Apr 4, 2015

Afghan President Plays Prank on April Fool's Day

April Fool’s Day is a great day for people who deliberately play jokes on one another, but in some countries like Afghanistan April Fool's Day does not exist. What instead these countries have are their leaders who play pranks on them and the world.

The latest prank from Afghanistan came on April 1, 2015 when President Ashraf Ghani announced that his government is ready with ALL its POWER (yes, that is correct, with all its power) to support Saudi Arabia in its fight against the Huthi rebels in Yemen.

"The Afghan government stands with all power by the brotherly government and people of Saudi Arabia in defending the sacred territory should there be any threat." Read the entire statement here.
It is quite amusing to hear the Afghan president announces his country's support for Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is a country that is largely responsible for exporting the extreme interpretation of Islam to other Muslim countries. Afghanistan is one of those countries. The Afghan people know all too well what Wahhabism has done to them. They have paid a heavy price to fight against it.

Despite this, Afghanistan now has a new president who seems to be ignorant of all these sacrifices. On the top of that he does not recognize the regional sectarian sensitivity of this issue. I believe he has made a major mistake in his foreign policy, because it appears he has not made a careful assessment of what the repercussions could be. Ashraf Ghani, should be anxious for he has to expect some resentment and anger from Iran. Iran hosts more than two million Afghan refugees, shares a boarder, and has strong historical, religious and linguistic ties with Afghanistan. On the other hand Saudi Arabia shares relatively little except for religion.

So, what compels Ashraf Ghani to stand by Saudi Arabia in its fight against the Huthi rebels with all its powers when Afghanistan's capital and other major cities are being rocked by suicide attacks on a daily basis and its security forces are not able to protect its citizens?

Since taking office in September of last year, Ashraf Ghani has frequently traveled to Riyadh to explore avenues for seeking the Saudi's cooperation with the peace negotiations with the Taliban in Afghanistan. The outcome of his efforts and travels to Saudi Arabia have had little affect on Afghanistan. Perhaps those travels will not be significant because the Saudi's have never played a positive role in Afghanistan's peace nor are the Saudi's really interested in the wellbeing of the Afghan people.

What entices the Afghan president to seek the Saudi's support in the peace negotiations with the Taliban is not the Saudi King's initiatives, but rather the sanctity of the oil rich country that hosts Mecca. Mecca has a sacred mosque that attracts hundreds of thousands of Afghans every year.

It is highly unlikely the Saudi will be a successful role player in the peace negotiations between the Afghanistan government and the Afghan Taliban. So, many Afghans look at Ashraf Ghani's statement of support for Saudi Arabia's attacks on the Huthi rebels in Yemen as amusing. It is being looked at like an April Fool's Day hoax/joke. Ashraf Ghani is famous for his stupid and ludicrous remarks among many Afghans. There are some similarities that could be drawn between he and his predecessor, Hamid Karzai.

Mar 28, 2015

Jump Break Problem in Blogger

I am having difficulty creating a jump break in my blog post. It looks dull and boring to see a single post is a foot long, sometime even longer. As everyone tries to adapt to newer widgets and features, it necessitates me to spend a little on bringing some changes to the appearance. The current theme doesn't represent my optimal style, still, I think the simplicity of it matches my taste.

I have installed the current theme in 2009, and I can't exactly remember where I found it, and who has designed it. It's, as resembles, a basic Wordpress theme called "Pilcrow" (see the theme on wordpress website).

Is there anyone who could help with the xml codes? I attempted several times to change the codes, but wasn't successful. I would appreciate anyone who could assist me to solve this problem. To contact me, please use the contact form on the right column.

Mar 20, 2015

Celebration of Nawruz at the White House and Afghan Traditional Dance

On March 11, the First Lady Michelle Obama hosted a celebration of Nawruz, at the White House. Participants were mostly from community diasporas including Afghans, Iranians, Tajiks and Kurds. I felt honored to be invited by the White House and celebrate Nawruz with Mrs. Obama. Nawruz, as part of the United State's presidential greetings, was introduced by Georg H.W. Bush, in 1992. Since then, though sporadic, Nawruz, has keenly been celebrated.

Georg H.W. Bush, uninformedly called Nawruz as Iranian new year, a tradition that is widely celebrated across the region and Iran is part of it. In fact, if we call Nawruz as an Iranian new year, we belittle the historical importance, the traditions and its relevance in a larger context of Khorasan, a historical region comprising Afghanistan and some parts of Central Asia. The word Iran derives from eran, in Pahlavi dialect which once spoken in northeast Iran, where it meant aryans. Though old, the word "Iran" is used in the modern context and in a sense, it excludes other ethnic groups - like Turks, Kurds and Arabs - inside the Iranian territory who claim to be ethnically Aryans. But as it appears, ethnic groups in Iran are not only not sensitive to it, but proud of it, unlike Afghanistan, whose some ethnic groups are sensitive to be called Afghan, because up until mid-twentieth century, the word referred to Pashtun and in fact, still referred that way. Non-Pashtuns prefer to be called Afghanistani, instead of Afghan, a word that makes Pashtuns unhappy. 

