RIC Query - Afghanistan (5 January 2004)
|Response to Information Request Number:||AFG04001.ZNY|
|Date:||January 05, 2004|
|Subject:||Afghanistan: Information on Taliban Activity in Afghanistan After the Fall of the Taliban Regime in November 2001|
|From:||CIS Resource Information Center|
|Keywords:||Afghanistan / Armed conflicts / Armed resistance movements / Civil society / Combatants / Discrimination based on ethnic origin / Ethnic minorities / Freedom of religion / Fundamentalism / Political opposition / Political representation / Political repression / Political situation / Religious conflicts / Religious minorities / Rule of law / Vulnerable groups|
1) Provide information on current Taliban activity in Afghanistan, particularly in Kabul, and in the provinces of Oruzgan and Kandahar.
2) Provide information on the situation of Dari-speaking Shi'ites in Pashto-speaking Sunni-dominated areas of Afghanistan.
3) Provide information on the situation of individuals active or formerly active with the following organizations:
--Bakhter Unity Reconstruction Council (BURC),
--Shorai Wahdat-e-Islami Qabaili Afghanistan (Afghanistan Islamic Tribal Council),
--Council for Understanding and National Unity of Afghanistan (CUNUA)
BACKGROUND - POLITICAL / SECURITY SITUATION
In December 2001, the Taliban regime in Afghanistan fell to the combined military efforts of Northern Alliance forces, which had fought the Taliban for years, and a US-led coalition, which launched Operation Enduring Freedom against Taliban military targets and al Qa'eda encampments in Afghanistan in early October 2001. The defeat of the Taliban in Kandahar on 7 December 2001 signaled the end of Taliban rule in Afghanistan, although throughout the country "isolated pockets" of Taliban forces still fought the Northern Alliance. Key Taliban leaders, including spiritual leader Mullah Omar, are still at large (UK Oct 2003).
The Bonn Agreement, enacted on 5 December 2001, provided for an Interim Authority which would govern Afghanistan for six months before transferring power to a Transitional Authority (TA) on 22 June 2002 (UK Oct 2003). In June 2002, a council of tribal elders, or "loya jirga" elected Interim Authority leader Hamid Karzai as President of the Transitional Authority and appointed Karzai's cabinet (DIS Mar 2003).
At that time "[t]here continued to be reports about resistance from al-Qaida and Taliban forces in some pockets in the southern and south-eastern areas of Afghanistan" (DIS Mar 2003). There also have been assassinations and attempted assassinations of TA leaders, including an attempt on President Karzai in September 2002 during a trip to Kandahar (DIS Mar 2003).
The U.S. Department of State report on human rights in Afghanistan during 2002 states that "the remnants of the Taliban and rogue warlords sometimes threatened, robbed, attacked, and occasionally killed local villagers, political opponents, and prisoners [in 2002]" (U.S. DOS 31 Mar 2003). The report also notes that the Karzai government made efforts to prosecute individuals responsible for serious human rights abuses, including a prominent Taliban commander Abdul Shah, who in October 2002 was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment for mass murder (U.S. DOS 31 Mar 2003).
"Tribal militias" provide security in rural areas where US-coalition forces and the Afghan government are unable to do so. In April 2003, the CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR reported that the "growing assertiveness" of these militias and their easily shifting political loyalties could hamper the central government's efforts to extend its authority beyond Kabul and the US-coalition's pursuits of its own goals in the country (Baldauf 24 Apr 2003).
A recent UN General Assembly report on the situation in Afghanistan states:
"[T]he deteriorating security situation [is] a major concern throughout the country. Unchecked criminality, outbreaks of factional fighting and activities surrounding the illegal narcotics trade have all had a negative impact¿. During the reporting period [July 2002 to November 2003], attacks on international and national staff of the assistance community have intensified. The main security threats continue to be terrorist attacks by suspected Al-Qaida, Taliban and supporters of Hekmatyar against Government forces, the United Nations and the humanitarian community. The attacks have occurred mostly in areas along the porous border in the south and southeast¿ Another source of insecurity continues to be rivalry between armed factions. Skirmishes between rival factions in the north led to the establishment in early 2003 of a Joint Security Commission which¿was able to broker ceasefires following the outbreak of fighting in Maymana, Faryab province, in April 2003 and in Mazar-i-Sharif, Balkh province, in May and October 2003. Nonetheless, tensions remain high and durable solutions are not yet apparent" (UN 3 Dec 2003).
