Truth About Corruption, Crimes Needed in Afghanistan

Last fall's parliamentary elections in Afghanistan put several notorious warlords into legitimate positions of power. They gained their positions through local intimidation and election fraud. Human rights officials say this makes it all the more urgent that Afghanistan move ahead with some kind of truth and reconciliation process in the country.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

In Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai is preparing to unveil a plan for a justice system. It would allow for the possible prosecution of war criminals, which could become a problem, because many of the people who hold office in the Afghan government and parliament are alleged to be war criminals.

NPR's Rachel Martin has this report from Kabul.

RACHEL MARTIN reporting:

Like most Afghans, Zainab Ibrahimi(ph) has endured a history of loss, her pain etched into the lines of her prematurely aging face. Ibrahimi's husband and father were both killed during the Afghan war against the Soviets, because they refused to join the Afghan Resistance.

Sitting cross-legged on a worn red carpet on the floor of her cement house, she describes the mix of grief and rage she felt when the authorities brought back her husband's body.

Ms. ZAINAB IBRAHIMI: (Through translator) I couldn't control myself, and there I was standing on a the dead body and told them that if Islam is like this, or if acts of Islam is like this that you guys committed, I don't want Islam.

MARTIN: Ibrahimi then escaped with her children from her home province to Kabul. During the civil war of the 1990s, her property was looted, and several cousins were killed. A few years later, she was thrown in jail by the Taliban for running an illegal girl's school. Now she lives in a middle-class neighborhood in Kabul with her children and grandchildren, and works as a high school teacher. Ibrahimi says, while life is kinder to her now, she is still waiting for some kind of justice for those who hurt her family.

Ms. IBRAHIMI: (Through translator) I really want them to be tried, and this is my only hope in my life. And I don't know who has killed my husband. But the problem is that if I raise my voice now, then I'm sure that they might kill me as well.

MARTIN: Human rights groups have been documenting testimony from victims and witnesses of war crimes in Afghanistan over the past quarter-century--crimes including mass executions and rape, torture and ethnic cleansing, for which no one has been called to account. Daoud Najafi heads up the Afghan Professional Alliance for Minority Rights. He says Afghanistan's justice system is too weak and corrupt to issue any real justice, and it is too dangerous for victims to speak out.

Dr. DAOUD ALI NAJAFI (Director, Afghan Professional Alliance for Minority Rights): I can say that in most of these province, and maybe in the capital, those who commit the killings, they are in power. How can a people without any support, can there be advice against this?

MARTIN: On a recent morning outside the parliament building in Kabul, dozens of members emerged from their armored Land Cruisers, as their drivers jockey for position in the cramped lot. Dressed in suits and ties or traditional sharvar camines(ph) and turbans, the representatives greet one another before the session. Among them is Burhanuddin Rabbani, the former president Afghanistan. The group Human Rights Watch has linked Rabbani to abuses during the civil war, including a tax on Kabul's minority Hazara population, and indiscriminate bombing of civilian neighborhoods in the capital. Rabbani says he has no need to defend himself, and that he and the rest of parliament are behind Karzai's Transitional Justice Plan.

Mr. BURHANUDDIN RABBANI (Former Afghan President): (Through Translator) We are ready to cooperate with the government to try whoever has committed crimes, no matter he has been a big man or a small man.

MARTIN: But analysts say the support is skin-deep, and that behind closed doors, key figures in parliament and the cabinet are exerting political pressure on President Karzai that may dilute or delay the government's plans.

Dr. RANGEEN DADFAR SPANTA (Afghan International Affairs Advisor): We know that it is a very, very difficult and also dangerous process.

MARTIN: Rangeen Spanta is Karzai's advisor on international affairs. Reverting to Dari, he explains that it has taken longer to get the Transitional Justice Plan passed, in large part, because of the current political landscape.

Dr. SPANTA: (Through Translator) The president has wanted to sign the plan, but there has been a delicate balance between justice and stability. And what was important for us has been stability.

MARTIN: But Adam Shapiro, with Global Rights in Kabul, says delaying the prosecution of war criminals is fomenting a new sense of insecurity among Afghans.

Mr. ADAM SHAPIRO (Country Director, Global Rights, Kabul): They're increasingly seeing, that actually, a system of injustice is prevailing and entrenching itself. And they're not getting really security, and they're not getting justice. And so, people are becoming increasingly angry, and increasingly disenchanted with the international community's role.

MARTIN: Shapiro says, in order for Afghanistan to move beyond its bloody history, the United States and the rest of the international community will have to push for transitional justice with the same aggressiveness they used to push for democratic election.

Zainab Ibrahimi agrees, but she lays the bulk of the responsibility on her president.

Ms. IBRAHIMI: (Through Translator) If he does not punish those people, or if he does not try those people, how can we guarantee that we wouldn't have atrocities like the ones that we experienced in the future?

MARTIN: President Karzai is expected to sign the Transitional Justice Plan on March 20th. His advisors say any prosecution of war crimes could take at least another three years.

Rachel Martin, NPR News, Kabul.

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