Election activity in Afghanistan.
Below a female candidate poster
War Criminals Poised For a Comeback
By S. Mudassir Ali Shah
August 16: With the much-hyped parliamentary elections weeks away
in Afghanistan, dozens of candidates accused of war crimes remain
in the field amid growing criticism from human rights activists
and civil society organizations in Afghanistan and abroad.
the electoral law, all Afghans not convicted by court are eligible
for contesting the ballot. But how can one think of convicting
powerful warlords and gunmen in a country where the judiciary
had been non-existent for all practical purposes over the last
25 years of strife?
Of the 208 wannabes barred from the September 18 vote, only 11
were accused of maintaining links to armed groups. In what can
described as a hogwash or plain pretence, the poll panel singled
out one known former commander retaining connections with private
How foolproof or credible the scrutiny of the more than 5,500
contenders has been can be gauged from the fact that a large number
of ex-commanders and militia leaders - accused of involvement
in war crimes, gang activities and drug trafficking - are not
only in the race but are also well poised to force their way to
Adrian Edwards, spokesman for the UN Assistance Mission for Afghanistan
(UNAMA), co-organizer of the elections under the Bonn Agreement,
admitted the process may have imperfections and flaws. He also
acknowledged some criminals, whose backgrounds were unclear to
the Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB), might stay in the
"Unfortunately, we have to accept the possibility of such
people contesting the elections. But we do hope they don't make
their way to the new parliament... and it is up to the people
whom they vote for," Adrian Edwards reasoned in an exclusive
chat with Pajhwok Afghan News.
In many manifestations, one can see the continued, brazen disregard
for the rule of law, constitutionalism and democratic norms in
today's Afghanistan. People with murky past and bleak track records
continue to hold high-profile positions in the US-baked Karzai
as it is by regional strongmen and thugs, the incumbent Afghan
government responded rather coldly to calls from the respected
New York-based Human Rights Watch and the Afghanistan Justice
Project for arraigning war criminals. Coming from a government
hostage to political expediency and vested interests, the reaction
was par for the course.
Based on two years of research and interviews with victims of
rights abuses and war crimes, the Human Rights Watch repot - released
on July 6 - is a damning indictment of several senior Afghan officials.
In no uncertain terms, the HRW report - covering the period of
Afghanistan's civil war from April 1992 to March 1993 - lashed
out at government policy of lending political legitimacy and an
aura of gravitas to warlords. A sad commentary on the state of
affairs in Afghanistan, the report also takes a swipe at the United
Nations for uncritically supporting the embarrassing measure.
Ten days later, the Afghanistan Justice Project (AJP), another
human rights body, issued a comprehensive report that documented
war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated from 1978 to
2001. This organization too demanded of the Afghan government
and the international community to take meaningful steps towards
trying war criminals and mitigating the victims' persistent plight.
Wholesale massacres, disappearances, summary executions of tens
of thousands of civilians, indiscriminate bombings, torture, mass
rapes and other spine-tingling atrocities have been recorded in
the chilling account of rights abuses committed since the late
According to the well-researched report, some of the worst atrocities
were committed by people, now ensconced in senior official positions
and running for the first post-Taliban legislative elections.
Escalating violence and a funding shortfall have also put a damper
on the oft-touted polls.
More than three years of investigations and toil have gone into
the report that held Karzai's Chief of Army Staff Abdul Rashid
Dostum, Second Vice President Karim Khalili, Abdul Rab Rasul Sayyaf,
Mohammad Mohaqiq, former defence minister Mohammad Qasim Fahim
and the prime minister Gulbadin Hekmatyar responsible for unspeakable
Haji Sher Alam, who led the troops involved in one of the most
appalling massacres of 1993 in the Afshar locality in western
Kabul, was recently appointed as governor of the southern Ghazni
province. He is directly linked to the flattening of a whole district
and mass killings and rapes, charges the report.
Syed Muhammad Gulabzoi, former interior minister who controlled
the police, and Shah Nawaz Tanai, defense minister and in charge
of the Afghan Army during the Communist regime, have also been
branded as war criminals. But Gulabzoi has intriguingly qualified
as a candidate for the national assembly from Khost and Tanai's
newly registered political party has fielded many candidates.
A survey conducted by Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission
in January found that most Afghans have - directly or indirectly
- been victims of war crimes and rights abuses. It indicated a
thumping majority of the long-wronged citizens believe prosecuting
rights violators would bolster peace and security in the country.
The survey suggested a widespread but pent-up anger over the inclusion
of warlords and militia commanders in the new political system.
The commission recommended the creation of a special prosecution
office within two years and a war crimes court in five. The report
been approved by President Hamid Karzai, who promised to implement
the commission's recommendations.