The UN report also states that "in the absence of rule of law in Afghanistan, violations of human rights are, unfortunately, routine." The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) "has received and followed up on numerous complaints of political intimidation," particularly in Kabul, Herat, and Mazar-i-Sharif. "The apparent increase in abuse in recent months, as the constitutional reform process and preparations for the national election get under way, are particularly worrisome" (UN 3 Dec 2003).
The UN ceased full humanitarian operations in southern and eastern border regions of Afghanistan after the murder of one of its workers in Ghazni province in November 2003 (UN 11 Dec 2003). The most recent of several attacks against UN personnel in Afghanistan was the bombing of a UN housing building in Kabul on 26 December 2003 in which no casualties were reported (UN 26 Dec 2003).
BACKGROUND - RETURNEES
The U.S. Committee for Refugees (USCR) cites UNHCR figures in stating that by the end of 2002, "more than 2 million Afghan refugees and displaced people had returned from neighboring states and camps inside Afghanistan in the largest and most rapid assisted return movement since 1972." The USCR also reports that "the number of asylum applications in Europe by Afghans decreased by 45 percent over the previous year, moving Afghanistan from its 2001 position as the source of Europe's largest number of applicants to fifth place" (USCR 2003).
The UNHCR reported in July 2003 that most returnees have settled in central (Kabul province) and eastern (Nangarhar province) parts of the country. While most returns are voluntary, "recent interviews of returnees from Pakistan and Iran have shown that many of them decided to leave because of the harsh and hostile behaviour of local authorities in urban areas [of the host countries]" (UNHCR Jul 2003). UNHCR cites its own and the Afghan government's concerns that involuntary return "could hamper the sustainability of return for such groups" (UNHCR Jul 2003).
In a July 2003 report on the situation in Afghanistan and international protection concerns for Afghans, the UNHCR recommends the following general considerations:
"In determining¿protection needs of Afghans at present, the provisional and fragile nature of the current situation is an important consideration. It is not known¿at which stage law and order can be ensured throughout the country so as to provide protection against the actions of local authorities and other agents. Given the fragmented nature of the current situation and the re-emergence of previous and new commanders in many parts of the country, it is all the more important, in determining the protection needs of Afghans, to obtain a full picture of the asylum-seeker's background and personal circumstances, as well as an analysis of the prevailing situation in his or her area of origin or previous habitual residence in Afghanistan. Taking into account the specifics of the Afghan society, this assessment should include family and extended family links and community networks with a view to identify the possible traditional protection and coping mechanism vis-à-vis the current local authorities. It is also important to establish, for each case, the profile of family-members of the core and extended family, their location, their previous and current social status, and their political affiliations in Afghanistan or abroad" (UNHCR Jul 2003).
"With regard to agents of persecution, in the present situation of partial fragmentation into zones of influence, power vacuums and tension due to the competition for influence between different actors and the control of the appointed transitional administration not extending to the whole of the Afghan territory, possible risks of persecution by non-state agents continue to require consideration" (UNHCR Jul 2003). The UNHCR report states that the problematic human rights abuse records of members of factions that currently are back in power in Afghanistan indicate that the risk of persecution by non-state actors continues, but the report does not list the Taliban as one of the factions (UNHCR Jul 2003).
The December 2003 UN Secretary General's report on the situation in Afghanistan states that a recent mission to the north-central provinces of Faryab, Samangan, Balkh, Jowzjan and Sar-i-Pul indicates that conditions are favorable for refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) to return to these areas, despite lack of security in some sectors. The report also states that many are reluctant to return until "security can be guaranteed, impunity for commanders ended and disarmament, demobilization and reintegration implemented" (UN 3 Dec 2003).
BACKGROUND - GROUPS AT RISK, INTERNAL FLIGHT
Following is an excerpt from the July 2003 UNHCR report on international protection considerations for Afghans:
"The year 2002 saw voluntary repatriation to Afghanistan in unprecedented high numbers. While voluntary repatriation is expected to continue, certain groups of Afghans continue to have a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons outlined in Article 1 A (2) of the 1951 Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. Others ¿ originating from particularly affected parts of the country ¿ might be in need of international protection because of the indiscriminate effects of widespread violence and disorder" (UNHCR Jul 2003).
