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State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2011 - Afghanistan

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 6 July 2011
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2011 - Afghanistan, 6 July 2011, available at: [accessed 27 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Following elections in September, President Karzai consolidated his hold on the Afghan premiership, and played the role of a statesman in numerous international conferences on the future of Afghanistan. With the exception of the 20 per cent participation of women at the Peace Consultative Jirga in June 2010, very few women took part in any of these conferences. In terms of political representation, the parliamentary elections saw 406 women stand for election, running for the 64 seats reserved for women. In addition, the Hazara minority won about 25 per cent of seats in the parliamentary elections held in 2010, although, according to a report by National Public Radio, this was in part because voters in some Pashtun-dominant areas were unable to vote, due to ongoing violence.

Contrary to the successes announced by US President Obama concerning the NATO-led coalition's efforts in Afghanistan, the United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA) security assessments showed an escalating pattern of violence throughout 2010. The ongoing lack of stability in the country provides the backdrop for significant human rights concerns, particularly among representatives of minority communities and women's rights groups, who are anxious about the role of the opposition Taliban in any future peace settlement.

In 2010, armed opposition groups appeared to be able to strike right in the heart of Kabul. According to the UK Foreign Office, between summer 2009 and summer 2010, there were 14 suicide bombings in the city, with at least five further suicide attacks known to have been stopped. Of these 14 attacks, the majority were aimed at the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). A large-scale attack against various ministries occurred in January. While the rate of attacks eased during the second half of the year, the ability of armed opposition groups to act against highly defended targets in the capital city was troubling.

The Afghan national security forces (the Afghan National Army, ANA, and the Afghan National Police, ANP) have been unable to curb mounting civilian casualties, attributed to armed opposition groups. Questions remain as to the ethnic and tribal composition of this security infrastructure, its continued lack of adequate training, and the extent to which it can operate effectively in an increasingly fragmented Afghanistan.

In 2010 women and children bore an ever greater burden of the cost of war, according to figures included in a report entitled Nowhere to Turn: The Failure to Protect Civilians in Afghanistan (November 2010). There was an increase of 31 per cent in civilian deaths for the first half of 2010 over the figure for a similar period the previous year, including a 6 per cent increase in women casualties and a 55 per cent rise in that of children. The sharp rise in assassinations and executions by armed opposition groups points to an atmosphere of intimidation and the continued break-down in the rule of law. The report, compiled by 29 highly respected international and national non-governmental organizations (NGOs), including two prominent national women's NGOs, highlighted the worsening security situation for civilians. They predict increased violence in 2011 leading to greater civilian casualties, increased displacement, reduction in access to basic services and limitations on the ability of aid agencies to reach the vulnerable. The report highlights that armed opposition groups currently control more territory than at any other time since 2001.

A fundamental concern from the perspective of minority and women's rights leaders remains the role that the Taliban are likely to have in the peace settlement, especially after the withdrawal of NATO troops. The indeterminate results of the 2010 elections saw the Pashtun community's share of seats drop by 20 seats, leading President Karzai to label the election results as a 'threat to national unity', on the basis that any meaningful settlement in Afghanistan has to include Pashtuns for it to be sustainable. Pashtuns represent the largest ethnic group in the country; the Taliban primarily draw their support from among this group. The inclusion of representatives of the different communities in Afghanistan while excluding the Taliban poses a challenge.

Representatives of Afghanistan's Hazara, Tajik and Uzbek communities (together roughly constituting half the population) remain gravely concerned about the involvement of the Taliban in the peace process. The Hazara minority in particular suffered considerable discrimination and violence during the Taliban period, and, following parliamentary elections, members of the Hazara minority interviewed for a report by National Public Radio expressed concern as to what would happen were the Taliban to regain control over the country. Elsewhere, Rehman Oghly, an Uzbek Member of Parliament and former member of an anti-Taliban militia warned in a New York Times article that these communities are likely to resist with force inclusion of the Taliban, which may signal a return to civil war and the spectre of dismemberment of the state.

A similar concern has been expressed by a number of prominent women's rights activists. Human Rights Watch's (HRW 2010) report The 'Ten-Dollar Talib' and Women's Rights highlights the damage to women from all ethnic groups in the conflict, and the threat lurking to women's rights in any political compromise that involves dampening down the positive developments regarding issues such as girls' access to education. Thus, while the future of Afghanistan depends on whether a peace deal can be struck with the Taliban and groups such as Hezb-i-Islami (Gulbuddin), the price of such involvement would be high. Hezb-i-Islami (Gulbuddin) has clearly stated repressive views on women's participation in public life and any compromise with this group could undermine progress. The Taliban's attempt to eliminate women – including those from minority groups – from the public sphere has also resulted in new strategies, including the use of night letters and poisonings at girls' schools (see Special Report, p. 139).

The ongoing instability and violence disproportionately affects minorities, with the beheading of 11 Hazaras in June 2010 in Uruzgan province, attributed by police to the Taliban, standing as a stark reminder of the challenge in re-building Afghanistan. There has also been a growth in tension between communities, typified by an incident in May in Behsud, where Hazaras and Kuchis clashed over land issues. Kuchis are ethnic Pashtun nomads. The government has been unable to bring perpetrators of such violence to account. On 5 August 2010, ten members of an International Assistance Mission eye team were killed in Badakhshan. Observers feared that this incident, along with an increase in killings of civilians in the region, could signal an expansion of the conflict into northern areas of Afghanistan. The population of Badakhshan is mainly Tajik, but also includes a sizeable Ismaili religious community.

When asked for a clarification of the impact on women and minorities of the reintegration of pro-Taliban forces in national politics, Mohammad Masoom Stanekzai, who is in charge of government reintegration programmes, reiterated that any resulting policy changes will not infringe on the promises of Article 22 of the Afghan Constitution. This article, promising equality, provides shallow protection to minorities and women and could easily be subverted by a stricter reading of Article 3, which guarantees the primacy of Sharia law, raising deeper questions about the commitment of the government to values of equality.

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