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II. Background

When the Taliban collapsed in late 2001, a power vacuum was created in Afghanistan. With Taliban troops and officials gone from most villages and cities, government offices—from police stations to trash collection departments—were up for grabs. Any group with adequate military power could seize a government office at the local level or even ministries in Kabul. And many did. Anti-Taliban military forces entering new villages and towns took over police stations, army bases, intelligence facilities, and other government facilities. In Kabul, Northern Alliance forces—specifically Jamiat-e Islami forces under Afghanistan’s current Defense Minister, General Fahim—occupied most government ministries and military bases, and the Presidential Palace.3 For the most part, the limited U.S. and coalition forces on the ground in Afghanistan did not stop Afghan forces from seizing control of government facilities. By late November 2001, military rulers had taken over most major cities and villages of Afghanistan.

Envoys from the United States and the U.N. did make efforts to blunt the overall military power grab, at least in Kabul. U.S. and U.N. representatives convinced military leaders of Afghanistan’s various anti-Taliban forces to share power and sign the December 5, 2001 Bonn Agreement creating an interim authority under the leadership of Hamid Karzai, a non-military leader from the plurality Pashtun population. Military leaders in and outside the Northern Alliance—in the west, north, south, and central areas—were persuaded that they had to share power with civilian representatives. But several key cabinet posts, including the Ministers of Defense, Interior, and Foreign Affairs, went to Jamiat-e Islami representatives, and many other posts went to other military factions, including the Ittihad-e Islami party (a predominately Pashtun party formed by the mujahidin leader Abdul Rabb al-Rasul Sayyaf),4 and the Harakat-e Islami and Hezb-e Wahdat parties (predominately ethnic Hazara parties).5 Afghanistan’s first interim government from December 2001 to June 2002 was made up predominately of representatives of military factions.

At the local level, warlords or their representatives occupied almost every province’s governorship. In the north, power was mostly divided between the military forces of the predominately ethnic Tajik Jamiat-e Islami party and the predominately ethnic Uzbek Junbish party. The Kabul area and the northeast came under the control of Jamiat-e Islami forces. In the West, the former mujahidin leader Ismail Khan took power. In the south, provinces were put into the hands of Pashtun commanders––former mujahidin––some of whom earlier worked with or cooperated with the Taliban. The mountainous central area of Hazarajat came under the control of local military commanders in the Hezb-e Wahdat party, and the eastern provinces near Jalalabad came under the control of various other former mujahidin groups.

The June 2002 loya jirga (“grand council”), convened in Kabul under the terms of the Bonn Agreement to pick a transitional government to rule until the 2004 elections, was meant, in part, to make the government more representative. No one expected a fully democratic process, but most Afghans and international observers hoped that the meeting would provide an opportunity to increase civilian influence in government, or at least to lessen the dominance of military forces.

That is not what happened. Instead, in many ways Afghanistan’s military factions and warlords increased and further legitimized their power during the loya jirga. As Human Rights Watch documented before, during, and after the loya jirga, army and police officials threatened, imprisoned, and even killed candidates to stop them from running for the loya jirga, or to intimidate them from acting independently.6 At the loya jirga itself, many legitimate delegates were sidelined. Hamid Karzai was reelected, with allies in several key ministries, but a few powerful men, behind closed doors, made most of the final decisions about the shape of the government. Political power struggles were mostly between different warlords wrestling for control, not between the warlords and more legitimate civilian rulers. President Karzai managed to increase the power of some of his allies, but the military factions lost none of their influence.

At the end of the loya jirga, Hamid Karzai remained in power and some qualified ministers were appointed, but his cabinet’s overall power dynamic underwent little change. Jamiat-e Islami relinquished the leadership of the Interior Ministry, but the new minister was a relatively weak Pashtun who was unable to bring the ministry—still dominated by Shura-e Nazar in the ranks—under his control. The former Jamiat-e Islami interior minister, Yusuf Qanooni, stayed in the government, curiously both as the minister of education and as national security advisor—through which he retained unofficial control over the Afghan intelligence apparatus, the Amniat-e Melli. Defense Minister Fahim (Jamiat-e Islami) and Haji Mohammad Mohaqiq (Hezb-e Wahdat) remained in power, along with proxies of regional strongmen Ismail Khan and Rashid Dostum. Muhammad Karim Khalili, the leader of Hezb-e Wahdat, became a vice-president. At the local level, the main positions of power—the governorships and local military commands—were hardly affected.

The abuses committed by warlord and military factions during the loya jirga, besides corrupting the process, served to alienate and disillusion many candidates and politically active persons. Many local political organizers have told Human Rights Watch that their current fears about local leaders stem from their experiences during the loya jirga. In this sense, the loya jirga process solidified the dominance of military leaders both at the local level and in Kabul. Many local political opponents returned to their hometowns after the loya jirga feeling weak and unsupported.

