Afghan Hazaras being killed at school, play, even at birth

Awful situation:

Just running errands in the mainly Hazara neighborhoods of west Kabul can be dangerous. One day last week, Adila Khiari and her two daughters went out to buy new curtains. Soon after, her son heard that a minibus had been bombed — the fourth to be blown up in just 48 hours.

When his mother didn’t answer her phone, he frantically searched hospitals in the Afghan capital. He found his sister, Hosnia in critical condition with burns over 50% of her body. Then he found his mother and other sister, Mina, both dead. Three days later, on Sunday, Hosnia died as well.

In all, 18 people were killed in the two-day string of bombings against minivans in Kabul’s Dasht-e-Barchi district. It was the latest in a vicious campaign of violence targeting Afghanistan’s minority Hazara community — one that Hazaras fear will only get worse after the final withdrawal of American and NATO troops this summer.

Hundreds of Afghans are killed or injured every month in violence connected to the country’s constant war. But Hazaras, who make up around 9% of the population of 36 million people, stand alone in being intentionally targeted because of their ethnicity — distinct from the other ethnic groups, such as Tajik and Uzbek and the Pashtun majority — and their religion. Most Hazaras are Shiite Muslims, despised by Sunni Muslim radicals like the Islamic State group, and discriminated against by many in the Sunni majority country.

After the collapse of the Taliban 20 years ago, the Hazaras embraced hopes for a new democracy in Afghanistan. Long the country’s poorest community, they began to improve their lot, advancing in various fields, including education and sports.

Now many Hazaras are moving to take up arms to protect themselves in what they expect will be a war for control among Afghanistan’s many factions.

Inside the Nabi Rasool Akram Mosque compound, protected by sandbags stacked against its ornate doors and 10-foot high walls, Qatradullah Broman was among the Hazaras attending the funeral of Adila and Mina this week.

The government doesn’t care about Hazaras and has failed to protect them, he said. “Anyone who can afford to leave, they are leaving. Those who can’t are staying here to die,” said Broman. “I see a very dark future for our people.”

There is plenty for Hazaras to fear.

Since it emerged in 2014 and 2015, a vicious Islamic State group affiliate has declared war on Afghanistan’s Shiites and has claimed responsibility for many of the recent attacks on the Hazaras.

But Hazaras are also deeply suspicious of the government for not protecting them. Some worry that government-linked warlords, who also demonize their community, are behind some of the attacks.

Former government adviser Torek Farhadi told the Associated Press that within the political leadership, “from the top down,” there is a “sorry culture” of discrimination against Hazaras. “The government, in a cynical calculation, has decided Hazara lives are cheap,” he said.

Since 2015, attacks have killed at least 1,200 Hazaras and injured another 2,300, according to Wadood Pedram, executive director of the Kabul-based Human Rights and Eradication of Violence Organization.

Hazaras have been preyed on at schools, weddings, mosques, sports clubs, even at birth.

Last year, gunmen attacked a maternity hospital in the mainly Hazara districts of west Kabul. When the shooting ended, 24 people were dead, including newborns and their mothers. Last month, a triple bombing at the Syed Al-Shahada school in the same area killed nearly 100 people, mostly Hazara schoolgirls. This week, when militants attacked a compound of de-mining workers, shooting at least 10 to death, witnesses said they tried to pick Hazaras out of the workers to kill.

Some of these attacks, deliberately targeting civilians, hospitals and children, could rise to the level of war crimes, said Patricia Gossman, Associate Director of the Asia Program of Human Rights Watch.

Pedram’s organization has petitioned the U.N. Human Rights Commission to investigate the killing of Hazaras as genocide or a crime against humanity. It and other rights groups also helped the International Criminal Court in 2019 compile suspected war crimes cases in Afghanistan.

“The world doesn’t speak about our deaths. The world is silent. Are we not human?” said Mustafa Waheed, an elderly Hazara weeping at the burial of Mina and her mother.

A black velvet cloth inscribed in gold with Quranic verses was draped over the two bodies. Family and friends carried them on wooden beds, then placed them inside the graves. Mina’s father fell to the ground crying.