Groups at risk of persecution in Afghanistan as listed by the UNHCR report include but are not limited to:
- Persons associated or perceived to have been associated with the former Communist regime in Afghanistan or those who have advocated a secular government for Afghanistan.
- Persons holding or expressing a different political affiliation than those who govern in the area to which the persons are returning.
- Members of groups perceived by commanders/factions as possible threats to their power such as media and journalists, civic groups, women's associations and professional shuras (councils of professionals such as professors, lawyers, doctors, and others that work to promote development of civil society groups), witnesses to gross human rights violations.
- Persons returning to areas where they are an ethnic minority (see below for more information).
- Persons who are/were supporters of or are perceived to be/have been supporters of the Taliban, including civilians who worked for the Taliban government (UNHCR Jul 2003).
In its July 2003 report, the UNHCR states that internal flight alternatives must account for the "traditional family and community structures of the Afghan tribal system" (UNHCR Jul 2003). These structures provide protection and support that is available only in areas where the structures exist¿ generally place of origin or habitual residence. The UNHCR cautions that although Kabul is more secure due to the presence of international troops, "certain persons could still be targeted in Kabul, if the persecutors intend to target them" (UNHCR Jul 2003).
1) PROVIDE INFORMATION ON CURRENT TALIBAN ACTIVITY IN AFGHANISTAN, PARTICULARLY IN KABUL, AND IN THE PROVINCES OF ORUZGAN AND KANDAHAR.
According to a representative of the U.S. Department of State's Office of Afghanistan Reconstruction, current Taliban stronghold areas in Afghanistan are generally accepted as being the South and Southeast of Afghanistan, particularly along the Pakistan border. The representative mentioned the specific provinces of Kandahar, Zabol, Oruzgan, Paktia, Paktika, Ghazni, and to a lesser extent Helmand and Nangarhar. The representative stated that while the Taliban do not "control" any territory, they are present in these areas and it is difficult for the central government to control their activities, particularly in the more mountainous regions during winter (U.S. DOS 8 Dec 2003).
Ongoing press reports indicate growing concerns about overall security in Afghanistan, particularly outside of Kabul, and about Taliban resurgence.
In July 2003, the UNHCR reported: "[T]here are still pockets of resistance of Al Qa'ida and Taliban forces and indications that some Taliban forces might be regrouping. Since August 2002, the anti-western commander, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and his followers had become notably more active, being linked to sporadic bombings in Kabul city and insecurity in parts of the Eastern, Central and Northern regions. Coalition forces remain active in the Southeast, East, Southern and Central Region and maintain a large military presence in Kandahar province. Combat between coalition forces and resistance groups has occurred in all these areas" (UNHCR Jul 2003).
The October 2003 UK update on Afghanistan refers to reports of "[f]urther attacks on Afghan and Western government, military and humanitarian targets in August 2003, believed to have been launched by insurgents loyal to the Taliban," and others (UK Oct 2003). "UN missions to Uruzgan [Oruzgan], Zabul and parts of Helmand province as well as all districts near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border remained suspended. In the east, missions to Kunar province and several districts in Nangarhar and Laghman provinces were classified as high-risk areas and/or suspended" (UK Oct 2003).
The GUARDIAN (UK) reported in November 2003:
"While the capital is protected by a 5,700-strong International Security Assistance Force (Isaf), under Nato's control, much of the rest of the country is in turmoil¿. Indeed in Afghanistan there are now two conflicts: a continuing war pitting the US-led coalition against the remnants of the Taliban and al-Qaida; and a flickering civil war, which the coalition's invasion interrupted. In recent months Afghanistan has seen its worst violence, on both fronts, for nearly two years. Hitting-and-running into the south from their safe havens in Pakistan, the black-turbaned Taliban are rallying. American officials report more attacks on the coalition's 11,500 troops in the past three months than the previous 12. A recent battle in southern Zabol province featured 200 Taliban fighters" (Burke 16 Nov 2003).
Another GUARDIAN (UK) article claims that "[t]he Taliban are expanding fast. The deputy governor of Zabul admits most of his province is now controlled by the militia. Most of Oruzgan province and around half of Kandahar province is now beyond government authority" (Burke 16 Nov 2003).
