Skip to main content

'Stop politicking': Indo-Pak civil rights group for urgent humanitarian aid to Afghans

By Rita Manchanda* 

Afghanistan’s continuing political social and economic crisis and its deepening humanitarian catastrophe was at the core of the urgent concerns that motivated a host of civil society and human rights advocates to join the Pakistan-India Peoples Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD) in an online conversation which took place recently.
The conversation went beyond the state narratives of security and competitive national interests, offering civil society perspective of Afghan people’s struggle. PIPFPD, one of the oldest civil society movements with members from Pakistan and India, hoped, through this dialogue, to mobilise collectives across borders to strategise for action.
What captured the imagination of the 115 persons drawn to the webinar on “The Afghanistan Crisis and the Region” was the passionate and extremely grim and defiant accounts by three tall Afghan women Mahbouba Seraj in Kabul, and Judge Najla Ayoubi and Huma Shafi, currently in exile. They spoke of a complete collapse of governance, and voiced anger at Afghanistan’s ill-intentioned neighbours (including non-regional US) that were waiting to rip the country apart.
No less compelling were the disturbing implications drawn out of the spreading fallout of the Afghanistan crisis, especially in Pakistan, as also in the extended region spanning Iran and Tajikistan. The unacknowledged Afghan refugees streaming across Pakistan’s fenced border was the most visible aspect of this spillover, PIPFPD co-chair, film maker and rights advocate Tapan Bose stated.
Less obvious and more threatening to people’s security, as lawyer and rights activist from Lahore, Hina Jilani emphasized, was that the crisis was exacerbating existing authoritarian trends, reinforcing the fusion of religion and politics, emboldening extremists now baying for Sharia law in Pakistan, a land created in the name of Islamic identity.
Former Pakistan senator and rights activist Afrasiab Khattak saw a break in the darkening clouds. In Pakistan’s Punjab, even as triumphal voices celebrated achieving the goal of securing ‘strategic depth’ in Afghanistan, there were anxious murmurs about the army’s adventurism going wrong.
According to Khattak, Afghanistan’s 34 million people were facing an imminent humanitarian disaster as winter approaches. The country is already reeling under drought. Government coffers are empty. Access to Afghanistan’s $9.5 million central bank assets has been blocked. Tens of thousands, displaced from homes, are without shelter, food, medicines or money. Banks have stopped functioning. The government is not paying salaries.
The extreme urgency of the crisis situation made Afghan women’s rights advocate Mahbouba Seraj point towards the Taliban’s lack of any sense of urgency to halt the collapse:
“No one knows who to go to … who has authority... Taliban don’t believe in hierarchy. We don’t know who is ruling.…. Extreme statements are made by somebody and then acted upon about erasing two decades of education, and professionalism. There is no government, especially outside Kabul… No trucks are moving, no goods are coming, banks are not working, I can’t even draw out my own money. People are facing a drought, they are looking at likely starvation...”
When frontline women’s rights advocates were fleeing to the airport, Mahbouba Seraj (73) decided to stay on as long as she could and fight determinedly hoping that the Taliban would talk to her, to the women of Afghanistan. “Nobody is able or capable of talking to the Taliban. Afghanistan’s proud free media is silenced”, she regretted.
She appealed to the Taliban to listen to the people and to talk to the people like her. The problem was less about what the Taliban represented, and more about the continuing chaos of an absent government. Questions such as holding back on recognition of the Taliban as the only means of leverage seemed secondary to the immediate need -- humanitarian assistance.
Khattak said, in the 1990s young Talibs burst onto the Afghanistan war-scape of fighting warlords, claiming no interest in power. The Taliban which has taken power are different. They have been systematically brainwashed in the 36,000 religious seminaries of Pakistan, to displace their Afghan identity with an exclusive extreme Islamist identity as evident in the displacement of the Afghan national flag. Pakistan generals are deeply invested in this military-ideological project of creating ‘strategic depth’; it is next only to their prestigious nuclear programme.
Mabouba Jan emphasized, Afghanistan of today is different. The last two decades, despite corrupt and crony governments, have seen the growth of modernized urban centres, spread of university graduates and professional women and men. Resentment over the closure of schools, colleges and universities, ban on girls accessing educational institutions, severe clampdown on the media and restrictions on movement have brought people, particularly women, out on the streets in protest.
.Afghanistan has become the centre of the ‘New Great Game’. “We feel like a cow, surrounded by butchers with sharp knives, waiting to cut out a piece of body,” she stated, appealing to neighbouring powers to not fight their battles in Afghanistan.
While China, Russia, Iran and Pakistan are openly talking to the Taliban, the western powers are resorting to subterfuges to legitimise the Taliban by pretending to take at face value the Taliban assurances of keeping its territory free of terrorist menace. They ignore the Taliban’s record of deception and reneging on its promises, blocking out the hard reality of continuing human rights abuses.
So what can civil society activists, especially across the states of Pakistan and India, do? Moderator Hina Jilani saw this as a moment for reasserting peoples perspectives for reasserting people’s participation. She proposed several concrete interventions.
Appealing for humanitarian assistance, she said, Indian and Pakistani civil society should work together to send food, medicines and other survival needs, via the land border. Safe passage arrangements via Pakistan have been negotiated during this period of tumult. While there are significant logistical challenges, the civil society groups in Afghanistan can negotiate humanitarian corridor reaching agreements with local authorities for transfer of food and assistance where it is most needed.
Presently, the Government of Pakistan has good relations with those in power in Afghanistan. Civil society groups of Pakistan need to engage in dialogue with their government to pressurize the Taliban to allow the transportation of relief materials through the land borders and also allow Afghan civil society and volunteers to take over the supplies and distribute it inside the country.
Assistance should be given to some 1,600 stranded Afghans ‘medical cases’ in India, children, women and men who had come to India for life saving treatment. Unable to return as the airport is closed, their savings have run out they are in need of immediate material help and assistance to get the Indian government to recognize their plight and provide interim support.
The Government of India is yet to decide what to do with Afghan citizens stranded in India. These people are also unable to travel via Pakistan as Pakistan High Commission is not issuing visa to Afghan citizens in India. Recently, with the assistance of the Afghan Embassy, about a hundred stranded Afghans were able to return to Kabul via Tehran on an Iranian airline. Indian civil society groups, who plan to help stranded Afghan citizens to return home, can contact Afghan Embassy in this regard, she insisted.
Meanwhile, speakers insisted, human rights and civil rights groups in South Asian countries need to get together to create a coordinated action plan for protecting Afghan human rights defenders, women’s rights activists and other activists working for restoration of democracy in Afghanistan.
There is a need to establish safe channels of communication with Afghan activists to gather information of the situation inside Afghanistan and publicise it globally, including by involving UN agencies.
Also funds would need to be raised for Afghan activists in order to create channels for transmission to the persons in need. This is especially essential as banks are not functioning and as transfer of money through banks will come into notice of the Taliban. Hence, it may have to be done through private/informal channels.
At the same time, there is a need to create safe houses for Afghan activist at risk in border areas of Pakistan, even as setting up a network for helping and providing safe passage to Afghan activists who are under threat.
---
*With Pakistan-India Peoples Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD). Inputs: Tapan Bose

