Battling warlords try civility
A grim human-rights report spurred Afghan warlords to agree to stop targeting civilians.
MAZAR-E SHARIF, AFGHANISTAN
Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, northern Afghanistan's most important power broker, signed a peace and cooperation agreement with three rival warlords yesterday, during an unprecedented meeting at which he admonished more than 90 commanders for alleged atrocities committed by their soldiers after the fall of the Taliban.Skip to next paragraph
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General Dostum, seated next to his main rival, Gen. Ostad Atta Muhammed, and two other warlords, forced commanders from Dostum's five-province domain to listen to every excruciating detail of a 52-page human-rights report given to him this weekend by the United Nations. The report alleges atrocities committed by Dostum's own, mostly Uzbek, military forces, as well as Hazara and Tajik soldiers.
To be sure, virtually no force in Afghanistan has not stood accused of committing atrocities. But this may be the first time any warlord has called for such a public accounting of the deeds committed by his and others' soldiers albeit with the hope will forgive and forget.
Observers have long noted Dostum's tendency to kill opponents even after they were captured and disarmed. And a team of investigators from the UN and US-based Physicians for Human Rights were here earlier this week investigating evidence that Dostum's troops may have massacred or suffocated Taliban troops after they surrendered last November.
Dostum said he wasn't sure if every awful detail in the stories of rape, murder, and theft were true, but told commanders they should listen anyway and stop the abuse of civilians under their helm.
"After today, if anybody creates problems in my name or in the name of [the other warlords], we will not let them stay in this province. We will unite against them and we will call him the friend of Al Qaeda and the Taliban," said Dostum, a burly, thick-mustached man.
"I am dying of these accusations from the international community. 'What is happening in Mazar with these mass killing? Why are you so cruel?' " he complained, mimicking the questions he has been fielding. "If any one of my commanders commits these kind of acts, I will kill him tomorrow."
These many not sound like the words of a kinder, gentler warlord, but the intent to turn over a new leaf seems genuine. Just a day earlier, Dostum signed an agreement with General Muhammed with whom Dostum's men were engaged in battles just a week ago to remove all heavy artillery, machines guns, and ammunition from Mazar-e Sharif and move them to military garrisons, and to create a combined, 600-member multiethnic force to police the city, with an eye toward discouraging abuses of minority groups.
Dostum was already such a key figure in the anti-Taliban resistance that interim government Chairman Hamid Karzai appointed him deputy defense minister last December, and just recently made Dostum his special envoy to the north.
Now, instead of shying away from the accusations a team of forensic investigators were here earlier this week to investigate allegations of mass graves from the time of the Taliban's retreat Dostum is trying to get neighborhood warlords to recognize that the world is watching. "You must be careful in the future. These are very dangerous men," he said of the investigators who carried out the report. "They can take you to an international court of justice if they can prove your actions."