x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

North slipping into different kind of hell

Pro-government militias in some provinces of Afghanistan are viciously reasserting their control over a terrified population.

JOWZJAN, afghanistan // Samiya was on her way home from a sewing lesson when it happened. She was only 13 years old and did not have the strength to stop the woman and two men from bundling her on to the back of a motorbike. For more than a week she was handed around the area to whomever wanted a piece of her. By the end of it all, she had been raped eight times. "Now I will not let any of my daughters go to school because I am worried something will happen to them," said her father, Amruddin. While the Taliban insurgency across southern, eastern and parts of western Afghanistan grabs the world's attention, the north of the country is slipping into a different kind of hell. Here militia commanders with links to the government and its international allies are reasserting their control over a terrified population. Abductions, rapes, beheadings and assassinations are just some of their weapons of choice. Samiya has become mentally ill since her ordeal last year, and her father does not know how to respond. Worried she will go missing again, he binds his daughter's hands and legs together and imprisons her in the house. "Sometimes she does not feel well and tries to escape," he said in an interview. "For two or three days she might feel OK, then suddenly she goes crazy and tries to run." The picture they both paint of life in Sar-e-Pul province could hardly be worse. There is "lots of killing", they said, and those involved are either in the government or connected to it. According to them and countless others across the north, all the 2001 invasion did was effectively legitimise the power of warlords - giving them official positions and occasionally new uniforms. "During the Taliban there was nothing like this," Amruddin said. "We would leave our doors open and no one was raped. "The British, the Americans, the Russians, they also wouldn't do such a thing. But these people have raped a small girl." He is determined to seek justice and, as far as he is concerned, that means the death penalty for those involved. He has sold two of his other daughters to help fund his struggle and purchase medicine for Samiya. The girls will stay with him until they are deemed old enough to marry. "Today I don't have food to eat, but I will try my best," he said. "Even if there is no blood in my body I will pursue this case." Five of the men responsible have been jailed, but they may not be behind bars long. Corruption is common throughout Afghanistan and freedom can easily be bought. One judge in the province of Jowzjan admitted as much. Mohammad Harrun said foreign troops were making no effort to disarm or keep watch over local warlords. "Whenever there is a problem with a family or someone commits a crime, it never goes to a representative of the justice system," he said. Portraits of Abdul Rashid Dostum dominate Sheberghan, the capital of Jowzjan. Mr Dostum was a key ally of the United States in 2001, despite a long record of human rights abuses. His followers are now believed to be responsible for much of the violence in this region. It is here that a commander in the Afghan National Army abducted Sweeta Khairi this year. Only 11 years old, she was taken to a military base and raped. The regional head of Afghanistan Human Rights Organisation, Maghferat Samimi, warned that "there is no law" and the situation is deteriorating. "If somebody commits a crime there is nobody to arrest them. If they are arrested, after a few days they will pay money and be released," she said. csands@thenational.ae