This article categorizes the resurging Taliban into four groups of members:
1- the senior leaders who fled Afghanistan during the US-led invasion in 2001 and continue to operate from Pakistan;
2- the " 'fighting' commanders" inside Afghanistan;
3- the Taliban " 'fellow travellers' " or armed tribal groups who have rejected the central government in Kabul; and
4- "young foot soldiers" who have joined the Taliban to fulfill religious obligations, for financial gain, or to free their country from perceived occupiers (Burke 16 Nov 2003).
The article states that the economic growth that has "transformed" Kabul since the fall of the Taliban in December 2001 has yet to reach the impoverished and drought-stricken southeast where Afghanistan's majority Pashtun tribe, who dominated the Taliban movement, are concentrated (Burke 16 Nov 2003).
Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty reported in October 2003 that residents of a remote area in the central Afghan province of Bamiyan are more concerned about starvation than about rumors that there is a "major regrouping" of Taliban in the area. The speculation is centered on an ex-governor who is reportedly being armed by former Taliban leaders in Pakistan whose goal is to establish a "pocket of self-rule in the center of the country and to once again impose the Taliban's strict religious code" (Ledgard 9 Oct 2003). "Most [locals] say that while the former Taliban could agitate and cause bloodshed, they are no longer a serious threat¿. International officials¿¿ speaking on condition of anonymity¿ say they are concerned about what would amount to the brazen shipping of arms deep into the center of the country and about links with former Taliban commanders in Pakistan. But they say they do no believe these activities constitute a significant threat, at least for the moment" (Ledgard 9 Oct 2003).
2) PROVIDE INFORMATION ON THE SITUATION OF DARI-SPEAKING SHI'ITES IN PASHTO-SPEAKING SUNNI-DOMINATED AREAS OF AFGHANISTAN.
Most Shi'ite Muslims in Afghanistan are Hazara and speak Dari, which is similar to Farsi (spoken in Iran). Twenty percent of Afghans are Shi'ite Muslims, and 19% of Afghans are Hazara. Most of the remaining 80% of the population are Sunni Muslims, (there are a very small number of Hindus and Sikhs) (UNHCR Jul 2003).
The October 2003 UK report on Afghanistan indicates mixed reports on the situation of Hazaras. The report cites the director of the International Crisis Group in stating that there is "no longer an open war against Shia Muslims" in Afghanistan as there was during the reign of the Taliban. There are reportedly "no problems" for Hazaras in Kabul where they are able to move freely about the city and "many are employed in administration" and there are "no security based problems" for Hazaras who have returned to Bamian province (UK Oct 2003). The report cites Amnesty International in stating that some Hazara returnees to western Kabul have alleged that local police would not investigate acts of violence and petty crime committed against the returnees, in some cases by rival ethnic groups. The report also cites UNHCR in stating that Hazaras claimed forced relocation within the Kamard district of Bamian province throughout 2002 and 2003 due to "persecution by Tajik or Tatar commanders, including extortion, beating and intimidation" (UK Oct 2003).
The July 2003 UNHCR report lists "persons originating and returning to areas where they constitute an ethnic minority" as a general group at risk of "violence, harassment or discrimination" upon return to Afghanistan, and specifically states that Hazaras from the Kamard district in Bamian province "may also face ethnically and politically motivated persecution" (UNHCR Jul 2003).
For more information on the situation of Hazara in Afghanistan, please refer to RIC Response to Information Request AFG03001.OGC, AFGHANISTAN: INFORMATION ON SITUATION OF HAZARAS IN POST-TALIBAN AFGHANISTAN, 3 April 2003 [attached].
3) PROVIDE INFORMATION ON THE SITUATION OF INDIVIDUALS ACTIVE OR FORMERLY ACTIVE WITH THE FOLLOWING ORGANIZATIONS:
--BAKHTER UNITY RECONSTRUCTION COUNCIL (BURC),
--COUNCIL FOR UNDERSTANDING AND NATIONAL UNITY OF AFGHANISTAN (CUNUA)
--SHORAI WAHDAT-E-ISLAMI QABAILI AFGHANISTAN (AFGHANISTAN ISLAMIC TRIBAL COUNCIL),
There was no information on the Bakhter Unity Reconstruction Council (BURC) among sources currently available to the RIC.
