Washington – As Northern Alliance forces come into control of most of Afghanistan, there are early indications that their takeover has been marked by instances of violence and cruelty.
The London Guardian reported that Northern Alliance troops entering Kunduz shot and killed imprisoned Taliban fighters and foreign soldiers fighting alongside them. The killings were in violation of an agreement between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance whereby Taliban fighters would be granted amnesty and foreign soldiers would stand trial.
The reports place the Bush administration in a particularly embarrassing situation as it has supported the Northern Alliance in its struggle against the Taliban. The administration had hoped the victorious Alliance would show restraint in its dealings with the Taliban.
Allegations of Northern Alliance brutality, however, came as no surprise to analysts who have been following the situation for some time. John Quigley, a professor of international law at Ohio State University said last week: “We don’t seem to be doing anything to keep the Northern Alliance within the bounds of international conventions regarding warfare and the treatment of POW’s. Since we are helping them achieve their goals, we are ultimately responsible for their conduct. Given the past record of human rights abuses and atrocities by the Northern Alliance, our vigilance on this issue is of utmost importance.”
Marjorie Cohn, an assistant professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego questioned the motives of the U.S involvement in Afghanistan and its military presence in the region. “The bombing of Afghanistan is not legitimate self-defense under the U.N. Charter, since the Sept. 11 attacks were criminal attacks were criminal attacks, not armed attacks by another nation. Moreover, taking control of Afghanistan provides the U.S. government with the opportunity to set up a permanent military presence there … in order to increase U.S. access to attractive routes for transporting Caspian Sea oil.”
Several representatives of women’s groups warned that although the Northern Alliance didn’t impose the same harsh conditions on women as the Taliban, their record in regards to women’s rights was not much better.
Tahmeena Faryal, a spokesperson for the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), the oldest women’s humanitarian and political organization in the country said: “Today [the Bush administration and its allies] are sharpening the dagger of the ‘Northern Alliance.’ So many of those now involved in what has come to be called the ‘Northern Alliance’ have the blood of our beloved people on their hands, as, of course, do the Taliban. Their sustained atrocities have been well documented by independent international human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, and others. From 1992 to 1996 in particular, these forces waged a brutal war against women, using rape, torture, abduction and forced marriage as their weapons. Many women committed suicide during this period as their only escape. Any initiative to establish a broad-based government must exclude all Taliban and other Jehadi factions, unless and until a specific faction or person has been absolved of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Otherwise, the people will again be plunged into the living hell that engulfed our country from 1992 to 1996 – under elements now involved in the Northern Alliance – and continue to the present under the Taliban.”
Fahima Vorgetts, who headed a women’s literacy program in Kabul and fled Afghanistan after the Soviet invasion in 1979, said: “People are listening to what we say about the Taliban, but they must listen to what we say about the Northern Alliance to not repeat the same type of tragedy for the country as a whole and especially for the women of Afghanistan. The Taliban are horrible and Afghanistan will be much better off without them, but we must not forget that the Northern Alliance committed so many atrocities, so many crimes during their rule between 1992 and 1996 that they made it easy for the Taliban to come to power. Afghanistan has suffered for 23 years – there are no schools, employment, streets, factories or bridges left.”
Representatives from humanitarian agencies also are skeptical that the recent take-over by the Northern Alliance will help the relief effort. Jim Jennings, president of the humanitarian aid organization Conscience Now, has spent a long time working in Afghanistan. He said last week: “The sudden expansion of Northern Alliance territories, although opening the possibility of deliveries from the north, actually stopped the food convoys from Pakistan and Iran for several days because truck drivers are reluctant to travel into a militarily volatile situation… . Meanwhile, the humanitarian effort is losing precious days, a critical factor because of the onset of winter. For every day lost now, some people will die down the line.”
Sarah Zaidi, research director of the Center for Economic and Social Rights, said from Pakistan: “The biggest obstacle to the relief effort is now posed by U.S. partners. Northern Alliance warlords have sabotaged supply routes inside Afghanistan, while Pakistan and other neighboring countries continue to seal their borders and prevent desperate people from reaching food and safety. Rather than seeking to score PR points, the U.S. military should pressure its allies to allow free movement to Afghans and to U.N. and private relief agencies.”
David Harrison is a writer with IPA Media, a project of the Institute for Public Accuracy.