New York Times
POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Sep 30, 2013
LAST UPDATED: 03:52 p.m. HST, Sep 30, 2013
KABUL, Afghanistan » So many people were buried alive by bulldozers in the barren fields around the Pul-e-Charkhi Prison on Kabul's outskirts that guilty soldiers later said it was like an earthquake as their victims tried to claw their way out.
Thirty-four years later, the names and details of nearly 5,000 of those victims — arrested, tortured and killed by the Afghan Communist government in 1978 and 1979 — have resurfaced, catalogued in detailed records released this month.
Although the death lists were originally compiled by the Afghan government and languished, unreleased, for decades, they were unearthed by Dutch investigators and have been published on the website of the Netherlands national prosecutor's office.
The Afghan government's reaction to the release of the lists was initially cautious, and President Hamid Karzai was quoted as saying reconciliation was more important than prosecutions.
It is a sensitive issue in Afghanistan, and not just because so many former Communist officials now hold high positions in government, especially in the military and police hierarchies. Calls to prosecute old Communists inevitably lead to calls to prosecute all those who came after them and committed massacres of their own during the three decades of conflict that followed.
But as word spread among thousands of relatives of the victims, the death lists went viral, lighting up social media among a younger generation, and bringing calls from older people for prosecutions. Finally, pressed by Sima Samar, head of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, Karzai declared Monday and Tuesday national days of mourning.
Mosques in Kabul and throughout the country were thronged with mourners for the victims Monday, and many memorials were planned in rural villages that were particularly hard hit by the wave of torture and killings carried out by Afghanistan's intelligence service at the time.
Just in the village of Gul Qala, in Kabul province, 25 people were on the newly released lists. They were all relatives of Mualavi Abdul Aziz Mujahid, a former jihadi commander and a politician; they included uncles, cousins and in-laws.
At the time, Mujahid was 10 and knew little of the ferment around him, until he saw an older cousin, a religious scholar and a farmer named Shah Dahla, arrested by plainclothes agents.
Dahla had just returned from the muddy fields, barefoot, and the agents refused to allow him a moment to rinse off his feet and put his sandals on.
The memory reduces Mujahid to tears 34 years later.
"Over the years, I have seen a lot of dead bodies in a lot of battles," he said. He later fought the Communist government, the Soviets and then other jihadis in the civil war, and finally the Taliban. "But this person's innocence hurts me deeply."
Dahla's son, Mohammada Jan, said his mother and his siblings never fully accepted that their father was dead, though they suspected it. "Even so, when we found out from the Internet that it was confirmed, everyone cried," he said. Jan was 15 at the time of his father's disappearance; he, too, choked up at the memory of his being taken away unshod.
The death lists include victims' names, dates of death, father's name, occupation, hometown, and the charges against them — usually reduced to one word, including "anarchist", "fundamentalist," "Maoist," "Khomeini."
The chain of events that led to the lists' discovery began with an asylum request by Amanullah Osman, the head of interrogation for Afghan intelligence in 1978 and 1979, who fled to the Netherlands in 1993.
In his asylum interview, according to the prosecutor's office, Osman admitted to signing documents concerning people who were to be executed. "That was expected and desired of me," he said. "If you don't go along with it, you can never attain such a high position."
The Dutch denied him asylum but never expelled him, and eventually opened up a war crimes investigation. That led them to a 93-year-old Afghan refugee in Germany who gave them the death lists, which she had gotten from a former U.N. official, Felix Ermacora, who had never released them. Dutch authorities said they were confident of the lists' authenticity.
The prosecution was dropped in 2012 when Osman died, and the Dutch decided to release the lists. "The close relatives of the deceased in this case have the right to know the truth about the circumstances of the disappearance and the final fate of their loved ones," the prosecutor's office said.
The overwhelming public response in Afghanistan has forced the government to make some acknowledgement, said Ahmad Nader Nadery, a former member of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission and the author of a still-unreleased report on mass graves throughout Afghanistan. But he added that the lists had stirred a fresh wave of concerns among officials.
"The government was afraid as always that this was the beginning of a process, and it will not stop just in this era of the Communists," Nadery said. "Those in the government were also involved in the '90s, and the Taliban also committed similar atrocities."
One particular target of popular anger is Assadullah Sarwari, Osman's boss at the Afghan intelligence agency in 1979, who was initially sentenced to death but later had his sentence reduced to a 19-year prison term.
Shalizai Didar, a former governor of Kunar province, said 11 people from his family were on the lists, along with 100 people he knows. "We demand from the government to execute Assadullah Sarwari - not only him but also his colleagues."
Another former official who is frequently mentioned is retired Gen. Abdul Wahid Taqat, who headed the intelligence services under the last Afghan Communist government. Taqat called the publication of the lists a plot against him to thwart his own presidential aspirations.
"I am ready to answer for our part, but how about thousands of others who were killed," Taqat said. "It is not only the Communists, but dozens of Afghan leaders have killed innocent people for the sake of their Russian and British bosses. If those leaders can be prosecuted, then I am ready to be prosecuted as well."
Mujahid, the former jihadi commander, said he would like to see them all brought to court — including some of his contemporaries, jihadi leaders who fought the civil war that followed the Communists and brought in the Taliban.
"They should all be prosecuted, no exceptions," he said. "In the name of democracy, Taqat and all those people are just walking free."