Topics: UN’s call for open borders, smuggled into Iran, DoS’s slow crawl to ‘success’, airport management, commercial flights to Turkey, France evacuates 300, seat at UN, lawyers fired, Tajikistan (a not so friendly neighbor), economic collapse, humanitarian crisis, Afghan judicial system, electrical bills, land redistribution, climate of fear, women need help, Hazaras and fears of another genocide, and more.
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Evacuation from Afghanistan
Webinar on SIV Processing. Afghan Evac volunteers, social workers, lawyers, and others are invited to participate in a “SIV for Case Managers Webinar” to take place on Monday, December 6, 2021, 8pm – 9pm (EST). The session will present topics on the history of the SIV program, the steps in the SIV process, what does it mean to be “interview ready”, how to navigate CEAC, learn where to direct SIV applicants for self-help guides for their applications, and a lot more. This presented by the Afghan Evac coalition, No One Left Behind, and Team America Relief. Sign up here.
UN – “Open the Borders”. The United Nations refugee organization is calling on Afghanistan’s neighbors to open their borders to Afghan refugees. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees say that the borders should be open to those seeking asylum. There are thousands of Afghans who are exposed to persecution and human rights violations. “UNHCR: Afghans struggle to seek safety as borders remain shut to most”, UNHCR, December 1, 2021.
Smuggling Their Way to Safety and Iran. Afghans who are at risk of death, imprisonment, and torture are crossing the border into neighboring countries. Many are paying smugglers to take them to Iran. The journey to Iran is dangerous – border guards and criminals are preying on the Afghans as they attempt to find safety in Iran. Some take a circuitous route into Pakistan and then Iran – used by pickup trucks and flatbed trucks loaded with Afghans who have paid big money for the trip. News reports say that at least 600 cars and trucks have departed Zaranj, Nimroz province each day for this dangerous trip during the month of October. Those who reach Iran seek out menial jobs while evading Iranian authorities or attempt to embark on another dangerous trip to Europe. “No Reason to Stay: Taliban Repression, Economic Collapse Accelerate Exodus From Afghanistan”, by Abukakar Siddique, Gandhara RFE, December 2, 2021.
Commercial Flights to Turkey. It appears that Ariana Afghan Airlines may resume flights from Kabul to Ankara, Turkey in the near future. Seats will be limited to Turkish residents and their families and students who hold a scholarship.
Afghan Passports. The problems with the passport offices continue. The Kabul passport office still has trouble keeping its biometrics equipment running. Many of the provincial passport offices are open, and some are printing. There is a question on how valid the passports are if they are not tied to a biometric system. The Passport Department announced on December 6th that a group of commission agents (middlemen) were arrested. (Pajhwok, Dec 6, 2021).
Vetting of Afghans by Project Exodus Relief. One of the Afghan evac groups describes the initial vetting of Afghans who were evacuated by the U.S. military in August 2021. It is estimated that over 75% of the Afghans that made it to U.S. shores were not even applicants for visas. By contrast, the vast majority of the Afghans who have applied for a Special Immigrant Visa based on their support of the U.S. military in Afghanistan have been left behind. Project Exodus Relief describes its vetting process to weed out undesirable Afghans from their evacuation process. “Our Thorough Afghan Evacuee Vetting”, Project Exodus Relief, December 3, 2021.
France Evacuates 300. France and Qatar jointly operated a humanitarian evacuation mission while also delivering medical equipment, food, and winter supplies to Kabul. Eleven French, 60 Dutch, and 258 Afghans were flown out of Afghanistan on Thursday, December 2nd on a Qatari military transport plane. The Afghans included journalists lined to France as well as civilian workers who were employed by the French army. France has organized 10 flights since September 10th with Qatari authorities. “France evacuates more than 300 people from Afghanistan”, Aljazeera, December 4, 2021.
