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South Asia

The Bitter Experience of Governmental Paramilitary Militias in Afghanistan

Hamidullah Bamik

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Militiamen in Kunduz province, Afghanistan. © 2011 Ton Koene

Over the course of several decades, Afghans have been suffering from militias who have a wide range of uncontrolled armed forces. These militants include groups that engage tribal leaders, private security companies, groups of gangs, and insurgent groups. The most obvious term for the paramilitary militias in Afghanistan is the word “arbaki”. The term also includes non-responsible armed forces that have been created within the framework of official governmental military programs under Afghan Local Policy (ALP). The militias have been involved with any kind of group that has been involved in deadly tribal repressions, assassinations, smuggling, and extortion. Raping women, boys and girls is a common practice by the militants. Therefore, many of them have been accused of committing human rights violations.

After the US-led military intervention in Afghanistan following the 9/11 attacks in 2001, the Taliban-led rebellion has been intensified in the country. To deal with along with the insurgency, the Afghan government and its international supporters expanded the Afghan National Police by creating paramilitary militias in the form of the Afghan Local Police. This policy led to the reactivation of various armed and non-responsible groups, especially in the north of the country. Moreover, this policy indirectly paved the way for powerful local elders to create their own small militia groups to counteract the deteriorating security situation in their communities.

The Afghan government approved the establishment of ALP in July 2010, and this force was established on August 16, 2010, by presidential decree. According to the US Army and the Afghan Government, the Afghan Local Police were set up throughout Afghanistan to defend those areas in rural communities where the Afghan National Police and the Afghan National Army are inadequate. In other words, paramilitary forces were established for short-term tactical needs, such as working with the counter-terrorism team at border areas. ALP was a major effort to correct strategic problems in the war against the Taliban. It was argued that Afghan security forces are sent to areas whose inhabitants view them as foreign because of their ethnicity and race. Thus, how the Afghan government with the support of the US founded ALP.

Initially, the Afghan government decided to recruit about 10,000 people as ALP, but the US Congress has approved funds for 30,000 ALPs. In August 2011, 7,000 were recruited as local police. They receive almost 60 percent of the National Police salary, which is 165 euros, and dress differently. They serve on the front lines of the violence.

One of the key hypotheses that have laid the foundation of the Afghan Local Police is that, despite the existence of weak command structure hierarchies, the Afghan National Police (ANP) will control ALP. The key point here is that the number of local police in the districts they operate is higher than the official police officer in that district. In addition, the local police are supported by separate and informal networks of powerful government officials and local authorities that do not allow them to be questioned.

Moreover, the instructions given to the local police are not clear on the competencies of ALP. Similarly, it is unclear whether ALP follows the internal regulations of the Afghan National Police framework on interrogations, detention, and the process of handing over detainees to the ANP. On the other hand, ALP units are trained for three weeks, while ANP officers have six weeks of elementary education. Apart from this, after the end of ALP’s mission, there are no clear guidelines on the process of integrating and consolidating the ALP units within the ANP.

A recent report by the International Crisis Group on the controversial issue of mobilizing village people in the form of Afghan Local Police to fight against the Taliban groups and ISIS echoes that in most cases the local police program has led to the empowerment of local militias who are not accountable to the Afghan government. The report says that the local police program did not reduce violence, and instead of improving security in Afghanistan where they operate, the security situation has been worsened.

The International Crisis Group adds that although the local police program was considered as a temporary solution to the recruitment and escape of the Afghan security forces, in 2014, the Afghan government decided to increase the number of ALP from 29,000 to 45,000.The report of the International Crisis Group refers to cases of harassment by local police and illicit tax evasion by them. In the report of the International Crisis Group, allegations of sexual assault, looting, and imprisonment of people in torture chambers in dry wells filled with snakes by non-militias are also mentioned, for instance, in Faryab Province.

