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Amnesty for Afghans: Can the world walk the talk?

It is one thing to express solidarity, but quite another to actually offer refuge; the least that departing world powers can do, is offer amnesty to Afghans desperate to flee a totalitarian regime

Deborah Grey 21 Aug 2021

AfghanistanImage Courtesy:indiatvnews.com

The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan and its aftermath have shocked the world. But while there is no shortage in the outpouring of grief, compassion and solidarity, how many countries are actually offering a solution? Many are yet to make an official statement either recognising or condemning the Taliban regime. Are they playing safe, in which case what do they fear? Or are they just not interested in getting involved beyond a point, in which case their apathy contradicts their own words of compassion?

What’s at stake?

In the aftermath of the Taliban takeover, there are fears that the country could once again regress to a culture where dissenters were executed, minorities were oppressed, women and girls prohibited from getting an education of working, some even beaten up for failure to sport a burkha. Despite a modern PR campaign comprising press conferences, TV show appearances and a social media presence, the Taliban are fooling no one.

Images have emerged of how people carrying the Afghanistan flag are being rounded up, their fate now unknown. Then there was the cold-blooded murder of comedian Nazar Mohammed, just days before the Taliban entered Kabul. A recently released Amnesty International report reveals that the Taliban rounded up, tortured and executed at least nine Hazara men last month. This shows that the Taliban are still strongly against dissenters and minorities, despite what they say in their press statements.

While the Taliban compulsively gaslights the international community, its own people know better. But this knowledge of the dark truth of the resurgence of the Taliban has led to many a desperate move.

Three men who had held on to an American plane that was taking off from the Kabul airport, later fell to their deaths in a matter of seconds. One of them was a member of the national football team. The images of their bodies falling from the airborne plane, oddly reminiscent of people jumping out of windows at the World Trade Centre during the 9/11 terror attack. Then and now, the people in question knew they would die either way, but chose to die on their own terms instead of what they thought was a worse fate. Just as the people who died by suicide by jumping out of windows of the WTC did so to avoid being burnt alive, the men who held on to the departing US plane, would have known that there was no way they could survive the journey, but preferred to die that way, instead of at the hands of the Taliban.

Then there are heart rending stories of women flinging their babies and children over the border fence to British soldiers, hoping that at least they could escape a life (and possible death) under the Taliban regime.

Moreover, there are reprisals against the press, particularly those who served in international news media as either reporters or interpreters. Taliban killed a family member of a DW reporter who now lives in Germany. His family say, they were looking for the reporter doing door-to-door checks.

Women journalists have also been either pulled off air or advised to stay at home, bringing back memories of days when women were not allowed to leave their homes unless escorted by male members of their family, and were punished with beatings if they broke the rule.

In light of all this, it is understandable that many Afghans would want to escape this totalitarian regime. But where can they go, and will they be welcome there? Afghanistan is home to 39 million people. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), a UN agency mandated to aid and protect refugees 5,50,000 people have been forced to flee their homes since the beginning of the year. 80 percent of them are women and children. Most of these people remain internally displaced in refugee camps.

What has the UN said?

The UNHCR has issued a statement on the subject of non-refoulement and urging international leaders to show compassion.

“In the wake of the rapid deterioration in the security and human rights situation in large parts of the country and the unfolding humanitarian emergency, UNHCR calls on States to halt forcible returns of Afghan nationals who have previously been determined to not be in need of international protection,” said Shabia Mantoo of the UNHCR in a statement shared on social media. “UNHCR remains concerned about the risk of human rights violations against civilians in this evolving context, including women and girls, those perceived to have a current or past association with the Afghan government, international organisations or with international military forces,” said the UNHCR.

Specifically warning States against forcible sending back Afghans, the UNHCR said, “As the situation remains fluid and uncertain, UNHCR continues to call for access to territory to allow civilians fleeing Afghanistan and to ensure respect for the principle of non-refoulement at all times, which is the prohibition on returning people to situations of danger. States have a legal and moral responsibility to allow those fleeing Afghanistan to seek safety, and to not forcibly return refugees.” It further reiterated, “UNHCR’s advisory against forced returns to Afghanistan remains in effect until security, rule of law and human rights conditions improve enough in the country to allow for safe and dignified returns.”

