[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Monday, 14 February 2005, 11:16 GMT
Calls grow to tackle Afghan war crimes
By Paul Anderson
BBC News, Kabul

Pul-e-Charkhi prison near Kabul
The infamous Pul-e-Charkhi jail near Kabul saw many abuses
In many countries affected by war, courts to try war crimes and crimes against humanity have been set up soon after the conflict.

In Iraq, the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone... but not Afghanistan.

It is more than three years since the fall of the Taleban, but neither the international community nor the government of President Hamid Karzai have sought redress for the millions of Afghans with direct experience of atrocities.

The authorities thought it wisest not to start the process.

Stability first, the argument ran, justice second.


Now the tidal gates holding back years of accumulated grief look set to burst open.

Those who argue you do not get stability without justice have hit back with the recent publication of a survey revealing that most ordinary Afghans agree with them.


Take Shukria Fazal and Hamida Ahmed. Shukria lost a staggering 183 members of her extended family to the communist forces running Afghanistan in 1978, just before the Soviet invasion.

The secret service of Afghanistan, Khad, did their KGB paymasters proud.

Soviet troops leaving Afghanistan
The Soviets are said to have shot 1,000 in one massacre

Shukria says its visits started off as a trickle - first an uncle, then a brother dragged out of bed in the middle of the night and whisked off to the vast Pul-e-Charkhi prison and torture centre on the outskirts of Kabul.

Then it turned into a steady flow of arrests of family members suspected of being anti-communist insurgents. Then it was a torrent.

The ground around Pul-e-Charkhi is peppered with the mass graves of thousands.

No war crimes investigator has ever visited them to gather evidence.

Shukria brought out some fading black and white photos of the men taken away.

Some young about to enter university. Others well advanced in years.

She trembles with grief as if the arrests were yesterday.

But this was 27 years ago. Even so, she is demanding that anyone connected to the regime then be brought to justice.


The Soviets and their communist Afghan puppets have plenty more to answer for, like the Kerala massacre, in Kunar province, in 1979.

We will never forget it... so many women, children and men killed
Hamida Ahmed

A thousand men were dragged from their homes by communist forces and shot in cold blood on the streets.

It was a communist answer to an insurrection staged by mujahideen fighters in the province.

The next phase in the war crimes tally is in the early 1990s when different mujahideen factions were fighting among themselves for power.

Hamida Ahmed recalls one of the worst: the Afshar massacre and mass rape in 1993.

The forces of the Afghan national hero, Ahmed Shah Masood, struck a deal with another warlord to attack the Kabul neighbourhood of Afshar, headquarters for a rival faction from the ethnic Hazara minority.

After 24 hours of mortar bombardment from the hills, Masood's forces walked into the district and embarked on an orgy of killing, rape and looting.

"We will never forget it," says Hamida, "so many women, children and men killed."

Deeply political

The Taleban were well known for their zealous application of Islamic values, but less often identified with war crimes - scratch the surface and you will find plenty.

Like the scorched-earth operations in the Shomali plain outside the capital or the massacre of civilians at Mazar-e-Sharif in the north.

Ahmed Shah Masood poster
The forces of Ahmed Shah Masood are, too, accused of massacre

So where do the people who were victims of all this go for justice?

The first and almost only port of call is the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, which compiled the survey and for the first time since the end of the Taleban regime gave a voice to the people's demand for justice.

What it discovered was a suppressed anger shared across the country, that many warlords and militia commanders are not just free, but co-opted in the new political system.

The commission has recommended setting up a special prosecution office within two years and a war crimes court within five.

It has also demanded the vetting of anyone in public service so war crimes suspects do not slip through the net.

All these recommendations are deeply political and may never get off the ground.

The communists and the Taleban are not around any more or are on the run.

The easiest ones to catch are the warlords.

Since the Taleban's overthrow they have still been controlling some of Afghanistan's furthest corners, collecting their own taxes, extorting, seizing property, running their own private jails and armies.

But they are the most difficult politically to touch.

The theory is they are needed to help coalition forces hunt Taleban remnants or that their arrest would destabilise the country.

But many people are arguing that they are not so popular that thousands would rally behind them or that their arrests would have a destabilising effect.

If that is the case, these same people argue, then they say the time has come to open the tidal gates holding back the people's clamour for justice - that it is a healthy thing to do to flush out the system now and then.

From Our Own Correspondent was broadcast on Saturday, 5 February, 2005, at 1130 GMT on BBC Radio 4. Please check the programme schedules for World Service transmission times.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific