Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Hostages to Misfortune in Afghanistan

NATO troops urged not to hand over detainees to Afghan counterparts.
By Maiwand Safi
  • International forces in Kapisa province are being urged not to turn detained suspects over to Afghan security forces. Here, US troops hand out leaflets to Kapisa residents with good wishes for Ramadan, September 2010. (Photo: Isafmedia/US Air Force Tech. Sgt. Joe Laws)
    International forces in Kapisa province are being urged not to turn detained suspects over to Afghan security forces. Here, US troops hand out leaflets to Kapisa residents with good wishes for Ramadan, September 2010. (Photo: Isafmedia/US Air Force Tech. Sgt. Joe Laws)

Relatives of people detained as suspected insurgents in eastern Afghanistan are pleading with NATO troops not to hand them over to local security forces whom they accuse of illegal imprisonment, mistreatment and extortion.

Hajji Mohammad Agha, from Badrab in Kapisa province, northeast of the capital Kabul, described how he was arrested together with his brother, son and nephews in a night-time raid by soldiers from the NATO-led force in Afghanistan.

He says the foreign troops informed them that no evidence had been found against them, but still handed them over to the Afghan National Police in Kapisa. When they were brought to the provincial police headquarters, Mohammad Agha was released but the others were placed in custody, where they have remained for the last five months.

He has applied to various government offices to secure their release, with no success.

“It’s all an opportunity for bribe-taking. They ask me for money in every office,” he said.

He said that if the NATO troops conclude that a detainee is innocent, they should release him themselves rather than hand him over to their Afghan allies.

IWPR spoke to another man initially detained by the American forces which operate alongside a French contingent in Kapisa, and then transferred to an Afghan-run local prison.

“I’ve been here for the past four months. I have committed no crime. I don’t know why Afghan officials are so cruel to us,” he said. “People who’ve been identified as innocent by the Americans have been handed over to Afghan forces and then beaten and tortured, and finally released in exchange for bribes.”

He concluded, “The Americans aren’t good people, either, but they are better than the Afghan officials. At least they don’t extort bribes from us.”

The Afghan authorities have repeatedly asked the American military to hand over control of US-run prisons at Bagram and Kandahar. But despite allegations of abuses in these facilities, some Afghans believe conditions would be much worse if the Kabul government was in charge.

A NATO press officer told IWPR that troops hold suspects for a limited period while evidence pointing to guilt is sought. Some cases are then handed over for the Afghan police to investigate themselves.

“Individuals arrested by us are held for only 96 hours, during which we investigate whether they are criminals or innocent. After that period, however, if Afghan security forces have their own information, the detainees are transferred to them and they launch their own investigation according to their own principles,” the press officer said.

Officials in Kapisa denied accusations that detainees were mistreated, or kept imprisoned to force them to pay bribes in exchange for their release.

“Our interrogations are different from those of the foreigners. They have their standards and we have ours,” Mohammad Sediq Shafaq, head of the appeals service for Kapisa province, said. “When people are handed over to us as [suspected] criminals, our security agencies investigate them…. If the suspect is proved to be a criminal, he will be imprisoned; if not, he will be released.”

Shafaq insisted that if evidence was supplied that an official had demanded money to free a detainee, the culprit would face a prison term.

The deputy governor of Kapisa, Aziz Rahman Tawab, said he took unilateral action after meeting a delegation from Alasai district which raised concerns about detainees from that area.

“Although I am not authorised to free prisoners, I released their prisoners with cooperation from other organisations,” he said.

Kapisa resident Sayed Ajan said the Afghan government’s international allies were well aware of the extent of systemic corruption, and should not be seen to be facilitating it.

“If the foreigners were to release innocent people and not hand them over to the government, they would win greater credibility. People would become more inclined to assist them and think well of them,” he said. “But if they continue handing [detainees] over to officials who then beat, torture and bribe them, people are going to blame their troubles on the foreigners.”

In response to concerns raised by Kapisa residents about the detainee transfer system, the NATO press officer said, “We will share this issue with the Afghan government and the interior ministry. We will point out the problems people have with this process, and seek a solution to resolve these problems.”

In Tagab and Alasai districts, there are even people who have decided to move away for fear of getting caught up in a raid and ending up detained for an indefinite period.

Maida Agha leased out his farmland and moved to Kabul because he feared being the victim of a false denunciation.

“There’s a great deal of hostility around. People make false reports to the foreigners out of tribal, factional or other kinds of animosity, and they [international troops] then conduct wild raids on houses and kill or imprison innocent people,” he said. “We are criminals for being Pashtuns, anyway. When you’re a Pashtun, they immediately brand you as a terrorist, as al-Qaeda, Taleban or Hezb-i Islami. And if you are handed over to government officials, you’ll have to sell your land, house and other property so as to bribe them and get released. So I’ve opted to move out of the area.”

Maiwand Safi is an IWPR-trained reporter in Kapisa province.