Likewise, there was no information on the Pakistan-based Shorai Wahdat-e-Islami Qabaili Afghanistan among sources currently available to the RIC. An October 1999 press report mentions a Shura Wahdat-e-Islami in Pakistan which, as "the collective body of Shia organisations," was protesting killings of Shia Muslims by the Taliban, but it is not clear if this is the same group as the Shorai Wahdat-e-Islami Qabaili Afghanistan (DAWN 9 Oct 1999).
Online sources refer to the Council for Understanding and National Unity of Afghanistan (CUNUA) as a Pakistan-based political organization for Afghan refugees (yourdictionary.com), an "Afghan peace group" (eurasianet.org), and "a conglomerate of splinter groups and individuals [that] has supported peace efforts launched by¿the UN [in] Afghanistan" (DAWN 27 Sep 2001). According to the U.S. Department of State report on human rights in Afghanistan covering the events of 1995, the Secretary General of CUNUA, "a moderate political organization," was shot dead outside his home in Peshawar, Pakistan in November 1995. When the report was published, there had been no arrests in the killing, but "some suspect[ed] the Kabul [Taliban] regime or radical Islamist [Gulbuddin] Hekmatyar's faction was involved" (U.S. DOS Mar 1996).
This response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the RIC within time constraints. This response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum.
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Astill, James. GUARDIAN (UK), "Operation Forgotten: Afghans Build a Future with Hope, not from the West" (14 Nov 2003), http://politics.guardian.co.uk/foreignaffairs/story/0,11538,1084773,00.html [Accessed 10 Dec 2003]
Baldauf, Scott. CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR, "Outside Kabul, Militias Bring Security to Afghanistan" (24 Apr 2003), http://www.csmonitor.com/2003/0424/p07s02-wosc.htm [Accessed 3 Dec 2003]
Burke, Jason. GUARDIAN (UK), "Stronger and More Deadly, the Terror of the Taliban Is Back" (16 Nov 2003), http://observer.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,6903,1086197,00.html [Accessed 10 Dec 2003]
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DAWN, "Shura Wahdat-e-Islami Demands Action Against Taliban" (9 Oct 1999), http://www.karachipage.com/news/Oct_99/100999.html [Accessed 10 Dec 2003]
DAWN [Internet edition], "Afghan Council Backs UN Peace Moves" (27 Sep 2001), http://www.dawn.com/2001/09/27/nat10.htm [Accessed 10 Dec 2003]
Ledgard, J.M. RADIO FREE EUROPE / RADIO LIBERTY AFGHANISTAN REPORT, "In Central Provinces, Residents Fear Hunger First, Taliban Second" (9 Oct 2003), http://www.reliefweb.int [Accessed 3 Dec 2003]
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UN. THE SITUATION IN AFGHANISTAN AND ITS IMPLICATIONS FOR INTERNATIONAL PEACE AND SECURITY (3 Dec 2003), http://www.reliefweb.int/w/rwb.nsf/vID/29920E0D696679B685256DF6006A1935?OpenDocument [Accessed 10 Dec 2003]
UNHCR. UPDATE OF THE SITUATION IN AFGHANISTAN AND INTERNATIONAL PROTECTION CONSIDERATIONS (Jul 2003), http://www.proasyl.de/texte/mappe/2003/80/2.pdf [Accessed 31 Dec 2003]
US Committee for Refugees (USCR). WORLD REFUGEE SURVEY, "Afghanistan" (2003), http://www.refugees.org/world/countryrpt/scasia/2003/afghanistan.cfm [Accessed 10 Dec 2003]
U.S. Department of State, Office of Afghanistan Reconstruction (U.S. DOS). Telephone interview with representative (Washington, DC: 8 Dec 2003).
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U.S. Department of State (U.S. DOS). COUNTRY REPORTS ON HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES FOR 1995, "Afghanistan" (Mar 1996), http://www.usis.usemb.se/human/human95/afghanis.htm [Accessed 10 Dec 2003]
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US Citizenship & Immigration Services, Resource Information Center (RIC). AFGHANISTAN: INFORMATION ON SITUATION OF HAZARAS IN POST-TALIBAN AFGHANISTAN (Washington, DC: 4 Apr 2003, AFG03001.OGC).