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Establishment of Independent Commission
In mid-February 2002, the Afghan Interim Administration authorized a high-level independent commission to investigate reports of ethnically motivated violence in northern Afghanistan. The three members of this commission-Aref Noorzai, minister of light industries and foodstuffs, Dr. Moshaheed, ambassador-designate to Iran, and Mohammed Ibrahim, liaison with the United Nations and a former UNHCR staffer-traveled to northern Afghanistan in late February. They spoke with villagers from different ethnic groups and collected written information about conditions in the north.

The commission visited Mazar-i Sharif, Balkh and surrounding suburbs and villages, and central Samangan province. The commission met with local commanders, and at least on some occasions traveled with them. While Human Rights Watch was concerned that the presence of local commanders would inhibit proper information-gathering, the commission justified this cooperation as a means of educating the commanders about the problems of ordinary Afghans living in areas under their command, and also as a means of ensuring that commanders could not deny knowledge of such problems.

The commission's initial conclusions largely paralleled those of Human Rights Watch. According to Noorzai, the commission received over 300 reports of attacks against ethnic Pashtuns in the north, including widespread looting and associated violence, extortion, and sexual violence.198 This violence was often explicitly explained as reprisal for real or perceived ties between Pashtun communities and the Taliban. The commission also spoke with local commanders, who at times justified their actions as a form of vigilante justice in the absence of any formal means of accountability for past crimes. Perhaps reflecting the areas they visited, the commission's initial findings focused only on abuses perpetrated by Junbish and Wahdat forces, without mentioning the involvement of Tajik forces serving under Jamiat commanders. However, the Interim Administration has stated that it will authorize another commission to investigate allegations of abuse in parts of northern Afghanistan under the control of Jamiat forces.199

The Interim Administration has also committed itself to continuing its monitoring of conditions in the north, especially in the period before the Loya Jirga in June. The most concrete proposal for immediately addressing the problem is the creation of a collaborative mechanism for addressing particular complaints, comprising all the ethnic groups in the north. As envisioned, the mechanism would involve representatives from the main ethnically-based factions in the north, including those of Pashtun commanders, as well as the aid community. The proposed mechanism would provide civilians with a forum for lodging complaints and a means of raising these complaints to the attention of local leaders. However, such mechanisms could reinforce the political authority of warlords whose power rests solely on their control of weapons and gunmen. It is precisely this unrepresentative authority that has abused the rights of and alienated ordinary Afghans.

Nevertheless, the Interim Administration's quick and serious response is encouraging. Among the central recommendations of the commission are calls for disarming local commanders and providing incentives for their troops to surrender arms, for instance by handing out three-month food coupons to all those who disarm and engaging in job-creating opportunities funded by international aid. Another key recommendation is the deployment of a small number of international troops, perhaps 300 to 500, in northern Afghanistan to provide basic security.200

Preliminary Steps toward Improving Security in the North
Afghanistan's Interim Administration has limited power and influence beyond Kabul, and its ability to enforce the rule of law throughout Afghanistan is virtually non-existent. For the moment, Afghanistan has no national army, and it may take years to create a professional national army.201 Hamid Karzai, the chairman of the Interim Administration, can plead with warlords to stop abuses, but does not have much power to directly intervene.202

Although the Interim Administration itself has limited power, the leaders of all three ethnic-based armed parties responsible for the abuses documented in this report are also members of the Interim Administration. General Abdul Rashid Dostum, the undisputed commander of Junbish, is the deputy defense minister in the Interim Administration. Mohammad Qasim Fahim, the overall commander of Jamiat's armed forces, replacing Ahmed Shah Masood after his assassination, is the defense minister in the Interim Administration. Haji Mohammad Mohaqiq, the head of Hizb-i Wahdat in northern Afghanistan, is both minister of planning and one of five deputy chairmen of the Interim Cabinet of Hamid Karzai.

A process is underway in Afghanistan to establish a national army, and major regional warlords have formally pledged to cooperate with the process. In the northern capital Mazar-i Sharif, the three factions vying for control of the city have agreed on the establishment of a joint 600-person police force for the city, and agreed to withdraw their own fighters from the city. Although the number of ethnic militiamen has decreased in Mazar-i Sharif, the city is still bristling with armed men loyal to the various factions.203 There is no doubt that the balance of fire-power in Mazar-i Sharif, as well as in the rest of northern Afghanistan, remains solidly on the side of the warlords.

Some of the warlords have taken their own measures to address the continued abuses against ethnic Pashtuns. In some parts of northern Afghanistan, General Dostum of Junbish has removed a few commanders who were involved in abuses against Pashtuns, an action that has led to a decrease in abuses in those areas. In other areas, Junbish and Jamiat commanders have established military positions within Pashtun communities and are providing protection to those communities. But in other areas, abusive commanders and forces from all three factions continue to act without restraint or reprimand. Human Rights Watch found no evidence that any commanders had been appropriately punished for the abuses they had committed, or that warlords had made any efforts to redress abuses against Pashtun communities.

198 Human Rights Watch interview with Aref Noorzai, minister of light industries and member of the three-person independent commission, Kabul, March 3, 2002.

199 Human Rights Watch interview, Kabul, March 10, 2002.

200 Human Rights Watch interview with Aref Noorzai, Kabul, March 3, 2002.

201 "Creation of Afghan army will take `probably years': ISAF Chief," Agence France-Presse, March 2, 2002.

202 Anna Badkhen, "Afghan Militias Rule Outside Kabul: Weak Interim Regime Can't Stop Warlords' Ethnic, Tribal Skirmishes," San Francisco Chronicle, February 4, 2002.

203 Liam Pleven, "Their Dangerous Alliance: In Mazar-i Sharif, gunmen won't leave," Newsday, March 1, 2002.

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