“The U.S. can go into space, but they can’t find out who is doing this?” Waheed said. “They can see an ant move from space, but they can’t see who is killing Hazaras?”

In the face of the killings, talk has turned to arming Hazara youth to defend the community, particularly in the districts that the community dominates in western Kabul. Some Hazaras say the May 8 attack on the Syed al-Shahada school was a turning point.

It is a significant reversal for a community that showed such hope in a new Afghanistan. After the fall of the Taliban, many Hazara militias gave up their weapons under a government disarmament program, even as other factions were reluctant.

“We used to think the pen and the book were our greatest weapon, but now we realize it is the gun we need,” said Ghulam Reza Berati, a prominent Hazara religious leader. Fathers of the girls killed in the school attack are being told to invest in weapons, said Berati, who helped bury many of the girls.

Sitting on the carpets of west Kabul’s Wali Asar Mosque, Berati said Hazaras are disappointed in the democracy brought by the U.S.-led coalition. Hazaras have largely been excluded from positions of prominence, he said.

Hazaras worry about continuing Islamic State group attacks and about the potential return of the Taliban to power after the American withdrawal. But they also worry about the many heavily armed warlords who are part of the government. Some of them carried out violence against Hazaras in the past, and Hazaras fear they will do so again if post-withdrawal Afghanistan slides into a repeat of the brutal inter-factional civil war of the early 1990s.

One warlord who is still prominent in Kabul, Abdul Rasool Sayyaf, led a Pashtun militia that massacred Hazara civilians during a ferocious 1993 battle with Hazara militias in Kabul’s mainly Hazara neighborhood of Afshar.

Rajab Ali Urzgani became a sort of folk hero in his community as one of the youngest Hazara commanders during the Battle of Afshar — only 14 at the time.

Now 41 and still known by his nom de guerre, Mangol, he returned to Afshar earlier this month with the AP to visit the site. He stopped to give a prayer for the dead at a mass grave where nearly 80 men, women and children killed in the bloodshed are buried. A black Shiite banner flies at the entrance.

Mangol held out little hope for peace in Afghanistan following the withdrawal.

“When the foreigners withdraw, the war will happen 1000%,” he said. “The war will happen like in the past with the different groups, and we will defend our family and our dignity.”

Source: Afghan Hazaras being killed at school, play, even at birth

Review finds successes, failures in Liberals’ feminist aid approach in Afghanistan

More failures than successes. Money quote: “…failure to ensure Canada’s attempts to increase gender equality included “a deeper understanding of Afghanistan’s local cultural context and Islamic tradition.””

An internal review of the nearly $1 billion in foreign aid that Canada quietly spent in Afghanistan after the Canadian military pulled out has found some successes but also many failures — especially when it comes to helping women and girls.

The Global Affairs Canada review covers the period between 2014 and 2020, during which Afghanistan remained a top destination for Canadian aid dollars even after the last Canadian troops had left and public attention drifted elsewhere.

Published on the department’s website late last month, the reviewers’ final report comes amid another round of peace talks between the Afghan government and Taliban to end decades of nearly continuous fighting in the country.

It also follows a Canadian commitment in November to contribute another $270 million in aid over the next three years to Afghanistan, adding to the heavy investment that Canada has already made in the country since 2001.

The reviewers found that the $966 million in Canadian foreign aid spent since 2014 was almost entirely focused on empowering and supporting Afghan women and girls, particularly after the Liberals launched their feminist-aid policy in 2017.

Those efforts led to some tangible progress, including the adoption of gender equality in some Afghan institutions, a decrease in violence against women in some communities, more educational opportunities for girls and better health-care services for both.

“Projects in the womens’ and girls’ rights and empowerment sector resulted in female beneficiaries becoming more active, confident and self-sufficient,” adds the reviewers’ report.

Yet the review, which included analyzing internal Global Affairs documents and interviews with Canadian, Afghan and international government staff and NGOs as well as average Afghans affected by the projects, found many problems as well.

Chief among them was a failure to ensure Canada’s attempts to increase gender equality included “a deeper understanding of Afghanistan’s local cultural context and Islamic tradition.” It also failed to include men and boys in its programs.

