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OP-ED: A friend in need

  • Published at 11:24 pm August 23rd, 2021
Afghan evacuation
Evacuees assemble before boarding a C-17 Globemaster III during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Afghanistan, August 18, 2021 Reuters

The Bangladeshi people must stand by the people in Afghanistan

The fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban in 2021 is a tragic moment for history and liberty. The Taliban have never won a democratic election in Afghanistan. It is taking power by force. It does not accept the constitutional framework of the Afghan state. Its myriad factions are imposing severe restrictions on human rights in areas under Taliban control. 

Like dominoes

The historic cities of Afghanistan fell like dominoes to the Taliban. The third largest city Herat, famous for its citadel and from where a Timurid ruler extended support to the Sultan of Bengal circa 1442, fell to the Taliban after two weeks of resistance. 

The fourth largest city Mazar-e-Sharif, the capital of the Balkh region where the famed poet Jalaluddin Rumi was born, managed to hold out till the last days of the Taliban advance. The second largest city Kandahar, the former capital of the Durrani Empire and a key trading center, fell to the Taliban on August 12. 

The national capital Kabul, home to the resting place of the first Mughal emperor Babur, fell to the Taliban on August 15. It will be a date of infamy etched in history. President Ashraf Ghani, whose legitimacy has been questioned due to disputed elections, fled the country. Ghani could have resigned earlier and transferred power peacefully to a credible successor.

Taliban culture is not Afghan culture

Many Afghans have been at pains to stress that the Taliban do not represent Afghan culture. According to the academic Muska Dastageer, “One particular fatality of a Taliban takeover does not get mentioned much directly. Yet the fear of this death burns brightly in many hearts. It is the death of Afghan culture. A specific syncretic way of life. Taliban culture is deeply foreign to Afghanistan, to our identity.” 

At an emergency session of the UN Security Council on August 16, the Afghan ambassador emphasized the need for a humanitarian corridor. The ambassador informed the council that the Taliban are going from house to house in Kabul to search for people on their hit list. 

The Taliban are intent on replacing the current Afghan state with a so-called emirate. During their earlier stint in power between 1996 and 2001, the Taliban styled itself as a draconian emirate. Their theocratic emirate contrasted with the Arab royal emirates of the Persian Gulf. The previous Taliban emirate was not recognized as the legitimate government of Afghanistan at the United Nations.  

On August 3, members of the Security Council in a statement “declared that they do not support the restoration of the Islamic Emirate.” This is in keeping with UNSC Resolution 2513 which noted that “the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan is not recognized at the United Nations, and furthermore that the UN Security Council does not support the restoration of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.”

Following 9/11

The Afghan republic which came into being after 2001 was the result of an international intervention supported by the UN Security Council following the 9/11 terror attacks in the United States. 

For example, in Resolution 1378, the Security Council was condemning “the Taliban for allowing Afghanistan to be used as a base for the export of terrorism by the al-Qaeda network and other terrorist groups and for providing safe haven to Osama Bin Laden, al-Qaeda, and others associated with them, and in this context supporting the efforts of the Afghan people to replace the Taliban regime.” The Security Council has acknowledged the brutality and terror of the Taliban on numerous occasions.

Therefore, the international community has a responsibility to protect the Afghan population. Actions speak louder than words. Despite politically savvy statements from the Taliban political office in Doha, Qatar, the evidence on the ground reflects violations of international humanitarian law. 

The Taliban is not interested in becoming an Islamic Vatican. The Taliban are considered heretics. They do not have any legitimacy among the Afghan people except for their militia dominance which imposes a stranglehold on the Afghan state.

A peaceful transition?

As the situation rapidly evolves, the least the international community can do is to facilitate a peaceful transition that is compliant with international human rights law. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has to play its due role in supporting a dignified and peaceful interpretation of religious doctrine. The practices of the Taliban are contrary to the OIC Human Rights Declaration.

Neighbouring Pakistan has not stepped up to help the Afghan state and its people in defeating the scourge of terrorism. Pakistan, with its arsenal of domestically-produced combat aircraft, was easily capable of supporting the Afghan state to maintain the rule of law. Sadly, as the Pakistani author Ahmed Rashid has noted, there appears to be a lack of ambition to help Afghanistan govern itself.

After the fall of Kabul, UN special experts in a statement demanded action to safeguard Afghan human rights. They stated that: “We adamantly reiterate that it is unacceptable for states to stand on the sidelines when a United Nations Security Council listed terrorist organization overruns the territory of Afghanistan and engages in acts that may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.” 

The special experts also stated that the Taliban had broken its promises to not mount a military offensive until the completion of intra-Afghan peace talks. They noted that “international law requires that those engaged in acts of terrorism be dealt with fully with the considerable capacity of the law and practice that has developed since the Taliban were first designated as a terrorist organisation by the United Nations Security Council.” 

The special experts stressed that “the rights of the Afghan people to live in peace, with human rights and dignity, must be accounted for. We cannot stand idly by as the lives of the Afghan people are treated with contempt, derision, and weariness. Afghanistan is a test case for the value of the UN Charter, and the commitment of states to prevent the scourge of terrorism from destroying rights-bearing societies and values.” 

What can be done?

The situation demands a global and multilateral response. Any transition in Afghanistan should be human rights compliant. The Security Council can authorize a peacekeeping force to support a legitimate and human rights compliant transition. 

This can be in line with the commitments of all P5 countries to the responsibility to protect (R2P) doctrine. A threat to international peace and security is emerging because the Taliban is still regarded as a terror group in the eyes of the UN. 

I would urge the government to open its door to Afghan civil society to take refuge in Bangladesh. In 1971, many Bangalis in West Pakistan used the Kingdom of Afghanistan as a safe passage. One of my relatives became the senior-most Bangali police officer to defect from West Pakistan and used Afghanistan as a transit route to eventually join the first government of Bangladesh. The Bangladeshi people must stand by their sisters and brothers in Afghanistan. 

Bangladesh and Afghanistan are also fellow Saarc members. Saarc welcomed the Afghan republic as its newest and eighth member in 2007. The Afghan republic no longer controls the country of Afghanistan. A fellow Saarc member is therefore facing an existential crisis. 

Umran Chowdhury works in the legal field. 

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