DoS’s Slow Crawl to ‘Success’. The U.S. State Department is sticking to its very strict policy of approving flight manifests for only those with the correct documentation – a U.S. passport, a green card (LPR), or an Afghan passport with a visa. It has only recently opened up to accepting Afghans with a current passport and Special Immigrant Visa. But only if they possess ‘foil visa’ or an ‘issued’ visa. DoS approved flights to the ‘lily pad’ in Doha, Qatar are still limited. About two flights a week on Qatar Airways. It will take months to get the SIVs with foil or issued visas flown out of Afghanistan to Qatar. Left out in the cold and evading the Taliban are the thousands of Afghan with pending SIVs – those not quite through the approval process. Many of those will not survive the winter or evade the Taliban. Other flights by private volunteer groups are taking Afghans to destinations other than Doha, but the wait and process to get to the United States by these means is long and uncertain.
Afghan Evacuee Resettlement
Waiting for Options in Pakistan. A former Radio Azadi journalist escaped Afghanistan by driving to the Pakistan border. The presence of a sick aunt needing medical attention seemed to have helped in getting passage through the control point at the border. Now he is in Pakistan with the expiration of his visa looming. What are his options? Very few, he will likely attempt to stay in Pakistan illegally rather than risk a return to Afghanistan. “The Only Option Left: My Escape From Afghanistan”, Gandhara RFE, December 2, 2021.
Female Judges Get Refuge in Brazil. Female judges and their families were taken to Mazar-i-Sharif for a airplane ride to Greece. Some of them went on to settle in Brazil. “Afghan judges in Brazil still fear the Taliban”, AP News, December 4, 2021.
The Afghanistan Project. The University of Pittsburgh has a center established for addressing the plight of Afghan scholars. It has assisted in the relocation efforts of Afghan scholars to the United States. The Afghanistan Project provides a scholarly home for Afghan scholars and policy leaders who are now in the United States and serves as a hub for Afghanistan research and policy analysis.
From ‘Lily Pad’ to Fort Dix. Currently there are 11,000 Afghans living in Liberty Village on Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey. The base is the only one still accepting refugees from overseas, primarily from a military base in Doha, Qatar. Each week about four planeloads of Afghans arrive at Liberty Village from overseas transit locations. “Inside the U.S. Military Base Where 11,000 Afghans are Starting Over”, The New York Times, December 4, 2021.
Afghan Journalists. A free media was one of the major achievements of Western efforts in Afghanistan. However, under the Taliban, the Afghan media is struggling for survival. Taliban intimidation and regulations have cut deeply into the idea of a free and independent Afghan media. Many Afghan journalists are now living outside of Afghanistan and hope to influence the situation from abroad. “Afghan Journalists in Exile Keep Spotlight on Their Homeland”, by Sune Engel Resmussen, The Wall Street Journal, December 1, 2021, (subscription).
A Seat at the UN? Not Yet. A special United Nations committee has ruled that Afghanistan’s seat in the UN General Assembly should not be given to the new Taliban government for now. “UN defers decision to give IEA govt a seat in general assembly”, Ariana News, December 2, 2021. See a report by Reuters on this same topic.
Some Airport Management Needed. The Taliban indicated in recent talks with European representatives in Doha, Qatar last week that they would honor their pledge to allow Afghans and foreigners to leave if they wished. The Afghan representatives asked for assistance in continuing to manage airport operations to make this possible. “The Taliban are asking Europe for help to continue managing Afghan airports”, AsumeTech, November 29, 2021.
Joint Diplomatic Mission in Kabul? Western countries have been wrestling with how to assist in the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan without extending official recognition to the Taliban regime. Several European nations may open a joint diplomatic mission in Afghanistan which would serve as a common location for European ambassadors and staff to work from. “France, Europeans working to open mission in Afghanistan”, Aljazeera, December 4, 2021.
Tajikistan – Keeping Kabul Honest? One of the countries to the north of Afghanistan is emerging as a foe to the Taliban regime. About 20% of the Afghan population is Tajik and with the Taliban assuming power they are now out of important government offices and the security institutions. Tajikistan is holding the Taliban to their promise of inclusiveness and diversity in government and refuses to warm up relations until that happens. There are some domestic factors that enter into this hardline stance against the Taliban. Temur Umarov, a research consultant at the Carnegie Moscow Center who focuses on Central Asia, explains in “Why Tajikistan Is Taking a Stand Against the Taliban”, Carnegie Moscow Center, October 26, 2021.
