Abusive Afghan militias add to anguish

Ms Mumtaz outside a safe house in Kunduz. She suffered an acid attack after spurning a militiaman's marriage proposal.
Ms Mumtaz outside a safe house in Kunduz. She suffered an acid attack after spurning a militiaman's marriage proposal. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

KUNDUZ (Afghanistan) - Four years after a militiaman and his accomplices doused Ms Mumtaz with a flesh-searing acid for rejecting his marriage proposal, leaving her disfigured, scarred and traumatised, death threats have forced the 20-year-old Afghan into hiding.

Her ordeal encapsulates the major issues roiling Afghanistan - a silent tsunami of violence against women, with anti-Taleban militias bringing further turmoil to an already conflict-torn country and a seemingly dysfunctional state unable to offer Afghans even a modicum of security.

Ms Mumtaz has undergone multiple operations and painful skin grafts since the attack in 2011 - and is now forced to live in hiding due to threats purportedly from the assailants, some of whom are still at large.

Her plight is worsened by an escalating conflict in Kunduz, where the Taleban recently launched a large-scale offensive, creeping ever closer to the provincial capital and trapping civilians between insurgents and a miscellany of pro- government forces and militias.

Acid attacks are common in Afghanistan, often used to deface and cripple women.

Ironically, though, Ms Mumtaz's real troubles began when three of the assailants, but not the main culprit, were put behind bars. "They threatened to behead me. 'We will kill your whole family when we get out of prison', they said. 'We will come after you'," Ms Mumtaz said.

Armed intruders have attempted to break into her house, said Women for Afghan Women, a non-governmental organisation which helped Ms Mumtaz with legal aid and treatment in India.

When he came to power last year, President Ashraf Ghani vowed to disarm the militias, blamed for devastating Afghanistan during the country's civil war in the 1990s and setting the stage for a Taleban takeover.

But as the Taleban insurgency spreads north from its southern stronghold, the government appears to be remobilising them to augment Afghan security forces.

"The predatory behaviour of these militias and abuses that include extrajudicial killings, beatings and looting have left civilians trapped between them and the Taleban and has bolstered some support for the insurgents," Ms Patricia Gossman of Human Rights Watch said in a recent statement. "If there is to be any hope of long-term security in Kunduz - and across Afghanistan - this reliance on abusive militias has to end."

Earlier this year, Ms Mumtaz married the man she was engaged to, bringing a faint glimmer of hope in her life. "But I live in constant fear that they (the assailants) will find me one day."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 23, 2015, with the headline 'Abusive Afghan militias add to anguish'. Print Edition | Subscribe