Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Afghanistan
- Category: Strategic Research Review
- Published: Wednesday, 22 October 2008 00:00
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The Afghan war had its roots in a series of overthrows starting in 1973 when Mohammad Daoud overthrew King Zahir Shah. In 1975, resistance to the communist regime began as uprisings. The Afghan Islamist factions of the resistance were favored by Pakistan , Saudi Arabia and the US over Afghan traditionalist and royalist factions. After the Soviet 1979 invasion of Afghanistan, the US, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan selected seven Afghan Islamist groups [i], trained thousands of their members and supplied them with billions of dollars of weapons, aid, and support to fight the Soviets and the communist regime in Afghanistan. The CIA and Pakistan ’s ISI in association with Saudi intelligence set up an arms and aid pipeline to keep the mujaheddin supplied from Pakistan . They also collaborated closely with each other in planning military and political strategy for their mujaheddin clients.
During the period 1979-1989 the Soviets fought to quell the Afghan resistance by repeated assaults such as aerial bombing of villages that resulted in large numbers of civilian casualties and displacements. The mujaheddin practiced guerilla warfare and fought for control over various regions with Pakistan-supplied arms and training. Beginning in 1986, the US supplied Stinger missiles to the mujaheddin to further increase the Soviet cost of involvement in Afghanistan . The mujaheddin did not always fight cleanly; for instance many commanders were paid by the ISI and CIA to launch missile attacks on Kabul city that resulted in large civilian casualties [ii]. Pakistani and Saudi authorities co-opted the initial Afghan nationalist resistance to defeat the Soviet Army and topple its proxy Communist regime in Kabul . This was performed by sustained political, military and material support of the most radical of Afghan Islamists Hikmatyar and Sayyaf.
The Afghan mujaheddin supported by the US, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, made repeated attempts to engineer total military victory and political dominance for their particular Salafi clients Hikmatyar and Sayyaf. As a result of Saudi and Pakistani influence, multiple attempts to bring about sustainable military or political culminations with cooperation of other Afghan mujaheddin and exile groups failed because they did not grant Hikmatyar such total military or political dominance [iii] [iv] [v].
Jihadis from Pakistan , Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries participated in the Afghan War; notable were Bin Laden and Al Zawahiri. Numerous organizations flourished by receiving their share of aid and/or weapons for the jihad and subsequently gained in power and prestige. Some of these groups later coalesced into Al Qaeda. Under President Zia Ul Haq and his Islamisation program, which ran in tandem with the Afghan jihad, religious parties in Pakistan gained influence through the burgeoning number of madrassas funded by Arab donors aimed at indoctrinating young people for the jihad.
Under pressure from military conflict in Afghanistan and political compulsions in Moscow , the Soviet Army finally withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989. The US and Soviets reached an agreement and completely disengaged from the Afghan conflict in 1991, even though no stable settlement for restoring peace in Afghanistan could be reached between the superpowers or various Afghan factions. In the post-1991 period, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia continued to pursue their previous policies of fueling the conflict by avoiding compromise with other mujaheddin groups and attempting to engineer a total military victory for Hikmatyar and Sayyaf [vi] [vii].
Many Afghan commanders and exile groups considered the Afghan Jihad to have ended after the Soviet withdrawal in 1989. However, the prerogative for ending the conflict was out of their control due to Pakistani and Saudi obduracy. The Pakistani commitment to engineering victory for the radical Islamist Hikmatyar can also be seen in the fact that two civilian governments of Pakistan, that of Prime Minister Junejo in 1988 and Benazir Bhutto in 1990, were dismissed, in order to enable the Pakistani Army and the ISI to continue their Afghan policy.
In the years 1989-2001, it is estimated that approximately one million Afghans were killed. Specifically, the period between 1989-1995 was marked by large-scale civic disorder and destruction, lawlessness and conflict. Notable was the fighting in Kabul in 1992-1994 in which 20,000 Afghans civilians are estimated to have been killed.
In 1994, Hikmatyar was abandoned by Pakistan and the newly supported Taliban militia gradually won over large tracts of war-weary Afghanistan . Pakistani jihadis fought alongside the Taliban with the Pakistani Army and ISI providing military planning and support. The Taliban's military victories came after not only driving back its chief opponents in the Northern Alliance and Hizb-e-Wahadat, but also after carrying out massacres of Afghan civilians in which the Pakistanis also participated [viii] [ix] [x] [xi].
