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For Afghan Fighter the War Continues as Loyalties Shift


A former Afghan warlord was sentenced in a London court this week to 20 years in prison for torture and hostage taking in Afghanistan. He was tried under a law that allows the British to prosecute torturers regardless of where they committed their crimes. Many of the Afghan warlords have fought both the invading Soviets in the 1980s and later, the Taliban. Human rights groups are appealing for more of the warlords to be held to account for their crimes. NPR's Philip Reeves reports on one man who is still out there fighting.

PHILIP REEVES reporting:

Ask anyone whom US forces are fighting in Afghanistan and they'll likely come up with two names--the Taliban and al-Qaeda. But there's another on that list. He has a long record of violent opposition to the country's would-be rulers and he has a record of switching sides. These days, the US State Department lists Gulbuddin Hekmatyar as an international terrorist. But only a couple of decades ago, Hekmatyar was the largest recipient of CIA-supplied arms and money channeled through Pakistan's intelligence services.

Mr. ROBERT KLYVA (Former Political Affairs Officer, United Nations): Gulbuddin Hekmatyar is one of the very first anti-Soviet resistance fighters which from the late '70s he really was very active in organizing resistance against the Communist government in Afghanistan and their Soviet backers.

REEVES: Robert Klyva is a former political affairs officer for the United Nations who's lived in Afghanistan for the past five years. He says after the Soviets left in 1989, Hekmatyar's career took a twist.

Mr. KLYVA: Then Gulbuddin Hekmatyar was just one of the warlords, definitely one of the big ones all throughout civil war. He was also responsible for a large part of the destruction of Kabul and the rest of the country as were the other warlords.

REEVES: For Hekmatyar, Afghanistan's war never really ended. The Taliban used to be his enemy, but after they were thrown out by US-led forces, he began fighting alongside them and al-Qaeda. They've been conducting an increasingly violent campaign against American and Afghan government forces. Hekmatyar's stomping grounds include Kunar province, a sweep of heavily forested mountains in eastern Afghanistan. This is where the US military recently launched a major assault on the militants, suffering their worst single combat loss in Afghanistan. Nineteen US Special Forces died, most when their helicopter was shot down.

(Soundbite of children)

REEVES: Dowuzailowry(ph) in southern Kabul. Much of the Afghan capital's being rebuilt, but this neighborhood remains a fetid warren of ruined mud brick houses. Hundreds were killed here by rockets during months of bombardment during the early 1990s. A number of warlords took part but residents say no one was more indiscriminate and brutal than Hekmatyar and the men from his Hezb-i-Islami, or Party of Islam. Mohammad Nayim's(ph) eyes blaze with anger as he shows visitors a patch of mud where he buried 10 of his neighbors beside an open drain. In those days, fighting was too fierce to reach the cemetery.

Mr. MOHAMMAD NAYIM: (Through Translator) I, myself, have buried some of them and we have had the incidents that we have not been able to find the different body parts of one person and we have collected different body parts, put all together and buried them.

REEVES: Nayim says people are still suffering the after effects more than a decade later.

Mr. NAYIM: (Through Translator) I can say that it has psychiatrically, affected many people including me and my children. I'm not feeling very well, and I see a lot of others who have got mental problems as well. And they all stem from those days of fights.

(Soundbite of a machine)

REEVES: Sitting in the doorway of a cycle shop a few hundred yards away, Fyzoe Nesou(ph) also recalls the horrors of being rocketed by Hekmatyar's men.

Mr. FYZOE NESOU: (Through Translator) I know a lot of people who were killed here. One day, I remember that a rocket came and landed on a bus and all the people who were on board the bus, they were all killed. It was incredible for me to see that. These are stupid people fired the rockets without bearing in mind that who will be harmed by this, by this rocket.

REEVES: But this is not just about Hekmatyar. Mohammad Uzman's(ph) home was also destroyed, many of his friends and neighbors died and he was forced to flee. He's back now, one of the minority in this neighborhood rebuilding their houses. He, too, blames Hekmatyar, but he also blames other warlords; among them General Abdurrashid Dostom, who last year ran for president. He said Dostom's forces also committed many atrocities, yet Dostom now has a role within the government of Hamid Karzai.

Mr. MOHAMMAD UZMAN: (Through Translator) And now Dostom has got a high position in defense ministry. That gift has been given of him because of all these damages.

REEVES: Uzman and his fellow residents want to see the warlords who shattered their lives held to account. According to Patricia Gossman, director of the Afghanistan Justice Project, many Afghans feel the same way.

Ms. PATRICIA GOSSMAN (Director, Afghanistan Justice Project): What we have been really most concerned about are the worst crimes--massacres of civilians, indiscriminate shelling and bombing that tore, for example, Kabul city apart and killed thousands of civilians. Now having said that, not everyone is guilty of these crimes. What we're concerned about are the senior leaders who ordered them, condone them, saw their troops doing this and did nothing to stop it.

REEVES: `And,' says Gossman, `some of these people are still in positions of authority.' In September, Afghanistan will hold elections for its lower house of parliament. The electoral authorities have disqualified only 11 of the several thousand candidates for having ties with Afghanistan's still powerful militias. But human rights activists argue that hundreds more should be barred because of what they've done in the past. Gossman's group is among those which argue that Afghanistan must confront its war crimes over the last two-and-a-half decades before it can consider the past to be dead.

Ms. GOSSMAN: The fact that so many of these people continue to wield power, continues to commit abuses prove that it's not over. I think one can move to a point of forgiving once one has acknowledged the truth of what's happened. You look at truth commissions that have taken place in other countries and that's been one of the cardinals or principles behind them.

REEVES: Amid the stench-filled alleys of Dowuzailowry, that sentiment seems widely held. Mohammad Nayim wants the warlords who ruined his life to be prosecuted no matter where they are now.

Mr. NAYIM: (Through Translator) Everybody who has committed war crimes should be tried, no matter if he works for the government, if he has got high position or low position. That's something that gives hope for the future of Afghanistan and gives hope for the Afghan people that the impunity culture does not exist anymore.

REEVES: Philip Reeves, NPR News.

WERTHEIMER: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. 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.

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Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.