Tuesday, June 23, 2020

The US-Taliban Deal: A ray of hope for the battered Afghans

This article is by

Share this article

Article Contributor(s)

Aditi Mohta

Article Title

The US-Taliban Deal: A ray of hope for the battered Afghans


Global Views 360

Publication Date

June 23, 2020


US Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo participates in a signing ceremony in Doha, Qatar, on February 29, 2020

US Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo participates in a signing ceremony in Doha, Qatar, on February 29, 2020 | Source: U.S. Department of State  via Wikimedia

On 11 September 2001, the attacks on the World Trade Centre and Pentagon in America killed over 3000 people for which Osama Bin Laden, the head of Al-Qaeda, claimed responsibility.. Osama Bin Laden was based in Afghanistan during this attack and was protected by the government of the day which was run by the radical Islamist group Taliban. Even after the repeated demands from the USA government, Taliban refused to hand over Osama bin Laden to the USA. 

George W. Bush, the president of America at that point of time, announced the first airstrikes against Afghanistan on 7 October 2001. As other countries joined in, the Taliban were quickly removed from power and a new pro-western government was installed. The new government, however, was never able to run its writ over the whole country. The Taliban regrouped and started gaining influence in the vast rural areas and continuously attacked the US-led international military coalition as well as Afghan forces. From that point onward, the U.S. and its allies have battled to stop Afghanistan's administration crumbling and to end attacks by the Taliban. 

After more than eighteen years of war in Afghanistan, on 29 February 2020, the United States and Taliban signed a peace deal which was the first step in ending the war. The agreement was signed in the Qatari capital Doha between Talibani political chief Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar and U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad. The U.S. Defence Secretary Mark Esper said that signing of the accord would be a good step to end the war, the road ahead would not be secure. There would be a full withdrawal of all U.S. and coalition forces from Afghanistan within 14 months since the signing of the deal. The Taliban promised to cut ties with Al Qaeda and keep fighting the militant Islamic State group.  

What is in the peace agreement?

The peace agreement was signed after nine rounds of discussion and it contains four main points: cease-fire, withdrawal of foreign forces, intra-Afghan negotiations, and counter-terrorism assurances. 

  1. Cease-fire: The negotiators agreed to a temporary reduction in violence. They said that a permanent and comprehensive cease-fire will be an item on the agenda of the intra-Afghan dialogue and negotiations. 
  2. Withdrawal of foreign forces: Within the first 135 days, the U.S. will reduce its troops in Afghanistan from roughly 12,000 to 8,600, along with the allies of the U.S. also withdrawing their forces proportionately. If the Taliban follows through all the commitments that in the peace deal, all the U.S. troops along with the allies' troops will leave Afghanistan within fourteen months. 
  3. Counter-terrorism assurances: The United States invaded Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks, mainly to eliminate the threat of terrorism and halt terrorist activities in the country. As a part of the agreement, the Taliban guaranteed that Afghanistan would not be used by any of its members or terrorist groups to threaten the security of the U.S. and its allies. 
  4. Intra-Afghan negotiations: The reason behind the intra-Afghan talks is to bring together negotiators from the Taliban and Afghan government. The peace deal also calls for an exchange of prisoners before the intra-Afghan negotiations. The intra-Afghan talks which were supposed to take place in March 2020, have been delayed. 

Challenges to the peace deal

While this deal can be seen as a stepping stone towards a more comprehensive agreement, many difficulties may come in the way. 

The United States and the Taliban had consented to the arrival of up to 5000 Taliban prisoners in return for up to one thousand Afghan security forces. However, the Afghan government said that it had not agreed on such an exchange. The process can become difficult due to a weak central government along with ethnic, tribal and sectarian differences. At the same time, many people say that the Taliban has gotten more than it gave up. 

Through the deal, the Taliban got their primary wish: removal of American troops from Afghanistan. Yet, they had failed to be specific about the civil rights that they had repressed when they were in power. The insurgents pledged to keep international terrorist groups like Al Qaeda from using Afghanistan as their base for attacks. 

The United States promised to work towards the gradual removal of Taliban leaders from the sanction blacklists of America and the United Nations. At the same time, the experts say that the Taliban is stronger than ever at this point. It controls many districts throughout the country and continues to launch significant attacks including in Kabul and on Afghan security forces. 

The peace process is also faced by the problem of the illegal drug trade. According to Afghan officials, more than 20 terrorist groups still operate inside the country, which is another threat to the deal. By signing the agreement, the U.S. and the Taliban state their commitment to reduce violence and not attack each other. What remains a worry is how much and how long the Taliban will hold fire on Afghan security forces before the cease-fire is finally reached in Afghan negotiations.

