These days, one comes across a flood of stories on every channel/newspaper where we see desperate Afghans trying desperately and dangerously to flee their nation. More than 60 countries have stressed the need and made statements to the effect that Afghan and foreign citizens, who want to leave the country, must be allowed to do so. The impasse, however, continues. Getting them evacuated is only one part of the battle; they must be given shelter and rehabilitated.
People are trying to leave, anticipating the return of the hard-line theocracy which existed there two decades ago. Notwithstanding the assurance of the new regime that there will be no revenge of any kind, thousands of Afghans apprehend a backlash and violence. Women and girls are the most worried lot!
The United Nation has impressed upon the new regime to respect women. Taliban’s treatment of women will be the red line, the UN warned at an emergency session of the Human Rights Council.
According to reports, some 70000 people, mainly Afghans working for foreign forces have been evacuated. US troops are controlling the Kabul Airport. Not everyone will be able to get out of Afghanistan.
It is difficult for Afghans to trust their own countrymen the Taliban, notwithstanding their assurances that they have forgotten everything and will “forgive” everyone. The memories of atrocities committed by them on many of their citizens, especially on women must be haunting them. Former president Mohammad Najibullah was executed in broad daylight on 27.09.1996.
If we turn the pages of world history during the last hundred years or so, there have been many instances of large-scale deaths (genocide), destruction and displacement. This has been preceded or followed by the exodus of people and refugee crises. This has happened mainly on account of ethnic, racial and/or religious discrimination. The United Nations defines genocide as “acts committed with intent to destroy whole or part of a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”.
Following are some of the major such events our civilisation has witnessed during the last hundred years
The Holocaust: During 1941-45, around 2/3rd of the Jewish population of Europe, numbering 50 to 60 lakh, was eliminated in most cruele manner in their houses, streets and concentration camps. The Nazis also eliminated another 2-3 lakh polish nationals around the same time. Displaced person camps in the post-World War II era were built in Germany, Italy and Austria for refugees from Eastern Europe and the former inmates of Nazi concentration camps.
In the Cambodian genocide during 1975-1979 appx 3 lakh people were killed. All of them were from different ethnic groups different from the ruling elites ‘ race .
Another genocide in recent history was in Rwanda, Africa from April to July 1994. Some 5 to 8 lakh Tutsi community people were brutally murdered.
In our neighbouring Bangladesh, once a part of us, some 30 lacs Mukti Vahini supporters were massacred by the Pakistan military. Not only that, lakhs of women and girls were raped by the aggressors. We as a nation faced huge challenges on account of the arrival of lakhs of refugees from Bangladesh. The problems are far from over even after 5 decades of the liberation of Bangladesh.
Death, destruction, and displacement have taken place in many African countries during the last 5 decades; Congo, Uganda, Sudan and Brunei, on ethnic or racial lines. The Middle East and West Asian countries have also become a victim of religious fundamentalists and terrorist elements.
During the partition of our country in 1947, we also had a huge refugee problem. Lakhs of people were on roads looking for food and shelter. This is apart from over 20 lakh people who lost their lives before, during and after the migration. It was a division of two states, Punjab and Bengal and not that of the nation and yet we had so much death and destruction mainly on account of hatred of one community against the other.
It is against this backdrop and the developments in Afghanistan during the last four decades the present exodus and chaos are to be seen. UN as a responsible global forum and the allied countries have a responsibility towards the people of Afghanistan to ensure peace and freedom there .There is little room for bigotry in the 21st century. All the nations are not and can not be on the same footing, for they are on different economic and technological ecosystems. But basic values of life and humanitarian way of existence must be respected everywhere, including in Afghanistan.
Although Afghanistan is a little different story where there is an attempt to impose a regime on their own people based on hard-line theocracy.It is always seen that wherever there is undue emphasis on race or religion in governance, the society and the nation have suffered. The whole world should come to the rescue of innocent people in Afghanistan.
The leaders of G7 countries finished their discussions on the Afghan crisis during a virtual meeting yesterday. Although UK PM Boris Johnson, who chaired the talks, said Britain will continue to evacuate people until the last moment.
US President Biden says the US is on pace to meet the 31st August deadline for evacuation. This is despite previous calls from the allies to extend the deadline. So, there is a bitter disappointment for many in Kabul which is natural. The spokesperson of the new regime says working women in Afghanistan must stay indoors until the proper system is in place to ensure their safety.
The Taliban enforced a strict version of Islamic law when they ran Afghanistan before 2001. This time they have tried to convey a more restrained version of their previous self. They have promised rights for women and girls and “some” freedom of speech. But there have been reports to the contrary as opined by UN Human Rights Commissioner. To add to the discomfiture of the people of Afghanistan and also for the new regime the IMF have suspended payments and world bank has halted funding of projects in Afghanistan. The Biden administration has frozen the assets of central bank of Afghanistan that are held in US .
So the impasse is likely to continue and lots of uncertainties are in store for the Afghans in the days to come .
History repeats though at different time and in different forms .
(The author is Senior Advisor, IBA. Opinions expressed are his own and don’t reflect that of IBA in any manner)