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KABUL, AFGHANISTAN--Zohra Madadi represented everything the new Afghanistan should have been about. She was a young, intelligent woman who believed in democracy and dreamed of becoming a politician.
Then someone kidnapped the 16-year-old, stuck a gun in her mouth and pulled the trigger. Her dead body was dumped in the wilderness.
“She was a very open-minded girl and she studied very hard. She didn’t care about TV, she just listened to the news and then kept busy with her studies until 11 o’clock at night,” said her father, Abdul Hussain.
“She kept telling me: ‘Dad, don’t worry about the current situation in Afghanistan. One day it will be good here.’”
Hussain is not expecting justice because he knows that is not the way things work, not when the chief suspect is a leading member of the intelligence services.
“They blame the Taliban, but it’s actually the police doing these things,” he said. “I am not frightened. Because I have lost my daughter, life and death mean nothing to me.”
Zohra lived in the southern province of Ghazni and her corpse was dumped there last summer, on the road to Kandahar. She might have been murdered because her older sister is involved in local politics, or perhaps it was just because she caught the eye of the wrong man.
Whatever the reason, no one should be surprised that an official meant to enforce the law is accused of violating it in the cruellest of ways.
Sayed Hussain was arrested in Kabul for allegedly bringing teenage girls back to his house for sex. Rather than go through the legal system, the police simply beat him to death. Ten months after the event, his elderly-looking wife, Bibi Gul, cried as she remembered what happened.
“They said, ‘Let me tell you the bad news. Just go to the hospital and you will see the dead body of your husband.’ When I complained that he was alive when he was taken, they said I had signed a document that said he had a heart attack,” she recalled.
The Dominion has seen photographs of Sayed Hussain’s blackened corpse, along with other pictures showing the results of police abuse on a number of prisoners.
Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) recorded 290 cases of torture by the security forces between June 2005 and June 2006.
That is 200 less than the year before, but it is still more than enough to stoke the widespread public anger now fuelling the Taliban-led insurgency. Talk to people on the street and they will tell you they do not trust the police. They will tell you uniforms stand for violence, bribery and corruption.
“There is not a very strong rule of law and the government is not keen to follow the law. Also, in the criminal court there is not a very strong and clear code for prosecuting police action,” said Ahmad Zia Langari, a commissioner at AIHRC.
“The main problem in Afghanistan is the culture of impunity. The government is not powerful. When a governor, for example, has committed violence or he has been very corrupt, he is not prosecuted. The president just changes his position.”
A joint report released last month by the Pentagon and the US State Department was hugely critical of the American-trained Afghan police. It said the force was ‘far from adequate’ at carrying out even conventional responsibilities, with illiterate recruits and pervasive corruption cited as some of the key problems. The report also revealed that it is unclear how many officers are actually on duty.
Mohammed Yahya’s lower right leg looks like it has been ripped off by an animal, with bone sticking out from the bloody flesh above his severed foot. The photograph showing this wound was taken in 2005, soon after he refused to pay the police in Kabul a bribe.
“They came to me and said, ‘Stop working. We will go away and come back and if you want to work, give us some money.’ Then when they came back, they started beating four old people who were working with us,” the 19-year-old said.
“I told them if I had money I would not be working here, then they opened fire. I can’t remember anything from that moment on.”
An entire magazine from a Kalashnikov was emptied into Mohammed, with one bullet shot into his left leg and the rest blowing away the bottom half of his right leg. Although the policemen who attacked him have been jailed, his family still regret giving up their lives as refugees in Iran.
“Everyone in the government is proud of themselves, but who cares about the poor people?” lamented his mother, Zahra Azimi.
When The Dominion contacted the Ministry of Interior, it was referred to Colonel Haq Nawaz Haqyar. He acknowledged some police officers were still under the control of warlords and happy to commit human rights abuses. But he insisted he would never sanction torture.
“Whatever the chief of police says and does, his staff will do the same. Everything depends on him. The Taliban tortured me and it had a very bad effect on my mind,” he said.
“Once a week I talk to my staff about human rights and respecting the people. I tell them, ‘If you care about human rights, the people will co-operate because you will have left them with good memories. But if you torture them, they will never join you; they will join outsiders like the Taliban.’”
Last summer, the police in Ghazni beat Rahullah Amiri’s 22-year-old brother with their guns and some kind of cable.
“Two or three of his teeth were missing, his nose was broken and his back was as black as your coat,” said Rahullah.
“I can’t describe my feeling; it’s very hard. But let’s say at that time I hated the Karzai government and I decided to join the Taliban. When the Taliban were here everything was okay. At least when they arrested people, they had allegations against them. They were not arresting people without any reason. Now all the countries of the world are here -- the Americans are here, the UK is here -- how can this happen?
“Even now I don’t know why they beat him. The only thing I can think of is that it was because of our low culture and the culture of war. For three decades we have been at war.”
With the words flowing from him, he continued: “Please pass my voice, my words, onto your officials, your newspapers. Tell the world you are coming here, you are losing your young people [soldiers] in the fighting and it’s a waste because the government is nothing. Karzai has failed, everything has been lost. Five years have passed, there is no security here; there are a lot of explosions, a lot of suicide attacks.
“So what can the people do? My brother was beaten so I want to give up my life here, I want to sell my factory and leave this country because there is no security.
I am not a jihadi and that means I can’t get a high position in the government, so I want to leave the country. I want to tell the world Karzai has failed, it’s a waste of time.
“There is only one way for us now: leave the country or join the Taliban. I really feel like joining the Taliban and fighting the government.”
The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.