Before the US intervention in Afghanistan in 2001, Afghan people have experienced the establishment of similar paramilitary militias by the Afghan government, too. The first paramilitary forces refer to the ruling People’s Democratic Party – during the Soviet Union supported governments in Kabul in the late 1980s. The Kabul People’s Democratic Party backed by the Soviet Union founded its own paramilitary militias to fight against the Mujahidin and other rebels. Itwas one of the most terrible experiences that Afghan people tasted during in the late 1980s.

On the other hand, the US government also provided money and weapons to various groups of the Mujahidin to fight against the Soviet Union and its so-called governments. After the withdrawal of Soviet Union forces in 1990, neither the United States nor the Soviet Union took up the bloody Mujahideen wars. And left these militias to fight with each other for gaining the power. The US and Soviet Union backed governmental warlords and strongholds were lawless factions and ready for another armed conflict in Afghanistan.

The current paramilitary militias operating in Afghanistan are controlled by people who are called local power or warlords. These are the major warlords to former Mujahideen commanders who, at the time of the jihad against the Soviet Union, created a power base. And now their sources of power and support have expanded deep into the institutions of governance in the center and in the neighborhoods. Extremely inaccurate behavior of the militias has driven people from the national government and in some cases contributed to the expansion of the rebellion.

From its inception, the plan of arming local people against the Taliban was nothing but strengthening the local warlords on a wider scale. The Afghan government policymakers did not think that one day these warlords become uncontrollable powers that the government should enter into a bloody war to subjugate them later on. The US government is not at all worried about the fact that these ALPs are entering illicit drug trafficking and economic mafia and land usurpation because the US government only thinks about weakening the Taliban groups.

After the formation of the Karzai government in 2002, the Afghan government and its international supporters have pledged to disarm illegal armed groups and return them to civilian life. But such efforts have been largely demonstrative and ineffective. The personal interests of latent and powerful individuals in the Afghan government, as well as the financial, logistical and military support of the United States and other international forces from the militias, have undermined the process of disarmament.

Political experts argue that the Afghan Local Police and pro-government militias are dangerous, and the Kabul government should stop the call for their expansion. Instead, the Afghan government should take steps and measures to improve stewardship and supervision over ALP in areas that they operate. Additionally, the Afghan government should adopt serious measures to integrate ALP forces into Afghanistan National Security Forces (ANSF) so that they can be held accountable to the Afghan government authorized entities. Now that the Trump Administration wants to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan, the paramilitary forces can pose more serious threats to the stability of the Afghan central government if they are not disarmed and controlled.

Hamidullah Bamik is a Fulbright Scholar, education policy analyst, and a social development researcher. His research focus is on girl’s education and women empowerment, gender equality, good governance, and socio-economic development in South Asia but particularly Afghanistan. He has worked with World Bank Capacity Building Projectsat Supreme Audit Office of Afghanistan from 2013 to 2018 as a capacity building consultant. Currently, he is working as a social development researcher at Asia Culture House, a non-profit cultural and art organization based in Kabul, Afghanistan. Additionally, he is a frequent contributor on sociopolitical, socioeconomic, and social developmentissuesto Outlook and Etilaatroz, the two leading Newspapers in Afghanistan, and Modern Diplomacy, a leading European opinion-maker with far-reaching influence across the Middle East, Africa, and Asia.

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South Asia

Minority Abuse: A Slice Of Life In Modi’s India

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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It is not uncommon for colonial governments to enact sedition laws with the purpose of stifling dissent; it is, following independence, for democratic governments to be enforcing them to quell critics.  It is also exactly what the Modi government and party encourages in India. 

And it is what landed a 26-year old mother and her daughter’s teacher in jail in Karnataka (a state now notorious for conservative politicians viewing porn at work).  All for a play critical of the new Citizenship Amendment Act and the government’s plans for a National Register of Citizens, the NRC on which Mr. Modi has been caught modifying the truth.  These have stoked fear among India’s Muslims in that they may be required to produce documents to prove citizenship — an impossible task in a poor country where few register births, or have any other documents like passports or drivers licenses.

