-President George W. Bush, October 11, 2002
Herat and Ismail Khan
Herat's current leader, Ismail Khan, has loomed large in Herat for almost twenty-five years. In 1978, when a communist government took power in Afghanistan, Ismail Khan, a captain in the Afghan army in Herat, led one of the largest uprisings, in which over one hundred Soviet military advisors and several hundred Afghan government troops were killed. The event was one of the early catalysts for the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan the following year. In the joint Soviet and Afghan government counterattack on Herat that followed, approximately twenty thousand Heratis were killed. Ismail Khan and his followers fled into the mountains east and northeast of Herat. Those forces soon set up a rebel base from which they fought a guerilla war against the Soviet and Afghan communist forces throughout the 1980s. Ismail Khan became the leader of this mujahid force.17
Ismail Khan came to power in Herat in 1992 as the Soviet-backed government in Kabul collapsed. He set up a leadership shura (council) and took steps toward rebuilding the city. Seemingly uninterested in joining efforts to support the peace agreements that were being brokered between rival mujahid parties in Kabul, he sought to create an independent mini-state in the west of Afghanistan, supported in part by Iran. By 1995, however, his regime was in trouble. The local population considered his troops to be undisciplined and his administration corrupt. Local leaders were angered by his nepotism, and businesses were annoyed by the exorbitant customs duties and taxes imposed on goods passing into and through the city.18
The emerging Taliban movement took advantage of Ismail Khan's weaknesses and attacked Herat in 1995. After an unsuccessful attack in March, repulsed with the help of air support from the mujahid government in Kabul, the Taliban was able to capture Herat in September 1995 (they took Kabul the next year). Ismail Khan fled into Iran. With aid from the Iranian government, his forces soon regrouped to fight the Taliban. But in 1997, fighting in Faryab province, Ismail Khan was betrayed by an Uzbek commander and taken into Taliban custody. He spent the next two years in a Taliban prison, from which he escaped in 2000.19
When the United States-led coalition began military activities against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks, Ismail Khan again returned to Afghanistan to rally troops in Ghor and Badghis provinces.20 Coalition forces gave him substantial financial and military support-weapons, radios, satellite telephones, and cash.21 He also received assistance from Iranian military sources.22 At this point, Ismail Khan took up arms against the Taliban again. In October and November 2001, his forces attacked Taliban positions between Mazar-i Sharif and Herat.23 The Taliban fled the west of Afghanistan in early November, under intense coalition bombing.24 Ismail Khan entered Herat on November 13, 2001, and soon took control of other western provinces.25 His troops immediately occupied the police station, military compounds, and the headquarters of the Intelligence Service, or Amniat.26
Since November 2001, Ismail Khan has solidified his hold on power in Herat, naming relatives and loyalists to the most important local government posts. Many of these appointees are conservative religious leaders or former mujahid commanders.27 His delegates attended the Bonn Peace talks in Germany in December 2001, and his son, Mir Wais Siddiq, is now serving as a member of President Karzai's cabinet, essentially as a representative of his father (he has no former governmental experience). After President Karzai was reelected as head of state, to lead the Afghanistan Transitional Administration, he invited Ismail Khan himself to Kabul, to serve as a member of his cabinet. This was presumably an effort to weaken his hold on power in Herat, but Ismail Khan refused to go.
