How far is Afghanistan from becoming Iraq?
From 9-12 August 2007, Afghanistan and Pakistan held the first “Joint Peace Jirga” in Kabul, Afghanistan. Around 700 people including members of the parliaments, political parties, religious scholars, tribal elders, provincial councils, civil society and business community of both countries participated. Speaking at the concluding session of the Joint Peace Jirga, President of Pakistan General Parvez Musharraf admitted that Pakistan's tribal regions have been providing strong support for the Taleban and he stressed the need for both the countries to work together to “defeat the forces of extremism and terrorism”.
At the end of the Joint Peace Jirga, Afghanistan and Pakistan signed a six-point declaration which included recognition of terrorism as a “common threat to both countries” and not allowing “sanctuaries/training centres for terrorists in their respective countries”; to constitute a smaller Jirga consisting of 25 prominent members from each side; recognition of “vital importance of brotherly relations in pursuance of policies of mutual respect, non-interference and peaceful coexistence and recommends further expansion of economic, social, and cultural relations between the two countries”; to fight against the illegal drug trade; implement infrastructure, economic and social sector projects in the terrorist affected areas; and implement the recommendations made by the five working committees of the Joint Peace Jirga.
To what extent the Joint Peace Jirga would be successful to bring stability in Afghanistan as well as in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan remains to be seen. However, the past experiences of the situation in Afghanistan do not evoke any optimism.
I. Increase of Taleban influence
After the ouster of the Taleban regime, the Americans were quick to write off the Taleban. Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai also believes that the Talebans are “not posing any threat to the institutions of Afghanistan”.
Yet, the suicide bombings in Kabul is making Afghanistan another Iraq. The influence of the Taleban cannot be measured by kidnapping of 23 South Korean Christian aid workers since 19 July 2007 in Ghazni province but from the fact that over 153,000 security forces including 50,000 Afghan National Army (ANA), 60,000 policemen, 35,000 International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) soldiers led by NATO and 8,000 American forces have not been able to contain them. The Talebans are about 20,000 insurgents i.e. about eight soldiers are fighting against one insurgent.
Some 6,000 people have been killed in Afghanistan, around 1,500 of them civilians, in the last 18 months, the worst period of violence in the country since U.S.-led forces overthrew the Taleban regime in 2001. On 11 June 2007, Reuters claimed that since 2001, a total of 598 security forces have been killed in Afghanistan. These included 398 from United States, 60 from Britain, 56 from Canada, 21 from Spain, 21 from Germany and 42 from other nations.
The Talebans have stepped up their offensive in Helmand, Ghazni and Kandahar provinces. Despite on-going military operations they were still in control of some districts. The coalition forces were not yet in a position either to avoid civilian deaths or ensure operational accuracy.
II. Human rights violations
After nearly six years since the overthrow of the Taleban regime in December 2001 by the US and NATO forces, human rights situation in Afghanistan continue to be grim. Human rights including right to life of the people remain on the edge as the conflict intensifies between the US and NATO led security forces on one hand and the Taleban and the Al-Qaeda on the other hand. There have been consistent reports of blatant violations of human rights including killing of scores of innocent people in the recent months both by the security forces and the Taleban and Al-Qaeda extremists. The victims included children and women. Some of the below cited key issues highlight the pattern and intensity of human rights violations that the people of Afghanistan are facing today.
a. Violations of international humanitarian laws by the Talebans
The Talebans have been responsible for blatant violations of international humanitarian laws in Afghanistan. The patterns of attacks included suicide attacks, roadside blast, planting landmines, kidnapping and beheading on the charges of spying or working for the international troops etc. There have been consistent reports of killing of innocent civilians when attacks targeting coalition forces are carried out in crowded places.
Such attacks have increased in recent months. On 10 July 2007, 17 civilians including children were killed and about 30 others injured when a suicide bomber blew himself up near a NATO convoy in Dehrawood town of Uruzgan province.
The Talebans have been kidnapping foreign nationals to pressurize their respective countries to withdraw their troops from Afghanistan, to secure release of Taleban prisoners and to demand ransom in exchange for their hostages. With regard to the kidnapping of 23 South Koreans, a Taleban commander has reportedly stated that the abduction of foreigners was “a very successful policy”. On 21 July 2007, Talebans claimed to have killed two Germans they had kidnapped earlier near Kabul. The Talebans stated that the Germans were killed as their government refused to pull out its troops from Afghanistan.
The Talebans have also killed Afghans who were working with foreign troops and for humanitarian aid organisations run by Western countries. On 30 June 2007, the headless body of an Afghan identified as Mir Zaman, who had been working as a translator for NATO-led troops, was found in Logar province in eastern Afghanistan. He was kidnapped by alleged Talebans. On 15 July 2007, a headless body of an Afghan national was found in the southern Bannu district near North Waziristan tribal region of Pakistan. A chit recovered from the pocket of the victim read: “Whosoever spy for US forces will meet the same fate”.