What did the play do?  Not much.  An elderly woman is told that Narendra Modi wants Muslims to produce documents to prove citizenship.  The woman responds that her family has been in India for generations, and she would have to dig up the graves of her ancestors to produce those documents, adding that a boy who used to sell tea (reference to Modi) is now demanding them.  “I will ask him for his documents,” she continues, “and if he can’t show them to me, I’ll beat him with my sandal.”

The play was streamed on Facebook by a parent and quickly went viral.  One of Mr. Modi’s ardent supporters, a certain Neelesh Rakshal, chanced upon it and promptly registered a complaint with the police “for abusing the prime minister and also for spreading hatred,”  To most citizens of western democracies, the charge would appear ludicrous.  For example, President Trump is lampooned much more severely and fairly regularly on ofthisandthat.org in the Porcupine’s Quill satire column.  

But then it was just before Valentine’s Day and Mr. Rakshal, the greatly offended self-proclaimed social activist, expected garlands of marigolds for his idol.

Nazbunnisa, the 26-year old mother is not sure how she came to be jailed.  She said, she simply heard her daughter rehearse her part at home.  She also says she never even went to the play.  A domestic worker, she has few resources at her disposal.

Farida Begum the 52-year old teacher suffers from high blood pressure, and fears what the future holds for her family.  Her husband, Mirza Baig, is also greatly concerned about how his wife’s time in jail will affect the marriage prospects of their daughter.  He says what has been been done “is not right.”

The complaint also named the school management and the president of the school, who the police have not been able to find.  So they told the court at the preliminary hearing.

Dr. Thouseef Madikeri, the school’s CEO, says, “We do not know for what reason sedition charges have been invoked against the school.  It is beyond the imagination of any reasonable person.  We will fight it in court.”

India is full of travesty these days, but should the courts dismiss the complaint, Mr. Neelesh Rakshal could face a lawsuit for defamation, at the very least.  He would most certainly in the US, where he could also be liable for damages and legal fees running into six figures.

Karnataka is not the only state where Muslims are being abused.  The city of Kanpur in India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, has a large community of Muslims that is under constant abuse by police, but this year has seen the brutality having fatal consequences.  Earlier Human Rights Watch reported (Feb 2019) killings of Muslims across twelve states

Such is life for poor minorities in Modi’s India. 

Author’s Note:  An earlier version of this article appeared earlier on Counterpunch.org

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South Asia

Pakistan puts press freedom at the core of struggle for new world order

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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Sweeping new regulations restricting social media in Pakistan put freedom of expression and the media at the heart of the struggle to counter both civilizationalist and authoritarian aspects of an emerging new world order.

The regulations, adopted without public debate, position US social media companies like Facebook and Twitter at the forefront of the struggle and raise the spectre of China’s walled off Internet with its own state-controlled social media platforms becoming the model for a host of illiberals, authoritarians and autocrats.

The regulations, that take effect immediately, embrace aspects of a civilizational state that defines its legal reach, if not its borders, in terms of a civilization rather than a nation state with clearly outlined, internationally recognized borders that determine the reach of its law and that is defined by its population and language.

The regulations could force social media companies to globally suppress criticism of the more onerous aspects of Pakistani law, including constitutionally enshrined discrimination of some minorities like Ahmadis, a sect widely viewed as heretic by mainstream Islam, and imposition of a mandatory death sentence for blasphemy.

The new rules force social media companies to “remove, suspend or disable access” to content posted in Pakistan or by Pakistani nationals abroad that the government deems as failing to “take due cognizance of the religious, cultural, ethnic and national security sensitivities of Pakistan.” The government can also demand removal of encryption.

Social media companies are required to establish offices in Pakistan in the next three months and install data servers by February 2021.

The government justified the rules with the need to combat hate speech, blasphemy, alleged fake news and online harassment of women.

The Asia Internet Coalition, a technology and internet industry association that includes  Facebook and Twitter, warned that the regulations “jeopardize the personal safety and privacy of citizens and undermine free expression” and would be “detrimental to Pakistan’s ambitions for a digital economy.”