These feelings were buttressed by the impression that international actors were more interested in working with military factions than with more legitimate Afghan civilian representatives. Images of U.S. and European diplomats, military commanders, and aid officials meeting with Afghan warlords like Ismail Khan and Gul Agha Sherzai served to further disenchant civil society leaders and political organizers.

In the year since the loya jirga, President Karzai has made some efforts to limit the worst effects of warlord dominance. Unable to dismiss local leaders—Karzai has little capacity to enforce his orders without the support of powerful military figures or the United States—he has instead tried to erode their power gradually. He has worked to increase the power of central government ministries over which he has power—like the Finance Ministry—and has shuffled some key posts, for instance, appointing a new and more reform-minded interior minister, Ali Ahmad Jalali. He has appointed new local governors in several provinces to oversee local leaders and dismissed some military leaders from official government posts. But in many cases, Karzai-appointed governors have been unable to rein in local leaders, and some local officials, when asked to step aside, have simply refused. Defense Minister Fahim has blocked some of Karzai’s efforts and those of his key allies. In sum, Karzai has yet to rein in local leaders in most areas—especially border areas like Nangarhar, Kandahar, and Herat—and barely retains control over Kabul-based security and military forces.

Meanwhile, the primary power broker in Afghanistan—the United States—continues to embrace a divided strategy toward Afghanistan: on the one hand, the United States supports Karzai in Kabul, while on the other hand, U.S. military forces cooperate with (and strengthen) commanders in areas within and outside of Kabul, some of whom seek merely to enrich themselves or strengthen their own political power at the expense of Karzai and the national administration.

The Southeast: Regional Background

The southeast region of Afghanistan—the focus of this report, including Kabul, Wardak, Ghazni, Logar, Paktia, Paktika, Laghman, Nangarhar, and Kunar provinces—is the most densely populated area in the country. Approximately one third of Afghanistan’s entire population lives within the southeastern region.7 Over three million people now live in the country’s capital, Kabul. Almost all of the provinces in the region lie on Afghanistan’s main roads on either the highway from Pakistan’s Khyber Pass or along the “ring road” that runs south from Kabul toward Kandahar.

Since the fall of the Taliban, the southeast of Afghanistan has been controlled at the local level by several different forces, all of which are comprised of former mujahidin fighters who either fought with the U.S.-led coalition or were previously allied with the Taliban and switched allegiances in late 2001.

In Kabul, almost all military, police, and intelligence forces are now under the control of commanders or officials who previously served in the Northern Alliance. Many of the most powerful police and army commanders in Kabul today come from parties within the former Northern Alliance, including the Jamiat-e Islami, Ittihad-e Islami, Harakat-e Islami, and Hezb-e Wahdat parties. Several of these commanders are now members of Shura-e Nazar, a political coalition of former members of the Northern Alliance. Some of these commanders call themselves members of “Nahzat-e Melli.” Other leaders retain their former party affiliations, including Jamiat-e Islami, Harakat-e Islami, Ittihad-e Islami, and Hezb-e Wahdat. Jamiat-e Islami, Shura-e Nazar, and Nazrat-e Melli and other former Northern Alliance forces maintain loose ties with each other.

Former Northern Alliance leaders control much of the existing army, police, and intelligence forces in Kabul. Defense Minister Fahim, the main leader of Shura-e Nazar and a former Jamait-e Islami official, officially runs the armed forces of Afghanistan and controls tens of thousands of troops in Kabul and in the north, northeast, and southeast of the country. The head of the police department in Kabul, Basir Salangi, is a former Jamiat commander and a member of Shura-e Nazar, as is Mohammad Arif, the head of the intelligence agency of Afghanistan, the Amniat-e Melli, and Commander Bismullah, a high level Ministry of Defense official.

Abdul Rabb al-Rasul Sayyaf is another powerful former Northern Alliance official. Several army and police commanders throughout the southeast are primarily loyal to Sayyaf, even through they officially come under the command of President Karzai or other government leaders. For instance, Abdul Ahmed, a powerful chief police commander in Wardak is one of Sayyaf’s close allies, as was Haji Assadullah, the governor of Ghazni district, until he began to distance himself from Sayyaf in the first half of 2003. Sayyaf comes from Paghman district in Kabul province just west of the capital. In Paghman district, the district’s governor and the local police are under his command. One of the most powerful commanders in the Kabul region, Shir Alam, is also one of Sayyaf’s subordinates and controls most military checkpoints in Paghman. Zalmay Tofan, a commander of the Kabul Liwa, a large military base in Kabul province, is loyal to Sayyaf and close to Defense Minister Fahim. Mullah Taj Mohammad, the governor of Kabul province, is also a subordinate of Sayyaf.

In January 2003, President Karzai appointed a new interior minister, Ali Ahmad Jalali, unconnected to Shura-e Nazar. However, a large number of the Interior Ministry’s existing officials, including in the police, remain loyal to Shura-e Nazar patrons. In addition, some of the garrisoned army within Kabul province includes troops under non-Shura-e Nazar commanders, including Pashtun commanders ostensibly loyal to President Karzai and some Hezb-e Wahdat commanders.

