AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Kandahar, Afghanistan is the birthplace of the Taliban, long considered one of the most dangerous parts of the country. The city has grown peaceful in recent years. That's largely due to the efforts of an American ally, Lieutenant General Abdul Raziq, the provincial police chief. But there's compelling evidence from U.N. and other groups that he and his police have relied on torture and killings. NPR's Tom Bowman reports.
TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: The most feared man in Kandahar is slumped in a cheap, blue plastic chair on a wide patio. He's slight and wiry with a shy smile. He could be mistaken for a security guard at this palatial home of marble and chandeliers. That is, until he begins to brag about his accomplishments.
LIEUTENANT GENERAL ABDUL RAZIQ: (Foreign language spoken).
BOWMAN: When he took over as police chief in 2011, General Raziq says the Taliban frontline was just a half-mile from this patio.
RAZIQ: (Through interpreter) But now, I can drive with you guys until 90 kilometers from here. You cannot find any Taliban there.
BOWMAN: The general says his network of informants, the targeted raids by his police, the continued financial and intelligence support from the Americans, have all but pushed the Taliban out of an area that stretches from Kandahar City to the Pakistan border.
RAZIQ: (Through interpreter) So when they make terroristic plans, we also make our preparation against that.
BOWMAN: But that preparation, say a number of human rights groups, includes brutality against both Taliban suspects and innocent citizens alike.
JOHN SIFTON: There are clear and credible allegations against Abdul Raziq.
BOWMAN: That's John Sifton of Human Rights Watch.
SIFTON: There's a long line of reporting by journalists, U.N., civil society, even admissions by officials within the Afghan government, of torture, disappearances and killings that are linked to men who work for Abdul Raziq.
BOWMAN: Both Human Rights Watch and the U.N. have interviewed Afghans with graphic stories of mutilation and death while in the custody of Kandahar police. One doctor in Kandahar said two police detainees were tortured with a power drill. Eighty-one people disappeared in one year. And now Pentagon sources tell NPR that the U.S. military recently completed a dozen reports on serious human rights violations in Afghanistan, and one of them implicates General Raziq.
Raziq brushes aside all the reports. He says detainees are coached by their Taliban commanders.
RAZIQ: (Through interpreter) The Taliban has taught their own soldiers that if you are arrested by the police, you tell them that you were beaten, you were tortured, so these things are - all of them are baseless.
BOWMAN: For years, Raziq was defended by President Hamid Karzai, who sidelined investigations and promoted him. As early as 2007, U.S. officials implicated Raziq in drug trafficking when he was a border policeman. A leaked confidential State Department cable called Raziq, quote, "part of the long-term problem in the border area." Now, a new Afghan government under President Ashraf Ghani has told U.S. officials they'll deal with human rights abusers.
TOM MALINOWSKI: They're not defensive when we raise these problems.
BOWMAN: That's Tom Malinowski, the assistant secretary of state for human rights, who recently traveled to Afghanistan. He wouldn't talk about Raziq, but said the Afghan government is addressing human rights abuses.
MALINOWSKI: They, I think, have begun an effort that is difficult and complicated and will take time but that has begun to show results.
BOWMAN: And for the U.S. military, which continues to partner with Raziq and provide arms equipment and intelligence information, there's a new twist - a 1997 law barring training to human rights abusers now blocks all assistance like the support to Raziq's force. So the U.S. is grappling with how to deal with the so-called Leahy Law. Withholding assistance to the Kandahar police, says a senior American officer, could jeopardize U.S. troops who depend on people like General Raziq for their security.
Senator Pat Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who authored the law, said the U.S. should not be working with anyone committing war crimes. If we back corrupt, abusive warlords, Leahy said in a statement to NPR, we help foster a culture of impunity, blurring the distinction between our allies and the Taliban.
For his part, Raziq doubts the Afghan government will punish him. As for the U.S. -
What would you do if the Americans decided to withhold ammunition or fuel or equipment?
RAZIQ: (Through interpreter) You don't have to worry about that, they will give us.
BOWMAN: Raziq's reasoning is simple.
RAZIQ: (Through interpreter) Are they going to hand over this area back to Taliban? What we are doing in this country is for law enforcement. If serving for the people is like crime, then I have to go to my people and ask them what they decide about me.
BOWMAN: And many people in Kandahar already have decided about Raziq. All those we spoke with on the streets had a response similar to this teenager.
UNIDENTIFIED TEENAGER: (Through interpreter) Ordinary people are very happy with him. But of course the enemy of the country, they're afraid of him.
BOWMAN: The day after our interview, General Raziq spoke to a supportive crowd in Kandahar.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
RAZIQ: (Foreign language spoken).
BOWMAN: Taliban leaders, Raziq declared, want to kill him and others who fight them, and, "the Afghan government is selling us down the river in negotiations with the Taliban."
BOWMAN: It is, Raziq said, like a poisoned knife. Tom Bowman, NPR News, Kandahar, Afghanistan.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.