The international community must help those she left behind

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The day after the Taliban’s blitzkrieg hit Kabul, a frightened member of an Afghan religious minority texted me right outside the airport gate. I will call her Fatima. She is Hazara, a long-standing victim of her ethnicity and different version of Islam – Shiism – from the Sunni Taliban and the Islamic State.

After the return of the Taliban, she ran for her life and pleaded for help in hopes of reaching the relative safety of the airport and escaping with her husband and little sister. “Everyone is in trouble,” she wrote. “Nobody knows what to do and where to go. I and my family are in a very serious situation! We are shocked! “

I met Fatima – who didn’t want her real name to be used as she still has a family in Afghanistan – in 2019 when I was serving as diplomatic envoy for religious minorities at the US State Department. Fatima had already lost relatives to terrorist bombings on her community. I was impressed with their courage and strength, and we have kept in touch for the past two years.

The day after the Taliban’s blitzkrieg hit Kabul, a frightened member of an Afghan religious minority texted me right outside the airport gate. I will call her Fatima. She is Hazara, a long-standing victim of her ethnicity and different version of Islam – Shiism – from the Sunni Taliban and the Islamic State.

After the return of the Taliban, she ran for her life and pleaded for help in hopes of reaching the relative safety of the airport and escaping with her husband and little sister. “Everyone is in trouble,” she wrote. “Nobody knows what to do and where to go. I and my family are in a very serious situation! We are shocked! “

I met Fatima – who didn’t want her real name to be used as she still has a family in Afghanistan – in 2019 when I was serving as diplomatic envoy for religious minorities at the US State Department. Fatima had already lost relatives to terrorist bombings on her community. I was impressed with their courage and strength, and we have kept in touch for the past two years.

Fortunately, Fatima’s story ended well: she and her family boarded a flight. She left her home and parents behind in exchange for an unknown destination in the west, albeit free from Taliban persecution.

Their history repeated itself among other minorities when the Exodus ensued. The Afghan Sikh and Hindu communities, each numbering only a few hundred, tried to escape. The last Jew in the country escaped. Afghanistan is more religiously and ethnically diverse than is generally believed, and many members of other minorities have tried unsuccessfully to pass through the Taliban-controlled border controls or the Kabul airport gates. After the last plane left and the borders closed, they all went underground, fearful for their lives.

The return of the Taliban to power is a catastrophic event for minorities and a human tragedy for all Afghans. The United States and the international community failed to establish a stable Afghan government and permanent military to defend it, but they did succeed in promoting a new Afghan civil society. Independent media, human rights groups, women’s education, and religious diversity have flourished over the past 20 years. Under the umbrella of international security, intrepid and innovative Afghans took this opportunity to embark on a new course.

But even at its best, it was never easy. The US-backed Afghan constitution failed to protect religious freedom – let alone the right not to believe. Government policy enforced narrow versions of Sharia or Islamic law against women and minorities. Mobs would lynch their victims on mere allegations of blasphemy, as happened with Farkhunda Malikzada in 2015.

During my travels over the years, I met with civil society groups, heard about their concerns, and tried to use U.S. influence to create more space, provide protection, or find new funding. In 2018, it was clear that the US state administration was doing badly. For example, instead of taking the short drive from Kabul Airport to the US embassy, ​​we would put on body armor and fly in chinooks. It was rare to meet people outside the embassy fortress. Dinner in downtown Kabul was a thing of the past.

Fatima and her friends felt the shrinking bourgeois space. They were all too aware of the Taliban’s feelings towards people like them. Fatima and I exchanged emails in June as the government looked increasingly insecure. Fatima wrote that the Taliban “believe that Shiite Muslims have no rights in an Islamic government”. She was concerned about declarations by the Taliban, drawing closer to Kabul, that they would severely punish anyone who collaborates with international organizations.

Fatima represented Afghanistan’s best and brightest personalities – college graduates who work for the international community. The hoped-for future collapsed with the return of the Taliban. She and her family had to flee or go into hiding.

Since the recapture of Kabul, the Taliban have tried to project the image of a responsible power. Although this time around they are more adept at public relations and social media, their ideology remains the same. The Ministry of Women is went, but the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (aka the Religious Police) is back. The Taliban declared a ban on traditional folk music. To prove their seriousness, they killed the Afghan folk singer Fawad Andarabi. Other attacks, including against former government personnel, have occurred.

This week’s United Nations General Assembly is an opportunity for the international community to help the religious and ethnic minorities, activists, women and girls left in Afghanistan.

Priorities should include the establishment of a humanitarian air link into Kabul and other cities to transport food and bring out those in need, and the resettlement of refugees. NGOsreportthat 65,000 Afghans have been approved for resettlement in the United States. Another 1.1 million are entitled to resettlement worldwide. The United States, its allies and Muslim majority countries should share the burden of refugees.

Unfortunately, some UN members will shield the Taliban. China and Pakistan are rushing to provide aid without any conditions. Pakistan’s shameful relationship with its north-western neighbor requires constant scrutiny. Islamabad weakened the UN Human Rights Council resolution to take over the Taliban, and its intelligence chief recently visited Kabul. And, aware of China’s ambitions to mine Afghanistan’s rare metals, the international community should enact a blood diamond ban that limits the importation of lithium, gold, uranium and other metals from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

After all, any talk of formal recognition of the Taliban is unwise and unwise. Although their foreign minister promised to prevent terrorists from attacking other countries, several Taliban leaders are labeled terrorists themselves. In addition, the US State Department identified the Taliban as an “institution of very high concern” for serious violations of religious freedom.

In lieu of recognition, the United States, Britain and France should convene the UN Security Council specifically on the responsibility to protect religious minorities such as the Hazara, who are likely to face atrocities. To make up for the failure of the Human Rights Council, they should use the General Assembly to create a special rapporteur on Afghan human rights.

With the Taliban back in power, all minorities fear losing hard-won achievements. If anything, they expect it. Before she left her homeland, one of the last messages from Fatima was: “Fear the dark days in Afghanistan!” Certainly dark days are ahead. In response, the international community must face this moment – and help all who need salvation.



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