Fear threatens Afghanistan: report
NEW YORK (CNN) -- U.S.-backed warlords are "hijacking" Afghanistan, fostering a climate of fear that threatens to derail the fledging democracy, a human rights watchdog has warned.
Nearly two years after Afghans rejoiced in the streets at the fall of the Taliban regime, a Human Rights Watch report says gunmen and warlords -- many of whom receive the backing of the U.S. and its coalition partners -- are carrying out systematic abuses.
"These men and others have essentially hijacked the country outside of Kabul," said Brad Adams, executive director of the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch.
The 101-page report, titled "Killing You Is a Very Easy Thing for Us: Human Rights Abuses in Southeast Afghanistan," focuses on abuses in the southeastern provinces of Afghanistan, the country's most densely populated region.
There, the group says, it found "evidence of government involvement or complicity in abuses in virtually every district."
The New York-based group urged the Afghan transitional government to put a stop to acts of violence and intimidation before they threaten efforts to adopt a new constitution and national elections set for 2004.
The United States helped install an interim Afghan government in 2002, led by Hamid Karzai, following the ouster of the former Taliban regime in late 2001.
But the report says prominent Afghan commanders, former mujahedeen leaders -- including some in the ministry of defense, ministry of interior and intelligence agencies -- are involved in a range of abuses that are dashing hopes for a free and safe nation.
Many Afghans are reluctant to venture outdoors as troops kidnap locals for ransom, rob families, rape women, children and boys and extort shopkeepers, the report says.
The violent atmosphere, combined with resurgent fundamentalism in parts of Afghanistan, is endangering the ability of girls to go back to school.
And those working in the media or political arena are not immune either – facing death threats, arrest, and harassment by troops and intelligence agents, the report adds.
The government was involved or complied with many of the abuses, the report claims, blaming the United States, Pakistan and Iran for fostering warlords accused of the most heinous abuses.
The report urges the Afghan government to sideline and pressure abusive leaders and to seek more international assistance in its efforts, particularly in expanding peacekeeping operations beyond Kabul.
"The United States and the United Kingdom, in particular, need to decide whether they are with President Karzai and other reformers in Kabul or with the warlords," says Adams.
"The longer they wait, the more difficult it will be to loosen the warlords' grip on power."
While the Taliban were driven out of power following the September 11 attacks on America, Osama bin Laden and members of his al Qaeda network have so far eluded a U.S.-backed hunt.
Just this month, Afghanistan's fledgling national army launched its first major combat operation, sweeping the Zormat Valley region in the southeast of the country for Islamic militants fighting the U.S.-backed government.