explained that he and his relatives had walked to Turkmenistan after the Taliban fell, afraid that Uzbek forces would kill them if they remained at home. He stayed for six days in Turkmenistan, but his application for asylum was rejected and he was forced to return to Haji Mullah Hashim. When he arrived home, he found everything looted: "I had many things in my home, like wheat, carpets, and household goods. But when I came back home, there was nothing left. Only the stove remained."128
After he returned home, armed Uzbek men continued to come to the village almost every day for a period of about forty days. One of the village elders, seventy-five-year-old Lala Jan, disappeared from the village around November 20, 2001, after he was unable to pay 2,000 lakhs [about U.S. $2,800] demanded from him by Uzbek gunmen. The men beat him severely, and then took him away. The villagers believe that Lala Jan died from the beating, and that the gunmen disposed of his body.129 The anonymous fifty-year-old man, who returned to the village on the same day that Lala Jan disappeared, said he was also severely beaten by the Uzbek gunmen that day:
Human Rights Watch asked him what had happened to his female relatives during the period of looting. The witness grew visibly agitated, and suddenly ripped off his turban and threw it down on the floor with great force. He then explained: "For forty days, if there are no men in the village and only women are remaining, what do you think happened? It [rape] is unmentionable for us.... They have dishonored some of our women, but did not kidnap any of them. It would have been better if they killed all of us."131 His wife then explained that her husband had given her a knife and a grenade, and that she had managed to fend off attackers by threatening to explode the grenade.132
The village of Khoja Abbas is adjacent to the village of Haji Mullah Hashim, and its residents suffered abuses similar to those reported by their neighbors. One of the most severe cases involved A.S., a wealthy forty-six-year-old livestock owner who was severely beaten in mid-December 2001 by two members of Junbish. He was still bedridden when interviewed by Human Rights Watch two months later. He told Human Rights Watch about the extensive looting and the severe beating that he endured:
The severe looting of villages in the Shoor Darya valley has drastically worsened the ability of the villagers to survive, as most people have lost their livestock and other food supplies to the looters. Despite the deteriorating situation, many villagers complained that they were unable to seek out humanitarian aid. In early January 2002, the villagers of Khoja Abbas sent a group of women to Faizabad to collect humanitarian aid from the WFP distribution center. On the way to Faizabad, Uzbek villagers stopped the women, tore up their WFP food ration cards, and confiscated their seventeen donkeys and camels. In early January, three men from the village again went to Faizabad to collect three bags of wheat for sowing from WFP. The men obtained three bags of wheat from the distribution center, but had two of the bags confiscated on their way home by Uzbek villagers, who told them, "One bag for you, two bags for us."134
The security situation in Haji Mullah Hashim and Khoja Abbas has improved since mid-January 2002, when Mullah Lal, an Uzbek Junbish commander, placed a group of his soldiers inside the villages. The permanent presence of armed Uzbek soldiers has deterred looters from coming to the villages, but most of the Pashtun villagers are still unable to travel outside their village or go to the market in town out of fear of attack.
J.M., a thirty-five-year-old Pashtun farmer from Islam Qala, was living as an internally displaced person in Balkh city when he was interviewed by Human Rights Watch in mid-February 2002. When asked why he had fled his home village, he explained that he had been abused and threatened by Uzbek soldiers in Islam Qala:
About three weeks prior to this beating, in early December, J.M. was farming his field when a Junbish soldier approached and demanded his cows. When J.M. refused to hand over the cows, the soldier stabbed him in the chest with his bayonet. Following the second beating, J.M., his wife, and his three children fled with their donkey to the larger city of Dawlatabad that same night. They left behind most of their belongings, including 700 kilograms of wheat, four carpets, three cows, a donkey, and their household goods. Still feeling unsafe in Dawlatabad, they later fled to Balkh city, located two provinces away. "Now, in Islam Qala there are no Pashtuns left," concluded J.M., "They have escaped to many different places."136
Seventy-year-old A., a second internally displaced person from Islam Qala located by Human Rights Watch researchers in Balkh city, offered an essentially similar account of the events in his home village. He was stopped at the Islam Qala market in early December 2001 by a group of three Junbish soldiers, who demanded money from him. The soldiers then took him to an abandoned home, beat him with their rifle butts, and took 30 lakhs [about U.S. $42] from him. "They left me, and that night I arranged to escape," A. told Human Rights Watch. "They started beating us, so we decided to leave. We hear that none of us [Pashtuns] are left in the village."137
When Human Rights Watch researchers visited Islam Qala on February 21, 2002, they found almost no Pashtun villagers remaining in the village, except for a few older women and a sickly man who had just returned from medical treatment. S., a fifty-year-old woman who had remained in the village to take care of her ailing mother, told Human Rights Watch that only three Pashtun families remained in the village: "There are no [Pashtun] men living here now. The men cannot come here, because the Uzbeks will beat them if they come home."138 The only male Pashtun Human Rights Watch found in the village was thirty-six-year-old J.M., who had returned from medical treatment in Mazar-i Sharif six days prior. He also confirmed that most of the Pashtun families had left after suffering abuses:
119 Human Rights Watch interview with M.A., aged fifty-eight, MK village, February 21, 2002.
121 Human Rights Watch interview with M.J.M., aged sixty-one, MK village, February 21, 2002.
122 Human Rights Watch interview with A.M, aged forty-eight, MK village, February 21, 2002.
123 Human Rights Watch interview with M.J.M., aged sixty-one, MK village, February 21, 2002.
124 Human Rights Watch interview with I., aged thirty-five, MK village, February 21, 2002. I., like many Afghans, uses only one name.
125 Human Rights Watch interview with anonymous male, aged sixty, MK village, February 21, 2002.
127 Human Rights Watch interview with M.J.M., aged sixty-one, MK village, February 21, 2002.
128 Human Rights Watch interview with anonymous, aged fifty, Haji Mullah Hashim, February 22, 2002.
132 Human Rights Watch interview, Haji Mullah Hashim, February 22, 2002.
133 Human Rights Watch interview with A.S., aged forty-six, Khoja Abbas, February 22, 2002.
134 Human Rights Watch interview with A.M., aged forty, Khoja Abbas, February 22, 2002.
135 Human Rights Watch interview with J.M., aged thirty-five, Balkh city, February 18, 2002.
137 Human Rights Watch interview with A., aged seventy, Balkh city, February 18, 2002. A., like many Afghans, uses only one name.
138 Human Rights Watch interview with S., aged fifty, Islam Qala, February 20, 2002. S., like many Afghans, uses only one name.
139 Human Rights Watch interview with J.M., aged thirty-six, Islam Qala, February 20, 2002.