Comments

TRENDING

Tracing roots of Hindutva Zionism: cannon fodder for 'warped' nationalist pretensions

By Shamsul Islam*  Those who believe in a world free of hegemonic ethno-nationalism, racism, religious bigotry and hatred have rightly taken note of Zionism and its ally Christian Zionism, major perpetrators of ethnic cleansing of ‘Others’. However, the civilized world with its core belief in multi-culturalism and peaceful co-existence is oblivious to a no less dangerous threat to the present human civilization: the Hindutva Zionism. As the term reads it is part of the Hindutva world-view which stands for an exclusive Hindu India minus Muslims and Christians. The other religions like Sikhism, Buddhism, and Jainism will have no independent status but treated as part of Hinduism. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS; National Volunteer Organization) is the most prominent flag-bearer of the Hindutva politics whose cadres presently rule India, the largest democracy in the world. RSS was founded by Keshav Baliram Hedgewar (1889-1940) in 1925 who was disillusioned with the Indian freedom st

'Blatant violation' of law by Central government in making NREGA payments

By Our Representative  In September third week, NREGA workers across the country were mobilised for two day so raise their issues and submit a memorandum to the Prime Minister. Organised the NREGA Sangharsh Morcha (NSM), a collective of groups that work with NREGA labourers across the country, workers from 13 states -- Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Haryana, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Rajasthan, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal -- carried out Kaam Do Abhiyaan, staging demonstrations and rallies against what they called blatant violation of law by the Central government in making NREGA payments. While NREGA has had very positive impacts, it has lately become fruitless, exploiting labour, even though workers who have put in honest hard work have to wait for their wages endlessly, it was suggested.  In such a situation, there is a need to firm up NREGA implementation and end systematic corruption to ensure that workers get their basic NREGA entit

Shocking? No Covid vaccine trials conducted on pregnant, lactating women: RTI reply

By Rosamma Thomas*  A Right to Information applicant who sought details of safety trials conducted in India on pregnant and lactating women for three Covid vaccines in use in India – Covishield, Covaxin and ZyCov-D -- was shocked to learn from the Central Drugs Standard Control Organization (CDSCO) that Serum Institute, manufacturer of Covishield, and Cadila Healthcare, manufacturer of the ZyCov-D vaccine, had not sought permission for such trials.  Bharat Biotech, manufacturer of Covaxin, had sought permission for trial on pregnant women and later withdrawn its application. This response , provided after the applicant was initially unsatisfied with the response and went in appeal, is from the joint drugs controller, CDSCO. It was dated September 13, 2022. One researcher closely following the vaccine rollout, however, is of the opinion that the lack of a trial on pregnant and lactating women is a blessing; potential trial participants and their unborn babies thus escaped harm. Aruna Ro

