Whilst the world rallies against the Taliban, many point to the Northern Alliance as being the future leaders of Afghanistan or, at least, instrumental in aiding the West in conquering the Taliban.

As reports of British and American troops providing aid to Northern Alliance fighters flood in, and an admission by Vladimir Putin that the Russians have been arming and supporting them, certain uncomfortable questions need to be asked. If  Australians know little about their enemies in this war, they know even less about their "friends".   A question that we all need to ask  is, if this is really a just war, how can the United States and her allies justify supporting an army that has been  universally condemned for war crimes and human rights abuses?

Prior to the appearance of the Taliban, Afghanistan was a killing field as warring factions battled it out for control of Kabul.  In 994, at least 25,000 civilians were killed in rocket and artillery attacks on the city.  One third of Kabul was reduced to rubble.  There was no law or order, and, according to Human Rights Watch, Ahmad Shah Masood's faction and others, engaged in rape, summary executions, arbitrary arrest, and torture.

Describing pre-Taliban conditions, a 1995 Amnesty International report reads: "Women and girls all over Afghanistan live in constant fear of being raped by armed guards. For years, armed guards have been allowed to torture them in this way without fear of reprimand from their leaders. In fact, rape is apparently condoned by most leaders as a means of terrorizing conquered populations and or rewarding soldiers."

It was exactly in response to this lawlessness that the Taliban appeared. The Taliban were originally students from local  madrassas (religious schools) who were asked by desperate villagers to clean up the crime that was rampant under the Rabbani regime.  Within a very short time, the warring factions had been largely disarmed or repelled to the north, and there was some semblance of peace and stability in Afghanistan.

Enter the Northern Alliance.  With the appearance of the Taliban, the warring factions united to fight the new common enemy.  The Northern Alliance is made up of groups representing Shi'ite, Sunni and Communist interests.  All the vast ideological and political differences were put aside in the face of the threat of an Islamic state forming in Afghanistan.  The only thing they had in common was a hatred of the Taliban.  If the Taliban are removed, there is little doubt that war will once again ensue between each of these factions as  they compete for power and leadership.

According to Human Rights Watch's backgrounder entitled "Military Assistance to the Afghan Opposition" (October 2001), our new friends have a history of committing horrific war crimes, often against civilians.

On  September 20-21, 1998, Masood's forces launched rockets at Kabul, killing up to 180 civilians.  The Red Cross released a statement on September 23, 1998 condemning these attacks as being indiscriminate 0and the deadliest that the city had seen in three years of war.

In May 1997, Northern Alliance forces executed 3,000 captured Taliban soldiers.  HRW reports that the lucky ones were taken to the desert and shot, whereas others were thrown down wells and blown up with grenades.

In January, 1997, Northern Alliance planes dropped cluster bombs on residential areas in Kabul.  Many civilians were killed and wounded in the indiscriminate attack.

In March, 1995, HRW reported that forces under the command of Masood, entered the Kabul neighbourhood of Karte She and raped and looted the area's Hazara population.  The 1996 US State Department report on human rights recorded that, "Masood's troops went on a rampage, systematically looting whole streets and raping women".

For the United States to utilise the services of the Northern Alliance, when the US State Department itself condemned them for mass rapes and war crimes is inconceivable.  It may also be illegal, under the Leahy Law, a US law that prohibits the provision of assistance to foreign forces that have committed gross human rights violations.

Yet, if the first casualty of war is the truth, then in this war, the second casualty has been the law. The use of the Northern Alliance to fight a war against terrorism is like using the Mafia to fight the war on drugs.  It is immoral and hypocritical. More importantly, it demonstrates the kind of duplicity and injustice in American foreign policy that has led many around the world to hold so much contempt for it.