Afghan govt under fire over military operation in Herat residential area
On March 03, 41 locals, including one woman and three children, were wounded and two others were killed in a military operation launched in Jebrael, a densely populated neighborhood in the western Herat city. Of the 41 wounded people, as Herat public health officials claim, nine are civilians. The local residents are outrageous for the casualties and destruction left behind. Signs of rocket shelling are clearly visible at the residential building of Ghoryani.
The operation, which was launched to arrest Habibullah Ghoryani, a local strongman, lasted for nearly eight hours. Government forces commanded by Sayed Abdul Wahid Qatali, Herat’s governor, fired heavy and light weapons on residential houses, according to signs and accounts of the local residents.
The governor told the media that a total of 23 people were arrested during the operation and six of the wounded people, who were in critical health condition, have been sent abroad for receiving medical treatment. According to him, Ghani has managed to escape the operation and police forces will ultimately arrest him.
The armed clash erupted after armed men loyal to Ghoryani closed down a coffee shop in the neighborhood upon request of the locals who claim the coffee shop owner, a retired police official known as Amanullah, run an unethical business inside and sell alcoholic drinks. Before that, as a result of a reported clash between Ghoryani’s guards and armed men loyal to the coffee shop owner, Amanullah’s son was injured.
Government accused of double-standard
Jebrael is a predominantly Hazara-populated neighborhood in the north-western part of Herat city. Jebrael residents are cynical of the local administration for what they see as biased behavior towards the Hazaras and playing a double standard when it comes to acting against strongmen operating in the province. The city has been a scene of maneuvering ground for two other strongmen, each belonging to Pashtun and Tajik ethnicities, in recent years.
In his most recent anti-government remarks, Mawlawi Ansari, a local preacher and prayer leader at Guzargah mosque, said that those who supported the Afghan government were committing Gunah-e-Kabira, a grave sin, and called on the Afghan army and police forces not to work for it. “To civil and military agents and those who support the system with their knowledge and money, you have committed a Gunah-e-Kabira. Whatever crime is committed in this system, you as a soldier, police force, and an employee are involved in that crime,” Ansari said in his Friday preaching on February 19. Ansari is a Tajik by ethnicity.
The government officials, including Herat governor, only lambasted at Ansari’s remarks in their public speeches. No action was made by the government against Ansari’s remarks which provoked criticisms among many Afghans and further encouraged his followers to propagate against the Afghan government.
On Monday, February 01, dozens of armed men under command of Kamran Alizai, Chief of Herat Provincial Council, positioned inside a building under construction in Herat city. On the same day, Alizai warned the government that he would take to the streets with 1000 armed men, if Sultan Dawood, then Herat Police Chief, was not ousted from his position. Not only the local government did not act against Alizai’s threat, but Dawood was also removed from Herat police chief days later. This was not, however, for the first time that Alizai maneuvered against the government. Alizai, who is a Pashtun, has a history of committing illegal acts and threatening the local government.
“The military operation was launched against us because we are Hazaras. I had gone to a bakery along with three others and [security forces] fired at us from a Ranger vehicle,” says Ali Khan who was wounded during the military operation. He called on the government to prosecute those who opened fire at civilians.
In addition to the ordinary people, some local officials and Hazara political figures also reacted against the military operation and warned against the double standard behavior of the government against strongmen.
Mohammad Karim Khalili, leader of Hezb-e-Wahdat Islami and a prominent Hazara leader, described the military operation in the area as “provocative” calling for legal prosecution of the operation planners. “This clearly indicates the double standard of the local officials in dealing with cases. It is lamentable that those who publicly pose threats against the government and public security are dealt with entreaty but the violent military operation is launched where the citizens are sacrificed,” Khalili asserted about the military operation in the residential area, pointing to the government’s inaction against Ansari and Alizai.
Sakina Hussaini, who is a member of Herat Provincial Council, warns that the “military operation against a specific ethnic group” would enlarge the gap between the people and the government. She called on President Ghani to fairly investigate the military operation in Jebrael neighborhood and compensate for the losses inflicted on the local residents.
“There are many people who publicly operate against the government and the government has never acted against them,” the councilwoman pointed out.
Meanwhile, Herat governor says that the local government will act against all strongmen alike. “There is a difference between the person who protests against the status quo in his speech and the person who practically resorts to criminal acts, kidnappings, smuggling, cooperation with terrorists and aliens,” Qatali said about the difference between Ansari and Ghoryani.
The local residents are shocked by the military operation launched in the residential area and the heavy weapons fired during the operation. They and many prominent political figures accuse the government of biased behavior and playing a double-standard in acting against local strongmen.
“Jebrael residents are panic. Which law allows firing rocket shells against the civilians? If my son has committed any crime, they should have acted through the Ulema council, tribal elders, and people’s representatives,” says Mohammad Ali, father of Ghoryani, adding that they are dissatisfied with the operation in the residential area.
He further claimed that the government forces have also taken a safe deposit box and several vehicles from Ghoryani’s office with them.
According to Sakina Hussaini, a member of Herat provincial council, the military operation in a civilian-populated area was against war principles and heavy weapons should not have been used. “The arrest of an individual must not end up to a disaster for the people. The government’s approach to arresting an individual in this way was not true.”
In line with the international humanitarian principles to which the Afghan government has made commitments, the government forces must consider the protection of civilian lives in any condition. High civilian casualties almost in all military operations, however, suggest that the government forces are careless regarding the civilian lives during their operations.
Issuing a statement on Saturday, March 06, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), said that there are “serious complaints” regarding the police operation to arrest Ghoryani in Herat city. Expressing concern regarding what it described as “improper use of force” by police, the AIHRC asked security institutions to remain accountable for their acts.
The Commission further called for a comprehensive investigation into the operation in Jebrael, adding that the demands of those who were harmed in the operation should be addressed and losses inflicted on the people should be compensated.
“Ghoryani is a criminal”
As per the account of the governor, there are tens of evidence-based complaints officially raised against Ghoryani. “Ghoryani is a criminal,” he said in an interview.
Herat police have named Ghoryani as an illegal armed man in an official letter. “An illegal armed man has been involved for a while in smuggling, drug trafficking, bullying, extortion, harassment, and hostage-taking along with his nearly 30 men armed with light and heavy weapons,” part of the letter says about Ghoryani. It further claims that Ghoryani has physically beaten and temporarily detained security forces of Herat PD09 and PD12 several times.
Ghoryani and his family members, however, deny all the accusations made against him. In video footage showing Ghoryani lying down and inured, released after the operation ended, he thanks the locals for their support and describes the government as “biased” against Hazaras.
A day after the operation ended, hundreds of locals gathered in a protest rally in support of Ghoryani and surrounded the residence of Amanullah. They also noted that security forces should not have stormed Ghoryani’s house and they should have acted through legal authorities for any allegations made against him.
On the other hand, an official letter issued by the Ministry of Interior suggests that Ghoryani is accused of being involved in 17 different criminal cases. The letter further states that the President has ordered to act against him.
Qatali also said that the arrest operation against Ghoryani was launched in line with a legal verdict issued by a government court.
Etilaat Roz’s Wajed Rohani contributed to this report from Herat.