Taliban inside Presidential palace countries and some Afghans falling from a plane are some of the visuals and images that grabbed global attention last week as the Taliban took full control of Afghanistan.
Daily Mirror World focus took a look at the situation in Afghanistan by speaking to the Afghan Ambassador to Colombo, Ashraf Haidari, and the UN Special Rapporteur in the field of Cultural Rights, Karima Bennoune.
Extracts of the interview
Q What is the actual situation in Afghanistan right now? We know that the Taliban has actually taken control of the entire country. And when we spoke a couple of weeks ago, they were nearing Kabul. But we felt that there may be some sort of international intervention, especially with the UN Security Council meeting at the time as well. What has happened right now and where do things stand?
Ashraf Haidari: Well, we should start from a humanitarian situation in Afghanistan, which unfortunately is grim, if you look at the number of internally displaced people has only increased, including a protracted five million, hundreds of thousands recently displaced by the extremely violent offensives which took place. Nor has the international community stepped up to the plate to meet the remainder of the UN humanitarian appeal for USD 1.3 billion, which is about 30 to 40 percent met, which means because of the breakdown of state institutions across Afghanistan and a lack of access also to the internally displaced people and that was affected by the recent offensives and as well as Covid and climate. Remember that Afghanistan has also been hit hard by an expanding ground and climate induced flash floods.
So that’s where Afghanistan stands. We also discussed or touched on the images of Afghans desperately trying to get out of Kabul. And those are Afghans who have worked with the government or with the embassies in Kabul or the rest of the international community over the past 20 years, which have helped us achieve most of the gains that we have had. And unfortunately, they’re being undone, especially the rights of women, as we already see women being unfortunately worried and panicking even more than others, simply because they will be the primary victims. Of course, there have been assurances, a general amnesty announced, but that remains behind the mics and podiums and are words from the leadership. But the reality on the ground is very different.
Q Well, from what you are saying, one would get the impression that the public in Afghanistan have absolutely no faith in the Taliban.
Ashraf Haidari: Well, because the Afghan people have experienced the Taliban once and they haven’t changed, if they’ve changed, they’ve changed for the worse. They’re only more radicalized, lethal, destructive. We just saw them recently across Afghanistan, especially areas where we had been resisting, you know, since the announcement by the Biden administration to withdraw their forces. And so Afghans are not just saying these things for the sake of saying or for the sake of fearing. They are very justified based on the Taliban’s past in the 1990s up to 9/11. And remember the destruction of the statues of Buddha that took place in March 2001, which we discussed last time as a cultural tragedy in the history of Afghanistan. Even when the Afghan empire stood tall and championed Islam, they revered and protected the statues of Buddha in Bamyan. But unfortunately, the same Taliban group dynamited them as the world watched as UNESCO failed to save and as well as the UN. So the world has betrayed Afghanistan, not just the United States. The neighbourhood has done so because they could have averted today’s situation. They could do more today to avert this growing humanitarian crisis, the complexity, the deadliness of it, and just consider the convergence of global conflict and climate and the breakdown of state institutions as we speak. There is no service delivery to think in so many different electricity pylons that they destroyed. Now, imagine clinics and hospitals without electricity. That also means death. And if you have a pregnant woman and you take her to the hospital and the woman is worried and there not made it to the clinic or hospital because of the fear of the Taliban being in power and there being no electricity, no water and or, you know, the basic equipment and medicines, much of which has been destroyed, looted, taken away, then you have immediate death on your hands. And you and I discussed how hopeful I was that the meeting that took place at the U.N. Security Council would actually do something about the situation. But it just remained a bunch of statements as usual. So it’s a collective failure. It’s a collective betrayal of the Afghan people, of our achievements and the collective betrayal of democracy and human rights and women’s rights and the basic liberties and freedoms that the international community enjoys.
Q You as a UN Special Rapporteur had issued a statement just recently raising concerns about the impact this will have on human rights, especially cultural rights. What are your main concerns?