“The definition of gender roles was so central to Afghan society and culture during the period that any planned changes required not only consultation with male household members, but also with the larger community,” the report said.

Those shortcomings threatened to leave the perception of gender equality being imposed on Afghans, the report said, adding: “If not carefully managed, there was the risk that gender-equality efforts promoted by Western donors could lead to backlashes and harm.”

The reviewers cited several examples, such as women who used shelters to escape domestic violence being shunned by their families and women in the Afghan army facing direct threats, as among the unintended consequences of current efforts.

Memorial University foreign aid expert Liam Swiss, who has written extensively on the Liberals’ feminist approach to foreign aid, said the report’s findings reflected many of the concerns and criticisms that were voiced when the policy was first launched.

That includes a one-size-fits-all strategy that didn’t take into account the local conditions and culture in the countries where Canadian aid is being channelled — of which Afghanistan is one of the most difficult.

“That’s the problem when you kind of stake out a really broad set of priorities on your aid,” Swiss said. “If you’re trying to make them apply to all and to everywhere, you’re going run into a lot of issues of local appropriateness, local receptivity.”

The reviewers also suggested that Canada was guilty of the same sins as many of its western counterparts in Afghanistan, namely focusing its aid dollars on areas that it was more interested in than what was really needed in the country.

That was reflected in the lack of consultations with local communities and a limited consideration for the specific needs of the many different ethnic and religious communities in Afghanistan, which undermined their effectiveness and sustainability.

In fact, the reviewers found Canada did not actually have a strategy for its engagement in Afghanistan. Global Affairs also failed to adapt to the changing needs and environment as the Afghan government lost territory to the Taliban between 2017 and 2020.

The report instead paints a picture of Canadian diplomats and aid workers keeping their eyes firmly glued on their own priorities even as the Taliban was wresting more and more of the country away from Kabul.

To that end, the reviewers said nearly all of those interviewed as part of their study believed the progress made by Canadian aid efforts over the years will be threatened or completely undone if security in the country deteriorates further.

That possibility continues to loom over Afghanistan’s future amid the peace talks and as the world waits to see whether incoming U.S. president Joe Biden will continue the Trump administration’s work to withdraw American forces from the country.

Global Affairs spokeswoman Patricia Skinner said while the report shows progress has been made in Afghanistan, the department will address the reviewers’ six recommendations — including changing how it promotes gender equality — over the next two years.

Nipa Banerjee, who previously led Canadian aid efforts in Afghanistan before joining the University of Ottawa, said she hopes the review will lead to changes – including a more expansive approach.

“With all the insecurity and everything, shouting about women’s rights only, it’s not going to be very helpful,” Banerjee said.

“And Afghans themselves think that. They’re saying it is important, but without security and without political order, nothing will succeed. Women’s programs will not go anywhere. So there has to be compromises.”

Source: Review finds successes, failures in Liberals’ feminist aid approach in Afghanistan

Taliban Target: Scholars of Islam – The New York Times

Taliban mentality and reminder of one of the battles within Islam:

A lone grave, its dirt mound shaded under the drooping branches of a mulberry tree and kept adorned with flowers, has become a daily stop for seminary students and staff members near Togh-Bairdi, in northern Afghanistan.

It is the burial site of Mawlawi Shah Agha Hanafi, a revered religious scholar who founded the seminary about two decades ago and helped it grow into a thriving school for 1,300 students, including 160 girls. This month, the Taliban planted a bomb that killed him as he conducted a discussion about the Prophet Muhammad’s traditions, and his grave, at a corner of the seminary grounds, has become a gathering place for prayer and grief.

“When I come to work, the first thing I do is recite a verse of the Quran at his grave,” said Jan Agha, the headmaster of the seminary, in Parwan Province. “Then I weep, and then I go to my office.”

Mawlawi Hanafi joined a rapidly growing list of Islamic religious scholars who have become casualties of the Afghan war.

The scholars have long been targets, of one kind or another, in Afghanistan. Their words carry weight across many parts of society, and they are assiduously courted for their support — and frequently killed for their criticism.

Hundreds are believed to have been killed over the past 16 years of war, and not always by the Taliban. But there has been a definite uptick in the targeted killing of scholars — widely known as ulema — as the Taliban have intensified their offensives in the past two years, officials say.