Opportunity to right a historical wrong

It is no secret that it was the US that armed the Taliban to the teeth to prop them against the erstwhile USSR that had considerable influence in the region till it broke into several independent States in 1991. Mullah Omar, an influential cleric, and his students or Taliban as they are called in the local language, thus became powerful fighting a war that was little more than an ego battle between two superpowers. The US in its desperate desire to win the Cold War, created a beast it could no longer control, thus paving the way for the first Taliban takeover. Mullah Omar remained in the shadows, while his Taliban enforced a strict socio-cultural code in line with a hardline version of the Sharia law. The US did nothing to check their reign of terror until it hit home in the form of the September 11 attacks in 2001.

The attack’s mastermind was Osama Bin Laden, a Saudi Arabian national and it was executed by his terrorist group the Al Qaeda. The Al Qaeda had a previous relationship with the Taliban. On September 9, 2001, just two days before the 9/11 attacks, the Al Qaeda had killed Ahmad Shah Masood, leader of the Norther Alliance and a thorn in the Taliban’s side. In exchange, Taliban offered Al Qaeda protection and refuge after the 9/11 attacks. Therefore, though none of the 9/11 terrorists hailed from Afghanistan the US invaded the country in what came to be known as Operation Enduring Freedom. And it was the ordinary Afghan that paid the price as US and its NATO allies dropped bombs, even as key Al Qaeda operatives and Taliban leaders remained safe in hiding.

The US “War on Terror” in Afghanistan started drawing to a close with the fall of Mazar-e-Sharif, a Taliban stronghold on November nine. Other strongholds like Bamiyan, Kabul, Herat and Jalalabad fell over the last four days. While Osama Bin Laden escaped to Pakistan, there was also no sign of Mullah Omar. The Taliban was thus wiped out and a new government was established. US troops stayed, purportedly to hep with reconstruction and recovery, but the lure of the region’s rich oil and natural gas reserves cannot be ignored. Over the last 20 years, the US claims to have armed and trained 3,00,000 Afghan troops. This was used as a justification for the US to evacuate its embassy and allied staff and pull out when the Taliban regained control of the country. Though additional troops were sanctioned, that was for the purpose of ensuring safe evacuations.

Many still feel that the US troop withdrawal, which was initially scheduled for May this year as per a plan by former US President Donald Trump and extended by a few months by current US President Joe Biden, virtually threw the countries citizens to the wolves, leaving them at the mercy of the Taliban.

This gives the US and its allies an opportunity to finally do right by the Afghan people by offering them amnesty in these dark times. But communication on that front appears vague at present.

NATO nations and evacuation

NATO nations including UK and France are also evacuating their embassy and allied personnel. But little is known about their plans to take in Afghan refugees other than their close associates. In a joint statement issued on August 20, 2021, the foreign ministers of NATO nations said, “Our immediate task now is to meet our commitments to continue the safe evacuation of our citizens, partner country nationals, and at-risk Afghans, in particular those who have assisted our efforts. We call on those in positions of authority in Afghanistan to respect and facilitate their safe and orderly departure, including through Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul.  As long as evacuation operations continue, we will maintain our close operational coordination through Allied military means at Hamid Karzai International Airport.”

Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron came in for sharp criticism when he said, “We must anticipate and protect ourselves against significant irregular migratory flows that would endanger the migrants and risk encouraging trafficking of all kinds.” This comment is being viewed as pandering to the far right with this statement. Even though later in the same address, he went on to say that 800 Afghans including translators and cooks who helped French personnel in Afghanistan had already been evacuated to French territory, and that France would continue to do “its duty to protect those who are most under threat in Afghanistan,” it did little to mitigate the damage already done by his insensitive words.