Living Under Taliban Rule
Afghan Judicial System – Big Changes. The Taliban are continuing their integration of their ‘shadow justice system’ into the current judicial system of the Afghan government. A decree issued on November 22nd put the Afghanistan Independent Bar Association (AIBA) under the control of the Justice Ministry. The AIBA offices were stormed by dozens of Taliban gunmen last week and the staff was ordered to stop its work. Some 2,500 lawyers in Afghanistan have had their licenses revoked. “Afghanistan’s Justice System Under Its Thumb”, Gandhara RFE, December 1, 2021.
Land Redistribution – Rewarding Taliban Fighters. Afghanistan is a country that has a poor system of keeping track of who owns what land. This makes it easy for power brokers and corrupt officials to seize and redistribute land as they see fit. The new Taliban regime is no different – currently evicting long-term landholders from their property to provide Taliban fighters and others with new homes. “In Afghanistan, Who Has the Guns Gets the Land”, The New York Times, December 3, 2021.
Endless Suffering of the Afghan People. The citizens of this mountainous and landlocked country are patient. They have endured decades of violence, drought, hunger, and disaster. Now it must contend with the Taliban regime. One Afghan writer describes the days of August 2021 and the aftermath. “Afghanistan: The beautiful land of endless suffering”, The Globe and Mail, December 3, 2021.
Smartphone Inspections. The Taliban are stopping people and checking their phones – looking for music, pictures, or content that is questionable in the eyes of the new regime or that is violating its strict moral code. Afghans are complaining that Taliban fighters are prying into the personal photos, videos, contacts, and social media accounts of their smartphones. Protecting their online identity has now become an important task for many Afghans, especially those who were former members of the Afghan security forces or who had contacts with westerners. “Afghans Complain of Beatings, Harassment As Taliban Inspects Smartphones”, Gandhara RFE, November 29, 2021.
Forced Marriages Banned. The Taliban issued a decree that protects women from forced marriages. While this may alleviate some concern by the international community what happens in practice will likely not change much. “Taliban chief bans force marriage of women in Afghanistan”, AP News, December 3, 2021.
Climate of Fear. A United Nations official stated that human rights defenders in Afghanistan are under constant threat of beatings, arrests, death, and enforced disappearances. Those at risk include Afghans who documented alleged war crimes, women’s rights advocates, musicians, and others. These Afghans have erased their online data history to evade identification. The Taliban have raided their former offices looking for papers, documents, and computer evidence that would reveal the names, addresses, and contacts of those that worked there. In addition, prior to the capture of Kabul by the Taliban, there were numerous biometric identity systems in use by the Afghan government and international aid organizations that are now being used by the Taliban to target at-risk Afghans. Many of these ‘human rights defenders’ have fled to different cities where they are less known and stay constantly on the move. “Afghanistan: Human rights defenders living under ‘climate of fear’ – UN Expert“, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, November 3, 2021.
Humanitarian Assistance and Economy
Economic Collapse. The lack of significant international funding of the Afghan regime and the imposition of Taliban rule has caused a major contraction of the Afghan economy. Millions of Afghans in the government and private sector have not collected a paycheck in months. Many Afghans have lost their jobs. A severe drought has caused a food shortage. Electricity is sparse as well as fuel supplies. And a cold winter is on the way. Jan Egeland, the Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council, provides a summary of the humanitarian catastrophe that looms ahead as winter approaches in “Afghanistan is facing a total economic meltdown”, NRC, October 19, 2021.
Electrical Bills. Corruption and inefficiencies have always plagued the proper rendering of payments of electrical bill across Afghanistan. But with the new regime in place that might come to an end. The head of the Afghan power company, DABS, said that Afghan customers now have a deadline to pay up their debts or else face referral to the judicial system. “DABS Gives One-Month Deadline to Repay Electricity Bills”, Tolo News, December 1, 2021.
