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Grave danger of further revenge killings as Afghan conflict is ethnicized

14 November 2001

In a Crisis Report launched on 14 November 2001, Minority Rights Group International (MRG) warns of the grave danger of revenge killings escalating in Afghanistan with the ethnicization of the conflict. With the effective partition of the country between the Northern Alliance and the Pushtun south (where Northern Alliance forces are unlikely to penetrate), revenge killings and human rights abuses against both prisoners and minority civilians may spiral. It is essential that a vacuum of authority does not allow atrocities to take place in key cities or territories including Kabul, Mazar-i-Sharif and the Hazarajat following changes of control between the Northern Alliance, the Taliban, or different Mujahidin groups.

‘US-led military action has further polarized communities in Afghanistan along ethnic lines,’ said MRG, ‘entrenching the sectarianism that spread under the Taliban. Significant Pushtun communities live in the north of Afghanistan, and Tajik communities live in the south of the country. There is an acute danger of violence against ethnic minorities and tribal peoples perceived to side with opposing forces, in a dangerous extension of the pattern of revenge killings established in the recent years of the conflict.’

MRG’s Report examines human rights abuses perpetrated by the Northern Alliance prior to the current military action, which clearly indicate the grave danger of retaliation not just against Taliban prisoners, but also against Pushtun communities perceived to have supported the Taliban. The reported execution of Arab and Pakistani volunteers serving with the Taliban and captured after the fall of Mazar-i-Sharif and Kabul on 10-13 November bear out these fears, which have been echoed by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson.

Also documented are massacres by the Taliban of mainly Hazara civilians at Mazar-i-Sharif in 1998, Robatak Pass in 2000 and Yakawlang in 2001. These examples present a dangerous precedent as the Taliban are forced to retreat into southern Afghanistan under severe pressure from US-led bombing and Northern Alliance advances.

For decades foreign governments have intervened in Afghanistan, in pursuit of their own interests and with scant regard for the Afghan people or the long-term stability of the country. As the current campaign continues, it is crucial that the international community plays its part in extracting Afghanistan from a conflict and humanitarian crisis that has become overwhelming.

‘If, at some point, the US-led military action is seen to have achieved its objectives and comes to an end,’ states Peter Marsden, the author of MRG’s Report, ‘the international community will have to find a way of putting the pieces together again.’

Any political settlement to the conflict must have regard to the interests of all sections of the Afghan population and include the active participation of all ethnic groups and religious minorities. Minority Rights Group International urges all sides in the conflict to respect and abide by international humanitarian law, and calls on the international community to support the UN Special Envoy to Afghanistan and to use their influence in attempts to promote a peaceful settlement. The international community has a responsibility to make a long-term commitment to the reconstruction of Afghanistan and to ensure the provision of humanitarian aid to its people.

Afghanistan: Minorities, Conflict and the Search for Peace by Peter Marsden, published by Minority Rights Group International, 14 November 2001.