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Afghans fear ‘peace’ deal

10 December 20190 comments

As peace talks between the US and the Taliban over a power sharing agreement in Afghanistan appear to be resuming, there is some faint hope of a lasting peace and durable security arrangements.

But low voter turnout in the September election, allegations of fraud and continued violence and threats by then Taliban make the situation increasingly complicated.

And many Afghan refugees and asylum seekers fear that any semblance of a deal between the warring parties could see them forcibly returned to the country that has not known peace in several decades.

This, they say, would put them at dire risk.

These fears were ratcheted up this week when a former official in the Afghan government proposed eradicating some of Afghanistan’s minorities by killing the Uzbek and Hazara leadership. He also advocated forcibly marrying off Hazara women to men from the dominant Pashtun ethnic group.

Former advisor to President Ashraf Ghani, Dr Halim Tanwir made the racially charged comments inciting violence against minority groups while speaking at a Pashtun community forum in Germany.

Melbourne-based Afghan community leader John Gulzari says currently, there are thousands of Hazara asylum seekers and refugees from Afghanistan who have been given three and five-year Bridging Visas and Temporary Protection Visas.

“My fear is that the governments are hoping they will get chance to get rid of them and repatriate them back to Afghanistan,” Mr Gulzari said.

“Many of the asylum seekers and refugees who I come in contact with daily have expressed concerns. They suffer depression, anxiety, and many feel suicidal.

“They have a genuine fear of being put in danger if they are forced to return to Afghanistan,” he said.

Mr Gulzari said many in his community think the peace deal is an excuse for the US to get out of Afghanistan.

“This could also see western countries find a legitimacy in repatriating asylum seekers from Afghanistan,” he said

Mr Gulzari said few Afghans in Australia had any faith in a peace deal.

“The Afghan-US peace deal is just a window dressing. Recently the Afghan government released the three terrorist Haqqani brothers in exchange for an Australian professor (Timothy Weekes) who was a lecturer at AKUA and another US citizen,” he said.

“This news is alarming for Hazaras and other Afghan citizens, as these people are terrorists who were behind many bomb blasts in Afghanistan.

“Peace deals like this one have been proposed previously. However, none of them has guaranteed to protect Hazaras and other minorities.

“As a community leader, I fear this time Hazaras would also be targeted as Hazaras have been left unprotected at the hands of the Afghan government. Time and time again, the Afghan government have failed to guarantee the Hazaras will be safe from the terrorist groups such as the Taliban, IS and the other affiliated terrorist networks,” Mr Gulzari said.

He said he was trying reassure members of his community on temporary visas.

“But, in truth, I cannot provide peace of mind to these asylum seekers and refugees in our communities. Governments have a ‘Duty of Care’ to asylum seekers and refugees under international law and the UN refugee convention to provide a safe-haven and protect asylum seekers and refugees from harm’s way,” Mr Gulzari said.

“And also there is an obligation to not intentionally send these people back to an unsafe country such as Afghanistan.

“I would say to the Australian Government that Afghanistan is not safe; please show some compassion and protect these Hazara asylum seekers and refugees from another massacre,” he said.

Academic and Afghanistan watcher Dr Niamatullah Ibrahimi says he suspects the peace deal may be more about the 2020 US election than a desire for a security solution; and that the Taliban could not be trusted to keep any agreement about the rights of minority groups.

Dr Ibrahimi, an Associate Research Fellow in the Middle East Studies at Deakin University and an Afghan himself, said the collapse of the US talks with the Taliban in September this year showed, “the conflict in Afghanistan remains extremely complicated, involving multiple players in and out of the country”.

“Many long-term observers of Afghanistan also fear that that these initiatives are motivated by political considerations in Western capitals such as the 2020 US presidential election rather than the security conditions and aspirations of the ordinary people of Afghanistan,” he said.

“It is also feared that the desire to reach a deal quickly has increased the leverage and relevance of the Taliban nationally and internationally without managing to obtain any concessions from the group to reduce violence or even negotiate with the government of Afghanistan,” Dr Ibrahimi said.

He said it was clear the Taliban could not be relied upon to keep any agreements about the rights and security of minority groups.

“The Taliban have a long history of persecuting minority groups such as the Hazaras, imposing draconian measures on women and repressing civil and political freedoms,” Dr Ibrahimi said.

