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Afghanistan: Background on the Anti-Taliban group, the Northern Alliance

Publisher United States Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services
Author Resource Information Center
Publication Date 14 December 1999
Citation / Document Symbol AFG00001.REF
Cite as United States Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services, Afghanistan: Background on the Anti-Taliban group, the Northern Alliance, 14 December 1999, AFG00001.REF, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6a6a7c.html [accessed 16 September 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Query:

What is the National Alliance, and what is its role in Afghanistan?

Background

In 1992, the Northern Alliance was established in opposition of the communist government led by President Najibullah.  The group consisted of General Abdul Rashid Dostum, former head of Najibullah's militia forces; Ahmad Shah Mas'ud, head of the Jamiat-e Islami Party; and Hezb-e Wahdat, a pro-Shi'a party.  The Northern Alliance was instrumental in bringing down Najibullah's government in April 1992, but disintegrated shortly after its victory due to power struggles within the group.  However, when the Taliban captured Kabul in September 1996, the three groups resurrected the Northern Alliance, in opposition once again.  (Northern Alliance, 13 Dec.1999) 

The Alliance, formally known as the National Islamic United Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan, currently consists of several groups, although membership is constantly fluid and changing.  These groups include: the Islamic State (Jamiat-e Islami); the National Islamic Movement (Junbish-e Milli); the Islamic Unity Party (Hezb-e Wahdat); the Islamic Movement (Harakat-e Islami); the Islamic Party (Hezb-e Islami); and the Council of the East (Shura-e Mashriqi).  (Rubin, 1998)

The Battle between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance

When the Taliban emerged in late 1994, they were initially welcomed for neutralizing and disbanding many of the violent, mercenary militias that had formed throughout Afghanistan.  However, as the Pashtun-dominated faction gained more power and seized control of more territory, the Northern Alliance formed in opposition of the Taliban's use of indiscriminate violence and repression. (The Economist, 22 Oct. 1999)

By early 1997, the Taliban had launched a large-scale offensive against the Northern Alliance, capturing several of the positions it held to the north of Kabul.  To complicate matters further, General Abdul Malik, a key commander in the Alliance, staged a pro-Taliban revolt and forced General Dostum, a major Alliance leader, to flee the country and seek refuge in Turkey.  However, as Taliban troops began infiltrating several northern areas and disarming anti-Taliban forces, General Malik restored his allegiance to the Northern Alliance and reclaimed Mazar-i-Sharif, driving the Taliban out of the area. (United Nations, 14 Nov. 1997)

General Dostum returned to lead the Northern Alliance in September 1997 and released 200 Taliban prisoners, calling for a cease-fire.  Peace talks between the two groups continued on and off during the next year, and more prisoners were released, this time by both sides.  Unfortunately, in May 1998, the Taliban abandoned the peace talks completely.  Just three months later, the Taliban made its third attempt to seize Mazar-i-Sharif, the last Afghan city that the Alliance still controlled--this time they were successful.  (Middle East Review, 1 July 1999)

On August 8, 1998, the Taliban militia stormed into Mazar-i-Sharif, taking control of government buildings, the central mosque, and major road junctions.  According to Amnesty International, the Taliban massacred thousands of civilians during the raid, and most of those killed in the conflict were either ethnic Hazara or Uzbek.  (Sarkar, 3 Sept. 1998)   

Human Rights Abuse

Clearly, the Taliban has committed serious human rights violations.  Numerous reports by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the United Nations and the State Department outline the atrocities committed by the group including mass killings of ethnic minorities, torture, arbitrary detention and widespread discrimination against women.  However, observers might argue that some members of the Northern Alliance, as a result of their battle against the oppressive Taliban militias, might have been involved in human rights abuses or at the least questionable activities as well. 

The situation in Afghanistan has led to the indiscriminate bombardment of civilian areas by both Taliban and anti-Taliban forces.  The Jamiat-e Islami faction, led by Ahmed Shah Masood and former President Rabbani, fired several rockets into Kabul in an effort to weaken the Taliban control over the airport.  This attack, and those that followed, resulted in the deaths of many innocent civilians.   In addition, according to a 1998 State Department report,

There were reports that as many as 2,000 Taliban soldiers were killed by the Northern Alliance, including the Hezb-e-Wahdat, near Mazar-i-Sharif as they retreated from the city in 1997.  In December 1997, a United Nations team found several mass gravesites connected with the massacre of Taliban soldiers, which contained evidence consistent with mass executions.  (State Department, 1999)

It is important to note, however, that State Department report identifies President Rabbani and his military commander, Masood, both representatives of the Jamiat faction composed mostly of ethnic Tajiks, as the primary actors in these incidents.  "Rabbani only received nominal support from General Dostum and the Hezb-e Wahdat." (State Department, 1999)

Conclusion

The Taliban has targeted several ethnic groups including the Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara minorities and nearly two million refugees have fled the fighting and repression since the Taliban began its rise to power in 1994.  Although there has been some backlash against the Taliban by some Northern Alliance factions or members, individuals involved with the Northern Alliance are more likely to be found in the role of the persecuted rather that persecutor.

This response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the RIC and on the World Wide Web.  Attached are several documents, reports and news articles related to the issue.

References

"Afghanistan: Review," Middle East Review (1 July 1999) - as reported on WESTLAW."

Country Profile: Afghanistan," The Economist Intelligence Unit Unlimited (22 October 1999) - as reported on WESTLAW

Rubin, Barnett R.  Afghanistan: Persistent Crisis Challenges the UN System (August1998) - as reported on [Internet] www.afghan-politics.org

Sakar, Dipankar De.  "Amnesty Says Taliban Massacred Thousands," Inter Press Service (3 September 1998) - as reported on Lexis-Nexis.

"The Northern Alliance," Center for Afghan Studies (13 December 1999) - as reported on [Internet] www.afghan-politics.org.

UN General Assembly Security Council.  The Situation in Afghanistan and its Implications for International Peace and Security (Geneva: S/1997/894, 14 November 1999).

U.S. Department of State.  "Afghanistan," Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1998 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, February 1996).

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