Karima Bennoune: I must stress, as a U.N. special rapporteur, I’m an independent expert appointed by the U.N., but don’t work for or speak for the U.N. more broadly. But as U.N. special rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, I issued a statement with a number of other UN human rights experts warning the world of a human rights and cultural catastrophe in Afghanistan if international action is not taken urgently. First of all, to assist those at risk who need to flee, including human rights defenders, including those who work on women’s rights and cultural rights, including artists, people who have worked to defend the cultural heritage, which, as the ambassador rightly points out, has been the subject of attack in the past. There has to be immediate facilitation of departure of those people, including providing them with visas, making sure that the airport is secured, and a protected area open to civilians, facilitating civilian flights, making sure that those who make it to other countries are not sent back and are welcomed and in the medium to long term, making sure that they have the resources to continue their work to defend human rights and culture in exile, which is key to the survival of Afghan culture and society and to preserving the imperfect gains of the last 20 years. There is also an urgent need to support those human rights defenders and cultural workers who are choosing, despite the risks, to stay and continue their work. We must not forget about them. We must ensure and take every step necessary to try to ensure their protection and that they receive support and resources. And I want to stress that there has been a lot of focus on statements being made by the Taliban leadership outside in Doha. And while it may be positive to hear certain statements that perhaps the international community would like to hear, what matters is the deeds on the ground, on the ground in Kabul and on the ground in the entire country. And I can tell you that I am already receiving worrying reports in the area that I work on, which is the cultural area. Many of them I can’t confirm. Those need to be confirmed, but they are very grave reports, including of the killing of a writer in Oruzgan, including I have not been able to confirm this, but of the possible abduction of a young poet, including killings in Kandahar, including the killing of a comedian, including the exclusion of women already in some places. Reports of that in the fields of education and employment. And so we need to demand the international community does that the Taliban on the ground respect international humanitarian law and human rights and protect cultural sites, as the leadership in Doha said in rather general terms that they would. But I think we have every reason to be concerned about the repetition of the gross abuses of the past, including destruction of cultural heritage for which there has never been any accountability.
“The Afghan people are a part of what the Universal Declaration of Human Rights calls the human family. And if we fail this part of the human family at this time, it really reflects great weakness in the international system and is absolutely unjust”
Q Without an international presence in Afghanistan, how would one actually monitor this independently and hold the Taliban accountable for all these gross violations?
Karima Bennoune: And that is the most important question. There needs to be ongoing verification and observation of the situation on the ground. I was very pleased to see a strong statement from the U.N. today of its commitment to maintain its presence in Afghanistan. But I certainly hope that the verification and observation capability will be continued and increased. And I really make a plea to the international media not to have a short attention span. I fear the Taliban may seek to play a waiting game. As an Afghan woman said to me yesterday on the phone, we have the watch, but they have the time. In other words, they are you know, it’s that human rights defenders who have to watch carefully what’s happening. But the Taliban, they fear, may be playing a waiting game until the international media and the international community loses interest. That is perhaps when we fear there may be a very serious escalation in abuses which are already being reported, and so that is the critical piece, the verification, the monitoring and the international responsibility. What happens in Afghanistan is certainly the responsibility of Afghan authorities and those who take power in the country. But it is also an international responsibility. And as the first statement issued on Monday by a very large group of U.N. special rapporteurs said, this is a test for the U.N. charter. The Afghan people are a part of what the Universal Declaration of Human Rights calls the human family. And if we fail this part of the human family at this time, it really reflects great weakness in the international system and is absolutely unjust.
Q And I know you emphasised the fact that you are an independent expert but isn’t there an opportunity here for independent experts to actually exert pressure on the U.N. as an organization to act now and do something about the situation?
Karima Bennoune: We are, as special rapporteurs, able to criticize many different actors, and we have done that in the past through multiple channels. And I think it is important to hold all of the layers accountable here, failures at the national level, failures at the international level, failures of second governments. I think all of these need to be addressed. And I think within the UN human rights system, we have to be very strategic in the coming days. At the moment, I have to say my absolute top priority is on the ability of people to be evacuated swiftly if they feel that they need that to have access to the airport, to have visas, access to civilian flights, and then to be welcomed in other countries. And what I’m afraid of, one of the things I have noted is that many of us are trying to raise many cases of specific at risk figures, but we are being told to go from government to government to government. And no one seems to be taking responsibility for having an effective mechanism to do this now. And certainly the U.N. also can play an important role here, and I hope that it will do so. But that is my immediate focus on the ability of people to leave safely. And I fear that there may be a short window of time in which this can occur.
Q The US President, in his statement the other day criticized the Afghan president and the Afghan security forces, saying they are responsible for what Afghanistan is going through right now, that they did not defend their own country. How would you respond to that?
