Afghan warlords poised to take up power

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The Independent Online

Alleged war criminals are poised to take positions of power in Afghanistan's new government, threatening hopes of democracy taking shape after last week's historic election, a human rights grouphas warned.

Alleged war criminals are poised to take positions of power in Afghanistan's new government, threatening hopes of democracy taking shape after last week's historic election, a human rights grouphas warned.

Men with bloody records from years of conflict will become judges, police chiefs and government ministers unless their appointments are blocked by presidential decree, according to a report by Afghanistan Justice Project.

The United States-based group has conducted detailed research into the darkest periods in recent Afghan history - the wars between 1978 and 2001 - and accuses some of the most powerful men in the country of involvement in murders, mass rapes, summary executions and indiscriminate rocketing and bombing of civilians.

It also calls on the Western powers backing the Kabul government to apply pressure against warlords, and accuses the US of helping discredited figures back into power and re-arming them as allies in its fight against al-Qa'ida.

Patricia Gossman, the report's researcher and author, said: "The new government's appointments must be scrutinised. There must be proper accountability ... At the moment there is no vetting process.

"We are particularly worried that the controversy over ink marks on voters' fingers in the election will mean deals have been done where candidates' complaints are dropped in exchange for appointments."

The new president - expected to be Hamid Karzai - has the power to withdraw the appointments of tainted figures but may find it politically difficult to do so without support from his Western backers, Ms Gossman said.

She said that the US may still be using warlords in its anti-terror war. "There is a total lack of transparency about what they are doing," she said. "The [US] ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, is meeting Karzai almost every day but nobody knows what message he is sending about warlords. There seems to be more concern among European powers ... than there is among US officials. They have caused huge problems in the past."

The report, The Candidates and the Past: The Legacy of War Crimes and the Political Transition in Afghanistan, details new evidence about some of the bloodiest episodes from the Soviet occupation, the civil war in the 1990s and the Taliban era, accusing all sides of taking part in atrocities. Little research has been done before on war crimes. Years of turmoil made the work difficult. And no efforts have been made to bring any of the figures to justice.

For this report, researchers interviewed witnesses to and survivors of atrocities.

One of those singled out is Mohammed Fahim, a former vice-president and defence minister, and one of the most powerful figures in the Northern Alliance. He was dropped by Mr Karzai as his vice-presidential running mate, but many expect him to remain a significant figure in the government. The report highlights summary executions and rapes carried out by troops allegedly under his command in Kabul in 1993.

Another powerful behind-the-scenes figure is Abdul Sayyaff, a hardline Islamist warlord who opposed the Taliban. He is believed to have played a key role in appointing ultra-conservative judges to Kabul's Supreme Court where their judgments have repeatedly gone against the few liberal figures brave enough to try to play a public role in Afghanistan.

General Abdul Rashid Dostum, a presidential candidate with ambitions to be chief of the defence staff, is another who is singled out for his record leading a militia during the civil war.

The report also claims that Taliban commanders accused of war crimes may not face justice because they have disappeared into US custody. The prospect of those accused ever standing trial is believed to be years away, partly because the authority of the government is so fragile. Ms Gossman said: "So far the only real trial for anybody accused of abuses is happening now in London, where alleged commander Zardad Khan is being prosecuted."

ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN

Mohammed Fahim

A Northern Alliance leader. His forces are accused of summary executions and rapes in Kabul in 1993

Abdul Rasul Sayyaff

Radical Islamist who opposed the Taliban. His forces, accused of civil war atrocities, are serving in Kabul's 10th division

Yunus Qanooni

Presidential candidate linked to Northern Alliance warlords, but there are no claims he was involved in atrocities

Abdul Rashid Dostum

Warlord who ended election boycott yesterday. His militias are accused of rape and murdering Taliban prisoners

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