Outside of Kabul province, power dynamics are more diverse. In a few provinces in the southeast, President Karzai has appointed civilian governors, but they have had difficulties asserting their influence when local military commanders are hostile. Local military commanders, for the most part, either are independent, refusing to come fully under President Karzai’s authority, or they are loyal to different authorities or forces in Kabul.

The official governor appointed by President Karzai in Ghazni province is a Pashtun official named Haji Assadullah. But several districts remain under the control of commanders formerly with Hezb-e Wahdat—the predominately Hazara force with representatives in the Karzai cabinet. Others are under the control of Pashtun commanders, some of whom were formerly allied with the Taliban.

The official Karzai-appointed governor of Nangarhar is Haji Din Mohammad, the brother of the deceased Haji Qadir, a vice-president of Afghanistan who was assassinated in Kabul in June 2002. However, Haji Din Mohammad has little power over the province: most of Nangarhar (and the neighboring province of Laghman) is in fact under the control of troops loyal to a former mujahidin leader named Hazrat Ali. Hazrat Ali also controls local officials in Laghman province. Hazrat Ali’s brother-in-law, Musa, is a major military commander in Jalalabad, and his nephew (and Musa’s son), named Sami, is a police commander. Both Hazrat Ali and Musa worked with the coalition during the Tora Bora campaign in late 2001, and have cooperated extensively with U.S. military forces in the area ever since. As detailed in this report, these Afghan commanders, and their troops, are complicit in a range of human rights abuses.

In Paktia province, the Karzai-appointed governor, Raz Mohammad Dalili, officially controls the province, but local military commanders, including commanders associated with Shura-e Nazar, control most villages, checkpoints and police stations—despite the fact that Dalili is flanked by a U.S.-led Provincial Reconstruction Team.8 In Logar and Paktika, local military leaders are the primary power-holders, despite the presence of Karzai-appointed governors in these areas. One of these commanders, Ziauddin, was formerly allied with the Taliban.

In Wardak, a local Pashtun governor is ostensibly in charge. In practice, security officials loyal to Sayyaf and Shura-e Nazar control the province. These officials include Muzafar-u-din (a local military commander), the provincial police commander, Abdul Ahmad, and the head of the local Amniat office, known as Commander Shir.

3 Jamiat-e Islami, a predominately Tajik party formed by the former President of Afghanistan Burhanuddin Rabbani, was the largest and most powerful military force in the Northern Alliance when the Taliban was in power. The mujahidin commander Ahmad Shah Massoud led Jamiat-e Islami until he was assassinated on September 9, 2001. For more information on the Jamiat-e Islami party, see Human Rights Watch, “Military Assistance to the Afghan Opposition,” A Human Rights Watch Backgrounder, October 2001, section entitled “What is the United Front/Northern Alliance?”, available at

4 See ibid.

5 Hezb-e Wahdat is the principal Shi’a and Hazara party and military force in Afghanistan. It was originally formed in1988. The party’s current leader is Mohammad Karim Khalili, a vice-president of Afghanistan; another main Hezb-e Wahdat leader is Haji Mohammad Mohaqiq, the Minister of Planning. Harakat-e Islami is a political party and military force that has existed for over twenty years, formerly as an anti-Soviet and anti-Taliban military force. The Harakat-e Islami party was headed for most of the 1980s by a cleric named Mohammad Asef Mohseni, who participated in the June 2002 loya jirga. Over the last decade, Harakat-e Islami has splintered into three parts, all of which call themselves Harakat-e Islami, or “Harakat” for short. One faction is led by the original leader, Mohammad Asef Mohseni, a second splinter is led by a military commander Sayeed Hossein Anwari (currently the Agricultural Minister in Afghanistan’s transitional government), and a third is led by Sayeed Mohammad Ali Javeed (currently the Minister of Transportation). At present, Mohseni holds no known post but has been active in Kabul politics and appears on government-controlled Kabul television discussing religious matters.

6 See Human Rights Watch, “Afghanistan: Return of the Warlords,” A Human Rights Watch Briefing Paper, June 2002, available at; Human Rights Watch, “Loya Jirga Off to a Shaky Start,” press release, June 13, 2002; Human Rights Watch, “Afghanistan: Analysis of New Cabinet,” press release, June 20, 2002; see also, Saman Zia-Zarifi, “The Warlords Are Plotting a Comeback,” Commentary, International Herald Tribune, June 10, 2002.

7 See Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Land Scan Global Population 2000. The population proportions stated are consistent with historical populations patterns.

8 It is likely that the presence of this U.S.-led PRT gives Governor Dalili some added authority among the local commanders in Gardez—although in many respects these commanders still have sway over local affairs, as this report shows.

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July 2003