[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Thursday, 26 July 2007, 10:48 GMT 11:48 UK
The riddle of Afghan graves
By Bilal Sarwary
BBC News, Kabul

Skulls in the mass grave
Afghan officials said they had found hundreds of bodies

On a dusty desert plain a few kilometres north of Kabul, Afghan security officials recently revealed to reporters the latest mass grave discovered in the country.

Some of the bodies were still in a sitting position in rooms built underground the former weapons depot in the Shomali plain. Others were in a lying position. Some still had clothes on.

What is known is that the bodies are of victims of Afghanistan's war-torn past. But what is not known is - from which war?

Afghanistan is no stranger to such sites. Many - the authorities say more than 20 - have been discovered throughout the country since the US-led invasion and the fall of the Taleban regime in 2001.

A new commission, appointed by President Hamid Karzai, has been directed to investigate who these anonymous victims in the grave were, when were they killed, and by whom?


The commission is led by former chief justice Mawli Fazal Hadi Shinwari who showed the site - now heavily guarded by the Afghan National Army - to a group of journalists.

I virtually erased the word Afghanistan from my life and memory for 10 years
Former 2nd Lt Vladimir Grigoryev, Soviet veteran of Moscow's Afghan War

He ordered members of the commission to go inside the grave, to inspect and note the condition of the victims' final resting place.

"An atrocity has been committed, and we have to determine what occurred here," Mr Shinwari said after his investigators identified scores of victims throughout the site.

The site was discovered a few weeks ago by a 75-year-old Afghan villager who used to work as a driver for the Soviets.

He told the Afghan police that the place was used by Soviet officials for investigations and executions during their occupation of the country in the 1980s.

It is not yet clear whether the allegations are true.

The commission's challenge is to determine who is responsible for the executions.

Two Afghan security officials, who requested anonymity, said the commission would hand over its findings directly to President Karzai.

'Heinous act'

"We will carefully go through all of the details to find out whether this massacre was carried out by the communists or the mujahideen when they took power," one official said.

The head of Kabul police's crime branch, Gen Ali Shah Paktiawal, told the BBC: "We must all wait for the DNA tests and the investigation to finish. Only then can we be sure when this heinous act took place."

He said documents and clothing had been found at the site that would help the investigation.

Carpenter Mohammad Eashan
Mohammad Eashan was 10 when his father was taken away

Afghans have suffered at the hands of their various regimes, all of which have been responsible for filling mass graves.

Thousands vanished during the four Moscow-backed communist governments, and thousands of others during the infighting among the warring mujahideen factions that led to the Taleban gaining power. Life under the Taleban was even harsher for Afghans.


Carpenter Mohammad Eashan is one of many Afghans with shattered lives and broken dreams.

Speaking to the BBC at his workshop in western Kabul, he said he was only 10 when the communist government took away his father. He never saw him again.

Afghan officials watch as a digger unearths the mass grave (photo: Massoud Hossaini)
The site is a former arms depot near Kabul

"My father went to offer his Friday prayers," Mr Eashan said.

"He was taken to Paghman district by the communist police who accused him of helping the mujahideen.

"We don't know if he is alive or dead. It has been 26 years since this happened. I have now lost hope that he is alive. Criminals should be tried for their crimes."

A resident of west Kabul, 31-year-old Mariam, is scared to be even photographed.

She lost her brother during the civil war. He was abducted from a bus.

"He was taken by one of the factions because of his ethnic identity. To this day we don't know if he is alive or dead. His children are always asking if their father will come back one day," she said.

"We all know who the killers were in this country. They should be tried for their crimes. The communists, too, should be tried for their crimes and they shouldn't be in the government and parliament."

The relatives of those missing are keenly awaiting the result of the investigation into the most recently-discovered mass grave.

They hope it will determine which government killed hundreds of Afghans on the Shomali plain.

It is unclear, however, what legal action might then follow, as parliament recently voted to grant a broad amnesty which is intended to give alleged war criminals immunity from prosecution.

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