At the time of the US invasion in 2001, the Taliban were presiding over an oppressive regime not recognized by any country except Pakistan and Saudi Arabia , and entrenched in a civil war against the Northern Alliance . The Afghan economy was in ruins with no prospects for reconstruction; Afghan women were forced out of work and Afghan girls forced out of schools by state decree. Under Taliban patronage, Osama Bin Laden and his allied organizations were operating camps in Afghanistan to train jihadis for guerilla warfare and terrorist attacks on a global scale.
Clearly, the power and prestige which jihadi Islamism gained in the Afghan conflict derived from the billions of dollars of weapons, aid, and training, and state patronage which US, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan supplied to their clients during that period. It is also clear that any jihadi victories were of the pyrrhic kind which may be ascribed to jihadi Islamists and their ISI and Saudi sponsors preferring to preside over the most horrific destruction rather than seek compromise. Unfortunately such a destructive conflict is now mythologized and eulogized as a landmark victory by radical propaganda through out the Islamic world. This is facilitated by the continued maintenance of official denial by the US , Saudi Arabia and Pakistan about their roles in the Afghan War.
Scope of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Afghanistan
Ideally, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission would be established by the United States and Russia with the participation of Saudi Arabia , Pakistan , Afghanistan , Iran and other countries.
Under the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, each nation, including the US and Russia , would put on public record its cumulative role and its share of the horrors of Afghan conflict in the period 1975-2001. The sole purpose would be solely to put the truth on the public record for the purpose of reconciliation and ending the cycle of violence. As the victims number in tens of millions; it would be primarily representative groups, organizations, member of militaries and former and present government functionaries who would testify before the Commission.
Primarily the governments of Russia , Saudi Arabia , Pakistan , and the United States would testify about support to the war effort such as alliances, clients in the war, military aid, arms pipeline, and training of combatants. Other aspects of testimony would involve particular military offensives, Afghan civilian causalities, destruction of infrastructure, glorification of the jihad and religious extremism through propaganda and indoctrination.
Truth and Reconciliation Commissions in other countries
Truth and Reconciliation commissions have been used in a number of other countries to document and reach reconciliation after extended periods of political violence.
South Africa established a Truth and Reconciliation Commission when the rule of apartheid ended in 1994. In order to facilitate reconciliation among South Africans and put an end to cycles of violence, the Commission put on record the violence and human rights abuses committed in the period of 1960-1994.
Human rights abuses had been committed by both sides in South Africa , the domestic governments in imposing the official apartheid policy, and by South Africans fighting the government. The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission did not aim to award punishment to those who committed human rights abuses on either side. Rather it encouraged offenders to put the truth on official record; the Commission offered amnesty to those who confessed to their crimes. The Commission also aimed to record incidents of human rights abuses, identify victims, and offer relief and reparation to the deserving.
East Timor established a Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation to look into human rights violations committed in East Timor between April 1974 and October 1999.
The Commission, which is currently in operation, has a mandate to seek the truth, record victim testimonies, perpetuator acknowledgements of human rights abuses, to facilitate community reconciliation by dealing with minor offences such as looting, burning and minor assault, and to make recommendations to prevent further abuses and help past victims. The Commission does not have the power to offer amnesties. Serious crimes such as crime, rape and torture have to be brought to trial in the state’s justice system outside the Commission.
A number of other countries have established Truth and Reconciliation Commissions to look into human rights abuses in the past, including Chile, Argentina, Peru, Sri Lanka and South Korea [xii].
Benefits of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Afghanistan
Benefits to Afghanistan
By revealing the past actions of Afghan and foreign players in the Afghan War, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission would help Afghans reconcile with their past and provide a sound foundation for the peaceful reconstruction of the Afghan nation and society.
A Truth and Reconciliation would lay out the truths regarding the Afghan War. The truth would grant Afghan civilians their due position as key sufferers in the 25 years of the Afghan conflict and as the key stakeholders in peace and progress in the future. It would also help foster trust and reconciliation between the numerous Afghan factions whose current relationship is precariously based on military peace imposed by the presence of international military forces. It would put an end to the cycle of violence which can otherwise be triggered by revenge killings by warlords or the assassinations of major government leaders.