Moreover, Iranian scholars credit Shahnameh in which the word Iran is repeated more than seven hundred times. It was written by Abul-Qasim Firdawsi around 1000 CE, and guess, where it was completed? In Ghazni, located in the central east of Afghanistan. And by the way, the majority of the cities mentioned in the epic stories of Shahnameh are in Afghanistan. Just for reminder, you would be better off not to mention this to some Iranians for not to make their blood boil.

Regardless of what has said here, Nawruz is an important holiday for people in Iran and thanks to them who preserved such a great tradition against the early conquest of Muslim Arabs who wanted to eradicate Nawruz and all other pre-Islamic traditions.

Happy Nawruz and I wish you all the best as you embark on 1994!
If you are curious to know how Nawruz is being celebrated in Afghanistan, you can read my article which I wrote for CNN, in 2010.

Here, enjoy a short video of Afghan traditional dance which I recorded on March 11, at the White House.

Mar 1, 2015

How Do Other Afghan Ethnic Groups View Iran-Hazara Relations?

In my previous post, I explained that how certain historical events have shaped the future of Hazaras and also how those events have affected Hazaras relations with Iran. The 9/11 attacks and its aftermath, which ushered in a new phase of Hazara’s liberation with the opportunity to finally enjoy some freedom. I indicated that such achievement has not been possible without the support of the United States and the international community.

In this post, as promised earlier, I will address some opposing arguments, which have often made by some other Afghan ethnic groups against the Hazaras. From Pashtun and perhaps some Tajiks viewpoints, the Hazaras are still agents of Iran and spying for Iran, and they are not loyal to their country. Why? Here is one of the popular accusations that has always been made. I will discuss the scale of such accusations in historical context and will argue how such accusations have helped perpetuate persecution and discrimination against the Hazaras.

This is what they argue:
Iran and Hazaras have a strong bond and it comes from their common religion and language because they are both Shiite and speak the same language. Most of Afghan refugees living in Iran are Hazaras. Iran feels comfortable to work with them and use them not only against the United States, but also against Sunni Muslim in Afghanistan. Therefore, because of all these commonalities, the Hazaras are susceptible to Iran’s influence and it is not wrong to treat them as suspicious.

This kind of argument is nowhere near commons sense, nor based on evidence but built on allegations and prejudice. But, perhaps, one of the compelling evidences that would back up this argument is Iran’s involvement in the jihad war against the Soviet troops in Afghanistan. This was the beginning of Iran’s active engagement in Afghanistan’s affairs and as well as the beginning of Iran’s interaction with the Hazara people. Iran, like Pakistan played an active role by creating eight Shiite political parties, during the 1980s, to fight the Soviet troops.

Iran’s influence on Hazaras during the Soviet occupation is unquestionable. However, after the withdrawal of Soviet forces in 1989, the game has changed because the regional and transregional players achieved their goals: rolling back the Soviet to its borders. But what followed the post-Soviet occupation, was a series of disastrous events in which some players still found themselves unable to stop hepling once they started.  What happened subsequently was quite predictable. Iran lost its interest in Hazaras and instead began working with Tajiks, and their famous commander, Ahmad Shah Massoud. Iran realized that the Hazaras did not have the ability nor the capacity to run a government. During this time, Iran prefered and wished to have Tajiks ruling the country, however, it never had a serious and consistent foreign policy on bringing the Farsi speakers to power in Afghanistan. Nevertheless, Iran, continued to support the ruling political parties of Tajiks, Shura-e Nazar (supervisory council), and Jamiat-e Islami (Islamic society), until the fall of the Taliban regime.

On the contrary, the Hazara political parties which played an important role during the civil war between 1992-1995 and after losing the battle in Kabul, gradually marginalized and eventually became under the dominance of the Tajik parties, Shura-e Nazar, and Jamiat-e Islami, which later all of them made an alliance under compulsion to fight the Taliban regime. It is undeniably true that the Hazara parties kept close contact with Iran throughout the 1990s and up until the fall of the Taliban regime, because Iran did not want to have a brutal regime ruling Afghanistan, especially after 1998 murder of its diplomats and journalist at Iranian consulate, but the assistance was not direct and substantial because the Hazara parties relied on Northern Alliance logistic support. There were, however, other factions with direct support of Iran which they still receive Iran's support, namely, Harakat-e Islami Afghanistan (Islamic Movement of Afghanistan) that is led by its founder, Muhammad Asif Muhsini, who is ethnically a Pashtun from Kandahar, but religiously a Shia. He does not represent the Hazara people and the Hazaras hate him because of his racism attitudes against their late leader, Abdul Ali Mazari, also because of his notorious and misogynistic law allowing Afghan men to rape female.