On 14 July 2007, Reuters
quoted a senior Afghan intelligence officer saying that seven Afghan civilians were beheaded in the past 10 days by Talebans accusing the victims of spying for foreign and Afghan government forces.
On 5 June 2007, Talebans reportedly beheaded one of the five kidnapped doctors identified as Abdul Khalil when the government failed to hand over the body of their top commander Mullah Dadullah to his family within the time stipulated by the Talebans.
The Talebans have extensively used bombs to kill people. On 20 July 2007, nine people were killed in bomb blasts in Helmand province - two civilians were killed in a car bomb attack in Sangin district while six policemen and one civilian were killed in Marja district. On 30 June 2007, the Talebans fired 12 rockets killing eight civiliansincluding four children and injuring five others in Chawki district of Kunar province. On 17 June 2007, over 35 people including policemen and civilians were killed when a bomb ripped through a police bus in a crowded civilian area in Kabul. On 15 June 2007, five children were killed and 10 people, including two foreign soldiers, were injured in two suicide attacks targeting NATO convoys in the southern provinces of Uruzgan and Kandahar. Similarly, on 20 May 2007, 10 civilians were killed in a suicide blast targeting a convoy of U.S.-led coalition soldiers passing through a crowded market in the city of Gardez in Paktia province. The Taleban claimed responsibility for the attack.
b. Human rights violations by the multinational forces
Human rights violations by the multinational forces, in particular indiscriminate killings of civilians during operations against the suspected Talebans, have been increasing the support base of the Talebans. In July 2007, the UN Security Council also expressed concern over the increasing civilian deaths and urged upon all parties to the conflict to take every possible precaution to avoid deaths of civilians in the war-torn country. Earlier, on 24 June 2007, the NATO-led forces in Afghanistan admitted to killing civilians while conducting operations against the Talebans.
On 2 July 2007, the United Nations stated that it estimated about 600 Afghan civilians who were killed in insurgency-linked violence this year. Of these, 52 percent were killed by pro-government forces and 48 percent by anti-government forces. On 6 July 2007, 27 civilians were reportedly killed in NATO-led air strikes that targeted suspected Talebans at a funeral and a house according to a local investigation team.
On 29 June 2007, 65 civilians including women and children were reportedly killed by US and NATO-led air strikes against the Taleban in Girish district of southern Helmand province. President Hamid Karzai accused the foreign soldiers of “extreme use of force” against the civilians.
On 24 June 2007, a farmer was shot dead and three others were taken into custody by International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) personnel during a house search in the central Uruzgan province.
On 21 June 2007, about 25 civilians, including nine women, three babies and the mullah of a local mosque, were killed in NATO air strikes after suspected Talebans attacked police and used civilian houses for cover in Gereshk district of Helmand province. NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer called for an investigation into the incident saying it was “a mistake”. In early July 2007, families of the deceased were reportedly paid a sum of 2.5 million Afghanis in compensation. However, mere paying of compensation to the victim's family cannot justify the killing of innocent civilians during operation against the Talebans. The military operations need to be well-planned and to ensure the safety of the innocent civilians must be on the top priority list.
On the night of 8 May 2007, 21 civilians including women and children were reportedly killed in an air strike by foreign forces in Sangin district of Helmand province.
On 4 March 2007, 19 civilians were killed and 50 others injured after US marines opened fire at residents including pedestrians and passengers in Marko area in Batikot district after an explosives-laden vehicle crashed into the US military convoy.
Presently there are about 50,000 Afghan National Army (ANA) and 60,000 policemen in Afghanistan. In May 2006, the government of Afghanistan decided to recruit about 19,000 more police officers.
The UN-mandated International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) which has the responsibilities of conducting stability and security operations, supporting the Afghan National Army (ANA) and supporting the Afghan National Police (ANP) remain indispensable. Though, the ANA has been conducting operations side by side with ISAF forces, it is yet ill-trained and ill-equipped to fight the Talebans on its own.
Implementation of the joint declaration of Peace Jirga by Pakistan and Afghanistan remains extremely crucial to defeat the Taleban, apart from ensuring full respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms by the ISAF personnel.
Above all, both Pakistan and Afghanistan must introduce modern legal systems rather than continuing Talebani style of justice. Since 1901, the British and Pakistan promoted Talebani style in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas under the Federal Crime Regulation. Therefore, it is not surprising that the Talebans found support in these areas of Pakistan.
Defeating the Taleban would require at least one generation of legal reforms in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The killing of three Germans police officers by the suspected Taleban on 15 August 2007 in the outskirts of Kabul shows that Afghanistan is increasingly becoming like Iraq.