It is being taken as a clear reminder of the weight the insurgents give not just to military victories but also to religious influence in their campaign to disrupt the government and seize territory.

“The reason the Taliban resort to such acts is that they want to make sure their legitimacy is not questioned by the sermons of these ulema,” said Mohammad Moheq, a noted Afghan scholar of religion who also serves as an adviser to President Ashraf Ghani.

Canada: Please don’t stop empowering Afghan girls

Well-argued piece by Maryam Naquibullah:

But a woman with an education has a voice, and a woman with a job has influence. She supports her family – her uncles, her brothers, maybe even her father. And slowly, things start to change. The neighbours who think that educating a woman is about as valuable as educating a dog start to change their minds when they see a house with a car and a garden. All because a woman is working.

Since 2006, the ACCC and its sister organization, the Kandahar Institute of Modern Studies, have offered professional education to more than 4,000 women in Kandahar, and enabled more than 2,500 employed graduates to support more than 12,500 family members. All for a total investment of less than $600,000 from the Canadian government. These schools have been a beacon for the women in Kandahar for almost a decade, educating most of the women now working in professional jobs. But that beacon is about to go out.

I urge you, as Minister of International Development, and your fellow members of Parliament to please support our recent proposal – the Women’s Skills for Rights and Empowerment Program – submitted to Global Affairs Canada. This multiyear program would reach more than 4,500 women in Kandahar, Helmand and Zabul provinces, and create lasting partnerships between Afghan civil-society organizations and international non-profit organizations.

I understand that there are many important priorities for the Canadian government at the moment, and that there is a huge need to help the refugees who are fleeing conflict and extremism. And I also hope you will spare a thought for those organizations that are standing up against the roots of extremism, and that are preventing people from fleeing their homes in the first place.

Source: Canada: Please don’t stop empowering Afghan girls – The Globe and Mail

David Mulroney warns Canada should apply Afghanistan’s lessons to Iraq

Sound advice:

A former top official on Canada’s work in Afghanistan is warning against getting too involved in Iraq without clear and realistic objectives.

David Mulroney, who served as the deputy minister in charge of the Afghanistan Task Force, said Canada hasn’t looked closely enough at its experience in Afghanistan.

“When I recently saw Foreign Minister [Rob] Nicholson musing that we’d apply some of the lessons of Afghanistan to our engagement, I kind of sat bolt upright because I think one of the problems is we haven’t spent much time learning the lessons of Afghanistan,” Mulroney said in an interview to air Saturday at 9 a.m. on CBC Radio’s The House.

Mulroney said a newly released audit shows “how hard it was to get that development assistance and humanitarian assistance right in a place where none of the officials were really clear about what Canada’s objectives were.”

Mulroney also served as secretary to the Independent Panel on Canada’s Future Role in Afghanistan, which was led by former foreign affairs minister John Manley, and as foreign and defence policy adviser to the prime minister.

He said the lack of discussion about Afghanistan toward the end of the 10-year mission has kept Canadians from learning key lessons, which include being realistic about how much Canada doesn’t know about a region and setting “often very modest” goals.

Mulroney also said Canada needs an exit strategy.

“When does it happen for us and who’s around to pick up the pieces of what we’ve put in place. Until we’ve really talked honestly about that, I’d be very worried about our ability to pull something off in a place that’s as challenging as that nexus of Iraq and Syria.”

He also warned the government has to think about how the humanitarian, military and diplomatic pieces fit together.

“If it’s being done now, this is the time to tell Canadians that people have thought about that. Because if it hasn’t been done, we’ll get the same ultimately disappointing results that audit points to on Afghanistan.”

David Mulroney warns Canada should apply Afghanistan’s lessons to Iraq – Politics – CBC News.

And a good short interview with him in the Globe:

 How would you characterize the tension between diplomats and political staffers nowadays?

The truth is that public servants now serve a concierge function. They get difficult things done on the basis of careful instruction. So you focus on managing events, like visits, and then you report back to headquarters, but then you feel increasingly bullied. By the end of my career I’d written the same report on Sino-Canadian relations a dozen times. It was time to go.