Spain though, has offered to be a hub for evacuees who have worked with European Union (EU) institutions before they are resettled in countries such as Denmark, Germany, Poland and Lithuania. The Guardian quoted the Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares as saying, “Spain is the port of entry. We host them for a few days and from there, they will be distributed to various EU countries.” The hub will have a capacity of hosting 1,000 people and have a Covid-19 testing area, reported Reuters.

Boris Pistorius, interior minister for Germany’s Lower Saxony region led other state interior ministers in urging Federal Interior Minister Horst Seehofer that Germany initiate a new federal program to take in refugees. The Social Democrats Party (SDP) has already pledged support to such a move. However, he also urged other nations to chip in. DW quoted him as saying, “Germany will not be able to shoulder the load on its own. This calls for solidarity from Europe's community of nations.” It is noteworthy that Germany had been at the forefront of welcoming Syrian refugees, something that did not sit well with the far-right groups that appear to be poised for a resurgence in the country.

Meanwhile, Turkey is reinforcing its border with Iran to check the influx of Afghan refugees. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned that he will not let his country become a “refugee warehouse”.  The Daily Sabah quoted him as saying, “Turkey does not have any obligation whatsoever to be a safe haven for Afghan refugees.” Erdogan further said, “It is our obligation to Turkish citizens to ensure the refugees’ safe return to their home countries,” triggering concerns about non-refoulement.

In a shocking development, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said that the UK would work with the Taliban if necessary. “The situation is getting a little better,” said Johnson while speaking to press persons yesterday adding that some of the people coming into the UK were being allowed in under provisions of the Afghanistan Resettlement and Assistance Program (ARAP). But he set the cat among the pigeons when he said, “What I want to assure people is that our political and diplomatic efforts to find a solution for Afghanistan, working with the Taliban, of course, if necessary, will go on.” An estimated 5,000 Afghan refugees mainly those who worked with British institutions and troops in the country as well as women, children and minorities are expected to be resettled by the UK in the first year and 20,000 long term. British Home Secretary Priti Patel who told Sky News that the UK “cannot accommodate 20,000 people in one go.” Patel said, “We are working quickly on this. We cannot accommodate 20,000 people all in one go. Currently we are bringing back almost 1,000 people a day. This is an enormous effort. We can't do this on our own. We have to work together.”

Meanwhile, despite US President Joe Biden’s stand supporting the troop withdrawal, pressure is mounting for the US to grant amnesty to Afghan refugees. In a strongly worded Op-Ed, the LA Times has said that the US could take in as many as 1,50,000 Afghan refugees and that it was the superpowers moral obligation to do so after its repeated military and political experiments in the region. “Given the history of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, Americans have a duty not only to help such vulnerable Afghans but also to lead other nations to do the same,” said the LA Times. It further points out that the current two routes available to Afghans to seek amnesty in the US are woefully inadequate. It says that the Special Immigration Visas created by the Congress in 2009 to help Afghans who worked with the US government, have an application process that is “extremely onerous and seriously backlogged”. Meanwhile, the refugee admission program where a new category was created “requires an employment relationship with the U.S. but includes work with U.S.-funded projects, nongovernmental organizations or the media.” Moreover, it is replete with logistical hurdles and only Afghans outside their home country can apply, meaning that Afghans would first have to flee their home country, reach a safe haven and then apply under this category.

According to a Reuters report, at least 1,200 Afghans have been evacuated by the US and the number could go up to 3,500 in the coming days under the “Operation Allies Refuge”. Reuters also reported that the US “was exploring having Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan take in thousands of applicants, but that effort has made little progress.” The report based on information from unnamed US officials also said that a “deal to house about 8,000 Afghans in Qatar, which hosts a large U.S. military base, has been close for weeks.” However, no official confirmation of this is available at present. 

Related:

Journalists are targeted by all hardliner regimes, this time in Afghanistan
Afghanistan crisis: A tool to target Islam?
Afghanistan: The End of the Occupation
Taliban 2.0: Old laws in newer package?
We want our rights: Afghan women protesters

 

Amnesty for Afghans: Can the world walk the talk?

