Global Policy Forum

Rights Group Says Taliban Aren't Solely to


By Barbara Crossette

New York Times
July 13, 2001

Breaking ranks with most human rights groups and the American government, Human Rights Watch said in a report today that the Taliban alone were not responsible for a deepening disaster in Afghanistan.

Human Rights Watch, a New York-based organization, called for sanctions against the armed opposition to the Taliban, and blamed Russia and Iran for giving the opposition front significant military support.

"U.N. sanctions imposed on arms and fuel to the Taliban in December 2000 are one-sided and strongly influenced by short-term Russian and U.S. interests, not humanitarian goals," the report said.

The United States wants the Taliban to turn over Osama bin Laden, the Saudi financier of Muslim militancy who is believed to be living under their protection in Afghanistan. And Russia has accused the Taliban of aiding separatists in Chechnya.

The conclusions of the report are largely in line with the thinking of experts on Afghanistan in the United Nations secretariat, but those officials cannot stray beyond the instructions of the Security Council and its most powerful members.

While the new report, "Crisis of Impunity: The Role of Pakistan, Russia and Iran in Fueling the Civil War in Afghanistan," clearly blames the Pakistani government, military and intelligence agencies for arming and training Taliban fighters, who now control more than 90 percent of Afghanistan. It also finds considerable evidence of broad Iranian and Russian support for the opposition United Front. Some Central Asian nations have assisted Russian efforts.

The forces now being aided by Russia are, interestingly, the remnants of the mujahedeen coalition that drove Soviet troops out of Afghanistan in 1989.

"Russia has played a crucial enabling role in the resupply of the United Front forces by arranging for the transportation of Iranian aid, while providing considerable direct assistance itself, including logistical and support services," the report said. "Military assistance to United Front forces has crossed the Tajikistan-Afghanistan border with the active collusion of the Russian government."

Military experts on Afghanistan say the opposition front has no hope of regaining power, but is being armed solely to keep the war going and the Taliban off balance. The Afghan economy has collapsed, public services are almost nonexistent, and more than a million people face severe hunger, if not starvation. Five million Afghans are already refugees, and this week the United Nations high commissioner for refugees said it was increasingly difficult to find help or homes for them.

The Human Rights Watch report says several members of the "six- plus-two group" — the six nations bordering Afghanistan, plus Russia and the United States, which has been half-heartedly trying to negotiate an end to the war — "are providing military and material support to Afghan parties that have committed gross violations of the laws of war."

United Nations officials have also reached that conclusion, and have said so in reports to the Security Council. But the United States and Russia have, in a rare show of solidarity, refused to take action against the Taliban's enemies. The Taliban are under an arms embargo that also prohibits air traffic to the landlocked country, except for religious or mercy flights. The new report calls for a lifting of the ban on civilian air traffic.

Human Rights Watch, which has in the past drawn attention to abuses committed by the opposition alliance as well as by the Taliban, whose restrictions on women have brought international notoriety, again criticized both sides in today's report. "Both the Taliban and the United Front have failed to ensure that the fundamental rights of the Afghan population under their control are protected," it said.

The report backs recommendations by a panel of experts appointed by the United Nations that effective border monitoring be set up around Afghanistan and that a coordinating office be established to supervise the work. It says the greatest immediate pressure should be put on Pakistan, since the Pakistani-Afghan border will be the most difficult to police.

More Information on Afghanistan
More Information on Sanctions Against Afghanistan


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