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Rights Group Urges Less Warlord Help, More Peacekeeper Presence

By Todd Pitman

The Associated Press

K A B U L, Afghanistan, Nov. 5 — International peacekeepers confined to Kabul should be deployed across Afghanistan to restrain warlords, including a U.S.-backed governor whose forces are guilty of human rights abuses, a human rights group said today.

In a new report, Human Rights Watch alleges that the governor of Herat, Ismail Khan, ordered politically motivated arrests and beatings throughout 2002. The report details lashings with thorny branches, sticks, cables and rifle butts.

In the most serious cases, prisoners were hung upside down, then whipped or tortured with electric shocks, the 51-page report said.

"The international community says it wants to reduce the power of the warlords and bring law and order back to Afghanistan," said John Sifton, who co-authored the report. "But in Herat, it has done exactly the opposite. The friend of the international community in western Afghanistan is an enemy of human rights."

Short-Term Gain Versus Long-Term Interests

President Hamid Karzai's government has limited authority outside the capital, Kabul, which is patrolled by a 4,800-strong International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF. The rest of the country is a patchwork of territories divided up among regional warlords.

Human Rights Watch said the absence of peacekeepers in places like Herat had allowed human rights conditions to deteriorate.

"The use of warlords to provide security in the short term, instead of international peacekeepers, is the weakest part of the current strategy of the United States and other coalition partners in Afghanistan," the report said.

"Simply put, security has been put in the hands of those who most threaten it," the report said. It called for peacekeepers to patrol "areas of concern," including Herat.

The New York-based group said there is no independent media in Herat and no public meetings are allowed.

"Ismail Khan and his supporters have intimidated journalists and printers and stifled or controlled the few civic organizations they permit to exist. Nonpolitical civil groups have stopped gathering, and university students refrain from discussing political issues," the report said.

"Herat has been known for centuries as a center of open culture, literature and learning," Sifton said. "The Taliban tried to destroy that. Now Ismail Khan is continuing their work."

Keeping Away Khan

Khan, an ethnic Tajik with close ties to Iran, commands a 30,000-strong militia that is one of the best-trained and equipped private armies in Afghanistan. Since he took power, minority Pashtuns there have complained of looting and oppression by Khan's forces.

Human Rights Watch said both the United States and neighboring Iran had given Khan military and financial assistance.

"The United States and Iran have a great deal of influence over Ismail Khan," said Sifton. "They put him where he is today. They now have a responsibility to make him clean up his act."

Human Rights Watch urged international donors, who pledged $4.5 billion in January to reconstruct the war-ravaged country, to ensure aid is not channeled through Khan.

The rights group also criticized the United Nations "for not doing enough to monitor and report on human rights abuses" in the country.

The United States says Afghanistan's security will rely on the new national army, which now has about 1,000 men. The army, dwarfed by the vast personal militias of warlords, has trouble even getting weapons from the Defense Ministry.

"Of course training the future Afghan army is important, but it will have little or no impact in the short term," Sifton said.

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