Global Policy Forum

Former Afghan Warlord


By Mevlut Katic

July 20, 2005

In a landmark case that coincided with a visit by Afghan President Hamid Karzai to London, a British jury convicted a former Afghan warlord of crimes committed in Afghanistan during the country's civil war in the early 1990s.

After a seven-week trial, Faryadi, Zardad, also known as Zardad Khan, was found guilty on July 19 and received two 20-year jail terms, to run concurrently. He was prosecuted in Britain for crimes committed in Afghanistan under the British Criminal Justice Act and the UN Convention Against Torture, which established torture as a universal crime against humanity.

The 42-year-old Zardad was a warlord in charge of several checkpoints from 1992-96 along the main highway connecting Kabul and the eastern city of Jalalabad. A series of witnesses provided testimony on a wide variety of abuses committed against travelers on the highway, including murder, torture and hostage-taking, either committed or authorized by the defendant. Several witnesses provided testimony by video-link from the British Embassy in Afghanistan.

Zardad was an ally of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, one of Afghanistan's most notorious warlords during the civil war that raged from 1992, when the Moscow-backed government under Najibullah collapsed, to 1996, when the radical Taliban movement established control over most of Afghanistan. The movement headed by Hekmatyar, Hizb-i-Islami, was one of the groups that fought against the Taliban. To escape possible Taliban retribution, Zardad fled Afghanistan and eventually made his way to Britain, entering the country in 1998 using a false passport. He managed to hide his identity for years before being discovered by a British Broadcasting Corp. investigative team.

The Zardad verdict establishes a precedent that upholds the principle of universal jurisdiction, under which those who commit acts of torture can be prosecuted in a country other than that in which the alleged crimes occurred. Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International UK, told the BBC: "This case strengthens the legal principle that torture is an international crime and that there is no hiding place for torturers around the globe."

A recent report issued by Human Rights Watch documents a wide array of rights abuses committed in the capital Kabul during the first year of the civil war. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Many of those who supposedly committed war crimes remain at large. Some are said to hold government posts, while others continue to function as warlords, controlling large sections of Afghanistan.

Karzai was in London on July 19-20. Talks with British government officials, including Prime Minister Tony Blair, reportedly touched on ways to boost bilateral cooperation aimed at curbing narcotics trafficking and other security-related topics concerning Afghanistan's reconstruction efforts.

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