The introduction of the regulations reflects frustration in government as well as Pakistan’s powerful military with social media companies’ frequent refusal to honour requests to take down content. Pakistan ranked among the top countries requesting  Facebook and Twitter to remove postings.

On the assumption that Facebook, Twitter and others, which are already banned in China, will risk being debarred in Pakistan by refusing to comply with the new regulations, Pakistan could become a prime country that adopts not only aspects of China’s 21st century, Orwellian surveillance state but also its tightly controlled media.

The basis for potential Pakistani adoption of the Chinese system was created in 2017 in plans for the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a US$60 billion plus crown jewel of the Belt and Road, an infrastructure, telecommunications and energy-driven initiative to tie Eurasia to China.

The 2017 plan identifies as risks to CPEC “Pakistani politics, such as competing parties, religion, tribes, terrorists, and Western intervention” as well as security. The plan appears to question the vibrancy of a system in which competition between parties and interest groups is the name of the game.

It envisions a full system of monitoring and surveillance to ensure law and order in Pakistani cities. The system would involve deployment of explosive detectors and scanners to “cover major roads, case-prone areas and crowded places…in urban areas to conduct real-time monitoring and 24-hour video recording.”

A national fibre optic backbone would be built for internet traffic as well as the terrestrial distribution of broadcast media that would cooperate with their Chinese counterparts in the “dissemination of Chinese culture.” The plan described the backbone as a “cultural transmission carrier” that would serve to “further enhance mutual understanding between the two peoples and the traditional friendship between the two countries.”

Critics in China and elsewhere assert that repression of freedom of expression contributed to China’s delayed response to the Coronavirus. China rejects the criticism with President Xi Jingping calling for even greater control.

Pakistan’s newly promulgated regulations echo Mr. Xi’s assertion during the Communist party’s January 7 Politburo Standing Committee meeting  that “we must strengthen public opinion tracking and judgment, take the initiative to voice, provide positive guidance, strengthen integration, communication and interaction, so that positive energy will always fill the Internet space… We must control the overall public opinion and strive to create a good public opinion environment. It is necessary to strengthen the management and control of online media.”

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Kashmir burns as lockdown continues

Aneeqa Tanveer

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The valley is on fire again, and it is engulfing the whole region. It is not just about Pakistan or India but the onus remains on the world, every person, every country, and every individual as Kashmir suffers from these flames.

It is burning everywhere. The dispute of Pakistan-India is not new. It has elevated from its dormant levels. From the disruption of peace-talks to election fueled border skirmishes, every action and every other effort in the region is worsening the situation.

Time has stood still. It has stopped healing wounds and only the lacerations have increased. As the lockdown persists, the agony persists and continues to darken the skies.

The cries of innocent Kashmiris (nine million of them) scream on the loss of their loved ones. The arrests under the Public safety Act (PSA) has demeaned its meaning in Kashmiri eyes and in the eyes of the world. Everyone arrested under this act have gone under detention without trial for a maximum of two years. As absurd it sounds, the trauma is more horrific.

And all of this began with the passing of Article 370. And it has raised many questions in the minds of the people living in these areas

Voted by the majority of Indian parliament members, that is,351 votes in favor and only 72 against, on 5th of August. The timing, the stunts being played by the restraining government are to be questioned. Prime Minister Narenda Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has claimed to normalize the abnormal situation in the state of Jammu Kashmir. But the truth cannot be further from this. In the six months since, the state could not have destabilized more had Pakistan directly intervened. At its lowest ebb of the past 40 years, the situation needs to be normalized.

And in this manner Modi and the current Indian government have set the template for every dictatorial regime. Arrest all possible voices of a region, cut all communications, blockade the region and you are on your way.

Internet, tele-communication and any sort of media coverage was limited to say the least. As millions suffered badly with each passing day of the curfew. The valley burnt and there were no witnesses as a complete lockdown continued as the government tried to normalize the state.