A Truth and Reconciliation Commission would also provide a basis of truth for Afghanistan ’s reconciliation with other countries including Pakistan , Iran and Saudi Arabia . The world may owe Afghanistan monetary or material aid, but much more so the world owes Afghanistan the truth about the Afghan War.
Benefits in the Global War on Terror
The establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Afghanistan is consistent with the goals of the global war on terror. The realities about the near-total destruction of Afghanistan, its causes and its contributors, what led to it and who contributed to it, when laid before the public record would serve to destroy jihadi Islamist myths being propagated and reveal the true costs of jihadi Islamism.
A number of blatant falsehoods being propagated to credulous populations by jihadi Islamism’s proponents would also be conclusively quashed.
Myth #1: The Afghan Jihad did not target noncombatants, women and children.
The Afghan War was, in fact, characterized by indiscriminate killing of civilians by all sides. Civilians were killed in all phases including in missile attacks by mujaheddin during the Soviet phase as well as ethnic and sectarian massacres. The women of Kabul suffered atrocities committed by former mujaheddin commanders in the early nineties. The Taliban regime committed atrocities on women on the frontlines of its civil war with Northern Alliance .
Myth #2: The Afghan Jihad was a noble struggle for Muslims’ just rights.
The Afghan Jihad was fought in defense of Afghan nationalism against the Soviet occupation. It is also factual that the jihad was co-opted by the Pakistani Army/ISI and Saudi Arabia 's religio-political agenda in association with the US ’s strategic agenda of defeating the Soviet Union .
Myth #3: The armed jihad purifies Islamic societies and rids them of corruption.
In fact, in Afghanistan , there were brutal mutual betrayals by mujaheddin commanders who killed each others’ men in the battlefield and refused all compromise on the political front. The jihad reduced Afghan society to a dangerous, private army-dominated, brutalized society with every civic and social institution destroyed and cities reduced to rubble. Afghan women were reduced to illiteracy and some forced into prostitution, opium was freely traded by Pakistani-Afghan drug lords, and the economy destroyed.
Myth #4: Jihadis who fought in Afghanistan and elsewhere are martyrs who will gain entry to paradise for themselves and their relatives.
When the shifting alliances, betrayals and foreign agendas in the Afghan War are laid on public record, the question of martyrdom in the Afghan War would be seen as a difficult one. It will become clear that it was usually the current jihadi allies of the Pakistani ISI/Pakistani Army who were conferred the status of martyrs.
The establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission will go a long way to stem the mythology surrounding the Afghan Jihad.
Benefits beyond Afghanistan
The aims of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission are consistent with Pakistan ’s official policy of enlightened moderation, namely to quell religious extremism in Pakistan .
In Pakistan , the Afghan jihad is an ongoing process that began in 1975. Pakistanis participated in the Afghan jihad in large numbers [xiii]. However, all discourse on jihad including in state textbooks for school children propagates jihad as an abstract Quranic concept, with no mention of the human toll in neighboring Afghanistan . The Truth and Reconciliation Commission would bring the facts about Afghan War into the public discourse on jihadi Islamism in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia .
The establishment of the Commission would also have a positive impact in other countries vulnerable to the propaganda of jihadi Islamism such as Bangladesh and Indonesia . Additionally, for the United States and Russia the Commission would clearly display the long term consequences of Cold War policies.
Obstacles to the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Afghanistan as suggested in this article is different from previous such Commissions because it requires extensive cooperation between several governments. Such a Commission would be unprecedented. In addition it requires political will on the part of the United States and Russia to voluntarily put their Cold War choices in Afghanistan under public scrutiny.
In countries like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, not only are participants in the Afghan Jihad policy still in positions of power, but there is also no existing tradition of public debate on internal conflicts much less on matters considered key to the state’s ideology and security. It may be recalled that Hamidur Rehman Commission reports on the secession of East Pakistan were not released in Pakistan for more than two decades. The participation of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia in an international body such as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Afghanistan would be an unprecedented opening up or glasnost in these societies.
