This morning, former president of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai stated that intervention by the U.S. had, in effect, created an environment that allowed the Mujahideen, then the Taliban and latterly ISIL to develop and take hold in his home country. In an interview with Al Jazeera, Mr. Karzai said that “it is in my view that under the full presence, surveillance, military and political intelligence, ISIL has emerged.” His claim arises in light of the International Criminal Court (ICC) approving an investigation into events in Afghanistan which could be found to be war crimes. The U.S. is not a member of the ICC, and therefore its citizens do not generally come under the court’s jurisdiction. However, in this situation, criminal charges could be laid. The point of difference is that the alleged atrocities happened in Afghan territory, and as a member of the ICC, any events that take place within its borders fall within the court’s jurisdiction.
Karzai has applauded this decision, despite facing investigation himself. He believes that it is important that what has happened in Afghanistan is evaluated from all angles, including a consideration of his own role during his time in power. He supported his argument for an investigation by referring to the huge bomb dropped on Afghanistan by the U.S. early in 2017. The bomb, as reported by Al Jazeera, was “the equivalent of 11 tonnes of TNT.” Al Jazeera noted that witnesses said that it was so large the earth shook. Karzai was horrified that the U.S. would use his country as a place to experiment with such appalling weaponry. While the bomb allegedly killed a number of ISIL fighters, the group went on to capture an area close to Achin the next day. Thus, the bombing arguably, if inadvertently, advanced their cause. Fatou Bensouda, the ICC Chief Prosecutor, has added that she too considers there is reason to believe that war crimes have been committed. Human Rights Watch, which has been at the forefront of documenting some of the accounts, has applauded the move by the ICC.
The ICC’s decision to investigate the alleged atrocities committed by all parties involved in the Afghanistan conflict is to be commended. There is a long history of disregard for civilian human rights in the country. All sides must be held accountable, and no side should be immune to the law designed to protect the innocent people that are so often caught between state to state power play.
It is argued that the British invasion of Afghanistan in 1838 sparked the second Anglo-Afghan war in 1878, creating the conditions for social fracturing. However, the most relevant argument supporting the notion that the U.S. helped to create the current climate in Afghanistan comes from tracing the roots of the Taliban, Mujahideen and ISIL. During the cold war, Afghanistan attempted social reforms and asked the USSR for help. It wanted to become more socialist and improve the civil liberties of its people. It banned Purdah (seclusion of women from society) and introduced many economic and political reforms. These reforms ran contrary to the neoliberal ideology of the U.S. at the time, and, along with other nations, it is said to have supplied local rebel groups (the Mujahideen) with arms, money and support. The stage for a proxy war was set with the USSR backing the government and U.S. the rebel forces. By 1985 half the population was estimated by the BBC to be displaced. In 1986 the U.S. supplied the Mujahideen with Stinger missiles. Following this, peace accords were signed in 1988 and the USSR withdrew from the conflict. In 1992 the BBC reported that the Mujahideen overthrew the local government and a bloody civil war entailed. At such points in history, delivery of basic public health and social services and local governance are inevitably compromised. This is known to create the perfect opportunity for extremist groups to step in and take control. During this time, the Taliban grew out of the splintering of the Mujahideen. Training camps were established with the backing of Al Qaeda, and eventually ISIL in its current form emerged. Not only has it been argued that the U.S. potentially helped to create the conditions for extremist groups in Afghanistan to rise, its own forces have also been accused of human rights offences. For example, the BBC in 2013 reported a U.S. soldier had pleaded guilty to murdering 16 civilians, and U.S. Marines were disciplined following the release of a video in 2012 that showed them urinating on the bodies of Taliban fighters.
In an Al Jazeera interview, Karzai was asked why he did not act if he had been warned about atrocities being committed during his term. He replied “They didn’t tell me, I told them! I told the Western human rights bodies as to what was going on in Afghanistan. They were hiding it. The Western press was hiding it. I told them. I raised it.”
As the ICC investigation begins, it is imperative that us members of Western society draw conclusions about what happened in Afghanistan based on the facts presented. Ultimately, we must hold all perpetrators, whoever they are, accountable for war crimes.