“The renewed international interest in negotiating a peace process with the Taliban is also based on unfounded assumptions that the Taliban are willing to change their approaches towards minorities, women and other groups,” he said.

“These assumptions often take statements from certain members of the Taliban about changes in the group’s behaviour at face value. It is true that certain Taliban members have stated in international events that they would respect the rights of women and minorities.

“However, these statements always come with the qualifications that Taliban recognises the rights of these groups according to Shari’a law. As we know, the injunctions of Shari’a are open to extremely different forms of interpretations.

“The Taliban adhere to one of the most fundamentalist interpretations of it, which seriously endanger the rights and liberties of minority groups and women. Furthermore, there is no evidence of any changes in Taliban behaviour and attitudes in areas that they have been controlling in recent years.

“Women, minority groups such as the Hazaras and other liberal individuals who do not agree with the Taliban continue to get killed, repressed, and forced to leave by the Taliban from these areas. Consequently, the Taliban and the religious and ideological discourses they espouse represent fundamental threats to the rights and security of minority groups and women,” Dr Ibrahimi said.

He said the political volatility in Afghanistan would make it difficult to assess the country as a safe place to send asylum seekers back to.

“Any decision to send people back would require an objective assessment of the security and political situation in Afghanistan. Given its extreme complexity, it is extremely difficult to conduct such assessments of the security circumstances in the country,” Dr Ibrahimi said.

“Afghanistan’s conflict and its security conditions remain extremely fluid. As a result, areas that might be regarded as safe and stable now, can abruptly be disrupted by sudden changes in the dynamics of insurgency.

“The security situation after a possible peace agreement depends on the nature of the agreement and the role of the Taliban in a new political and security arrangement.

“It is also very likely that a peace agreement with the Taliban will give significant powers to the group and result in significant changes in the 2004 constitution of Afghanistan, which the Taliban does not recognise as legitimate.

“Any process of rewriting the constitution is likely to make the document more conservative and reduce the country’s commitment to civil and political rights. As a result, while a possible peace deal with the Taliban may fully or partially end the insurgency, it may also create new threats to the rights and safety of minorities, women and liberal groups,” Dr Ibrahimi said.

He said that whatever the outcome of the current talks, a durable peace deal may take years to thrash out.

“There is a renewed push for initiating another round of negotiations with the Taliban. If such process was to resume, it will be a long and complicated process that may take years to produce any tangible outcome,” Dr Ibrahimi said.

Afghan asylum seeker ‘Hossaini’ says he would fear for his life if he was ever made to return to Afghanistan.

“I lived under the Taliban rule when I was in grade six in school. They are extremely radical and don’t accept any other views except their own, which they want to impose on others too. As a Hazara and a Shia I would feel very unsafe living under their rule again. They are barbaric and inhuman in almost every way I can think of,” said ‘Hossaini’ (not his real name).

“This peace deal would mean a victory to the Taliban. This victory would give them proper status and recognition as well as more power and strength which is alarming for the minorities in Afghanistan. So, I am more afraid than ever to be sent back to Afghanistan,” he said.

“My people, the Hazaras, were subject the cruellest persecution by the Taliban in Afghanistan in attacks in Mazar-e-Sharif, Yakawlang, Kabul and elsewhere. After being allies of the west, I believe we would face even worse brutalities if they come into power,” he said.

‘Hossaini’ said the inevitable collapse of any peace deal would mean more bloodshed.

“There would be more massacres, violation of human rights and women rights. Afghanistan would again go back to the dark ages of the Taliban’s rule, where minorities were persecuted, women had no right to education. Fundamentalist views will be imposed and freedom of speech will be banned,” he said.

‘Hossaini’ said his people were among the most persecuted by the Taliban regime.

“We faced the worst atrocities by them during their rule. I can’t imaging of living under the Taliban,” he said

“I want to see a permanent last peace in Afghanistan but I can’t see any sign of it in the near future.

“I love my country and I’d love to live in my country if ever there was peace. But the reality is unfortunately different.

“Afghanistan has a very complex power structure. Different provinces, districts and areas have their own local leaders and militia commanders. In many parts of Afghanistan those local leaders might resist where the Taliban doesn’t have control. There might be another civil war and atrocities and if I was sent back, I would be among many who will suffer,” ‘Hossaini’ said.