But the images of the valley made their way out and the stories they tell do not need much interpretation. They support their tales without much context. It will be wrong to assume their context but there was no one to state it. Such was the stranglehold of the government. And this was in stark contrast to what was aimed at.

To revive Kashmir’s economy and make it come at par to rest of the country, a lot of different directions were available. So why mess with the hornets nest.

The necessary steps that Modi’s government had to take were promote local governance and encourage new investment plans in the state. Outdated plans had to be set aside and a renewed focus on ones that bring the state to the forefront after lagging behind rest of India for so many years.

What Mr. Modi does is anyone’s guess. After all, he has been the face of RSS backed BJP known for its neo-Nazi politics. The great face of secular India maligned by the idiosyncratic visions of a deranged lunatics.

And it has not played out well in Kashmir. The state’s lack of governance has had a detrimental impact on its development and the current legislature change will not help its case. All these measures were strongly criticized by the international media and on political forums.

The need to stabilize the region of Indian occupied Kashmir becomes very frequent question in the minds who follow the news update on the region. For Pakistan and India, the claim of Kashmir could not be more skeptical than in current situation. And impact current affairs situations in the geography.

From America taking out its soldiers from Afghanistan, to unrest in Iran and middle-east. The noisy neighbors and Kashmir issue impacts everyone. And as we learn from Soviet retreat from Afghanistan and its ensuring unrest, South Asia is not going to stabilize for some time. And Kashmir will be the talking point.

Wisdom would suggest that this issue should be decided sooner rather than later. Even if India’s claim of Kashmir being an unresolved matter of India, it should be resolved at the earliest. This has to be done some day, and with American troops leaving Afghanistan, doing it before will be a good time.

The freedom fighters have been engaged in Afghanistan for the better part of two decades and the focus will return on Kashmir. The suffering of millions of Muslims cannot be overlooked and the region will not be able to stabilize. It is in the best interests of all parties involved, especially India.

On the other side of the border, Pakistan is watching eagerly and getting support for its international claims. Peace talks have been proposed and they would mutually benefit both the countries and stabilize the region. But no movement has been seen on this front. Both Islamabad and Delhi are far from sitting across each other.

Pakistan itself has unilaterally changed the structure of Azad Kashmir government. And they did it by changing the status of the Gilgit Baltistan and Azad Kashmir territories last year. Any kind of the unrest in the Kashmir state has a direct effect on the Azad Kashmir.

And Pakistan cannot keep a blind eye on a region as close as the Indian Kashmir.It has openly talked about freedom of Kashmir from India and demands from the world to support its rights. And as Pakistan supports the Kashmir issue on all forums indiscriminately, the pressure is piling on Delhi.

Prime Minister Imran Khan has announced solidarity with Kashmir. His government is taking the issue to every forum possible including the human rights forums in United Nations (UN).Islamabad knows the significance of this period and has highlighted the violations happening under Article 370.Pakistan’s support Kashmir is firm and is not budging.

As the issue takes rage, other countries also got involved in it as sitting back and ignoring the matter is out of question.

The United States (US) senate committee on foreign relations has called to bring an end to this type of “humanitarian crisis” in Kashmir. Even Donald Trump has offered to support in any way to solve this “complex issue”.

Meanwhile, Chinese President Xi Jinping has shared that he is personally keeping abreast with the situation in Kashmir and would “support Pakistan in issues related to its core interests.”Xi, however, added that both India and Pakistan should resolve the dispute through peaceful dialogue.

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan took up the issue in the UN General Assembly. He called to resolve it through peace dialogues as they ensure the safety, equity and happiness of the people of the region rather thana rmed collisions.

Even Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom stated that the people of Kashmir “must be included” in decisions concerning their future.

Decades have passed and there is a dire need to resolve this issue as the time flies it brings more anger in the residents. Open dialogues area solution which is in the best interest of Kashmiri people. Other repercussions are hard to fathom and difficult to digest.

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