Fascism on prowl? Religious meet 'deeply pained' at silence of Church, bishops, priests

Counterview Desk  The ‘Forum of Religious for Justice and Peace’which held its 17th National Convention at the Montfort Social Institute, Hyderabad, Telangana from 22 to 24 September 2022 on the theme “Deepening our Identity as Religious: Responding to the Signs of the Times”, has expressed concern “at the deteriorating situation of our nation on every front”, especially stating, “Fascism seems to have come to stay” in India. At the same time, the convention, which took place with the participation of 60 persons from 16 states representing 20 religious congregations, in its unanimously-adopted statement added, “We have reached abysmal depths on every parameter: be it social, economic and political”, underlining, “The poor in India become poorer every day; the rich and powerful continue to profiteer at their expense and amass scandalous amounts of wealth.” Text: We, members (63 women and men Religious, from 16 states representing 20 Congregations) of the Forum of Religious for Justice

Rajasthan cops 'halt' Gujarat Dalit women's rally: homage to untouchability victim boy

By Our Representative  In a surprise move, the Rajasthan police stopped a Dalit women's rally from Gujarat on the borders after it crossed Gujarat alleging that it would "disturb peace" in village Surana, Jalore district, where the gruesome incident of death of a Dalit boy took place on August 13 after he was brutally beaten up by his teacher on touching the drinking water pot. Sources said, while the Gujarat government had "no objection" in allowing the rally, which originated from the Dalit Shakti Kendra (DSK), an empowerment-cut-technical institute for teens founded by human rights leader Martin Macwan, on September 24 morning, the Rajasthan police stopped it for two and a half hours before allowing it to proceed to Surana. The decision to take out a women's rally was taken at a DSK meeting on September 5 following a condolence meeting of the NGO Navsarjan Trust, also founded by Macwan, activists committed to work against caste-based discrimination, orga

Introducing non-native cheetahs is 'not equivalent' to restoring pride in the nation

By Bappaditya Mukhopadhyay*  The Cheetahs from the African continent has finally been introduced to India by the Indian Prime Minister on his 72nd birthday. The process had started with the previous Government in 2009. However, the Supreme Court clearance was pending owing to the objection by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) plea to reintroduce cheetahs. Finally the clearance was obtained in January 2020 and thereafter Kuno National Park (KNP) was chosen for the reintroduction of first set of Southeast African Cheetahs. In the near future, depending upon the success story of the current reintroduction, more cheetahs from South Africa may also be introduced. This exercise has generated a lot of interest among various stakeholders with opinions on both sides galore. It is important to pose some questions that surround the whole exercise. Let us evaluate some of these arguments. The first set of arguments are quite detached from the issues of conservation as they most

'Military diplomacy': US praises Bangladesh Army for leadership role in UN operations

By Kamal Uddin Mazumder* As the Indo-Pacific region represents the world’s economic and strategic center of gravity, the Indian Ocean today is becoming the centerpiece of all geo-strategic play. Cooperation in the region is crucial to implementing the international community’s global agenda, including achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Major powers like the US have enhanced and deepened their strategic engagement and leadership roles with countries in the region. The Indo-Pacific Army Management Seminar, or IPAMS, is a U.S. Army Pacific (USARPAC) initiated conference that is aimed at facilitating and enhancing interactions among the armies of the Indo-Pacific region. This year's 46th Indo-Pacific Armies Management Seminar (IPAMS)-2022, co-hosted by the Bangladesh Army and US Army Pacific (USARPAC), concluded in Dhaka. The objective of IPAMS is to promote peace and stability in the region through mutual understanding, dialogue, and friendship. It is the largest confer

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Grave error? Scholar blames ex-Gujarat babu for anti-Christian riots 'citing fake report'

By Rajiv Shah  A few days back, I received a message from one of the finest former Gujarat government bureaucrats, PG Ramrakhiani, a 1964 batch IAS official, who retired in November 2000. I would often interact with him in 1997-99, even later, after I was sent to Gandhinagar as a Times of India man to cover Sachivalaya. Those were turbulent times. Shankarsinh Vaghela was the Gujarat chief minister, under attack from two sides – from the BJP, which he had left to form a separate breakaway party, Rashtriya Janata Party (RJP), one one hand, and the Congress, which was supporting him from outside, on the other. Ramrakhiani, in his message, referred to the book authored by Ghanshyam Shah and Jan Breman, both top-notch scholars who have known Gujarat in and out. Called “Gujarat, Cradle and Harbinger of Identity Politics: India’s Injurious Frame of Communalism”, I reviewed the book in January 2022.  It claims that Muslims in Gujarat have been turned into “new untouchables”, thanks to the Hin

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.