Afghanistan’s silent tsunami: massacres in impunity
Posted: 05 Sep, 2012 / By: Ajmal Samadi

Imagine, what would happen if 17 people are killed, some beheaded, at a house in New York, London or elsewhere in Europe or North America? How much information would the media give about the victims, the culprits, the motives, the justice needed and other aspects of the massacre?

In Afghanistan, however, nothing happens when the very same crime takes place. No one knows the 17 victims massacred in Helmand Province on 26 August 2012 – who they were, what they did, why were they killed. There is no criminal case against anyone and there is no investigation to find out who the real culprits were.

In the northern Kunduz Province local militias – hired, trained and used by US-NATO – massacred 13 civilians on 2 September 2012. The victims were buried and the murderers managed to escape.

Elsewhere in Urozgan Province, Australian forces shot dead a 70-year-old man and his young son. President Hamid Karzai described the operation in Urozgan as “reckless” while NATO called it “heroic”. We, Afghans, do not know who the killers were and why could not they not avoid killing the old man and his son.

Amidst these egregious crimes against civilian people, reports in the elite international media about Afghanistan are all about insider attacks.

President Karzai has chaired at least three “extraordinary national security meetings” to discuss ways to prevent the so-called ‘green on blue attacks’. About 41 US-NATO soldiers have died in these attacks over the past eight months. In the very same period, about 2,000 Afghan civilians have lost their lives in the war, but President Karzai has convened no special meeting to contemplate civilian protection.

It appears as if both for the Afghan Government and its US-NATO allies, Afghan civilian casualties, no matter how appalling they could be, are unavoidable incidents of war while attacks on US-NATO personnel are preventable with robust actions. Or, perhaps, the thousands of civilian casualties in this war have depreciated the value of Afghan live to almost negligence.

Who protects Afghans?

As crimes against civilians continue, knowing who the culprits are and which party – government and/or NATO – should stop them has become a painful conundrum.

With every incident of civilian death come two misleading and rather untruthful statements. The Afghan Government and its foreign allies quickly blame the Taliban for every civilian death as the Taliban categorically deny.

President Karzai, meanwhile, has called on the Taliban to condemn the killing of civilians that could be wrongly attributed to them. The Taliban do not condemn but only selectively repudiate their involvement.

Taliban insurgents surely cause over 70 percent of the reported civilian casualties. However it would be naive to throw every criminal incident at the Taliban’s side of the border and close the case.

Earlier this year, Afghan officials prematurely accused the Taliban of poisoning school girls in the north and central provinces. Facts established later indicated no Taliban involvement but general hysteria. 

Even if Taliban insurgents are behind every criminal activity in Afghanistan, whose job is to protect communities from Taliban criminals?

A fundamental reason, at least from an independent human rights perspective, for the relapse of Afghanistan into violence and criminality after 2002, is the catastrophic disregard of Hamid Karzai’s government to justice and accountability. Mr. Karzai, and to a large extent his US-NATO patrons, dumped a transitional justice action plan, which was highly expected to address past crimes and lay the foundations of a just Afghan society, for short-term political gains.  

Taliban criminality therefore thrives in an environment of criminal impunity in which Mr. Karzai and his US-NATO allies have legitimized and used some of the worst criminal groups in Afghanistan.

Who fights who?

A critical misunderstanding about the Afghan war, particularly in the West, is that Afghan and US-NATO forces are fighting terrorist Taliban in order to build a prosperous, democratic and secular Afghanistan.

On the Taliban side, the rationale for war is painted religio-nationalistic. This is a fallacy.

Over 11 years after launching the war on Taliban, US and its NATO allies appear fighting more than Taliban insurgents.

Enemy, for US-NATO, has infested the Afghan National Security Force (ANSF). American military officials confirm that majority of the insider attacks in Afghanistan have no links to Taliban insurgents. This means, US-NATO forces are at war with other-than-Taliban “rogue” Afghans.

US-NATO troops are also fighting narco-traffickers.  Off course Taliban-Haqqani-HIG facilitators and supporters are also libeled as “suspect insurgents” and thus considered as legitimate target in the war.

For Taliban fighters, almost every Afghan and foreigner in Afghanistan is an enemy and a target. They kill indiscriminately. From planting improvised bombs on public roads to conducting suicide attacks in crowded bazaars the Taliban kill teachers, students, government employees, police and almost everybody indistinctively.

A Taliban suicide attacker killed 25 attendees of a funeral and wounded over 35 others on 4 September in the eastern Nangarhar Province.      

Amid this backdrop are numerous official, semiofficial and unlawful armed groups which are increasingly involved in violent activities, mostly detrimental to civilian populaces.

Why war until 2014?

Over 11 years after squeezing the Taliban tyranny from Afghanistan to Pakistan, US-NATO leaders are still contemplating how to win and end the war. In rhetoric, the war in Afghanistan is being responsibly transitioned to Afghans. In reality, we know, it is not the case. As the Afghan war intensifies, US-NATO increasingly appears exhausted and in search of exit. 

From a badly trained and poorly equipped ANSF to almost every militia warlord, US-NATO pays any armed group to sustain its deadly war in Afghanistan as and after it leaves.

US-NATO’s withdrawal policy is irreversible. This raises the question, what could US-NATO achieve in its Afghan war with dwindling military presence?

It will take a miracle for the Taliban to be diminished completely before December 2014. War strategies are not based on miracles.

There is no point relying heavily on deadly counterinsurgency tactics i.e. night raids, aerial strikes as US-NATO is leaving Afghanistan. In the rush to exterminate Taliban insurgency before 2014, US-NATO risks causing more harms to the already devastated civilian communities.

The Taliban too cannot kill their way to victory in the next two years. By sending more suicide attackers and planting even more improvised bombs, the Taliban can neither defeat US-NATO nor can accelerate withdrawal plans.

Could both Taliban and US-NATO stop killing civilians in the crossfire until December 2014?

Many lives could be saved only if warring parties decelerate fighting to the last day of withdrawal.


Ajmal Samadi was director of Afghanistan Rights Monitor (ARM) in 2009-2011. He can be contacted on samadi.ajmal (at) gmail.com 

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