Since the collapse of the Taliban regime in northern Afghanistan in November 2001, ethnic Pashtuns throughout northern Afghanistan have faced widespread abuses including killings, sexual violence, beatings, extortion, and looting. Pashtuns are being targeted because their ethnic group was closely associated with the Taliban regime, whose leadership consisted mostly of Pashtuns from southern Afghanistan.
Directly implicated in many of the abuses are the three main ethnically-based parties and their militias in northern Afghanistan-the predominantly ethnic Uzbek Junbish-i Milly-yi Islami, the predominately ethnic Tajik Jamiat-e Islami, and the ethnic Hazara Hizb-i Wahdat-as well as non-aligned armed Uzbeks, Tajiks, and Hazaras who are taking advantage of the vulnerability of unprotected and selectively disarmed Pashtun communities.
In response to reports of abuses against Pashtuns, Human Rights Watch sent a team of four researchers to northern Afghanistan in February and March 2002. The team visited dozens of Pashtun villages and communities in four northern provinces (Balkh, Faryab, Samangan, and Baghlan) and also met with representatives of the Afghan interim administration, diplomatic representatives, and humanitarian workers.
Widespread looting and extortion of Pashtun communities was documented throughout the region. A typical pattern of attacks emerged in the Shoor Darya region of Faryab province. Local villagers said armed Uzbeks associated with the local Junbish faction took away their guns (but not those of members of other ethnic groups) in mid-November and proceeded to violently loot their villages, taking livestock, stored grains, household goods, carpets, money, and jewelry over the course of the next few weeks-a period described by one villager as "forty days of terror."
In many Pashtun villages, the looting was accompanied by severe beatings of Pashtun men and sometimes women. M.J., an elder of the Pashtun village of Spin Kot in Balkh province, described a typical beating, committed in this case by Hazara soldiers: "One was twisting my head and two were kicking me in the back. They were beating me with a shovel, questioning me about guns and money. They beat me there for about two, two and a half hours." The beatings finally stopped when M.J. showed the soldiers where he had hidden his money. A.S., a wealthy livestock owner from the Shoor Darya region, was almost beaten to death by two Junbish soldiers who wanted money from him: "At first they choked me with my turban. I lost consciousness, and they tied my hands. Then they started beating me with a kardoom [a cable with a metal ball at the end]. I can't remember how many times they hit me, on my back, my legs, my hands. They broke my arm with the kardoom." The beating stopped when A.S. agreed to give the men money and hand over his motorbike.
Cases of abductions for ransom were documented throughout the region. Junbish soldiers arrested M.K and his friend, both Pashtun villagers from Hassan Khel in Samangan province, in late December, and kept them for a week in a basement, beating them with wire cables, until the men agreed to pay money.
Raiders also killed Pashtun civilians during the looting. In the village of Bargah-e Afghani, located in the Chimtal district of Balkh province, Hazara gunmen killed thirty-seven Pashtun men after tying most of them up, beating them in front of their families, and demanding money to spare their lives. In the nearby village of Yengi Qala, Hazara gunmen killed four men and two elderly women during looting. Junbish soldiers beat to death two Pashtun boys, aged fifteen and eighteen, in the village of Deshdan Bala in Balkh province. A village elder, Lal Jan, was severely beaten and then taken away by Uzbek gunmen in the Shoor Darya valley of Faryab province: he is presumed dead.
Women and girls were also raped during the looting raids. In Balkh city, Hazara gunmen gang-raped a fourteen-year-old Pashtun girl and her mother, before beating her father unconscious and looting the home. On January 16, 2002, three Hazara soldiers raped a sixteen-year-old girl in Chimtal district. In Kunduz province, Jamiat soldiers beat thirty-year-old P.M. unconscious, and then raped his wife. Human Rights Watch received reports of other cases of rapes, and many women described how they had to fight off attackers or hide young female relatives out of fear of rape.
The most severe looting-related violence has subsided in some areas, but Pashtun communities throughout the north remain extremely vulnerable to serious human rights abuses. Human Rights Watch documented several cases of abuse that occurred during our visits. In one village in Shoor Darya, the sudden arrival of Human Rights Watch researchers scared off two Uzbek gunmen who had come to extort money from the village elders. In another village in Samangan province, a village elder told Human Rights Watch that he had been forced to give up twelve of his sheep to a local Junbish commander on the morning of our visit. On February 20, 2002, N.M., from Qona Qala village in Baghlan province, was beaten by a local Jamiat commander who wanted money: "They hit me with a stick and a rifle butt. The [commander] was holding me, and the son beat me for thirty minutes.... While I was being beaten, my wife came to ask them to spare me. They kicked her hard." In Samangan province, the Human Rights Watch team was informed that Junbish soldiers had abducted a Pashtun man from the market the day of our visit, presumably to seek ransom from the family later.
The chairman of the Afghan interim government, Hamid Karzai, has taken some positive steps to address the anti-Pashtun violence in northern Afghanistan, most notably by appointing a three-person independent commission to investigate the issue. But his capacity for addressing the violence is limited, as real power in northern Afghanistan rests with commanders who are associated with the three main parties, including those implicated in the abuses. Leaders of those parties who hold positions in the interim government have on occasion taken corrective action. For example, General Abdul Rashid Dostum has removed some abusive Junbish commanders from power, most noticeably in Faryab province, and has placed new commanders among threatened Pashtun communities to protect them-but other Junbish commanders continue to carry out abuses with seeming impunity. An Afghan national army that could guarantee the security of all Afghans is only in the conception stage, there is no national police force, and a security vacuum exists in the meantime.
The international community needs to act to stop the violence against Pashtuns in northern Afghanistan, a task that for the foreseeable future cannot be handled solely by the Afghan authorities. Both the signatories of the Bonn Agreement and the United Nations Security Council have entrusted the U.N. with a great deal of responsibility in helping Afghanistan achieve a civilian representative government. The U.N. Security Council needs to expand the mandate of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) for Afghanistan to include areas outside Kabul, most urgently northern Afghanistan. Efforts at accountability for past and current abuses should be accelerated, and the capacity of United Nations agencies in Afghanistan and the interim government to monitor human rights abuses must be bolstered. The United Nations should work to identify vulnerable minority populations, including those who are displaced from their homes, and make particular efforts to ensure the delivery of humanitarian assistance to these communities. With international financial support, the U.N. should assist the Afghan government in establishing impartial, multiethnic commissions at the local level to resolve grievances and disputes between communities over land, property, and access to water resources.