It is one thing to express solidarity, but quite another to actually offer refuge; the least that departing world powers can do, is offer amnesty to Afghans desperate to flee a totalitarian regime

AfghanistanImage Courtesy:indiatvnews.com

The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan and its aftermath have shocked the world. But while there is no shortage in the outpouring of grief, compassion and solidarity, how many countries are actually offering a solution? Many are yet to make an official statement either recognising or condemning the Taliban regime. Are they playing safe, in which case what do they fear? Or are they just not interested in getting involved beyond a point, in which case their apathy contradicts their own words of compassion?

What’s at stake?

In the aftermath of the Taliban takeover, there are fears that the country could once again regress to a culture where dissenters were executed, minorities were oppressed, women and girls prohibited from getting an education of working, some even beaten up for failure to sport a burkha. Despite a modern PR campaign comprising press conferences, TV show appearances and a social media presence, the Taliban are fooling no one.

Images have emerged of how people carrying the Afghanistan flag are being rounded up, their fate now unknown. Then there was the cold-blooded murder of comedian Nazar Mohammed, just days before the Taliban entered Kabul. A recently released Amnesty International report reveals that the Taliban rounded up, tortured and executed at least nine Hazara men last month. This shows that the Taliban are still strongly against dissenters and minorities, despite what they say in their press statements.

While the Taliban compulsively gaslights the international community, its own people know better. But this knowledge of the dark truth of the resurgence of the Taliban has led to many a desperate move.

Three men who had held on to an American plane that was taking off from the Kabul airport, later fell to their deaths in a matter of seconds. One of them was a member of the national football team. The images of their bodies falling from the airborne plane, oddly reminiscent of people jumping out of windows at the World Trade Centre during the 9/11 terror attack. Then and now, the people in question knew they would die either way, but chose to die on their own terms instead of what they thought was a worse fate. Just as the people who died by suicide by jumping out of windows of the WTC did so to avoid being burnt alive, the men who held on to the departing US plane, would have known that there was no way they could survive the journey, but preferred to die that way, instead of at the hands of the Taliban.

Then there are heart rending stories of women flinging their babies and children over the border fence to British soldiers, hoping that at least they could escape a life (and possible death) under the Taliban regime.

Moreover, there are reprisals against the press, particularly those who served in international news media as either reporters or interpreters. Taliban killed a family member of a DW reporter who now lives in Germany. His family say, they were looking for the reporter doing door-to-door checks.

Women journalists have also been either pulled off air or advised to stay at home, bringing back memories of days when women were not allowed to leave their homes unless escorted by male members of their family, and were punished with beatings if they broke the rule.

In light of all this, it is understandable that many Afghans would want to escape this totalitarian regime. But where can they go, and will they be welcome there? Afghanistan is home to 39 million people. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), a UN agency mandated to aid and protect refugees 5,50,000 people have been forced to flee their homes since the beginning of the year. 80 percent of them are women and children. Most of these people remain internally displaced in refugee camps.

What has the UN said?

The UNHCR has issued a statement on the subject of non-refoulement and urging international leaders to show compassion.

“In the wake of the rapid deterioration in the security and human rights situation in large parts of the country and the unfolding humanitarian emergency, UNHCR calls on States to halt forcible returns of Afghan nationals who have previously been determined to not be in need of international protection,” said Shabia Mantoo of the UNHCR in a statement shared on social media. “UNHCR remains concerned about the risk of human rights violations against civilians in this evolving context, including women and girls, those perceived to have a current or past association with the Afghan government, international organisations or with international military forces,” said the UNHCR.

Specifically warning States against forcible sending back Afghans, the UNHCR said, “As the situation remains fluid and uncertain, UNHCR continues to call for access to territory to allow civilians fleeing Afghanistan and to ensure respect for the principle of non-refoulement at all times, which is the prohibition on returning people to situations of danger. States have a legal and moral responsibility to allow those fleeing Afghanistan to seek safety, and to not forcibly return refugees.” It further reiterated, “UNHCR’s advisory against forced returns to Afghanistan remains in effect until security, rule of law and human rights conditions improve enough in the country to allow for safe and dignified returns.”

