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Reports of rape, looting by Afghan militiamen: warlord's followers terrorize the helpless
15 February 2002
The five men who raped 14-year-old Fatima, her mother and two younger sisters last month have no fear of the law.
For eight hours, they took turns assaulting her, her mother, Nazu, and sisters Bibi Amina, 10, and Bibi Aisha, 12, all the while training a Kalashnikov assault rifle on the girls' disabled father, Jamaluddin. Before they left, the men took the family's life savings - about $142 - and a carpet from the living room.
They returned the next day to warn them not to go to the authorities. "They said that they would kill us if we told anyone," Jamaluddin said.
The family says the rapists were soldiers of Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum's army, the Junbish-e-Millie (National Movement), which has been terrorizing thousands of civilians in the northern province of Balkh since the fall of the Taliban in November.
Although the war is over, some of Dostum's soldiers, who are mostly ethnic Uzbeks but include ethnic Tajik fighters, go out almost nightly to rob and rape Pashtuns, the ethnic group that composed most of the Taliban militia but is a minority in the north.
Such abuses are a clear illustration that the interim government of Prime Minister Hamid Karzai has been unable to stem lawlessness throughout much of Afghanistan.
"A lot of houses have been looted and a lot of women have been raped, but people are afraid to talk because they have been threatened," said Amir Jan, the leader of the Pashtun community in Balkh province. "They are afraid for their lives."
Fear over the widespread persecution has overcome even international aid workers, who are virtually tight-lipped when asked about it.
"I have heard of such cases being committed by a local warlord," said an official of a well-known aid agency. "You should talk to the Pashtuns."
The danger of reprisals makes it difficult to assess the number of victims. Dostum's soldiers enjoy the protection of their powerful leader, and the poorly equipped, unpaid and overmatched local police force is unable to arrest those who commit crimes, conceded Amir Hamza, the Tajik police chief of Balkh, a town 12 miles west of the provincial capital, Mazar-e-Sharif.
"Junbish commanders protect their soldiers from prosecution," Hamza said. "We cannot do anything."
Hamza said he has received many complaints about looting but just one regarding rape. He said it is likely that many more women have been raped but that they are too ashamed or afraid to tell the police.
A convicted rapist can be executed, according to Islamic Sharia law, Hamza said. But because he has just 100 police officers and there are 800 Junbish soldiers in the area, he has refused to confront the men who raped Nazu and her daughters. In fact, he said one of the attackers lives a block away from Nazu's home.
Provincial security officials say the only way to stop the reign of terror is to disarm the fighters and begin punishing those who resort to criminal activity.
The 47-year-old Dostum is well known for his brutal rule in northern Afghanistan, and human rights groups have denounced him over the years.
He was one of the most feared enforcers of President Mohammad Najibullah, the communist leader who ruled Afghanistan after the withdrawal of Soviet troops in 1989. He switched sides in 1992 when it became apparent that mujahedeen fighters would topple Najibullah. His troops later killed many men and raped women and children in the carnage that engulfed Kabul.
Last week, an attempt was made to disarm Dostum's entire 3,000-man army after some 50 people died in northern Balkh and Sar-e-Pul provinces in clashes between Junbish and the forces of Dostum's rival Tajik warlord, Ustad Atta Mohammed, who until recently was Dostum's right-hand man. Government mediators attempted to persuade the two warlords to take their militiamen off the streets.
But dozens of armed fighters continue to loiter during the daytime hours and loot, rape and extort by night.
Surgul, an elderly man with a stately gray beard, said Junbish men robbed him of $300. They robbed Faiz Mohammad, a man in his early 30s, after he sold the last of his cotton crops at the Balkh bazaar, he said. Mohammad said they also took 30 sheep from his neighbor, Nuriddin.
Some locals say the Karzai government and the international community must get tougher with Dostum. When the U.N.-backed interim regime was formed in December, Dostum was appointed deputy defense minister -- a step seen by many as a desperate attempt to keep him from undermining the new administration.
In an apparent attempt to introduce the unruly Dostum to statesmanship, an elite unit of U.S. Special Forces reportedly advises him whenever he travels in the north. "They travel in his car and are always by his side during military briefings," said Amir Jan, the Pashtun leader.
Jan, however, does not blame the Americans for aiding Dostum.
"America doesn't support Dostum so that he can loot people's homes," he said. "We understand that."
But try telling that to Juma Khan of the village of Yakhdon, about 20 miles west of Mazar-e-Sharif. Khan, 15, shuddered when he recalled the night two weeks ago that Junbish fighters carried off his family's possessions and murdered his shepherd father.
"When my father wanted to leave the house to call for help, one of the men shot him," he said, pointing at the back of his head. "Then, they took 25 sheep and everything from our house.
"There are 30 houses in our village. They looted them all. They said: 'You are Pashtun,' and took everything."
Anna Badkhen, from Balkh, Afghanistan