Afghanistan’s Hot Document

The United Nations has a controversial report on Afghan war crimes ready to go. It examines the many crimes committed during the Afghan civil war and dishes dirt on several still prominent Afghan political figures, including Uzbek leader Abdul Rashid Dostum, a sometime ally of the current government. But President Hamid Karzai has been sitting on ...

By , a professor at Indiana University’s Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies.
608251_Karzai.thumbnail5.jpg
608251_Karzai.thumbnail5.jpg

The United Nations has a controversial report on Afghan war crimes ready to go. It examines the many crimes committed during the Afghan civil war and dishes dirt on several still prominent Afghan political figures, including Uzbek leader Abdul Rashid Dostum, a sometime ally of the current government. But President Hamid Karzai has been sitting on the document, apparently mulling the political consequences of its release.

At first glance, the question of when and how to release the report seems like the familiar peace vs. justice dilemma. Will ripping open this dark era of Afghan history rattle Karzai's already shaky coalition? In this case, the choice is not nearly that stark. The report doesn't apear to break substantial new ground - there have been several other exposés - and Karzai need not respond by launching war crimes trials or an official investigation (which really might threaten his government). Even groups like Human Rights Watch - usually advocates of moving quickly to trials - recognize that justice will be slow in Afghanistan. The best outcome might be allowing the report's mere presence to gradually erode the legitimacy of the guilty parties.  

The United Nations has a controversial report on Afghan war crimes ready to go. It examines the many crimes committed during the Afghan civil war and dishes dirt on several still prominent Afghan political figures, including Uzbek leader Abdul Rashid Dostum, a sometime ally of the current government. But President Hamid Karzai has been sitting on the document, apparently mulling the political consequences of its release.

At first glance, the question of when and how to release the report seems like the familiar peace vs. justice dilemma. Will ripping open this dark era of Afghan history rattle Karzai’s already shaky coalition? In this case, the choice is not nearly that stark. The report doesn’t apear to break substantial new ground – there have been several other exposés – and Karzai need not respond by launching war crimes trials or an official investigation (which really might threaten his government). Even groups like Human Rights Watch – usually advocates of moving quickly to trials – recognize that justice will be slow in Afghanistan. The best outcome might be allowing the report’s mere presence to gradually erode the legitimacy of the guilty parties.  

David Bosco is a professor at Indiana University’s Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies. He is the author of The Poseidon Project: The Struggle to Govern the World’s Oceans. Twitter: @multilateralist

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