ISLAMABAD - Officials in Afghanistan have vowed to bring to justice perpetrators of "war crimes" among scores of Islamic State militants who recently surrendered to the government in northern Jowzjan province to avoid being captured by the Taliban.
The top commander of the self-proclaimed Islamic State Khorsan Province, or IS-K, in northern Afghanistan, Mawlawi Habib Rahman, along with his 250 fighters, turned themselves in last week in the Darzab and Qush Tepa districts.
The Afghan government has since been criticized for its unexplained action of providing asylum and protection to IS-K militants, accused by residents of committing serious crimes against innocent civilians while running strongholds in the two isolated Jowzjan districts for three years.
The IS-K group is also accused of kidnapping and killing six staff members of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in February 2017.
Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah on Monday responded to the criticism, saying "war criminals" among the fighters will be dealt with in accordance with the law.
"Surrender does not mean that if they [IS-K] have committed crimes and when they have nowhere to go and they come to the government for shelter they must not expect their crimes will be ignored," Abdullah assured a bi-weekly ministerial meeting in Kabul.
A month-long Taliban offensive demolished IS-K bases in Qush Tepa and Darzab, killing and capturing scores of members of the rival group. The onslaught cornered Rahman and his remaining IS-K fighters, forcing them to reach out directly to Afghan government, seeking protection from the Taliban.
Afghan forces swiftly responded and evacuated the IS-K fighters to the government controlled Darzab district center on August 1, media reports quoted tribal elders and villagers as saying.
Crimes to be prosecuted
Provincial authorities told reporters at the time that detainees not involved in crimes will be freed under a general government amnesty plan, though President Ashraf Ghani has repeatedly ruled out amnesty for Islamic State loyalists in the country, declaring them as foreign terrorists.
The controversial amnesty law marginalizes victims, overlooking their right to justice, said observers with the Kabul-based independent Afghanistan Analysts Network in an article on the questionable surrender of IS-K fighters in the northern province.
The research group noted amnesties for war crimes and gross human rights violations are no longer considered legal under international law.
"In this case, given that the self-proclaimed IS-K fighters and leaders were forced to surrender, rather than willingly leaving the insurgency, it would be especially strange if the government did grant amnesties," said AAN.
The watchdog noted in its detailed study the Afghan government has carried out no full-scale offensive against IS-K in the two districts in Jowzjan, encouraging the group to recruit fighters and survive for three years.
"Neither its long inaction or its decision, in the end, to take action to rescue the remnants of the group have been explained," AAN lamented.
Jowzjan borders neighboring Turkmenistan and the emergence of IS militants in the area has been a cause of concern for Central Asian neighbors of Afghanistan and Russia, as well.