Thursday, March 23, 2023

Global protests arise against proxy war in Afghanistan

Nearly 300 protesters from the Afghan diaspora demonstrated in support of their country of origin in front of the United Nations Headquarters in Vienna on Saturday. The protestors called on the UN to convince Pakistan to end its proxy war in Afghanistan. They also demanded an immediate ceasefire between the Afghan government and the Taliban. The demonstrators were holding placards with anti-Pakistani slogans that read “Stop the Proxy War in Afghanistan!”, “Afghans are Victims of a Proxy War!”, and “Say No to Taliban!”

The rally in Vienna is one of the many global Afghan diaspora protests that condemns Pakistan’s destructive interferences in Afghanistan. They stated that Pakistan supports and sponsors the Taliban and other terrorist organizations domestically and then sends them to Afghanistan to kill civilians and Afghan security forces. A report on civilian casualties by the UN Assistance Mission for Afghanistan (UNAMA) documented 5,183 Afghans who have been killed or injured (1,659 killed and 3,524 injured) between the 1st of January and the 30th of June 2021. Of those killed and injured, the Taliban is responsible for 39% of civilian casualties, anti-government factions are responsible for 16%, the Islamic State is responsible for 9% and the remaining percentage is attributed to Afghan government forces and pro-government elements.  

During last week, the Afghan diaspora held similar demonstrations in Brussels (25th July), Copenhagen (23rd July), Berlin (24th July), London (23rd July), Sweden (29th July), and Washington (23rd July) to express their anger at Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) for supporting the Taliban movement. On Sunday, the 1st of August, the Afghan diaspora in Los Angeles, U.S.A. and Toronto, Canada also held demonstrations asking the international community not to “leave the Afghan people to the mercy of Jihadi terrorist groups”.

In Vienna, Stoorai Khan who was one of the main organizers of the rally, accused Pakistan for supporting and sponsoring terrorism. Khan warned Pakistan that the Afghan diaspora will expose Pakistan’s policies on terrorism through peaceful means. He stated that the Afghan diaspora is more powerful today due to the advancement of technology, than in the 1990s when his home country was ruled by the Taliban. Afghans did not have a strong voice in Europe and America back then, but the internet has given them the platform to reach more people. Khan commented while holding a microphone on his right hand and wrapping himself with Afghanistan’s black, red and green colored flag.   

Taliban recent territorial gains

On the 29th of February 2020, the U.S. administration and the Taliban negotiators signed a peace agreement in Doha that allowed the U.S. to pull out its forces from Afghanistan 14 months after signing the deal. In return, the Taliban committed themselves to four actions: First, they have to cut ties with terrorist groups including Al-Qaeda; Second, the release of up to 5000 prisoners held in Afghan government custody most of whom have returned to battlefield after their release; Third, the Taliban would not allow any terrorist group to use Afghanistan’s soil against the U.S. and its allies; Finally, to start face-to-face peace talks with the Afghan government.

The Taliban started negotiating with the Afghan government in September last year, but the talks have stalled since January. Based on various publications including the Monitoring Teams of the UN Security Council report released in June, the Taliban have breached the agreement and they enjoy unbreakable ties with Al-Qaeda and other transnational terrorist organizations.   

A student of sociology at the University of Vienna, Wasil Faizi was critical of the U.S.-Taliban peace agreement. He blamed the U.S. government for signing a peace deal with a group that the U.S. deemed to be a terrorist organization for twenty years. Faizi stated that the U.S. promoted human rights for the Afghan people, but contradicted itself by signing a peace agreement with the terrorist Taliban. “They (U.S.) don’t care if Afghans die. They forgot about human rights and everything they have been saying for two decades.”

Since President Joe Biden’s announcement in April that the departure of U.S. troops from Afghanistan will be completed by the 31st of August, the Taliban have intensified their offensive attacks against the Afghan government across Afghanistan. They managed to push back the Afghan government from tens of districts particularly in the north and the south. The fighting has continued around four major cities, in western Herat, northern Taluqan in Takhar, southern Kandahar and Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital of Helmand province.  

As the Taliban have made rapid territorial gains, panic is spreading across the Afghan population, and particularly among women groups, journalists, civil society activists, human rights defenders, and whoever worked with the Afghan government. On the 23rd of July, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that the Taliban detained hundreds of residents in southern Kandahar province whom they accused of associating with the Afghan government. HRW raised grave concerns that the Taliban may commit further atrocities against those who worked for the Afghan government and security forces.  

Afghan diaspora demand sanctioning Pakistan

Almost every speaker at the demonstration in Vienna addressed the participants with certainty that Pakistan is waging a proxy war through Taliban in Afghanistan. Speaking in Pashto, one of the two main Afghan languages, Zarif Safi called on the UN and the international community to sanction Pakistan for its undeniable destructive role in Afghanistan. He requested that the world should recognize Pakistan as a state sponsor of international terrorism.

Faizi blasted not only at Pakistan, but also at the U.S. and NATO countries. For him, terrorism does not start only in Pakistan, rather it comes through Pakistan to Afghanistan. He said that the religious schools in Pakistan are a breeding ground for terrorist groups and the Taliban. “The money that Pakistan is pumping into those religious schools and those terrorist organizations comes from capitalist countries like the U.S.A., England and NATO countries. They are all involved,” he said.

“Today we are standing here in front of the UN in Vienna. The UN is supposed to defend human rights, but what they are doing right now? They are allowing Taliban to enter Afghanistan. They see the Taliban killing people and the UN share the images on social media, but they don’t care.”  

A small number of Afghan female diaspora attended the demonstration as well. Few of them made speeches and some chanted while wearing masks because of COVID-19. When the Taliban were in power in the 1990s, they had banned women from education, work and public life. Women will be the first to be deprived from their social and political life if the Taliban take over again. Based on media reports, the Taliban have already banned women from work and education in areas under the group’s control. The women protesters were holding placards that read, “Pakistan! Stop War in Afghanistan!”, “Say No to Taliban!” and “Stop Killing our Students!”

The demonstration ended with a declaration that was written in English, German and Pashto. Among ten concrete demands, the Afghan diaspora called on the international community and the UN Security Council to recognize Pakistan as a state sponsor of terrorism. It also called on the Afghan government to document any Pakistani nationals who is killed or arrested in Afghanistan and share the information with the Afghan people and the UN Security Council. Another article in the declaration asked the Afghan diaspora globally and the Afghan people in Afghanistan to raise their voice against the invasion of Afghanistan by Pakistan’s proxies as well as to provide support to the Afghan security forces using media platforms and demonstrations. Copies of the declaration is to be sent to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the EU Parliament and other international organizations.       

Note: A full version of this article was first published on Diplomatic Aspect.

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