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Afghanistan: Bush, Karzai, Musharraf Must Act Now

Afghanistan: Bush, Karzai, Musharraf Must Act Now To Stop Militant Abuses

Human Rights Protections Need Greater Priority

(Washington) -- Presidents Bush, Karzai, and Musharraf should act immediately to stop the increasing insecurity and attendant human rights abuses gripping southern Afghanistan and Pakistan’s border areas, Human Rights Watch said today. The three leaders are meeting tonight in Washington.

An explosive combination of resurgent Taliban forces, record-high drug production, ineffective local governance, and re-armed warlords is threatening the well-being and rights of hundreds of thousands of ordinary people in Afghanistan and, increasingly, across the border in Pakistan.

“The recent assassination of Safia Amajan, a staunch defender of women’s rights in Kandahar, is another terrible reminder of the violence and insecurity now strangling life in southern Afghanistan,” said Sam Zarifi, Asia research director for Human Rights Watch. “The three leaders gathered in Washington today are in the best position to help the Afghan people, and it is their responsibility to do so immediately.”

Human Rights Watch called on President Bush to lead an international effort to provide substantially higher levels of financial, political, and security assistance in order to protect the rights of the Afghan people. Despite President Bush's promise to provide a "Marshall plan" for Afghanistan, international assistance to Afghanistan is just a fraction of the per capita assistance provided in other recent post-conflict situations, for instance in the Balkans and East Timor. The United States has provided nearly ten times more troops and economic resources in support of Iraq than Afghanistan, although the two countries have the same size and population and Afghanistan is vastly poorer.

Women and girls have been particularly affected by the insecurity and have seen a significant erosion of the few rights they had regained after the fall of the Taliban. A recent Human Rights Watch report
documented hundreds of incidents of attacks on teachers, students and schools since January 2005, with schools for girls particularly hard hit. In entire districts, attacks have closed all schools and driven out the teachers and non-governmental organizations providing education.

Nearly 20,000 troops operating under the U.S.-led Coalition forces are focused on combating Taliban and Al Qaeda forces in southeastern Afghanistan, but their mandate does not include providing security for ordinary Afghans. U.S. forces recently turned over command in southern Afghanistan to non-U.S. NATO forces, but the U.S. continues to operate independently of NATO, the United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan, and most local and international development agencies.

“The people of Afghanistan are teetering on the edge of the abyss again,” Zarifi said. “With U.S. leadership and support, Afghans can still hope to live in peace and security, but the window of opportunity is closing fast.”

Human Rights Watch said that President Bush should also press Karzai and Musharraf to improve their cooperation. President Karzai has blamed Pakistan for providing the Taliban with shelter and allowing them to recruit and train militants in the country’s volatile border areas.

There are disturbing reports and documentary evidence that armed tribal groups supporting the Taliban in Pakistan’s border areas have engaged in vigilantism and violent attacks, including murder and public beheadings.

“The Pakistani government must detain and prosecute Taliban and militant leaders who are guilty of ordering war crimes and committing serious human rights abuses in Afghanistan and, increasingly, in Pakistan,” Zarifi said.

Pakistan’s government has entered official peace agreements with tribal leaders closely allied with the Taliban in the border region of Waziristan, including a deal with tribal militants in Northern Waziristan, signed earlier this month.

Human Rights Watch said that the security of the Afghan people and the residents of Waziristan must be adequately addressed in any such arrangement. A day after the deal was signed, a suicide bomber, allegedly from Waziristan, killed the governor of Afghanistan’s Paktia province, Abdul Hakim Taniwal. Since the peace deal, Pakistani and Afghan media have reported the murder of at least three tribal leaders by pro-Taliban forces who accused them of spying for the United States.

“President Musharrraf and the Pakistani government are still responsible for the human rights of the residents of Waziristan,” Zarifi said. “The Pakistani government must not allow hundreds of thousands of people, particularly women and girls, to fall under the control of groups following the abusive practices of the Taliban.”

Afghans throughout the country have told Human Rights Watch that they view regional warlords, ostensibly allied with the government, as a major source of insecurity. In southern Afghanistan, tribal chiefs, like Sher Mohammad Akhundzada the former governor of Helmand province who was removed due to allegations of corruption and involvement in the drug trade, have been allowed to operate private militias with the blessing of President Karzai. Warlords with records of war crimes and serious abuses during Afghanistan’s civil war in the 1990s, such as parliamentarians Abdul Rabb al Rasul Sayyaf and Burhanuddin Rabbani, General Abdul Rashid Dostum, and current Vice President Karim Khalili, have been allowed to hold and misuse positions of power, to the dismay of ordinary Afghans.

The Taliban and other anti-government groups in Afghanistan have gained public support due to the Afghan government’s failure to provide essential security and development, and have used the presence of warlords in the government to discredit President Karzai's administration and its international backers.

Resurgent Taliban forces have contested the Afghan government and NATO security forces for control of vast areas across southern Afghanistan.

Attacks on civilians, including the use of suicide bombings, have seriously hurt the security of ordinary Afghans and their ability to exercise basic rights on a daily basis, such as going to market, attending schools, and receiving health care. The Taliban and other armed groups freely travel across the Pakistan-Afghanistan border and use Pakistani territory as shelter from Afghan and international forces.

President Musharraf has pointed out that hundreds of Pakistani troops have died in clashes with Taliban and other armed groups, and that Pakistan has been cooperating closely with the United States in the “war on terror.”

“Pakistan can clearly do more, but so can President Karzai,” Zarifi said. “President Karzai has to stop blaming all of Afghanistan’s problems on Pakistan. He must act to regain the public legitimacy he has squandered by failing to provide good governance and the rule of law.”

Human Rights Watch last week also called on President Bush to use his meetings with President Musharraf to raise with him the need to return Pakistan to civilian rule, hold democratic elections, and end the legalized discrimination against women in Pakistan.

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