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Pashtuns Persecuted in Much of Afghanistan - 2002-03-22

While Kabul is reasonably safe and secure, much of the rest of Afghanistan is not. In the north, in particular, Pashtuns are being robbed, raped and killed because they share the same ethnicity as the defeated Taleban. No U.S. force or any other is protecting them.

The United States armed and financed Afghan warlords to fight the Taleban. Now that is largely over, the newly strengthened warlords are attacking other Afghans who have nothing to do with the Taleban.

On a recent three-week trip to northern Afghanistan, Peter Bouckaert and Saman Zia-Zarifi of New York-based Human Rights Watch documented innumerable brutalities against Pashtuns in dozens of communities.

As an example, Mr. Bouckaert cited the rape of a 14-year-old girl in the city of Balkh. "The Hazara soldiers came to her house and gang-raped both the daughter and her mother, and then they beat her lame father unconscious and stole all of their possessions," he said. "This was a poor family to begin with, and when we went to visit them, they had nothing left in the home."

The Pashtuns have no protection against the assaults of Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras, who in part are taking revenge for previous Taleban massacres. A national Afghan army is at best a long way off. U.S. forces are still pursuing al-Qaeda remnants, and there are no plans for expanding the peace-keepers in Kabul. The Pashtuns are on their own and facing possible expulsion from the north.

They cannot even go to the market place because they will be robbed and beaten. Nor can they get humanitarian aid. "We documented many cases in which Pashtuns went to the cities to collect the humanitarian aid that was being distributed, and were then looted on their way home to the village," he said. "In some cases, humanitarian aid workers who tried to assist Pashtun communities were threatened and in some cases even physically abused by armed gunmen from these three factions."

Thomas Greene, who served with the U.S. State Department in Afghanistan, notes the Pashtuns were not specially privileged under the Taleban. They suffered along with everybody else. Their women could not work. Their girls could not go to school. Why single them out for further punishment? "It will accentuate the chauvinism of individual ethnic groups," he said. "If you get all of the Pashtuns out of the north, I could see a movement for getting the Uzbeks and Tajiks out of the south. There is no happy ending unless it ceases right away, this business of attacking the Pashtuns."

The United States should pay more attention to this, said Mr. Greene. Pursuing all the Taleban and al-Qaeda makes sense at the moment, but ethnic breakdown in Afghanistan could imperil the whole U.S. effort.