To recapitulate, the Hazaras have changed as result of going through certain and decisive events, which took place during the 1990s and post-Taliban era. The detachment from the dominance and influence of Iran and its religious revolutionary ideology to becoming independent, and domesticating liberal and modern values, which heralded awakening of Hazaras, has not been a smooth transition. The Hazaras have paid a heavy price for their relations with Iran, but finally determined to liberate themselves from within and from without. They endured years of intense internal factional conflicts, and then suffered through dreadful years of mass atrocity against themselves by the Taliban. Therefore, it is not fair to build an accusation based on some matters which do not exist any longer. Speculation and accusation based on old and obsolete factors are not only helpful, but perpetuate prejudice and discrimination. Finally, those who still make these kind of allegations against Hazaras either being ignorant of Afghanistan’s history and the changes took place in recent decades, or for any reason, afraid to understand and acknowledge them.

In the upcoming posts, I will further discuss and analyze the opposing arguers’ points in different ways.

Feb 17, 2015

Why Hazaras Are Supporting The U.S., But Not Iran?

In my previous blog post, I argued that Iran has not been successful in exerting its influence through the Hazaras in Afghanistan, despite its strong historical, cultural, linguistic, and religious ties with them. In this post, I will elaborate my argument about the extent to which some historical events, particularly during the Taliban regime contributed to Hazaras’ awareness, which eventually led to changes in their attitudes and their political behavior toward Iran. In the next blog post I will review some opposing arguments, but first, let me straighten out why this political divorce have happened and why the Hazaras are mistrustful of Iran.

To find an adequate reason to why Hazaras refused and warded off Iran’s infiltration and noxious intention of fueling anti-American sentiment in Afghanistan, we have to look at some historical events that led to such drastic changes.
In November 1998, when the Taliban force took over the city of Mazar-e Sharif for the second time, the chauvinist governor of Balkh, Mullah Manan Niazi, announced that the Hazaras are infidels and killing them is not a sin. Niazi then gave Hazaras three options: convert to Sunni Islam, leave the country, or die. The Hazaras did not leave, nor converted into Sunni Islam, but then, the death arrived. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW) between 1998 and 2001, the Taliban massacred thousands of Hazaras and burned down their houses in Mazar-e Sharif (read HRW report on Mazar-e Sharif massacre) and Bamiyan (read HRW report on one of Bamiyan’s district massacre). Thousands of people fled their homes and others displaced at large-scale. Iran kept quiet as Shiite Hazaras were slaughtered by the Taliban regime.

It was the 2001 U.S. presence in Afghanistan that saved millions of Hazaras from ethnic cleansing. When the U.S. forces entered Afghanistan, the Hazaras were the first to welcome the U.S. presence in their country. In 2003, after the provisional government was established, Hazaras were the first to voluntarily join the disarmament process in order to cooperate with the transitional government. In November 2013, when Karzai convened a national assembly on a bilateral security agreement with the U.S. that would let the United States to leave some troops beyond 2014, the Hazara delegates overwhelmingly endorsed the deal. Not only that, according to the Wall Street Journal, the Hazara delegates even urged the United States to open a base in Bamiyan.

Today, the Hazara minority group that has faced long-term persecution, fears that the Taliban regime will return and is therefore a strong supporter of the U.S. troops’ presence beyond 2014, which is contrary to Iran’s policy in Afghanistan. Iran wants the U.S. to leave Afghanistan because it fears that Afghanistan might be used as a platform for attacking it. The Hazara people have been aware of Iran’s intention in Afghanistan and they have realized that what Iran wants in Afghanistan is against their national interests. Therefore, if anyone wonders why Hazaras have distanced themselves from Iran, they should look at the events that directly affected the existence of Hazaras in Afghanistan. The fact that how much Hazaras have been enjoying the past decade of status quo, highlights the changes in their attitudes, and behavior toward Iran. 

Feb 13, 2015

Iran and Afghanistan Relations after U.S. Withdrawal

Two years ago, in February 2013, I gave a talk at the Center for Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies (CREEES) at Stanford University on how Iran’s soft power is in decline in Afghanistan, and how it has overly been inclined to resort to hard power. (Here, you can read a short synopsis of my talk’s proposed content.) While some may argue that Iran’s influence is undeniable and perhaps, is more profound than we think, here, I will explore the relationship of Iran with the Hazaras of Afghanistan, especially in the post-Taliban era to determine the extent of Iran’s influence in the country.

I will argue that Iran has not been successful in pursuing its goals appertaining to its foreign policy in Afghanistan because it has lost one of the most useful and traditionally accessible avenues for channeling its influence to the country. This avenue could not be anything else, but the Hazara people who are historically, culturally, linguistically, and religiously closer than anyone else in Afghanistan. The Hazaras are mostly Shiites who constitute the third largest ethnic group in Afghanistan, and for the past decade they have played an important role in every aspects of the country. Iran has been aware of the Hazaras' crucial role and thus, doing anything to receive benefits from its relationship with them.

Given the unpredictability and uncertainty of Afghanistan’s future after the U.S. forces’ withdrawal, it is important to know, and to a certain extent predict, how its neighbors’ behavior will differ from that of the last 13 years. In a series of blog posts, I will look at Iran and Afghanistan’s relationship during the 1980s, through its civil war of the 1990s, and the post-Taliban era. My main focus will be the Hazaras of Afghanistan and their interactions with Iran.