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Monday, May 20, 2024

Northern Alliance human rights violations worry U.S.

With yesterday's reports that the Northern Alliance was on the verge of overtaking the key Afghanistan city of Mazar-e Sharif from the Taliban, government and human rights officials have raised concerns over the Alliance's intentions. 




The Northern Alliance, the self-proclaimed United National and Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan, also called the United Front, is a group based loosely on various ethnic factions and has been a major player in the U.S. effort to uproot the Taliban government. But how much support the United States should openly give the Northern Alliance is open to debate. 




'If the United Front takes Mazar-e Sharif, it could make a significant change [in power], because much of the North is in their hands. It's becoming a very pressing issue,' said Patricia Gossman, a Georgetown University professor who has researched Afghanistan for Human Rights Watch. 




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The Northern Alliance was formed in 1992 by feuding warlords struggling for power in the then-communist Afghanistan. Influenced mainly by Iran, the rebels joined forces and seized control of the government later that year. While in power the Alliance disintegrated, but the factions rejoined after Kabul fell to the Taliban takeover in 1996.  




While in power, however, the Northern Alliance compiled a horrific human rights record. Murders, arbitrary imprisonments, callous punishments, public torture and widespread rape of women and children were all staples of Afghanistan while the Northern Alliance ran Kabul, according to Amnesty International. The judicial system was 'virtually nonexistent in most parts of the country,' Gossman said. 




'They destroyed Kabul,' she said.  




On Sunday, the Northern Alliance promised the United States it would not enter Kabul until a temporary framework for a new government in Afghanistan has been developed. This serves as a prerequisite for U.S. military aid. United States support has come in the form of aerial reconnaissance missions and limited bombing raids on frontline Taliban positions in an effort to help out the Alliance's ground campaign. 




Because the Taliban hold a military advantage over the Northern Alliance, assistance from the United States is crucial to their advance. However, the aim of the bombing was to keep the Northern Alliance from making an early assault on Kabul. 




'The U.S. has shown support, but in reality the United Front expected more help than it got,' said Joost Hiltermann, executive director of the arms division of Human Rights Watch. 




Hiltermann said the reasons for this were the Alliance's poor human rights record while in power and opposition by the Pashtun, Afghanistan's largest ethnic group.  




American strategists worry that a Northern Alliance takeover of Kabul would cause many Pashtun citizens of Afghanistan to rally around the Taliban. They also are wary of upsetting Pakistan, which vehemently opposes the Northern Alliance. 




But for now, the one people the United States cannot afford to upset is the Northern Alliance. The rebel soldiers may be the United States' only hope of ousting the Taliban, and achieving its main goal: apprehending Osama bin Laden.  




But Hiltermann was wary of the repercussions of U.S. dependency on the Northern Alliance. 




'[If they came to power], I would have many doubts about the safety of people in Afghanistan. We have no reason to believe that considering the past human rights record and no one being held accountable for it, that anything has changed,' he said. 




Gossman too, has concerns about a Northern Alliance-led government. 




'As long as the country is in chaos, it will remain the perfect breeding ground for terrorism,' she said.

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