Hollow promises and sugar-coated slogans apart, the government
has not yet initiated even a single determined move towards the
trial of war criminals, bolstering the fragile judiciary or improving
the security situation.
Soon after the HRW report was issued, Karzai's spokesman Karim
Rahimi announced the formation of a fact-finding commission to
probe war crime allegations and the presence of 'war criminals'
in the government. In a knee-jerk reaction, he regarded the report
as incomplete, imbalanced and focused on the rights situation
in a particular period of time.
However, despite his reservations, the spokesman promised the
inquiry committee would be set up in a week's time to launch investigations
into the allegations. "Action will be initiated against government
functionaries found involved in war crimes," he went on to
hold the assurance.
But more than four weeks down the road, there is no sign of the
commission the spokesman had promised to set up within a week
to look into the serious charges against men in high places. The
cynics believe issues the government does not want to resolve
are assigned to commissions, widely blasted for trying to hush
up important matters Ask the skeptics why the findings of the
commissions - appointed over the last three years and a half to
investigate different issues like the killing of four cabinet
ministers - were not made public.
maintain the rulers will be better off without going through the
charade of appointing commissions and inquiry committees on questions
of public interest. Acknowledging the fact that the war-ravaged
country lacked mechanisms to bring the perpetrators of crimes
against humanity to justice, the AJP posited the government could
start taking baby-steps in that direction, as judicial reforms
were imperative for dealing with past abuses.
Mohammad Nasim Faqiri, spokesman for the Jamiat-i-Islami, contended
mujahideen and the communist regime were not tarred with the same
brush. The latter, he observed, was guilty of organized crime
against its foes while the mujahideen dispensation was clean on
Abuses in their era were committed by a handful of irresponsible
individuals and groups, he elaborated, asking why the rights groups
did not document violations of the pre-Communist era.
Vice-President Karim Khalili's Hezb-i-Wahdat stressed the rights
watchdogs must work without discrimination and bias. Such organizations,
the party contended, should not be driven by ethnic and political
Last month, a British court set a welcome precedent by handing
down a 20-year jail sentence to an Afghan warlord on charges of
summary executions, the slaughter of 11 men in a vehicle and torturing
many innocent compatriots. Living illegally in south London prior
to his arrest, Sarwar Zardad Faryadi's conviction represented
a significant precedent: torture perpetrated in one country was
prosecuted in another for the first time.
While handing down the landmark ruling, Justice Tready remarked
the 42-year-old, who controlled a number of military check-posts
between Kabul and Jalalabad, was personally involved in acts of
torture and hostage-taking by allowing his men to commit the outrages.
"The trial of Sarwar Zardad Faryadi in Britain on charges
of conspiracy to torture and hostage-taking from 1992 to 1996
and the detention of Hesamuddin and Habibullah in the Netherlands
are important international initiatives," the AIHRC said
on July 19. Hoping the steps would help bring to justice perpetrators
of crimes against humanity in Afghanistan, the human rights watchdog
said the first-ever international trial on charges of previous
crimes against humanity would end the culture of impunity and
boost popular confidence in the transitional justice system in
The AIHRC called on prosecutors of other countries to emulate
the British paradigm in dealing with Afghans accused of human
rights abuses in accordance with the principle of universal jurisdiction.
How many war criminals are prosecuted and denied the right to
contest the upcoming elections is a question that President Karzai
and his backers are expected to answer. As they harp on bringing
democracy to Afghanistan, it would not be out of place to remind
Messrs Karzai, Bush and Blair that cherry-picking is inconsistent
with the very spirit of democracy and goes against the grain of
the rule of law.
Despite the Karzai administration and the UN going into overdrive
to establish that the polls would usher in good governance and
transparency, there is already a distinct straw in the wind the
outcome may not translate into the long-cherished change. For
sure, the announcement of a decided and coherent policy on contending
with war criminals will earn Karzai a good deal of goodwill besides
setting in motion a process of accountability.
Given the trail of death and destruction it has witnessed over
the last two decades and a half plus its aftermath, Afghanistan
cannot dream of having a perfect or ideal election. Psephologists
are spot in in their assessment of the situation. But people at
the helm of affairs in Kabul and their global backers must not
lose sight of the screaming reality that apart from triumphs and
defeats, there is much else is at stake at the polls.
Can Afghanistan afford to fall back into the hands of warlords
and war criminals in the wake of the elections? Odds are that
many of them, if not stopped in their tracks, will end up in the
lower house of parliament and hijack the system once again in
the fullness of time. And should that come to pass, Afghanistan
will be in for a tragedy of gargantuan magnitude, for which the
incumbent government and its sympathizers will bear principal