- The Washington Times - Monday, October 29, 2001

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan A respected human-rights group is warning that Northern Alliance forces allied with the United States have a history of committing atrocities and should be prevented from an ethnic cleansing campaign if they capture Mazar-e-Sharif.
Alliance forces, backed by limited U.S. air strikes, have been closing in on the Taliban-held northern city, the scene of widespread ethnic massacres when the Taliban drove the Northern Alliance out in 1998. If they are successful, the New York-based organization Human Rights Watch fears a reprisal campaign.
Charges of mass rapes, looting, rocket attacks and other atrocities by the Alliance against civilians and the Taliban date back to the mid-1990s.
In an "Open Letter" to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, the organization wrote: "As the frontline in northern Afghanistan shifts to the outskirts of Mazar-e-Sharif, Human Rights Watch is concerned about the risk of ethnically targeted violence and other abuses against civilians in the area.
"We believe the United States should use its influence with the Northern Alliance to ensure that their forces do not engage in reprisal killings, indiscriminate shelling and other serious violations of international humanitarian law."
The Northern Alliance is a loose collection of minority ethnic Tajik, Uzbek, Hazara and Turkoman tribes, a variety indicative of its inability to rule Afghanistan's majority Pashtun population.
The Taliban enjoys support mostly from Pashtun tribes, who have traditionally dominated the Texas-sized, landlocked nation.
"After retaking Mazar-e-Sharif in August 1998, Taliban forces killed about 2,000 mostly ethnic Hazara civilians," Human Rights Watch reminded Mr. Powell.
If the Northern Alliance conquers Mazar-e-Sharif, "these abuses may provide motivation for reprisal actions by the Northern Alliance forces against local Pashtun civilians, Taliban prisoners and others perceived to be associated with Taliban rule."
The letter said the alliance's past record, "especially in this part of Afghanistan, is reason for great concern."
"In May 1997, Northern Alliance forces under the command of Gen. Abdul Malik Pahlawan killed an estimated 3,000 Taliban prisoners in Mazar-e-Sharif, taking some to the desert to be shot and throwing others down wells and blowing them up with grenades," the letter said.
Gen. Pahlawan no longer belongs to the Northern Alliance, but "other commanders who remain with the Alliance amassed a deplorable record of attacks on civilians between the fall of the Najibullah regime in 1992 and the Taliban's capture of Kabul in 1996," it said.
President Najibullah was installed by the Soviet Union during Moscow's decade-long occupation, and remained in power for three years after the Russians retreated in 1989.
The Northern Alliance ruled Kabul from 1992 to 1996. An estimated 25,000 people died in the city during 1994 alone during rocket and artillery duels between rival factions within the Northern Alliance.
The Taliban, supported by Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, eventually marched into Kabul in 1996 and drove out the Northern Alliance, sparking hopes that the Taliban would bring peace.
As an ominous start to their harsh regime, however, the Taliban immediately hanged Najibullah and his brother, Ahmadzai, in public, letting their bodies twist above a Kabul street for several days.

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