A wave of killing, rape, beating and widespread ethnic persecution has been uncovered by investigators in northern Afghanistan, underlining the tense and fragile peace that exists in the post-Taliban system.
Testimony from more than 150 people reveals a series of brutal revenge attacks against Pashtun villagers – members of the same group from which the Taliban emerged.
Many of the tribal warlords orchestrating the violence are supposed to be part of the interim administration. Peter Bouckaert, a researcher who spent four weeks in northern Afghanistan for New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), said: "Our research found that Pashtuns throughout northern Afghanistan are facing serious abuse, including beatings, killings, rapes and widespread looting."
"The interim Afghan government will need much greater support from the international community to bring security and stability to the north."
Evidence of the persecution – contained in first-hand testimonies that are to be included in a forthcoming report – comes as the Afghan leader, Hamid Karzai, has been appealing in vain to the West to expand considerably the international peacekeeping force whose members currently only operate in the capital, Kabul.
The 60-page HRW report details how, since the fall of the mainly Pashtun Taliban, Pashtuns – a minority in northern Afghanistan – have been attacked by ethnic Uzbek, Tajik, and Hazara forces.
HRW said that because the Taliban leadership had now largely fled, revenge attacks were being targeted at innocent villagers.
"There was one village where we found that 27 people had been executed," said Mr Bouckaert. "It is quite amazing to go to northern Afghanistan and see the scale of the attacks. You can travel for hour after hour and see villages that have been looted blind. In some cases even the window frames have been taken."
The testimony of one 30-year-old woman in the city of Balkh who was gang-raped by Hazara soldiers and then forced to watch as her 14-year-old daughter suffered a similar fate, is typical of many gathered by investigators.
"[My daughter] was crying a lot and imploring them not to do this because she is a virgin," the woman said. "But one of the men threatened her with his gun and said he would kill her if she did not undress. She was raped three times. The commander raped her twice, and another soldier raped her once.
"I was raped five times. We cried and said that we are poor people with no enemies, so why are you doing these things to us. The commander said, 'It is our choice. You are Talib and you are Pashtun'." A 46-year-old man, from the Shoor Darya region of Faryab province, told how he was severely beaten and robbed by armed members of the ethnic Uzbek party, Junbish-i-Milli-yi Islami after the fall of the Taliban.
"I was a rich man here. I owned 120 sheep, two camels, two cows, two donkeys, and one motorbike," said the man, who is still bedridden several months after the attack. "Right now, I am begging food from the other villagers."
HRW said the perpetrators of the attacks were linked to more than two dozen warlords, many of whom are theoretically part of Afghanistan's interim administration. "You certainly can't expect the warlords to take responsibility for security because they are implicated," said Mr Bouckaert.
"You cannot expect [Hamid] Karzai [the country's interim leader] to do anything because he has no control beyond Kabul. The only force is the interim security force. There is a need to expand this."
The trial of four men suspected of kidnapping and murdering the American journalist Daniel Pearl in Pakistan will begin on 5 April in Karachi's main jail. The UK-born Islamic militant Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh and a fellow accused, Sheikh Adil, appeared in court yesterday.Reuse content