'Most Afghans Do Not Know What CAA Is': Is Handpicking Sects In War-Torn Afghanistan Justified?

By :  Sanika Athavale  
Published : 31 Jan 2020 2:23 PM GMT

Image Credit: Twitter

The Logical Indian spoke to senior journalist Mariam Wardak about Afghanistan's minorities, the country's religious mix, its history, and the war.

The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, which guarantees a fast-track gateway to obtain Indian citizenship for all Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Paris, and Christians, has been the point of a fiery debacle between the central government and the Indian civil society.

The Act's legitimization has sparked protests all over India for selectively choosing the 'persecuted religious minorities' and the countries they hail from. The six listed minorities should only hail from the Islamic neighbouring countries of Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan, to receive their slice of the cake as per the amendment.

A report by The Hindu early this month revealed that 48% of the anti-CAA protests in India have seen violence - either in the form of police brutality or outbound disruption. Over 30 protestors have been killed during such demonstrations, an alarming figure for any country whose governing values are based on democratic principles.

As a matter of consequence, the situation of Pakistani minorities has been in bright light ever since. Asking for a shift in focus, Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently commented asking Indian dissenters to protest against the atrocities inflicted on minorities in Pakistan and subsequently end their anti-CAA-NRC-NPR demonstrations.

But in the debate for or against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, as Pakistan and Bangladesh are heavily discussed, the 'neighbouring' state of Afghanistan - which shares a border with India through Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (PoK) - is more often than not left out.

It can be safely established that the reason for the heavy scrutiny of Pakistan and Bangladesh comes with the countries' shared histories with India, but Afghanistan - which has been geographically and culturally isolated from the Hindu heartland for a fairly long time - has found itself dragged into a decades-long squabble between India and her cultural cousins through the corridor of the CAA.

In order to understand the prism through which Afghan people view the new amendment in India's citizenship law, The Logical Indian reached out to Mariam Wardak - Afghan national, South Asia Diary Anchor and Afghan Security Analyst for WIONews, and social activist fighting for women's rights through Her Afghanistan.

Apart from divulging details that miss being in the common Indians' eyes, Wardak spoke at length about how her own country people are blithely unaware of the constitutional values that confer upon them their fundamental human rights.

Do Afghans Care About CAA?

The public apparently has very limited knowledge about the new amendments in the Indian law. "News consumption on global developments is concentrated in urban cities amongst the privileged and educated classes", Mariam Wardak informed The Logical Indian.

Victims of Taliban-induced religious extremism - Muslims and non-Muslims alike, are hardly aware of global political developments, as per the senior journalist.

"Sometime during the Taliban's rule, around 500 to 1000 Jews were forced to convert to Islam. The culture of intolerance left behind by the former tribal warlords also resulted in common people mistreating religious minorities during the 'new era of democracy'", she said.

An Afghan media channel TOLOnews had reported that the collapse of the Taliban in 2001 forced a large number of Hindus and Sikhs to leave the countryside and to migrate to Kabul for a living. As a result, currently, there are no Sikh or Hindu citizens living in Helmand and Kandahar provinces.

"Albeit, innumerable Afghan Muslims have been displaced and tortured at the hands of the geopolitical war, the 'security' attacks around the country, carpet bombing of regions have also contributed to the numbers of minorities dropping in Afghanistan, in addition to their migration from their homeland", Wardak added.

The government of Afghanistan has also mentioned and addressed the security needs of religious communities many times. There exist a surprising variety of Hindu and Buddhist temples in the country and serious attempts being undertaken to restore Afghanistan's rich pre-Islamic past - that was ordered to be obliterated by the Taliban.

"The constitution of Afghanistan dated January 23rd, 2004, holds three articles mandate:

A. Afghanistan shall be an Islamic republic, independent, unitary and indivisible state.

B. The sacred religion of Islam shall be the religion of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. Followers of other faiths shall be free within the bounds of law in the exercise and performance of their religious rights.

C. No law shall contravene the tenets and provisions of the holy religion of Islam in Afghanistan.

But, please also take into account that the majority of the Afghan population is not even aware that a constitution exists", she commented.

Apart from chronic issues such as people's security, water shortage, illiteracy, and unemployment, the journalist acknowledges that there have been cases of 'silent' discriminations against religious minorities in the country.

"We see discrimination carried out against Shias by the majoritarian Sunnis. I would not be surprised if there is discrimination against minorities as well."

Afghanistan's Scarcely Discussed Past

Human settlements in Afghanistan date back to 50,000 BCE, a time when the Middle Paleolithic Era - a subdivision of the Stone Age - had empowered the early humans to migrate out of their African cradle to different parts of the world.

