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.

Jan 20, 2015

Fiasco Looms: Afghan Cabinet Nominees with Criminal Record & FakeDegrees

Ashraf Ghani, finally announced his cabinet almost four months after taking office. When he swore in as a president Afghanistan last year, he vehemently vowed to root out widespread corruption – which had paralyzed his precursor, Hamid Karzai – and he would designate his ministers based on their qualifications, and not their ethnic and religious connections. However, Ghani with his ambitious plans appears to have succumbed to the same fate with which his predecessor desperately and defenselessly had grappled. After it emerged that one of his nominees, Mohammad Yaqob Haidari, for agriculture minister is on Interpol’s most-wanted list, Ghani’s government was forced to omit his name from list. On January 18, another Ghani’s nominee for finance minister withdrew for unknown reason. As bad as it looks now, Ghani and his unity government with Abdullah Abdullah will suffer from some more serious setbacks. News on Afghan websites purportedly reveals that Ghani’s nominees have fake university degrees, fake IDs and criminal background.

Ghani might have cherry-picked a few of his nominees, but like his predecessor’s cabinet, which was highly ethnically selected, most of the current nominees are representing ethnic groups. Hazara, the third largest ethnic group in Afghanistan, has three nominees and one of them is Barna Karimi who is nominated for Telecommunication and Information Technology Minister. He is the former Afghan ambassador to Canada, and to this post, a powerful Hazara politician Mohammad Mohaqiq nominates him.

Now, there are numerous reports claiming that Barna Karimi has fake degrees from the United States. Some of these articles also claim that he has criminal records in the United States, and spent a year in jail because of abusing his ex-wife. If these claims were true and substantiated, Ghani’s government would seriously suffer from a further blow.

To look objectively to some of these claims against Barna Karimi, there is a dozen of crude truth. Mr. Karimi’s bio says that he was born in 1974, finished his high school in 1991 and studied one year at Kabul medical school until 1992. Then he left Afghanistan in 1994, and arrived in California the same year. To make a thorough evaluation of his claims, lets make some logical reasoning. Lets assume that Barna was born in 1974, and finished his high school in 1991, and studied one year at Kabul medical school, he then left school in 1992. If this is true, Barna must have been 18 years old in 1992. Lets assume that Barna went to school in 1981, at age 7. If he continued his school throughout 1980s to 1991, he must have been at 10th grade when the civil war broke out. Therefore, based on this calculation, it appears that Barna Karimi has never finished his school, let alone university.

His claim that he went to Kabul medical school until 1992 is not true either. Barna also fails to make a calculated and intelligible story about dates. His statement that he attended Kabul medical school from 1991 to 1992 is erroneous in light of his claims. The Najibullah’s government collapsed in April  15, 1992, which is just the end of wintertime in Afghanistan. Since schools are closed in winter, this claim is inconsistent with the previously stated facts.

The abundance of so much inconsistencies and contradictions that pertain to his educational records may have serious consequences for his professional life once and for all. It may not be fair to call Barna a pathological liar, however, there are some subtle characteristics in his behavior that make him a good candidate for such title. In an interview with the Guardian dates back to October 2008, Barna Karimi has said that after spending 17 years in California, he finally returned to his country in June 2005 (according to this website he returned to Afghanistan in 2004) to take up the position of deputy chief of staff for President Hamid Karzai. If his claim is true, Barna must have lived in California since 1988 – which is not true because he apparently went to the US as a refugee in 1994.

Such contradictions have disappointed many Afghans on social media websites who lament the fact that their votes are wasted and Ghani’s unity government becomes a joke to have uneducated individuals mounted in his cabinet. Afghans on social media websites and in a number of news websites have said that Barna Karimi has never attended college. According to Mr. Karimi’s bio published on Afghanistan's Embassy in Ottawa, he studied at the University of Phoenix from 1997 to 2003 where he eventually received his bachelor's in business marketing and master's in business administration. The University of Phoenix offers only online degrees. A number of contacts that have been made with the University of Phoenix to find out whether Barna has received degrees from this school or not, the answers were negative. The question thus remains: Where did Barna forge his fake degrees?
(After it was revealed that his higher educational degrees are fake, he then claimed in the parliament to have studied in Russia. Barna have probably been under the influence of amnesia, a symptom that is fairly common among Afghan politicians).

