(Tell it to the warlords)
New York Times
January 14, 2004
By Carlotta Gall
For Ahmad Shah Mirdad, head of monitoring at the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, the adoption of a new Constitution by the loya jirga this month was something of a nonevent.
He spent a fruitless day this week trying to help two families whose houses in District 15 of Kabul have been forcibly occupied by the Afghan intelligence service, the National Security Directorate. "The intelligence office did not cooperate at all, so we will try to get the police to help," he said. "Sometimes a government order does not work, and often the order of President Hamid Karzai is ignored."
"In Kabul," he went on, "where the government is more or less in power, things are better than elsewhere, but people are still seizing houses even in downtown Kabul." In the provinces, especially in remote areas where self-appointed commanders reign, there is no rule of law at all and horrendous human rights abuses are occurring, he said.
The adoption of a Constitution was unquestionably a major step for Afghanistan. But the West should be under no illusions about the document's value to a nation bristling with arms, one that would almost certainly slide back into chaos and factional warfare were it not for the military forces of NATO and the United States. Afghans certainly are not.
"It's a good Constitution and will bring change if implemented," said Abdul Latif Amiri, a delegate to the loya jirga from the southern city of Kandahar. "But implementation is not possible while there are still arms all over the country," he added.
Even the United Nations special representative, Lakhdar Brahimi, spoke in an unusually critical manner at the closing ceremonies. "The people of Afghanistan are afraid of the guns that are held by the wrong people and used not to defend them and not to wage a jihad, because the time for jihad is finished, but to terrorize people, to take advantage for their own and the people who are close to them," he said.
Since it opened last year, the Afghan Human Rights Commission has recorded 1,700 complaints of violations from around the country and has investigated about half of them. They include 225 accusations of murder, which, Mr. Mirdad said, all represent incidents of abuse of power because they involve commanders or other officials. "We don't look into individual murders, only when it concerns an abuse of power," he said.
Still fresh in his mind is the day in October when a distraught family arrived with the headless and armless body of their relative. "They brought it here to the office it was terrible," said Mr. Mirdad, a quiet man in a suit and woolen scarf.
The dead man was Sayed Habib, from Parwan Province, north of Kabul. He had made the mistake of asking a commander to repay money he had borrowed. The Human Rights Commission successfully pursued the case and forced the police to arrest two men, Sardar Agha and his brother Shirin Agha. Both men are former mujahedeen and still serve under their old commander as part of the Defense Ministry.
There are also 242 cases of confiscation of land, 195 cases of destruction of property, 66 incidents of torture, 82 of illegal detention and 56 of looting, all involving commanders or local leaders, whether self-appointed or government officials.
Those are only the cases that the commission knows about, and because of the extreme lawlessness in some places the commission cannot investigate all of them.
"The cases we cannot follow up are where the government has no power, and the governors and commanders are selected by themselves," Mr. Mirdad said. "The level of the rule of law varies, but for example in Uruzgan Province, in Daikundi and Sharestan districts, since the government does not rule there, there are all types of violations, seizing and burning of property, kidnapping of women, rape, murder and forced marriage," he said. "Also we find innocent people are put in jail for a very long time and for no reason," he said.
Many of the delegates at the loya jirga brought up similar complaints, either in their speeches to the assembly or in interviews. Most famously, a young woman, Malalai Joya, called for the "criminals" in the assembly a clear reference to the mujahedeen faction leaders who killed thousands during vicious in-fighting in the early 1990's and continue to prey on people to be put on trial rather than be allowed to preside over the process of drafting a new constitution.
The irony of approving a new Constitution, while the rule of law is ignored countrywide, was not lost on the 502 delegates at the loya jirga. Sitting in the front row of the assembly for the three weeks of debate were the most notorious warlords of all, the leaders of the main mujahedeen factions Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, Burhanuddin Rabbani, Sheik Mohammad Asif Mohseni and the former Communist, Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum.
It was to them that Ms. Joya was referring in her outburst. Behind the scenes, Mr. Brahimi and the American ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, reportedly used the men's own brutal histories against them in arguments. When Mr. Sayyaf and Mr. Rabbani pushed too hard for their desires in the Constitution, they were reminded that they could face trial for war crimes. General Dostum was told that he had no credibility in Kabul and the south where people remembered his cruelty, according to one official close to the negotiations.
"These people are criminals and they have to answer to the people, and I hope they will not be in the new Parliament," said Sima Samar, the head of the Human Rights Commission, just minutes after the Constitution was approved.
Yet from their front row seats they remain overwhelmingly powerful. When the police chief of a Kabul district was killed several months ago, the Interior Ministry appointed a replacement, a trained professional. But the man never took up his post. Instead, Mr. Sayyaf himself selected and installed the replacement, a man loyal to him.