Thursday, June 10, 2010

Afghanistan: what chance do 'apostates' have when their government is pursuing peace and reconciliation with an ascendant Taliban?

updated 1 July 2010

On Monday 31 May, the government of Afghanistan suspended two church-based aid organisations -- US-based Church World Service (CWS) and Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) -- over allegations of proselytisation.

According to the New York Times, "Both groups have major operations in Afghanistan, disbursing millions of dollars in aid. Church World Service employs 190 people, and Norwegian Church Aid 50 people in a variety of development programs here, the government said."

Christian Post reports that the "U.S.-based CWS is a cooperative ministry of 36 Christian denominations and communions. It operates relief and development programs in more than 80 countries. Norwegian Church Aid [which has worked in Afghanistan since 1979] operates in some 125 countries and provides emergency relief and development aid to poor communities and people in need."

Both groups are vociferously denying the charge, insisting they do not evangelise and have adhered to the Islamic State's strict protocols. Of course one does not need to preach/evangelise to be guilty of fitna. Fitna is anything at all that could have the effect of tempting or seducing a Muslim to turn away from Islam -- anything from vile torture to magnetic grace. In Islam, fitna is equated with persecution and must be eliminated. (For a fuller examination of fitna, see my earlier posting: "Fitna in Morocco".)

Islam is inherently apostaphobic, and leaving Islam (apostasy) is a capital offense under Afghan law and it is illegal to proselytise. The allegations emerged on 27 and 28 May, via a privately-run Afghan television station, Noorin TV, which broadcast video footage reportedly showing Afghans being baptised and participating with Westerners in Christian prayer meetings being held in alleged "missionary safe houses" in western Kabul. While CWS and NCA were specifically named, Noorin TV unashamedly confesses it has NO evidence they were involved. According to the producer, the report merely raised "suspicions" about the two groups whose names had simply been selected out of the telephone directory on account of the fact that they contained the word "church".

See: Afghanistan Suspends Two Aid Groups
By Rod Nordland and Abdul Waheed Wafa
New York Times, 31 May 2010

According to Reuters (31 May), Sediq Amarkhil, a spokesman for the economy ministry said on Sunday 30 May, it had formed a commission to investigate all NGOs after a local TV report accusing aid groups of promoting Christianity. "We are very, very serious about this matter," said Amarkhil. "If proven that any NGO is operating against the norms and laws of Afghanistan and Islam and is inviting people to Christianity . . . we will not only close it down, but will hand it over to the judicial and legal organs of the government."

In Kabul, angry protesters have demanded the expulsion of foreigners who try to convert Muslims. In parliament, Abdul Sattar Khawasi, a deputy of the lower house, called for Muslim converts to Christianity to be executed, saying: "Those Afghans that appeared in this video film should be executed in public, the house should order the attorney general and the NDS (intelligence agency) to arrest these Afghans and execute them." Qazi Nazir Ahmad, a lawmaker from the western province of Herat, affirmed that killing an apostate is "not a crime".

Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai is reportedly taking a personal interest in the case and has ordered an investigation, but not because he is keen to defend religious liberty. According to Waheed Omar, the President's spokesman, Karzai has instructed his interior minister and the head of country's spy agency "to take immediate and serious action to prevent this phenomenon".

A European diplomat told Agence France-Presse (AFP) that he suspected there might be a "hidden political agenda", behind the Noorin TV broadcast, "at a time when stirring up anti-foreign sentiment is quite fashionable in Kabul".

See: Afghan president takes 'personal interest' in suspended NGOs
(AFP) 1 June 2010

Pursuing peace and reconciliation with the Taliban

This drama is unfolding parallel to President Hamid Karzai's desperate efforts to entice the Taliban into a peace agreement. A government-run three-day Consultative Peace Jirga commenced in Kabul on 2 June, just days after the proselytising accusations were broadcast and the government's and Karzai's indignation had been loudly publicised. Karzai no longer needs to defend religious liberty to maintain Western favour -- unlike in March 2006 when he facilitated the escape of convert Abdul Rahman so as to avoid risking Western aid. It is the Taliban that needs to be seduced now, not Western governments. Western governments want whatever leads to "peace".

The main purpose of the Jirga -- to which some 1,600 Afghans were invited -- was to discuss plans for reconciling with the Taliban and other insurgent groups.

See: Afghan jirga's resolutions 'nice on paper'
By Waheedullah Massoud (AFP) 6 June 2010

As part of the British-authored, US-approved Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Program, Taliban insurgents who denounce violence and lay down their weapons will receive material support including cash, and amnesty. Billions of dollars will thus be channelled to alleged 'de-radicalised' Taliban. Western Nations desperate for "peace" are lining up to contribute to the Peace and Reintegration Trust Fund (RTF). Australia, for instance, has pledged $25 million. Officials estimate the RTF will disburse more than $1.5 billion in the next few years.