Mr. Karimi must be preparing now to able to justify all these contradictions when he faces the Afghanistan’s Members of Parliaments this Wednesday for confirmation vote. One of these issues will perhaps be his two different dates of birth. On his Afghan ID, Mr. Karimi was born on October 13, 1974, but his birthday in the United States, according to this traffic accident record from a criminal searching background website, is June 13, 1973. There are numerous website that show the same result about his birthday.

According to Afghan Civil Journalism website, Barna also has a criminal record in the United States. The website purports that Barna has spent one year in prison because of abusing his ex-wife. The author claims that Barna has not yet been able to see his daughter who lives with her mother because the court has banned him from seeing his ex-wife. This also has prevented him from getting his U.S. citizenship, according to author.

If the Afghan MPs show some easy manners and magnanimity, Barna Karimi may become the minister of Telecommunication and Information Technology. Such leniency is possible and it would open the door to look at some of his dazzling achievements. Among many impressive jobs he have taken up for a very short time is his high rank diplomatic position as an Afghan Ambassador to Canada. It is important to remember that Barna started his professional life from nothing. He spent several years of his life in San Diego, California at his rug store. But, it should not impede him from becoming a minister. According to some of his friends who know him well, Barna is a smart person who enjoys reading poetry, socializes with literary figures and appreciates professionalism; especially when his mates appear in professional attire not Shalwar Kameez when meet him. Finally, such social and political etiquette reflects the high standard of Barna’s professionalism and technicality of profession and career path that Ghani’s government is in desperate need. Though replacing Shalwar Kameez with modern dress in current Afghanistan seems far-fetched, evoking the nostalgia of Amanullah Khan’s period of reform adopting western dress code, which was inspired by Ataturk of Turkey, is not a bad idea.

Finally, if the Afghan Parliament seriously looks for evidences, it should ask Barna to provide higher education documents. Precisely, the MPs should ask him to present four-year undergraduate transcript and two-year graduate transcript. They should also ask Barna to provide his transcript from high school in Kabul to make sure whether he has finished his high school. 

Sep 20, 2014

Bidel: We are the messengers of the nothingness

Across ages, we are being amused at expressing worthlessness
and we are the opener of pages of the stories of nothingness
You could expect nothing from us, but name
we are the messengers of the world of nothingness

عمریست که سرگرم ِ بیان ِ هیچیم
طومارگشای  داستان ِ هیچیم
با نامی از آن میان، ز ما قانع باش
ما قاصد ِ پیغام ِ جهان ِ هیچیم

’aumrîst kî sargarm-e bayân-e heechîm
tumâr gushâyee dâstân-e heechim
bâ nâmi az ân mîyân, zi mâ qane’a bâsh
mâ qâsed-e paighâm-e jahân-e heechîm
                                                                      By Mirza Bidel
                                                                     Translated by Nasim Fekrat

The above quatrain reflects the depth of the Buddhism philosophy, and it also shows how Bidel was greatly influenced by Buddhism, and perhaps Hinduism's philosophy of life. There is no wonder to think of Bidel as one of the most modern thinkers and of a sufi poets of our age. He thinks and talks of our age, our meanings of life and he sees and says what we can't.

Sep 13, 2014

Bidel: The soft earth reflects the footprints

هرکه رفت از دیده داغی بر دل ما تازه‌ کرد
در زمین نرم نقش پا نمایان می‌ شود

Harkî raft az dîdah dâghe bar dîl-e mâ tâzah kard
dar zamîn-e narm naqsh pâ nomâyân meshawad

The one who is out of my sight, left a wound in my heart
The soft earth reflects the footprints
                                                                       Poem by Mirza Bidel
                                                                      Translated by Nasim Fekrat

Sep 6, 2014

Bidel: The Paradise That Reflects Your Avarices

O the consumer of the residue of imagination, blessing is something else
You are being vain with illusion; the truth is something else
The paradise that is adorned with gems and gold
It reflects your avarices -- the paradise is something else

ای زلـّه کش ِ خیال! نعمت، دگراست
مغرور توهّمی، حقیقت دگر است
خـُلدی که به گوهر و زر آراسته اند
مجموعۀ حرص تست، جنت دگر است

Ai zalla-kashî khiyâl, ne’mat digar ast
maghror-e tawahumî, haqîqat digar ast
kholdî ki ba gawhar wa zar ârâsta-and
majmo’aee heers-e tust, janat digar ast

                                                                            Poem by: Mirza Bidel
                                                                           Translated by Nasim Fekrat