Ismail Khan, who dubs himself the "Emir of Herat," runs Herat with an iron fist. He delegates few issues, dealing directly with even the most mundane matters, from the design of public parks to the approval of small businesses. He has no real allegiance to the Kabul government, and has repeatedly refused to allow officials appointed by President Karzai to take posts in Herat.28
Observers find Ismail Khan shrewd in matters of power politics, and dissemblingly charming.29 High-level visiting dignitaries, including U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, treat him like a head of state-for example, reviewing his troops at the airport.30 At the same time, many Heratis are terrified of him: his past brutality towards the Soviets and Afghans who worked in the communist government is well known, as are recent examples of violence against local political activists.31
Compared with the first time he ruled Herat, Ismail Khan has now embraced a more conservative vision of Islam. He has announced and ordered restrictive social prohibitions while adopting retrogressive Taliban-era laws and policies.32 Since July 2002, police forces under Ismail Khan have regularly arrested Heratis for "vice" crimes and, without conducting trials, have beaten them, shaved their heads and blackened them with kohl, and then shown them on television to humiliate them and send a message to the public.33
Ismail Khan has attempted to create a cult of personality, using government-controlled television, radio, and newspapers to propagate an image of a kind and generous leader, "His Excellency the respected Emir Ismail Khan."34 He has undertaken several reconstruction projects, rebuilding parks, roads, schools and a library-projects that have improved Herat's economy, living conditions, and overall appearance.
The overall picture that emerges of Ismail Khan is of an autocratic leader set on creating an image of benevolence. But as time has gone on, the image has become increasingly difficult to sustain.
A Note about the Police, Army, and Intelligence Forces Discussed in This Report
16 For more on the history of Herat, see Peter Hopkirk, The Great Game (London: John Murray Ltd., 1990); Louis Dupree, Afghanistan (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1980).
17 See Ahmed Rashid, Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil & Fundamentalism in Central Asia (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000) p. 37.
18 Rashid, Taliban, p. 39.
19 For more information on these events, see Michael Griffin, Reaping the Whirlwind: The Taliban Movement in Afghanistan (London: Pluto Press, 2001), pp. 45, 51, 243, and 257.
20 "Powerful anti-Taliban commanders in north making advances," AVN Military News Agency, October 12, 2001; Parisa Hafezi, "Afghan group says repulses Taliban in northwest," Reuters, October 29, 2001.
21 Human Rights Watch interview with L.H., observer familiar with anti-Taliban operations, Herat, September 11, 2002; Human Rights Watch interview with W.D.H., Herat, September 14, 2002; Human Rights Watch interview with senior UNAMA official, Kabul, September 24, 2002.
22 Human Rights Watch interview with senior UNAMA official, Kabul, September 24, 2002; Human Rights Watch interview with A.L., Herat, September 11, 2002; Human Rights Watch interview with A.A., Herat, September 12, 2002.
23 Susan Glasser and Molly Moore, "Rebel Forces Claim Key City of Herat, Seize Road to Kabul; Area's Former Ruler Returns in Victory Six Years After His Defeat by Taliban," Washington Post, November 13, 2002.
24 Ibid. See also, Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, "Ousting Taliban from Herat relatively easy," Chicago Tribune, November 15, 2001.
25 Ahmed Rashid, "The Lion returns to his old haunts," Daily Telegraph (London), November 13, 2002.
26 Human Rights Watch interviews with K.M., and W.A., Herat, September 11, 2002; Human Rights Watch interview with H.S., Herat, September 12, 2002.
27 Human Rights Watch interview with A.A., Herat, September 12, 2002; Human Rights Watch interview with A.L., Herat, September 11, 2002. See also, Amy Waldman, "Warlords: Courted by U.S. and Iran, an Afghan Governor Plays One Side Off the Other," New York Times, April 3, 2002.
28 Human Rights Watch interview with M.Z.Z., Kabul, September 29, 2002; Human Rights Watch interview with L.H., Herat, September 11, 2002.
29 Human Rights Watch interview with L.H., Herat, September 11, 2002; Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Ahmed Rashid, July 22, 2002.
30 See, e.g., Linda D. Kozaryn, "On the Edge with Rumsfeld in Afghanistan," American Forces Press Service, April 29, 2002.
31 See section below, "A Climate of Fear and Pessimism."
32 Human Rights Watch interview with W.D.H., Herat, September 14, 2002; Human Rights Watch interview with L.H., Herat, September 13, 2002; Human Rights Watch interview with senior UNAMA official, Kabul, September 24, 2002.
33 Human Rights Watch interview with F.J., Herat, September 17, 2002.
34 Human Rights Watch interview with L.H., Herat, September 11, 2002; Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Ahmed Rashid, July 22, 2002.