Recommendations for the Afghanistan Humanitarian Crisis. M. Ashraf Haidari, the Afghan ambassador to Sri Lanka, details the extent of the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan and provides some recommendations for the international community. “The Long Road to Finding an End to Afghanistan’s Humanitarian Crisis”, ORF Special Report No. 170, December 2021.
$7 Billion at Stake. There is a lot of money that belongs to the Afghan central banks that are on deposit at the New York Federal Reserve. The Taliban regime wants this money but there are some victim groups from the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks that are laying claim to the funds. “More Sept. 11 Victims Who Sued the Taliban Want Frozen Afghan Funds“, The New York Times, December 2, 2021.
Commentary, Analysis, and Opinion
Women of Afghanistan Need Help. Jen Vitela, a former U.S. diplomat who served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan calls upon the women leaders of the United States to pay more attention to the plight of Afghan women. “We are Failing the Women of Afghanistan”, Medium, December 1, 2021.
IS-KP: A Formidable Opponent? The Islamic State – Khorasan Province is giving the Taliban a considerable amount of angst. It is deeply entrenched in Nangarhar province and has extended its reach into almost all of the countries 34 provinces. Oved Lobel explains in “The Taliban are losing the fight against the Islamic State”, The Strategist, Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), December 6, 2021.
The Afghan Media – A DoS Failure. The Taliban have shut down most of the media outlets that were established over the past 20 years. The radio and television stations are heavily censored. A few media organizations are tolerated and can operate within Afghanistan – Pajhwok, Tolo News, and the Kilid Group. However, they are towing a fine line of tolerance; and it appears they are useful to the Taliban as a show to the world that a media still exists in Afghanistan under Taliban rule. The vast majority of former Afghan journalists are unemployed and without a voice. Most remain in Afghanistan, some are stuck in the official and unofficial ‘lily pads’, a few have made it to the United States. More consideration should be given to the Afghan journalists by the US Department of State. After all, it would be a constructive step forward in developing a ‘narrative’ that would accurately portray the Taliban regime for what it is, issue calls for a truly diverse and inclusive government, and to bring to the forefront the lack of rights for Afghan girls and women. Or, could it be that State is worried about a ‘narrative’ that portrays foggy bottom in a negative way due to its botched U.S. military withdrawal and inept handling of the Kabul NEO? “Is the U.S. Failing the Afghan Journalist Diaspora?”, Overseas Press Club of America, December 5, 2021.
Hazaras Facing a 2nd Genocide? The minority population of Hazara in Afghanistan have a different appearance, language, and religion that makes them a target of the Taliban. The Hazara have faced persecution for centuries and it appears that this will continue under the newly established Taliban regime. “A religious minority faces a second genocide in Afghanistan. Jews must act now”, Forward.com, December 1, 2021.
Videos and Podcasts
Video – Battle of Tora Bora Begins in Afghanistan – December 6th, 2001. DVIDS, November 19, 2021. A one-minute long presentation on the hunt of bin Laden in 2001 in the eastern mountains of Afghanistan – 20 years ago. Listen to a podcast featuring Gary Berntesen, the CIA commander in eastern Afghanistan, in Remembering the battle of Tora Bora in 2001, The World, December 22, 2015.
Event – Canada’s Broken Promise to Afghans. On Wednesday, December 8th at 10:30 am ET a webinar will take place presented by the Macdonald-Laurier Institute. Most of the Afghans who helped Canada during the Canadian deployment to Afghanistan are trapped and face terrible reprisals if caught by the Taliban. Now they have been abandoned by Canada. One wonders about the welcoming provided to Syrian refugees and the lack of empathy for the Afghans. Register here.
Photo: Army Lt. Col. Jonathan Oblon holds an Afghan infant while her parents pick out clothes during a clothing drive at Fort Pickett, Va., Nov. 6, 2021. The clothing drive provides Afghans with an additional opportunity to collect donated clothing items for themselves and their families. (photo by Lance Cpl. Zachary Zephir, USMC)