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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 36, New Delhi, August 21, 2021

Open the doors to all Afghans

Friday 20 August 2021

Letter to the Readers, Mainstream, Aug 21, 2021

As we marked the 75th Independence Day of India on August 15, 2021, there was a dramatic development in our neighbourhood. The war-hardened Taliban fundamentalists moved into Kabul and took control of the seats of power in Afghanistan. The prospect of this happening had long been in the air ever since American President Donald Trump had announced the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan. While over the past year the American initiated negotiations were taking place between the Taliban leaders based in Doha and the Americans for some form of a peace deal the Afghan Government or parliamentarians were mostly unrepresented for a long time – during this time already the Taliban had begun large scale violent targeted attacks across Afghanistan. In fact over the last ten years, the Taliban had been taking control of more and more villages and towns. Large swathes of rural Afghanistan were under Taliban control while the Karzai or the Ghani administrations ruled in Kabul. It is astonishing that the ‘experts’ from the right or the left, from America or from South Asia who wax eloquent on Afghanistan were so clueless as to what will happen the day the Americans leave. The Taliban takeover has suddenly transported Afghanistan –- so far removed from any concerns of India’s media or its commentators onto the TV screens in India. There is an endless loop of reportage on India’s TV networks on the crisis in Afghanistan. The whole of the past week has been dramatic reports on chaotic scenes outside Kabul airport as Afghans and foreign citizens trying to get out of the country. India has managed to fly out some of its personnel and citizens. But thousands are waiting to fly out of Kabul to Europe or North America.

The Taliban takeover has triggered panic and fear among the young and middle class and urban sections of the Afghan technocratic elites .. the engineers, lawyers, judges, economists, teachers, journalists, doctors, university students, musicians, sportspersons, and also among Government employees and workers – the police, the water, and electricity service, the road, and city public works staff, etc. There was a large number of translators and support staff that worked for the US military and for the numerous other countries that had troops once deployed in Afghanistan all these are naturally threatened under Taliban rule. They are all hoping for protection and exile abroad. Time will tell how many will make it, the less privileged will seek refugee status in Pakistan, Iran, and or in India. India must open the door to all Afghans fleeing persecution and seeking refuge and must grant visas. India should also extend special financial assistance to agencies continuing to operate in Afghanistan and working with internally displaced refugees. All efforts should be made to keep alive a minimal diplomatic presence in Afghanistan.

Much instant commentary, particularly from the anti-imperialistas, is giving us all the juice on how America blew it in Afghanistan. Some almost seem to be presenting the arrival of the Taliban as good news —not all end of bad news is good news. The war may have ended for the Americans but they should not forget the war hasn’t ended for the Afghans. The past twenty years demonstrated that you couldn’t import democracy and that nation-building wasn’t a technology transfer project but with all the limitations we did see some achievements in that direction. India also contributed in a small way helping build social infrastructure in Afghanistan. However symbolic, the externally propped-up Afghan state did permit the creation of some social and economic change. There were scores of women who were elected to the Parliament, so many more worked for many wings of government, were teachers and students in universities, in hospitals. Hard-won rights were gained in the past two decades for women’s right to work and to participate in sport and most significantly the Law Against Elimination of Violence Against Women 2009. There was also a proliferation of independent media with dozens of television networks and some 200 FM radio stations opening horizons of society. All that space could shrink now in a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

India has been home for, the Khan Abdul Ghafar Khan – the frontier Gandhi and also for the imaginary ‘Kabuliwala’ the migrant from Kabul made popular through cinema. India’s official stance on Afghanistan seems hazy and unclear (and now the right-wing ruling party will have a new useful enemy prop to constantly point fingers at). The official left has little new to say other than waving a placard at Uncle Sam’s folly. In this huge crisis in the neighbourhood the Congress Party seems silent. What of the other political parties? Will all of India’s opposition political parties stand up and express solidarity in a joint statement for the people of Afghanistan.

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Tributes:

Gino Strada, the Italian surgeon known for helping set up hospitals for the victims of war, passed away on Aug. 13, 2021. In 1994 he co-founded Emergency —a humanitarian organisation to provide free, quality healthcare for those injured in conflict.

Stanley Aronowitz, the highly respected Professor of sociology, at the City University of New York who was also a veteran political activist, passed away on August 16, 2021. In the late 1950s, he was a metal worker in New Jersey; later in the late 1960s co-produced along with Jeremy Brecher, Paul Mattick Jr, the Root and Branch magazine.

Mohammad Ali Shah the leader of the Pakistan Fisher Folk Forum in Karachi passed away on August 18, 2021, following Covid-related complications. He had spent long years fighting for the rights of fishermen and for the downtrodden, his passing away is a huge loss for the people.

We pay our tributes to the above figures

August 21, 2021 – HK

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