In what specific way did Ottawa make you feel discouraged?

On the [Chinese social media site] Weibo we hosted a discussion about the case of Lai Changxing, [a fugitive to whom Canada gave refuge].

The other was about the official car I drove, which generated a real discussion about how what kind of accountability officials should be held to.

But there was complete silence from Ottawa, the kind that indicates disapproval. There was nothing they could hold against us because there were too many positives, including two editorials in The Globe. In the end though we turned the way embassies communicate on their head.

David Mulroney on pandas, the PM and Chinese-Canadian relations

From Afghanistan to Iraq, the perils of overconfidence – Brian Stewart

Brian Stewart’s commentary on the recent audit on the aid program in Afghanistan and a reminder for the need for greater policy modesty:

My own view, shared by many others, is that central to Canada’s problem was an overconfident, relentless boosterism around this mission that was encouraged, even demanded, throughout by Ottawa.

“We went into a complex country without a proper strategy and this was a major problem. And there was over-optimism so we were not looking at the status of the insurgency,” Nipa Banerjee, who ran our aid there between 2003 and 2006, told Canadian Press this week.

In later years, the sunny Canadian outlook often astonished even NATO allies.

Chris Alexander, then our senior diplomat in Kabul and now the minister of citizenship and immigration, is remembered in one British memoir as “among the most persuasive of the optimists, and in many ways the golden boy of the effort in Afghanistan … a formidable operator who never let much check his unquenchable optimism.”

For many of Canada’s allies, our military and aid officials in Afghanistan simply ignored a trilogy of inconvenient facts: that the West didn’t have the military or civilian capacity necessary for the challenge at hand; that the Afghans were in no position to take over any time soon; and that the Taliban grew stronger thanks to sanctuaries in neighbouring Pakistan.

Some may be asking themselves if these elements, including overconfidence, apply to what looks to be our expanding war against ISIS in Iraq and possibly Syria.

One dark irony of this period was that the Conservative government and other ardent supporters of the war often criticized the media for being too pessimistic in its Afghan coverage.

The reality is most media were far too pliant and unquestioning of a military-civilian mission that, with rare exceptions, hid behind the false-confidence curtain dictated by Ottawa.

Understandably, many Canadians want to put that far-off war behind us and forget. But we simply can’t ignore the lessons learned about the cost of our simplistic over-optimism if we’re to avoid similar mistakes in Iraq or other campaigns to come.

From Afghanistan to Iraq, the perils of overconfidence – World – CBC News.

Afghanistan Blasphemy Charge

A reminder that of the limits of all the efforts in Afghanistan, and how deeply a traditional country it remains in Afghan newspaper’s ‘blasphemy’ causes protests after rebuking Isis and Islam.

In Kabul, a crowd of approximately 500 people, including clerics and several members of parliament, gathered in front of the Eid Gah Mosque, the city’s second largest house of worship.

“The government must stop the people who insulted the prophet, the Qur’an and Islam, and prevent them from leaving the country,” said Fazl Hadi Wazin, an Islamic scholar at Salam University who spoke from the outdoor podium.

In an opinion piece published last week in the English-language daily the Afghanistan Express, a journalist named AJ Ahwar admonished Muslims for remaining silent in the face of Isis and the Taliban.

He also criticised Islam for not accepting other religions and minorities such as homosexuals and Hazaras, a Shia minority in Afghanistan.

The article ended by concluding that human beings are more important than God, which seemed to particularly incense protesters.

“The newspaper said God can’t control people and that God is unwise,” said Mangal Bader, 38, one of the protesters. He joined others in calling for the newspaper staff to suffer the same fate as five men who were recently convicted of rape and hanged, after great public furore.

“They need to be executed so humans know that you cannot insult the religion of Allah,” said Ahmad, 22, another protester.

In pauses between speakers, protesters chanted “death to America”. According to one demonstrator, the US instils ideas of freedom of expression in the minds of Afghan journalists, then grants them asylum once they anger their compatriots.

“The international community pretend to be heroes of freedom of expression,” said Wazin after his speech. “They have to come out and say they are not behind this. If they don’t, these protests will grow.”