Whither Minority Rights in Afghanistan?

Ed note. I’m pleased to welcome Maryam Jafari to UN Dispatch. Maryam Jafari, who is from Afghanistan, is a Fulbright scholar who received her Masters from Monterey Institute of International Studies majoring in International Policy/Human Security & Development. 

One of the least discussed consequences of the impending international disengagement with Afghanistan is its potential impact on Afghanistan’s long suffering minority communities.

During the decades of devastating war, Afghan minorities, despite being part of the country with Afghan nationality, were deprived of their rights. The new Afghan constitution enshrines some minority rights, but human rights activists are concerned that as international forces withdraw in 2014, these newly-acquired gains might be jeopardized.

A good example of the perilous fate of Afghan minority rights is recent remarks by the warlord  Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the head and founder of Hizb -e-Islami party, a paramilitary group supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan. In remarks at the end of Ramadan last week, Hekmatyar asserted that unspecified foreigners were secretly trying to support Afghan minorities, thus prolonging the war in Afghanistan.  He believes these unspecified foreigners are prompting the government to engage minorities in security forces, recognize their provinces, and appoint them as governors.  By meeting minority demands, he claimed, the government is furthering the foreigners’ efforts at the disintegration of the country.

Hekmatyar’s message should sound the alarm for minorities and all believers of civil rights. Hekmatyar specifically targeted the Afghan provinces of Daikundi and Bamian (mainly populated with the Shiit-Hazara ethnic group) by saying he is outraged with their status as separate provinces in Afghanistan. He opposes the idea of having Shi’ites in charge of key positions in those provinces and promised that Hazaras will be expelled when non-minorities get their “rights” back.

Hekmatyar’s real goal could be to distract the voters’ attention from the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections to discourage them from voting. Afghanistan, as a non-homogenous, multi-ethnic, and multi-culture country, is prone to divisive and sensitive issues.  If the government and other political parties do not wake up and take action, Hekmatyar could successfully divide the people and jeopardize the current achievements. It’s clear from Hekmatyar’s message that if the Taliban and its supporters come to power again, there will be no place for the different multi-ethnic groups in Afghanistan to live together.