'Our Friends.' That's how US president George W Bush describes the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan. Britain's defence secretary, Geoff Hoon, says the Northern Alliance 'are not nearly as bad as people have been suggesting'.
But whatever happens in the war in Afghanistan in the coming days one thing is certain-the Northern Alliance will not bring peace and freedom to ordinary people. The alliance is a gang of rival warlords, all with a bloody and brutal record. Different sections of the alliance are backed by rival foreign powers, all of which will be prepared to unleash more killing to bolster their interests in Afghanistan.
The alliance has virtually no support among the biggest ethnic group in the country, the Pashtuns. The Pakistani dictatorship will not tolerate Northern Alliance domination of the country.
The force under Northern Alliance commander Ismail Khan which is reported to have captured the city of Herat is funded and backed by Iran, a bitter rival to the regional ambitions of Pakistan and India. It is a bloody recipe whose outcome will be more killing and more horror.
A bloody and brutal record
General Dostum, the key Northern Alliance commander, is a warlord based among the Uzbek ethnic minority in Afghanistan. He was initially a supporter of the Russian invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, and has since repeatedly switched sides in the Afghan civil war. At one time he was even allied with the Taliban.
He has been funded in turn by almost all the rival foreign powers meddling in the country. After backing Russia, Dostum then switched allegiance to, and received funds from, Uzbekistan, Iran, Pakistan, and most recently Turkey. He was involved, along with fellow warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, in the devastation of Kabul in 1994.
The US State Department reports that thousands of civilians were massacred by Dostum's forces, which 'purposefully targeted civilian areas'. Claims that the Northern Alliance will somehow liberate women are nonsense.
The Sunday Times's Jon Swain reports that in the Afghan capital 'Dostum's forces are remembered for raping women and girls in Kabul, cutting off their breasts'. Journalist Robert Fisk reported his first meeting with Dostum: 'When I arrived at the fort to meet Dostum there were bloodstains and pieces of flesh in the muddy courtyard.
'The guards told me that an hour earlier Dostum had punished a soldier for stealing. The man had been tied to the tracks of a Russian-made tank which then drove around the courtyard crushing his body into mincemeat as Dostum watched.'
In May 1997 the last time they seized the city of Mazar-e-Sharif Northern Alliance forces tortured and executed 2,000 Taliban prisoners of war . That killing was organised by Dostum's then second in command, General Malik. At least 1,250 Taliban prisoners were killed by being place in sealed containers until they died.
The Hizb-i-Wahdat force is a key part of the US-backed Northern Alliance. It is best known for its treatment of prisoners. Journalist Jon Swain of the Sunday Times reported, 'In a ritual known as 'dead men dancing', victims' heads were chopped off. Petrol was then pumped into their necks and set alight as the blood spurted out and the bodies jerked about in their death throes. The skinning alive of victims has been a particular favourite.'
Other key alliance figures included General Rahmin Dewana. Two years ago his troops rampaged through the Sangcharak area of Afghanistan, burning down whole villages and executing civilians at random. Baba Jallandhar's forces retreated from Kabul in 1996. They hacked off the noses and ears of prisoners.
They then beheaded them and stuck the heads on poles by the roadside. Former Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani is supposedly the political leader of the alliance. Embarrassingly for Bush it was Rabani who welcomed Osama Bin Laden to Afghanistan in 1996.
Northern Alliance forces are up to their necks in the drugs trade. According to a United Nations report last month 83 percent of all the heroin produced in Afghanistan in the last year comes from Badakshan province, which has long been under alliance control.
This is not democracy
David Blunkett, the home secretary, is ramming through new emergency powers that will destroy our civil liberties. Blunkett declared a state of emergency on Monday so that he could opt out of the Human Rights act and detain suspected foreign terrorists without charge.
Those detained would not be allowed to have a trial in public. Instead they would be tried in secret by a high court judge. They would only have the right of appeal on matters of law. The home secretary would also be able to turn down asylum claims from anyone suspected of having associations with terrorists.
No other European country is looking for these powers. Blunkett disgracefully dismissed anybody concerned about these draconian measures as 'airy fairy'. He said he 'didn't give a damn' about the numbers who could be locked up under his viscious new law.
Britain already has the harshest laws in Europe for dealing with suspected terrorists. New Labour introduced the Terrorist Act earlier this year. It outlawed 21 organisations and widened the definition of terrorism to include the 'use or threat of action' against property in Britain or abroad to advance a 'political, religious or ideological cause'.
Anybody standing up against oppression, persecution or poverty in repressive countries could be defined as 'terrorist' and detained. New Labour has continually scapegoated asylum seekers, and these laws will give it more power to do so.
John Wadham, director of the Liberty civil rights group, this week denounced Blunkett's new plans to lock people up without trial or legal process as 'a fundamental violation of our rights. 'Arbitrary detention, locking someone up indefinitely without trial or any hope of release, is wrong in principle.'
Warlords switch sides
Military gains in Afghanistan have nearly always been dependent on rival warlords switching sides. Many of the forces that are now part of the Northern Alliance were until a few days ago part of the Taliban forces that Bush and Blair claimed they were fighting.
Northern Alliance warlord General Mirwaiz admitted this week, 'When General Dostum captured the town of Shulgr he found his old commanders Sayed Asad Agha and Amid Jan Khalochar. They had gone over to the Taliban. 'The commanders had a secret meeting with Dostum and agreed to defect.' Mirwaiz admitted the same process of warlords switching sides had taken place in Mazar-e-Sharif, when a key local Taliban commander, Amid Jhan, switched sides.
'The Taliban seized Mazar thanks to Amid Jhan and they lost it thanks to Amid Jhan,' admitted General Mirwaiz. There were also reports that the capture of Mazar had led to atrocities by the Northern Alliance forces.
United Nations official Stephanie Bunker said on Monday, 'Every time Mazar has changed hands in the past, violent atrocities have occurred,' and stated that the UN was already getting new reports 'of violence and summary executions there'. A spokesperson for the World Food Programme said their workers were receiving reports from Mazar of 'looting, civilian abductions, uncontrolled gunmen and street battles'.
There were also reports that hundreds of Pakistanis fighting for the Taliban had been summarily executed after being captured in Mazar.
Innocent rounded up
Hundreds of innocent people were locked up without charge when the government introduced internment in Northern Ireland in 1971.
In 1974 the British government introduced the Prevention of Terrorism Act, claiming it would be used sparingly and only against people linked with 'terrorism'. From then until the end of 1991 a total of 7,052 people were detained under the act. Of those, 6,097-86 percent-were eventually released without any charge being brought at all.
During the Gulf War in 1991 hundreds of people were arrested and locked up without charge. They were mostly Arabs, including Palestinians, and Iraqis and Kurds who had long fought Saddam Hussein. Many of those arrested were held in solitary confinement for days. Few were ever charged. But many were summarily deported.
Of the 120 people detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act between July and September 1995, 88 were released without any charge. And of the 32 people charged, only six were related to offences under the act. The others were charged with petty offences unconnected with any alleged 'terrorism'.