Sources that were used:

  1. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/29/world/asia/us-taliban-deal.html
  2. http://diplomatist.com/2020/05/16/us-taliban-peace-deal-and-its-implications-for-central-asia/
  3. https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/interactive/2020/02/war-afghanistan-2001-invasion-2020-taliban-deal-200229142658305.html
  4. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-51689443
  5. https://www.dawn.com/news/1529415
  6. https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/us-taliban-peace-deal-agreement-afghanistan-war
  7. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/02/afghanistan-taliban-sign-deal-america-longest-war-200213063412531.html
  8. https://www.dawn.com/news/1537384
  9. https://www.washingtonpost.com/context/u-s-taliban-peace-deal/7aab0f58-dd5c-430d-9557-1b6672d889c3/?itid=lk_inline_manual_3

Support us to bring the world closer

To keep our content accessible we don't charge anything from our readers and rely on donations to continue working. Your support is critical in keeping Global Views 360 independent and helps us to present a well-rounded world view on different international issues for you. Every contribution, however big or small, is valuable for us to keep on delivering in future as well.

Support Us

Share this article

Read More

July 19, 2021 12:00 PM

The Blasphemy Law of Pakistan and its Implications

In Pakistan, Blasphemy results in a capital punishment in majority of cases. It is perhaps considered a crime worse than terrorism. A crucial case in point is the fact that the Pakistan’s Anti-Terrorism Court gave around 15 years jail term to two close aides of Hafiz Saeed—chief of the terrorist organization—Lashkar-e-Taiba—and mastermind behind 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks—where at least 150 innocent people lost their lives.

Similarly, Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi—Lashkar-e-Taiba’s operation commander and another important figure involved in the 2008 Mumbai attack—was sentenced to 15 years in jail period. Not to mention—this happened amidst the international pressure on Pakistan for letting terrorists to function and roam freely within their country.

While something as violent as terrorism is dealt with lenient punishments, there are draconian laws for blasphemy in the country. Moreover, one can be accused of committing blasphemy—doesn’t matter if they did it or not—and might not even face a fair trial.

This article discusses what are the blasphemy laws and what are their implications while looking at some specific cases.

What are Pakistan’s Blasphemy laws?

What's called Blasphemy law today has its origins in the colonial era. The “offences relating to religion” were introduced by British in 1860, and were later expanded in 1927. These were sections 295 and 295-A from the Indian Penal Code. The laws were made to avoid religious disturbances, insult religious beliefs, or intentionally destroy or desecrate a place or an object of worship. Under the 295 and 295-A, the convicted were to be given a jail term from one year to ten years—with or without a fine.

Pakistan ended up inheriting these laws after the partition of India in 1947.

The laws were amended in 1982 and another clause was added which prescribed life imprisonment for desecration of the Quran intentionally. Another clause was added in 1986 to punish blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad through imprisonment for life or death. These clauses, were added under General Zia-ul-Haq’s military regime, in an order to make the laws more “pro-Islam.”

Since then, this law has often been used to persecute people from minority communities—such as the Ahmadiyas, Shias, Christians, and Hindus—they have been accused of blasphemy without much evidence.

Infamous cases and implications of blasphemy in Pakistan

One of the famous cases was of Asia Bibi, which grabbed international attention as well. Asia Noreen—known as Asia Bibi—was a Pakistani Christan and a farm laborer in Punjab province. Her husband, Ashiq Masih, was a brick laborer. A dispute with her Muslim neighbours turned into an accusation of blasphemy—leading to her arrest and imprisoned. There were a lot of protests in Pakistan, demanding death penalty for Asia Bibi.

Two politicians—Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti—who supported and tried to help Asia Bibi, were murdered. Taseer was shot by his own bodyguard named Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri in broad daylight. Qadri was tried and sentenced to death. He was executed in 2016. Mumtaz Qadri became a hero for millions and hardliners praised him as a martyr. He is regarded as a saint and a mausoleum has been built over his grave in his village near Islamabad, where even devotees come to offer prayers.

Asia Bibi was first sentenced to death by a trial court in 2010, however was later acquitted by the Supreme Court in a historic judgement of 2018. In 2019, Pakistan’s Supreme Court ruled that she was free to leave Pakistan and was given asylum in Canada where she moved along with her family.

Although after a long struggle, Asia Bibi still got justice and was able to start a new life—unfortunately many others didn’t. Many met with Mob Justice.