Ashraf Haidari: First, I think the passion with which the rapporteur has just spoken, I really wish that everyone were like her, not just now to react to what is unfolding, a tragedy, but, you know, just over the past at least two years, at least the past year, at least the past, at least the past three months, at least the past month, we have not seen this kind of reaction. I’ve been tweeting. I’ve been writing. I’ve been interviewing about this, unfortunately. But we don’t have this. It is only happening now simply because everyone I’ve just woken up and they’re seeing such a humanitarian tragedy right before us. And that runs counter to everything that the charter is all about, everything that human rights law and humanitarian law and the rest. But to the point of President Biden blaming us, I think he needs to first and foremost blame, I think, the various administrations in the past, beginning from President Bush, when we recall that the abundance of from shortchanged on the storm in 2003. For Iraq when they invaded Iraq and that effectively sent the wrong message to their neighbour, to this state, the sponsor of the Taliban, basically telling them that we are leaving and now you can reconstitute the Taliban and deploy them back. That’s exactly what happened. And that’s where the original sin began. And then up to2009. Not much was being done because Afghanistan became a war of what we can while Iraq became a war. What remains, in the words of the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mike Mullen, and then when President Obama campaigned to differentiate between the wrong war and the right war, and then once he came into power in surge troops, but he announced the timetable to withdraw the US NATO forces by the end of 2014, which happened although there wasn’t much of a transition, simply because that’s not done enough to build the capacity of the Afghan National Army and police and properly equipped them, including the maintenance and logistics and close air support so that we would not have dependent in the way that we had grown to up until, you know, the past few weeks where and once these enablers were removed and withdrawn, we were completely powerless. And then the Trump administration, we know that he cut this deal and he was very proud of his deal with the Taliban through what I term, coercive mediation carried out by very successfully and fortunately by the special envoy, Ambassador Khalilzad, that gave so much to the Taliban without getting anything from them back, including forcing us to make a unprecedented concession by releasing over five thousand dangerous terrorists and drug traffickers, hoping that the Taliban would deliver on the commitments of reducing violence and declaring a ceasefire, cutting ties with Al Qaida, preventing the release of prisoners from returning to the battlefield and engaging in serious results driven peace talks, none of which materialized. And then comes President Biden and intent on delivering on what Trump had initiated simply because of the dynamics of domestic politics, maybe other reasons as well.
And as a result of seeing the consequences of his decision in contradiction to the advice that he was given by his own advisers, civilian and especially military, because the military knew that with this residual force at a very low cost and at the risk of no American lives being lost the past two years, especially the last year, and certainly, you know, before they did that, because it was the Afghan forces which had been fighting the Taliban since the end of the transition process in 2014. So the U.S. was really losing nothing by remaining in Afghanistan to use that leverage that we needed so that our forces could continue fighting as they are.
That’s why we lost over sixty five thousand. I think the numbers are even higher and so many hundreds of thousands wounded. And imagine losing. Plus, no more than ten thousand civilians, including those wounded, which is one of the key products of UNAMA and I understand it has not done much, unfortunately. So that’s one of the things I often say, principal products of the UN in Afghanistan is this biannual death report, civilian casualties as a result of the attacks and offensives by the Taliban. So President Biden has enough to blame. I think the previous administrations on which he only dealt and basically implemented the fiasco that was initiated by his predecessor, Republican Donald Trump.
“They could do more today to avert this growing humanitarian crisis, the complexity, the deadliness of it, and just consider the convergence of global conflict and climate and the breakdown of state institutions as we speak”
Q Isn’t there a bigger role that Afghanistan’s immediate neighbours can play in the situation?
Karima Bennoune:: I was very pleased to see just now on the Internet images of an Indian women’s protest in support of Afghan women. I think regional action is critically important. While there’s a global responsibility, absolutely. Regional action right now can play a key role. And I really call on, as I called on globally, I now call on South Asian cultural and educational institutions to open their doors, to extend invitations to Afghan students and cultural workers, especially those who are women or members of minorities, so that they can safely continue their studies and their work elsewhere for the duration of the time that is necessary. And I think really showing that regional leadership can teach an important lesson to a world which is currently failing.
Q And what should the immediate steps be that U.N. agencies and others should take?
Karima Bennoune: And some of that is beyond my mandate to be able to comment on. But I certainly believe that you are correct that the entire international system and the entire U.N. system needs to react with urgency. In the first statement from the joint special rapporteurs of the UN human rights system on Monday, we called on the Security Council to act effectively. And I would reiterate that call and all of all relevant U.N. bodies to be involved in providing humanitarian assistance, certainly in monitoring of the human rights situation on the ground. And one of the absolute top priorities in making sure that the airport is a protected zone and that those who need to be able to access the airport to leave the country safely can do so. And I absolutely agree with the Ambassador that it is a failing when we collectively, internationally, including the media, only react when there is already a crisis and we don’t act preventively over time as an entirely predictable crisis is coming. And now that there is global attention on this tragic situation, that attention has to continue.
Source : Daily Mirror