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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 37, New Delhi, August 28, 2021

Letter to the Readers, Mainstream, Aug 28, 2021

Friday 27 August 2021

Letter to the Readers, Mainstream, Aug 28, 2021

Over the past two weeks, people around the world have been transfixed watching the horrific images of thousands of Afghans queuing up to access the Kabul Airport and hopeful of being evacuated out to escape life under a Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. (An estimated hundred thousand people have already been evacuated by the Americans & other western powers) These people seeking haven abroad may only represent a small fraction of Afghan society and they had been part of the modest democratisation attempted in Afghanistan in the past 20 years. The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan has triggered real fear among these people from Kabul and other urban areas who shared and experienced the benefits of a relatively open social environment with a framework for democratic rights in their workspaces where there were equal rights and pay for men and women and equality of legal rights irrespective of ethnicity; Artists, musicians, filmmakers, teachers, students, NGO workers, journalists used that freedom to express or citizens got to vote in elections, and got to create a social buzz of their own away from the conservative social culture that had held sway in society. There were dazzling sports personalities and TV anchors, comedians who were like social icons and role models among Afghan women and men. There is lament among them of the sudden loss of those spaces & exposure they had, these women and men fear being targets tomorrow of the Taliban moral police.

On the evening of August 26, 2021 hundreds of people standing waiting near the Kabul Airport for their turn in a jam-packed sewage drain with their feet in water were attacked by two successive bombings leaving over 170 people dead. These bombings have been claimed reportedly by the Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISKP) an organisation of radical Islamists with ideological differences with the Taliban. These attacks come just days before the final deadline of the 31st August 2021 for the departure of American or western nationals and their former support staff from Afghanistan.

The withdrawal of American troops and the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan are going to have a major impact on the region. The Afghan state of the past two decades ran of foreign funding but with that declining and with prospects of economic disruption, the countries that share borders with Afghanistan are likely to feel the pressure with more refugees. The Taliban in power now, have been engaged in a long war and that provided employment to some 75000 combatants. What happens to these militia-men, now, that the big war is over. These men are not trained for peacekeeping or road-building and may now be available on the labour market for mercenaries and private militias required to get things done inside Afghanistan and in the region.

In a very positive development, the BJP-led Government of India which has mostly been in a confrontational mode with the opposition called an all-party meeting on Afghanistan. Representatives of many of India’s political parties spoke at the meeting, and they were briefed by the Minister of External Affairs. India should evacuate all Indians at risk and also provide refuge to any and all Afghans who we know might require assistance. India must go beyond Supporting only Afghan Sikhs and Hindus, all Afghans should be eligible and special efforts should be made for Afghan trade unionists, writers, artists, teachers, sportsmen/women, women’s rights activists, and former parliamentarians who need help. Over the past few days, there has been a disturbing news report of an Afghan Member of Parliament being deported from India. The circumstances of this episode need to be gone into and the immigration officials involved need to be held to account. There has been tremendous goodwill for India among former Afghan officials, democrats, and educated elites, we should do all to defend and protect all those people.

Tributes:

Olga Lipovskaya, a Soviet and Russian journalist and a feminist passed away on August 24, 2021. Based in Leningrad during the period of glasnost she edited ‘Women’s Reading’ a samizdat journal

Charlie Watts, the English musician and who was the drummer of the famous Rolling Stones band from 1963 on passed away on August 24, 2021

Rubina Saigol, the well-known Pakistani feminist scholar, educationist passed away on August 27, 2021. Rubina Saigol was active in the Women’s Action Forum (WAF) Lahore.

Gail Omvedt, the 1960s Marxist scholar from Berkeley, the Indian sociologist and rights activist who wrote extensively on caste and for the emancipation of Dalits, and collaborated with many social movements passed away in Kasegaon, in rural Maharashtra on August 25, 2021. She had co-founded the Shramik Mukti Dal - an independent Left Group in Maharashtra along with her companion and comrade Bharat Patankar.

We pay our tributes to the above figures

August 28, 2021 – HK

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