In 2017, a journalism student at a Pakistani University was lynched to death by fellow students in Mardan—in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The student—Mashal Khan—was a Shia Muslim and was falsely accused of blasphemy. The mob was enraged by a rumour according to which he had promoted the Ahmadi faith on Facebook. In a similar instance, a man named Tahrir Ahmad Naseem was killed by vigilantes in July last year for blasphemy. He was a former Ahmadi, and was in Peshawar Central Jail since 2018 for claiming to be a prophet. He was shot dead inside the courtroom during trial in the Peshawar Judicial Complex.

Furthermore, in a case similar to that of Asia Bibi, a Christian couple—Shahzad and Shama Maseeh—were accused of blasphemy as well. They were then beaten and burned alive by a mob in 2014. Shama was four months pregnant. The mob, which also included a local cleric, believed that the couple had burned some pages of the Quran along with some rubbish, although the couple’s family still denies this. Five people including the cleric were sentenced to death, while the eight others were given two years imprisonment.

Last year, former Foreign and Defense Minister Khawaja Asif as well was accused of blasphemy for merely stating that “all religions are equal.”

Why is this happening?

According to data by Pakistan’s Centre for Social Justice, there have been 1549 known cases of serious blasphemy in the years 1987-2017, out of which 720 were Muslims, 516 Ahmadis, 238 Christians, 31 Hindus, and the rest 44 are unknown. 75 out of the total cases ended in the person being murdered before their trial.

There are 13 countries in the world which punish blasphemy by death penalty and Pakistan happens to be one of them. But unlike countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia where they are executed judicially—as mentioned earlier—accused in Pakistan are often killed in mob violence or assassination. While Saudi Arabia and Iran continue to top in terms of the highest number of executions, most of them for sacrilege or crimes against Islam, Pakistan’s total ‘judiciary’ killings stand at zero.

The problem of this mob mentality in Pakistan, especially when it comes to religion, is actually deeply rooted in its constitution. The country’s aspiration to become a democracy as well as an Islamic state is in itself contradictory. The people want the right to freedom and expression and the hanging of a person committing blasphemy at the same time. The constitution denies criticism of Islam while claiming to allow freedom of speech and religion. The elevation of one religion over others in itself is principally undemocratic.

Another interesting point is the fact that the people supporting these ideas haven’t been aware of how things can backfire. Muhammad Din Taseer—father of Salman Taseer—supported Ilam Din, who murdered a Hindu publisher over blasphemy in 1929. An ancestor’s support for radicalism ended up in his own offspring being assassinated in the name of blasphemy.

Mental illness and blasphemy

In Pakistan, often some mentally ill people are punished to death by mobs for unknowingly ‘committing’ blasphemy. In 2012, a man widely reported by the media and police as ‘mentally unstable’ was arrested for blasphemy in Bahawalpur district, Punjab province. A mob gathered outside the police station, dragged him outside, and burned him to death. There have also been cases of misuse where such vulnerable individuals were subjected to sexual abuse and later accused of blasphemy by the abusers to cover up their crimes.

Such abuses towards mentally unsound people would have been a criminal case and the abusers would have been punished—unless they use the blasphemy law—as the mentally unstable victim cannot defend themselves.

Role of Anti-Terrorism courts

Pakistan’s Anti-Terrorism courts were set up to ensure quick justice in cases such as terrorism, sectarian violence, targeted political killings, hijacking, kidnapping, extortion and even arms trafficking. Earlier gang rape was also included in it—but removed later.

They are also key to controlling mob attacks on blasphemy accused as such trials are held here.

Yet, these courts have been facing several problems due to lack of basic resources and understaffing. The posts of judges often remain vacant for months, and the state prosecutors complain of poor working conditions—with no offices, stationery, clerical staff or legal resources. These problems may have risen due to the fact that there are not sufficient funds allotted for the ATC infrastructure, one of the major challenges in Pakistan’s legal system. Due to this, these courts are not able to fulfill their primary objective—to provide ‘quick’ justice.

Moreover, these courts lack independence and are vulnerable to political influence—the judges are held accountable to the executive. Sometimes the witnesses often refuse to testify against the accused, as they fear assassination by terrorist groups the accused belongs to. The judges, state prosecutors and others also have personal security concerns which also lead to delays in trials.

Also, these courts deny terrorism suspects the right to equality before the law. They are not even tried in a public place with full defense and are not presumed innocent. Peshawar High Court advocate Ghulam Nabi even challenged the Anti-Terrorism (Amendment) Ordinance 2009 under Article 199 of the constitution in December 2009, saying that it violated basic human rights.

The blasphemy laws of Pakistan need to be repealed in today's Global civic society. People are fighting for equality everywhere around the globe. And now it is up to Pakistan to choose—whether to become a democracy or continue with a pseudo-democratic authoritarian regime which is based on extremist interpretation of religion.

Read More