A more general impediment to the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission is the desire of world powers and governments to continue the Great Game in Central Asia . Competition for access to Central Asian energy resources might see the revival of the use of jihadi Islamism and proxies in the region, an option which world powers would not wish to lose by laying out their past policies to international scrutiny. In summary, United States , Russia , Pakistan and Saudi Arabia must determine if the commitment to reconstruction of Afghanistan and tackling radical Islamist ideology is a matter of expedience or conviction.
Reprint from Afgha (www.afgha.com) and the original article may be viewed http://www.afgha.com/?af=rc&pa=showpage&pid=213
References and Footnotes [i]The seven Afghan Islamist parties were (1)Nationalist Islamic Front of Afghanistan(NIFA) led by Sayyid Ahmad Gailani, (2) Afghan National Liberation Front(ANLF), led by Hazrat Sibghatullah Mujaddidi,(3) Harkat-i Inquilab-i Islami (HAR) of Mawlawi Muhammad Nabi Muhammadi (4) Hizb-i-Islami, Hikmatyar group(HIH) of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (5) Hizb-i-Islami, Khalis group(HIK) of Mawlawi Yunus Khalis(6) Jamiat-I Islami-yi Aghanistan(JIA) lead by Burhanuddin Rabbani (7) Ittihad-i Islami bara-yi Azad-I Afghanistan(ITT ) led by Professer Abd al_rabb al-Rasul Sayyaf
[ii]Page 114, [Barnett Rubin]
[iii](1)Failed attempt to establish interim government in February-March 1988, page 88, [Barnett Rubin] (2) During Afghan shura in February 1989 CIA and ISI estimated that compromise or negotiations with PDPA were unnecessary as its military downfall was imminent. (3) Manipulation by ISI and Saudi intelligence of the February 1989 Afghan shura held to decide interim government, the Interim Islamic Government of Afghanistan (IIGA) pages 103-104, [Barnett Rubin]
[iv]March 1990, ISI and Saudi intelligence tried unsuccessfully to engineer a coup by Afghan Defence Minister Tanai and Hikmatyar to depose President Najibullah. page 108, [Barnett Rubin]
[v]March 1991 The CIA and ISI engineered a mujahidin assault on Paktia in Khost province. Though Jalaluddin Haqqani's forces succeeded in capturing the town, Hikmatyar's forces captured the garrison and victory was short-lived as ISI prevented Haqqani from recovering the heavy arms seized by Hikmatyar and factional fighting broke out page 110, [Barnett Rubin]
[vi]March 1993 Under Saudi sponsorship, Islamabad Accord was signed making Burhanuddin Rabbani the President and Hikmatyar the Prime Minister. Himatyar immediately dismissed the Defence Minister Massoud and the internecine fighting continued.
[vii]January 1994 with fresh military aid from Pakistan , Hikmatyar and Dostum launched combined assault on Kabul to displace Rabbani. Hikmatyar failed to capture Kabul
[viii]January 1994 with fresh military aid from Pakistan , Hikmatyar and Dostum launched combined assault on Kabul to displace Rabbani. Hikmatyar failed to capture Kabul
[ix]25 percent or more of the Taliban forces were Pakistani in 1999. page 118, [Larry Goodson]
[x]More than eight thousand minority residents were reportedly killed by the Taliban in and around Mazar-i-Sharif and Bamiyan page120, [Larry Goodson]
[xi] Human Rights Watch, The Massacre in Mazar-i-Sharif, November 1998 http://www.hrw.org/reports98/afghan/
[xiii]Ahmed Rashid estimated that eighty thousand to one hundred thousand Pakistanis fought and trained in Afghanistan during the 1990s in "The Taliban: Exporting Extremism." page 107, [Larry Goodson] [Barnett Rubin] The Search for Peace in Afghanistan - From Buffer State to Failed State, Barnett R. Rubin, Yale University Press, 1995 [Larry Goodson] Afghanistan's Endless War, State Failure, Regional Politics and the Rise of the Taliban, Larry P. Goodson, University of Washington Press, 2001 Reprint from Afgha (www.afgha.com) and the original article may be viewed http://www.afgha.com/?af=rc&pa=showpage&pid=213