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Afghan Woman's Beating Exposes Consequences Of Using Militia For Security

A screen grab from an amateur video of a mob beating an Afghan woman in Takhar Province because she allegedly had an extramarital affair. The woman survived the incident.
A screen grab from an amateur video of a mob beating an Afghan woman in Takhar Province because she allegedly had an extramarital affair. The woman survived the incident.

For the remote Afghan village of Rubat Hamidudin, the weekend arrest of seven men for publicly beating an alleged adulteress was a historic event.

The operation by Afghan National Police in the northeastern province of Takhar marked the first time since King Zahir Shah's reign ended in 1973 that police from any Afghan central government have been to the village.

Authorities say the case illustrates the difficulty Kabul faces as the government tries to provide security and a system of criminal justice in Afghanistan's remote regions.

"Even though the area is under the control of the government, not even a single officer from the Afghan National Police had ever gone there before," Sonatollah Teymour, the spokesman for Takhar's provincial governor, told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan on February 5.

"It's the first time police have gone to this village since the reign of King Zahir Shah," Teymour confirmed. "Most of the people in this village have just witnessed a police operation for the first time in their lives."

Shocking Video

The case came to light on February 2 after a video emerged in which a group of men can be seen carrying out the beating of a woman in defense of family honor. The video shows a burqa-clad 22-year-old woman being beaten with tree branches by multiple men, identified as her father-in-law, her brother, and her uncles.

Teymour told RFE/RL that all of the men are supporters of a "local commander" in Takhar's Chah Ab District -- a warlord who is a relative of the women and was present during her beating.

Warlord militias have been tolerated by Kabul for years, and even funded by the U.S. military since 2007, under a controversial NATO-backed plan that serves as a stopgap measure for providing local protection while Kabul focuses its security resources on fighting the Taliban elsewhere.

All law enforcement activities in Takhar Province are supposed to be handled by the Afghan National Police and Afghan Border Police posted along the province's northern frontier with Tajikistan.

But Teymour admitted that those Interior Ministry forces, commanded by a police chief in the provincial capital of Taloqan, are inadequate for covering Takhar's vast mountainous territory.

"This place is situated very far from the center of the province," Teymour told RFE/RL about the village. "The whole province has 2,700 police officers and we cannot send them to all of the remote villages of the province."

Witnesses claim the woman beaten in the video was being punished at the orders of local clerics who decided she was guilty of having an extramarital affair while her husband was away in Iran.

They said the evidence presented against the unidentified woman was that she spent three hours alone in her home with a 17-year-old boy. She survived the attack.

A map produced for RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan showing Takhar Province marked in orange.
A map produced for RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan showing Takhar Province marked in orange.

Claims about a cleric-run kangaroo court in the village are now being investigated by a team from the Interior Ministry and Afghanistan's Independent Directorate of Local Governance (IDLG) -- a branch of the Afghan government that reports directly to the presidency.

IDLG spokesperson Munira Yusufzada said that even with Kabul's attention focused on the case, and even though the incident happened in a "secure region," the joint probe will "take some time" because the village of Rubat Hamidudin is so remote.

"We will secure justice for the woman," Yusufzada vowed.

Lawmakers from the region have said the beating was not reported to government authorities for more than 45 days, and only then after it emerged on social media, because some people wanted to keep it secret.

"All local government departments are active there, but I do not know why this incident remained secret and why the victim has not reported the issue to government," said Maryam Kofi, a parliamentary deputy from Takhar.

Community Level 'Justice'

Complaints registered by the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) since the start of 2017 show that the incident was not an isolated case of an alleged kangaroo court operating in government-controlled territory.

The AIHRC has registered six complaints about such judgments against women and girls in different parts of Afghanistan during the last 10 months.

Meanwhile, the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit (AREU), a government-funded independent research organization based in Kabul, has warned that widespread corruption in local branches of the justice system has resulted in many cases being resolved "at the community level, since doing so is cheaper, faster, and more transparent."

"Community-based dispute resolution is based on customary law intermixed with Shari'a law," an AREU ground-view study on local governance concluded.

But the practice leaves "questions over human rights and the treatment of women," it said.

The AREU also has warned that the shortcomings of Afghanistan's formal justice system in remote areas -- such as time taken for rulings, distance, complexity, expense, and corruption -- are "major factors cited for the loss of trust" in Afghanistan's central government.

"Significantly, the Taliban seek to control justice mechanisms as their first priority after securing control on an area," the AREU concluded.

The Taliban has never secured its presence in the mountainous area around Rubat Hamidudin -- even in 2001 when the Taliban controlled 90 percent of Afghanistan.

The village is located in the small swath of territory the Taliban never conquered -- the area where the legendary anti-Taliban military commander Ahmad Shah Masud located his headquarters before he was assassinated by two Al-Qaeda suicide bombers on September 9, 2001.

Analysts say the influence of anti-Taliban militia governance in such areas today, while having a positive short-term impact on security, can have a negative long-term influence that undermines the intentions of Afghanistan's central government and U.S.-led coalition forces.

Teymour told RFE/RL that the Afghan government "cannot guarantee that the same situation won't happen again" around Rubat Hamidudin.

Out of concern for the safety of the woman who was beaten in the video, Teymour told RFE/RL she was moved to a "safe house" shelter in Taloqan late on February 4.

"Although there is no doubt that she is suffering from the ordeal that she has experienced, doctors say her health is good and she appears to be in good physical condition," Teymour said.