A four-man delegation from the Afghan central government left Kabul today to visit northern provinces that have been plagued by recent factional fighting. The United Nations has evacuated its international staff from some parts of the north. There are also reports that hundreds of families have been burned out of their homes.
Kabul, 1 July 2002 (RFE/RL) -- A four-man team from Afghanistan's Transitional Authority left Kabul today for the city of Mazar-i-Sharif in order to launch an investigation into factional fighting between rival warlords in the north.
The delegation is headed by Transitional Authority President Hamid Karzai's personal adviser to the Ministry of Religious and Tribal Affairs, Ghulam Mohyoddin Baloch. The team does not contain any members of the United Nations-backed Afghan Commission for Human Rights.
While in Mazar-i-Sharif, the government investigators hope to interview the leader of one faction involved in the fighting, ethnic Uzbek warlord General Abdul Rashid Dostum.
The team also hopes to meet with Dostum's rival, commander Mohammad Atta of the Jamiat-i-Islami political party. Before completing their reports to Karzai, the delegates also plan to interview civilians affected by the fighting in remote parts of four northern Afghan provinces: Samangan, Sar-i-Pul, Faryab, and Baghis.
Soldiers from Dostum's political party, Junbesh-i-Milli-yi-Islami, have been fighting since early last week against troops under Atta's command. In fact, the rival factions of the former Northern Alliance have been engaged in battle against each other on at least four earlier occasions since the collapse of the Taliban regime late last year.
The ongoing clashes demonstrate that Karzai's central government has almost no control over the remote regions of Afghanistan.
Atta's troops ultimately fall under the control of the Transitional Authority's First Deputy Chief and Defense Minister Mohammad Qasim Fahim. That has raised concerns among Afghans and Western diplomats about whether it will ever be possible to form a unified Afghan national army out of the patchwork of warlord factions in the country.
Karzai raised the issue today during the first meeting of his Transitional Authority cabinet. He told the 32 ministers who were seated with him at a long table in Kabul's presidential palace that the security issue is foremost on the minds of the Afghan people. "Regarding security in Afghanistan, and the lack of an Afghan national police force and national army, the people of Afghanistan absolutely want a guarantee that I will bring security and stability. And they ask that all of the [rival] factions be brought under [the control of the central government]. They should belong to the Afghan National Army and the Ministry of Defense -- nothing else," Karzai said.
Karzai had offered a position in the Transitional Authority to General Dostum, but only under the condition that he move his base of operations out of Mazar-i-Sharif and begin to work with the rest of the government in Kabul.
Dostum, who rarely visited Kabul during his six-month term as interim deputy defense minister, promptly rejected Karzai's offer to join the cabinet.
In an interview with RFE/RL during the weekend, Karzai said that he has told Dostum what he now expects from him. According to Karzai, he told Dostum: "You are my special envoy, but I want security in the north. I want our tax revenues to be collected. I want people to be secured in terms of their property and lives. And I want social justice."
Karzai also told RFE/RL that he has instructed Atta to cooperate with the investigating team that is traveling to the region today. "I have told [Mohammad] Atta, who is the commander of the Mazar Military Corps, that I will send a delegation very soon from the capital to Sar-i-Pul to investigate the situation and bring me a detailed report from there," Karzai said.
The Transitional Authority president said he remains uncertain whether the factional fighting in the north will cause the overall security situation in Afghanistan to deteriorate further. "I don't know whether there is a possibility for disorder or not, but I have been struggling to prevent Afghanistan from moving toward instability and warfare," Karzai said.
The Afghan leader said that it may become necessary to ask the United Nations Security Council to expand the size and the geographic mandate of the International Security Assistance Force (a multinational security force that currently limits its patrols to areas within Kabul Province). "I must say this very frankly. If I am not able as the head of the central government to protect people's lives in Sar-i-Pul and other [northern] areas, I will ask for help from ISAF to save our people from cruelty, warfare and warlordism," Karzai said.
However, Karzai told RFE/RL that he does not want to use force against any political party or organization within Afghanistan. "It is not correct for me to use foreign or internal forces against any group or party. This is not the proper way to reach a resolution in Afghanistan," Karzai said.
The fighting between the troops of Dostum and Atta has been spreading from the north central part of Afghanistan toward the northwest for several months.
The United Nations announced last week that it had evacuated three of its international staff members from a town in Faryab Province about 45 kilometers from the border with Turkmenistan.
Manoel de Almeida e Silva, the chief spokesman for the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, also said he has received reports that suggest grave human-rights abuses in the province of Sar-i-Pul. "One settlement southeast of Sar-i-Pul of some 150 families has been reportedly burned, while some 17 other [settlements] have been reported to be looted," de Almeida e Silva said.
Officials from the UN's refugee agency, the UNHCR, also said a week ago that refugees were beginning to leave the Sar-i-Pul region. But they said today that there are still no definitive numbers available on how many civilians have been made homeless.
Both the UN and Afghan government officials have also been hesitant to discuss whether the destruction of the homes of more than 150 families in a single village last week might be part of a larger pattern of alleged ethnic-cleansing operations against Pashtuns in the north.
When asked whether those 150 families were Pashtun, officials from both the Afghan government and the UNHCR said that they do not have such information. But one Afghan official suggested privately that the information is known by authorities in Kabul. That official said the sensitivity of the issue of alleged ethnic cleansing against Pashtuns in the north could cause a backlash against other ethnic groups in the Pashtun-dominated south, and thus lead to a wider outbreak of ethnic fighting that could derail the internationally backed peace process in Afghanistan.