Opportunity to right a historical wrong

It is no secret that it was the US that armed the Taliban to the teeth to prop them against the erstwhile USSR that had considerable influence in the region till it broke into several independent States in 1991. Mullah Omar, an influential cleric, and his students or Taliban as they are called in the local language, thus became powerful fighting a war that was little more than an ego battle between two superpowers. The US in its desperate desire to win the Cold War, created a beast it could no longer control, thus paving the way for the first Taliban takeover. Mullah Omar remained in the shadows, while his Taliban enforced a strict socio-cultural code in line with a hardline version of the Sharia law. The US did nothing to check their reign of terror until it hit home in the form of the September 11 attacks in 2001.

The attack’s mastermind was Osama Bin Laden, a Saudi Arabian national and it was executed by his terrorist group the Al Qaeda. The Al Qaeda had a previous relationship with the Taliban. On September 9, 2001, just two days before the 9/11 attacks, the Al Qaeda had killed Ahmad Shah Masood, leader of the Norther Alliance and a thorn in the Taliban’s side. In exchange, Taliban offered Al Qaeda protection and refuge after the 9/11 attacks. Therefore, though none of the 9/11 terrorists hailed from Afghanistan the US invaded the country in what came to be known as Operation Enduring Freedom. And it was the ordinary Afghan that paid the price as US and its NATO allies dropped bombs, even as key Al Qaeda operatives and Taliban leaders remained safe in hiding.

The US “War on Terror” in Afghanistan started drawing to a close with the fall of Mazar-e-Sharif, a Taliban stronghold on November nine. Other strongholds like Bamiyan, Kabul, Herat and Jalalabad fell over the last four days. While Osama Bin Laden escaped to Pakistan, there was also no sign of Mullah Omar. The Taliban was thus wiped out and a new government was established. US troops stayed, purportedly to hep with reconstruction and recovery, but the lure of the region’s rich oil and natural gas reserves cannot be ignored. Over the last 20 years, the US claims to have armed and trained 3,00,000 Afghan troops. This was used as a justification for the US to evacuate its embassy and allied staff and pull out when the Taliban regained control of the country. Though additional troops were sanctioned, that was for the purpose of ensuring safe evacuations.

Many still feel that the US troop withdrawal, which was initially scheduled for May this year as per a plan by former US President Donald Trump and extended by a few months by current US President Joe Biden, virtually threw the countries citizens to the wolves, leaving them at the mercy of the Taliban.

This gives the US and its allies an opportunity to finally do right by the Afghan people by offering them amnesty in these dark times. But communication on that front appears vague at present.

NATO nations and evacuation

NATO nations including UK and France are also evacuating their embassy and allied personnel. But little is known about their plans to take in Afghan refugees other than their close associates. In a joint statement issued on August 20, 2021, the foreign ministers of NATO nations said, “Our immediate task now is to meet our commitments to continue the safe evacuation of our citizens, partner country nationals, and at-risk Afghans, in particular those who have assisted our efforts. We call on those in positions of authority in Afghanistan to respect and facilitate their safe and orderly departure, including through Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul.  As long as evacuation operations continue, we will maintain our close operational coordination through Allied military means at Hamid Karzai International Airport.”

Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron came in for sharp criticism when he said, “We must anticipate and protect ourselves against significant irregular migratory flows that would endanger the migrants and risk encouraging trafficking of all kinds.” This comment is being viewed as pandering to the far right with this statement. Even though later in the same address, he went on to say that 800 Afghans including translators and cooks who helped French personnel in Afghanistan had already been evacuated to French territory, and that France would continue to do “its duty to protect those who are most under threat in Afghanistan,” it did little to mitigate the damage already done by his insensitive words.