Over time, Afghanistan evolved to be an important trade centre as it was strategically situated at the crossroads of two of the world's greatest civilisations - the Mesopotamian civilisation and the Indus Valley civilisation.

The politically and trade-wise advantageous Khyber Pass did force its inhabitants to face unruly conquerors and ruthless invaders, enough times for the landlocked country to be colloquially termed a 'graveyard of empires'.

The Silk Road that connected it to a plethora of cultures, raised a tolerant temperament amongst its natives for an intermingling of knowledge, wisdom, and art.

The region's brush with the Hindu faith (it is believed that some parts of the Rig Veda were written in Afghanistan), its history of Buddhism, and the ongoing majoritarian practice of Islam, show a reader how the land of Afghans has been at the centre of theological development and proliferation.

The political history of the modern state of Afghanistan began with the Durrani dynasty in the 18th century, the founder of which - Ahmed Shah Abdali, is revered as the Father of Modern Afghanistan.

However, the rise of the British colonisers in undivided India during the 19th century put the country's own sovereignty at risk. Three times to be precise.

The second Anglo-Afghan war which resulted in the Treaty of Gandamak, that gave the British powers over Afghanistan's foreign affairs, was rendered null and void after the third Anglo-Afghan war which won the country its independence. But, the Durrand line that was drawn as a result of the Treaty of Gandamak, left Afghanistan stripped off of half of its Pashtun homeland - a shrewd colonial move that still is a point of conflict amongst the Balochi people in Pakistan.

The Durrand line rendered Afghanistan landlocked and made it a 'buffer zone' between the rising supremacist powers of the British and Russian Empires. It also made Afghans unwilling subjects in the 'Great Game' - the repercussions of which were and are still reflected in its political revolutions.

Similar to the Radcliffe Line which wedged a gap so deep between the Indian community predating 1947, the Durrand line was a geopolitical blunder that was to plague the lives of the natives in the years to come.

What followed soon after Afghanistan's Independence - in a complicated mix of political uprisings and rearrangements - left an indelible print on the nation's previously vibrant culture of fraternizing.

The decade-long Soviet-Afghan war which was fought between Russian troopers alongside Afghan armymen, and insurgent groups who were collectively called the 'Mujahideen' (backed by the United States of America and its allies), displaced millions of natives, killed a countless number of innocents, perpetrated the rape of Afghan women under the watch of the warring parties, and decimated the social fabric of its civilisation.

Religious Minorities In Afghanistan

A Central Investigation Agency (CIA) report, based on estimates of the year 2009 states that 99.7% of the population is Muslim (84.7-89.7% being Sunni and 10-15% being Shia), while the others are a collective 0.3%.

Mariam Wardak informed The Logical Indian that as per her information over 2,20,000 Afghans identified as Sikhs and Hindus in the 1980s.

"A 2015 study estimated that there were almost 3,300 followers of Christianity and Judaism in the nation", she said.

The Taliban regime - a product of the internationally supported Mujahideen, assumed control after the culmination of the Soviet-Afghan war. It undid several reforms of the previous governments, pulled the society back into an ultra-regressive era, and disenfranchised many sections of the society from their right to a dignified life.

The most evocative example would be the rule that forced non-Muslims, especially those out of the umbrella of Abrahamic religions, to don a yellow fabric in order to display their identity.

Women as a large group, have been at the forefront of the extreme atrocities perpetrated by the Taliban born out of the US-bred Mujahideen.

"There is no culture of women praying in mosques let alone any religious intermingling", Wardak stated.

Based on a Reuters report from 2016, late Avtar Singh had told the media house that Hindu and Sikh families were numbered at around 2,20,000 families before the collapse of the Kabul government in 1992.

A US State Department report on International Religious Freedom stated that Sikh and Hindu leaders in Afghanistan estimated that there are only 245 Sikh and Hindu families - totalling to 700 individuals in the country. The numbers are down from 1,300 individuals estimated in 2017.

'Afghanistan Is A Persecuted Country'

Do the selected group of people need the relief CAA provides?

This question was well answered by President Hamid Karzai who recently told The Hindu that "the entire country is persecuted".

Decades of war and civil strife have made the nationals the most displaced group in the world over the years. In 2018, as per the numbers released by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 2.6 million Afghans fled the country seeking refuge and the right to a dignified life, elsewhere.

Similar to the peg of many anti-CAA protests in India, President Karzai - who is deemed a friend of India, had said that he hoped the sentiment which called for the protection of minorities "would be reflected in India with regard to other Afghans, who are Muslim, as well".

Also Read: Civil Rights Activist Arrested On Sedition Charges For Challenging Pakistan Army On Human Rights Abuse

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