See: $25m promised to woo Taliban insurgents
By Dan Oaks, Sydney Morning Herald (Australia), 30 January 2010
(According to this article, "Australia will contribute $100 million more in aid to Afghanistan, including $25 million to a fund to lure insurgents to the Afghan Government's side" . . . $20 million for mine clearance and $55 million for reconstruction, agricultural reform and promotion of [Islamic?] human rights.)

Ministerial statement on Afghanistan, 2 February 2010
By the Hon Stephen Smith, Australian Minister for Foreign Affaris

Ministerial Statement on Afghanistan, 18 March 2010
By Senator the Hon John Faulkner, Minister for Defence

Of course you really don't need too many brain cells to imagine how this scheme could be massively rorted to produce the exact opposite of what was intended.

Broken promises send Taliban back into battle
By Tom Hyland, The AGE (Melbourne, Australia), 16 May 2010

ANALYSIS: "Flawed" peace strategy in Afghanistan
By IRIN (a project of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs)
KABUL, 31 May 2010

REPORT: "Golden Surrender? The risks, challenges, and implications of reintegration in Afghanistan" (March 2010).
By Matt Waldman, a fellow at the Carr Centre for Human Rights Policy, Harvard University.

The foundational premise underlying the Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Program is the belief that "most of the rank-and-file insurgents are fighting primarily for economic reasons and an attractive reintegration package will wean them off the conflict" (IRIN).

Yet as Waldman notes: "Golden surrender' [the US military's term] holds little appeal for those who are not fighting for gold."

However, in his ONLY mention of Islam in his entire 11 report, Waldman lists "tribal, community, and group exclusion or disempowerment; leverage in local rivalries, feuds, and conflicts; government predation, impunity, or corruption; criminality, disorder, and the perversion of justice; civilian casualties and abusive raids or detentions; resistance to perceived western occupation or suppression of Islam; the hedging of bets; and as a reaction to threats, intimidation, or coercion" as reasons driving people to join the insurgency. (p 4) (emphasis mine)

Nowhere in Waldman's report (which is excellent on so many other levels) or in the IRIN analysis, is the issue of Islam as a motivating factor even raised.

Waldman does however raise the issue of honour and status (p 6). Yet even here he only considers honour and status as they may be acquired through money and power. Yet the fact remains, that many Taliban are Taliban because in such an orthodox Islamic fundamentalist society, honour and status are not derived from wealth or from being a gainfully employed husband and father, as much as from being a jihadist, suffering deprivation and risking life and limb to fighting in the cause of Allah. Like most Western analysts, Waldman insists on viewing the insurgency as a "social and cultural phenomenon" that can be addressed without reference to Islam. Thus the issue of orthodox Islamic fundamentalism as a "root cause" of the insurgency is never even raised.

Waldman concludes: "Perhaps the greatest risk is that the [reintegration] programme distracts policy‐makers from addressing the root causes of the conflict, especially predatory, exclusionary politics, and the abuse of power. This would be treating the symptoms while ignoring the cancer.

"Into what kind of society are we asking insurgents to integrate? 'Golden surrender' holds little appeal for those who are not fighting for gold. Indeed, there would seem to be as much need for the social and political reintegration of government officials and other power‐holders into society, as there is for insurgents. If this happens – through fairer politics, better government, and stronger development – it may well be that reintegration starts to happen quietly of its own accord." (p 11)

And this is exactly the point -- except Waldman is not seeing what Karzai sees. Karzai is desperately busy making Afghanistan into the kind of society that the Taliban might wish to integrate. This is why he has been on the path of Islamisation and Talibanisation since 2006.

The Taliban are not interested in peace because they are ascendant. Even now, they can terrorise Kabul at will. They can smell victory and are just biding their time until the US and allied forces depart, then, whether they decide to take over Kabul or not, they will certainly dictate their terms.

And so Karzai is offering appeasements and inducements in the hope that the ascendant Taliban will ensure his government's survival, albeit as a puppet or facade.

In such an environment of political and existential desperation, the lives of the Afghan believers who have been filmed being baptised or praying to the Lord, are imminently imperilled.

The Islamic masses are against them. The Islamic State's constitution is against them. Their own government -- including their West-backed president -- is against them. Thankfully the God of their salvation, the Almighty eternal God Yehovah, is with them and for them.

(this post is an expanded version of Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin 059, released 9 June 2010)

UPDATE:

Sources have told Christian Solidarity Worldwide that more than 20 Afghan Christians have been detained in Afghanistan since early June. Reportedly non-Christians with ties to Westerners have also been targeted for interrogation.

Afghan Christian refugees arriving in India on 8 June reported there had already been many arrests and searches as well as claiming that arrested Christians were being tortured for information on the 'underground church'.

Afghan Christian refugees have also been targeted for persecution in Delhi, India. On 14 June a group of Afghan Muslim refugees deliberately rammed their car into a disabled Afghan Christian refugee named Hamidullah. Earlier in the month a young Afghan Christian refugee named Mirdad Al was attacked by a group of Indian and Afghan Muslims who abused him as a pagan and infidel. Indian police reportedly refuse to extend protection to 'illegal immigrants'.