Spain though, has offered to be a hub for evacuees who have worked with European Union (EU) institutions before they are resettled in countries such as Denmark, Germany, Poland and Lithuania. The Guardian quoted the Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares as saying, “Spain is the port of entry. We host them for a few days and from there, they will be distributed to various EU countries.” The hub will have a capacity of hosting 1,000 people and have a Covid-19 testing area, reported Reuters.

Boris Pistorius, interior minister for Germany’s Lower Saxony region led other state interior ministers in urging Federal Interior Minister Horst Seehofer that Germany initiate a new federal program to take in refugees. The Social Democrats Party (SDP) has already pledged support to such a move. However, he also urged other nations to chip in. DW quoted him as saying, “Germany will not be able to shoulder the load on its own. This calls for solidarity from Europe's community of nations.” It is noteworthy that Germany had been at the forefront of welcoming Syrian refugees, something that did not sit well with the far-right groups that appear to be poised for a resurgence in the country.

Meanwhile, Turkey is reinforcing its border with Iran to check the influx of Afghan refugees. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned that he will not let his country become a “refugee warehouse”.  The Daily Sabah quoted him as saying, “Turkey does not have any obligation whatsoever to be a safe haven for Afghan refugees.” Erdogan further said, “It is our obligation to Turkish citizens to ensure the refugees’ safe return to their home countries,” triggering concerns about non-refoulement.

In a shocking development, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said that the UK would work with the Taliban if necessary. “The situation is getting a little better,” said Johnson while speaking to press persons yesterday adding that some of the people coming into the UK were being allowed in under provisions of the Afghanistan Resettlement and Assistance Program (ARAP). But he set the cat among the pigeons when he said, “What I want to assure people is that our political and diplomatic efforts to find a solution for Afghanistan, working with the Taliban, of course, if necessary, will go on.” An estimated 5,000 Afghan refugees mainly those who worked with British institutions and troops in the country as well as women, children and minorities are expected to be resettled by the UK in the first year and 20,000 long term. British Home Secretary Priti Patel who told Sky News that the UK “cannot accommodate 20,000 people in one go.” Patel said, “We are working quickly on this. We cannot accommodate 20,000 people all in one go. Currently we are bringing back almost 1,000 people a day. This is an enormous effort. We can't do this on our own. We have to work together.”

Meanwhile, despite US President Joe Biden’s stand supporting the troop withdrawal, pressure is mounting for the US to grant amnesty to Afghan refugees. In a strongly worded Op-Ed, the LA Times has said that the US could take in as many as 1,50,000 Afghan refugees and that it was the superpowers moral obligation to do so after its repeated military and political experiments in the region. “Given the history of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, Americans have a duty not only to help such vulnerable Afghans but also to lead other nations to do the same,” said the LA Times. It further points out that the current two routes available to Afghans to seek amnesty in the US are woefully inadequate. It says that the Special Immigration Visas created by the Congress in 2009 to help Afghans who worked with the US government, have an application process that is “extremely onerous and seriously backlogged”. Meanwhile, the refugee admission program where a new category was created “requires an employment relationship with the U.S. but includes work with U.S.-funded projects, nongovernmental organizations or the media.” Moreover, it is replete with logistical hurdles and only Afghans outside their home country can apply, meaning that Afghans would first have to flee their home country, reach a safe haven and then apply under this category.

According to a Reuters report, at least 1,200 Afghans have been evacuated by the US and the number could go up to 3,500 in the coming days under the “Operation Allies Refuge”. Reuters also reported that the US “was exploring having Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan take in thousands of applicants, but that effort has made little progress.” The report based on information from unnamed US officials also said that a “deal to house about 8,000 Afghans in Qatar, which hosts a large U.S. military base, has been close for weeks.” However, no official confirmation of this is available at present. 

Related:

Journalists are targeted by all hardliner regimes, this time in Afghanistan
Afghanistan crisis: A tool to target Islam?
Afghanistan: The End of the Occupation
Taliban 2.0: Old laws in newer package?
We want our rights: Afghan women protesters

 

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