As the US keeps pouring in billions of dollars to train Afghan forces—-which, nevertheless, consist of those who have previously been associated with many warlords—-they are also exhibiting a pattern of violence for which Afghan people have obtained no official redress, nor do they expect it from the US backed fragile system. As a matter of fact, ground realities in Afghanistan show that it is not the Taliban, as propagated by the Western media, who are solely ‘responsible’ for violence and abuse of human rights; it is the US trained and the US funded various forces which have been at helm of most of the cases of human rights violations, including murders, land grab, kidnappings, and suppression of political opponents. These incidents are more often than not imputed to the Taliban in order for building a scenario which can then be used by the US and its allies to justify their decision of maintaining high number of troops in Afghanistan.
According to a study conducted by Human Rights Watch (HRW), systematic, gross human rights violations by some of these forces that has included numerous cases of torture, extrajudicial executions of civilians, and forced disappearance of detainees, are a dark stain on the US claim of building a ‘new’ Afghanistan. The findings of HRW also raise concerns about Afghan government and US efforts to arm, train, vet, and hold accountable the country’s security apparatus, mostly run by a “network of strongmen”, many of whom attained official authority as allies of the US in the fight against the Taliban.
There is no gainsaying the fact that in many parts of Afghanistan, governors or members of parliament run their own militias under the banner of ALP (Afghan Local Police), using the pretext of fighting insurgents to terrorize the local population. For instance, the ALP, a local security force established in 2010, has been particularly a destructive force as far as the security of life and property of common people goes. Not only are such groups a source of power for local politicians, but also work as a hedge against any popular opposition, and are further used to guard poppy cultivation, to grab land, murder political opponents, run torture houses, and accompany the US forces in raids and patrols. According to the published reports, many of the previously militant (anti-Taliban) commanders were, on purpose, hired by the US forces to expand their human intelligence sources. For instance, Abdul Hakim Shujoyi, a militia leader in central Afghanistan’s Uruzgan province, became an ALP commander in 2011 at the insistence of US forces, the report indicates. He personally murdered civilians, including a rampage in July 2011 when he shot dead 7 villagers and set fire to their crops. After a further attack in which he killed at least 9 civilians in 2012, the Ministry of Interior issued a warrant for his arrest. Nevertheless, he remains at large, apparently protected by senior government officials, but mainly because of the ‘invaluable’ services he has been and is still rendering to the US forces.
Another example of human rights violations and of resorting to violence unnecessarily is of Commander Azizullah, the longtime leader of the Afghan Local Police (ALP) in the country’s southeastern province of Paktika. As with all other ALP units, Azizullah and his forces have been armed and equipped with a portion of the $104 billion that the US has spent on Afghanistan since 2002, and like other cases, he, too, has personally been killing people to establish a reign of terror rather than a regime based on trust. For example, in 2009 his forces shot dead three farmers during a search operation for the Taliban in Paktika’s Urgun district. He even didn’t allow the victim to arrange a proper burial of the dead until eight days later. This incident, like other many incidents, is neither an exception, as the US officials claim, nor occurred as a result of some ‘intelligence fallacy.’ The incident was not an aberration; for, his forces are notoriously known to have been linked to numerous cases of thefts, kidnappings, beatings and the arbitrary killing of civilians, including children. Former President Hamid Karzai’s government turned a blind eye to Azizullah’s viciousness. The US military is as myopic about his counterinsurgency efforts as the Afghan government. Azizullah has worked closely with US Special Forces on anti-insurgency in Urgun. But in 2011 the U.S. military tacitly dismissed calls for a probe of its relationship with him, saying there was “little information to substantiate what were essentially (baseless) claims.”
Not only this, the US is also protecting violators of human rights from among the Afghan Army. Among others cases, Brig. Gen. Abdul Raziq, the Kandahar province chief of police who has been directly implicated in ordering extrajudicial executions, is the most notorious one. Another recipient of US government largesse has been the former head of Afghanistan’s security agency, Asadullah Khalid, who maintains a close relationship with the US government despite numerous credible published reports showing that he has been participating in acts of in torture, extrajudicial killings and sexual violence against women and girls. In December 2013, when he sought medical care in the United States for wounds incurred in a suicide bomb attack, he received a visit from President Barack Obama, reaffirming the US support for a notorious human rights violator.
While there are numerous other examples to narrate here, some credible sources in Afghanistan confirm that such forces, as ALP, are believed to be much worse than the Taliban or even the US/NATO forces, particularly because of the very fact that they work on behalf of politicians who are working in alliance with the foreign troops. This ‘dark alliance’ between security forces and political elite, with both being backed by the US, has created a very serious dilemma for the common people: Who should they support: Taliban or ALP? As a matter of fact, these abuses, and the ongoing impunity for the warlords that perpetrate them, have directly played a role in fueling local support for the Taliban — undermining the justification for the forces’ international support. Afghanistan’s foreign allies appear oblivious to that peril. When Human Rights Watch raised this issue with a European diplomat, he shrugged: “But we need these guys. To carry out our projects, they’re the only ones with the power.”
To this has added the absence of an effective system of justice and accountability. In the wake of the US occupation of Afghanistan, some efforts were surely made towards establishing a system of ‘Justice’, such as establishing a nationally based police system. But these efforts have so far, like many other efforts of the US in collaboration with the hand-picked government of Afghanistan, failed miserably. Besides many other reasons for this failure, one of the most significant one is the very social composition of the Afghan National Police and other groups which have been at helm of committing and abetting war crimes. Non-representative character of the Police is highly in favour of Northern alliance (Tajiks) which either doesn’t prevent the supporters of the alliance from indulging in committing crimes or is itself directly involved in extra-judicial killings because of lack of compliance to the Criminal Code. Neither do they comply with the code, nor are they held accountable. Instead, they enjoy complete legal impunity and all complaints against them are shrugged off as irrelevant or dismissed because of lack of substantive ‘evidence’.
That impunity is no accident. It is rooted in the failure of Karzai’s government and his foreign donors to disarm various militias that were formed in the wake of the collapse of the Taliban government in 2001, and their subsequent appropriation by the US. As such, instead of taking steps to address the lack of impunity, the international community and Afghan political leaders have routinely dismissed accountability as a “luxury” that the country cannot afford because of the ‘uncertain’ political circumstances. Corruption and abuse have crippled efforts to build rights-respecting judicial and security institutions in Afghanistan. Instead, with the backing of the United States and other international supporters, Kabul has empowered rather than apprehended such criminal actors, adding an insult to the injury Afghan people were inflicted with more than 13 years ago.
Salman Rafi Sheikh, research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”