Friday, April 7, 2006

Afghanistan: Christians face escalating threat

Date: Friday 7 April 2006
Subj: Afghanistan: Christians face escalating threat
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal.

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AFGHANISTAN: CHRISTIANS FACE ESCALATING THREAT
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In light of the apostasy case against Abdul Rahman, German publication Der Spiegel published an excellent article on Christianity in Afghanistan. Written by Matthias Gebauer in Kabul, this article entitled, "A Community of Faith and Fear", dissolves the fantasy and exposes the reality of life for Christians in Afghanistan. Gebauer interviews Afghan Christian Hashim Kabar (not his real name) who says, "We must recognize that freedom of religion, as promised by the Afghan constitution, does not exist. But maybe it's good that the international community is now aware of that."

Der Spiegel notes that when the Taliban came to power in the mid-1990s, its "Supreme Leader Mullah Omar ordered his men to raze churches to the ground, to lynch Afghan Christians and to kill or drive out foreigners who followed Jesus Christ". (This is a curious claim from Spiegel considering Afghanistan did not have even a single church when the Taliban came to power. See RLP 216)

This posting contends that the recent apostasy debacle and a resurgent Taliban are about to make the situation for Afghan Christians much worse.

As the Der Spiegel article concludes: "Even though Afghanistan has dismissed its case against Abdul Rahman, this is a cold comfort for Kabar. He and his friends fear that anger among Islamists over Rahman's release could spur them to take matters into their hands and act even more brutally toward converts. 'Abdul Rahman's release is a good thing,' he says. 'But the international community needs to keep its eyes open.'

"According to Kabar, the worst thing would be if the resolution of the case leaves the impression that everything is now OK for converts living in Afghanistan. If that happens, he says, the case would have done more harm than good. 'We are going to stand by our faith,' he adds on parting. 'Any kind of support would help us a lot.'" (Link 1)

APOSTASY DEBACLE INFLAMES PASSIONS AND DISSENSION

For many Afghanis, the apostasy case against Abdul Rahman became a debacle. On Wednesday 29 March 06, Afghanistan's Wolesi Jirga (lower chamber of parliament) had a two-hour debate concerning Abdul Rahman’s release from Kabul's high security Pul-e-Charki prison. The MPs voted unanimously that the Supreme Court's decision to release Rahman was "contrary to the laws in place in Afghanistan". They not only demanded that the Court provide an explanation, but they insisted that Abdul Rahman not be permitted to leave the country. The MPs sent a letter to Afghanistan's Interior Minister to that effect. However, Abdul Rahman was already on his way to refuge in Italy. (Link 2)

While President Karzai defended the release of Abdul Rahman, Chief Justice Fazl Hadi Shinwari complained that Islamic laws were being ignored in Afghanistan and some government officials were not upholding Islamic values. The Taliban issued a statement that claimed the release of Rahman was a conspiracy masterminded by foreign forces. The statement called on the mullahs and judges to admit that they have sold themselves as servants of infidels. It claimed the conspiracy aimed to "assure other recalcitrants that they are no longer in danger and no one in Islam can punish them.

"The Afghan nation will not be deceived with such schemes and inshallah (God willing) such plots will be neutralized."

"We condemn this crime of the puppet administration. We ask our Muslim brothers to take their position against this offence by the enemies of Islam and to act, based on their responsibility to their religion and God, and to start jihad against Karzai's administration." (Link 3)

APOSTASY DEBACLE EFFECTS TWO BATTLES

While Abdul Rahman has found refuge in Italy, the apostasy case, or in particular the way in which the case was resolved (or circumvented), has lit a fuse in Afghanistan at a time when all the ingredients are present to fuel a massive explosion.

Most significantly, the Rahman apostasy debacle has inflamed Islamic passions and anti-West, anti-government anger at the same time as the Taliban, after several years of training in Iraq, is launching its Spring offensive against the Allied "enemy invaders" in Afghanistan and their "puppets": the US-backed administration of President Karzai and the Afghan police that serve that administration.

Secondly, the Rahman apostasy debacle has inflamed Islamic passions and anti-West, anti-government anger just ahead of a battle for control of Afghanistan's Supreme Court. This battle between reformists and Islamic hardliners is being waged in Afghanistan's parliament. The parliamentary debate on President Karzai's new cabinet began on Monday 3 April and will continue for another week yet before a secret ballot. Significant opposition to President Karzai's nominations would greatly undermine his authority.

After that the parliament will debate President Karzai's nine nominations for the Supreme Court bench. As the Financial Times reports, "Western governments have pushed Mr Karzai to change the line-up of the Supreme Court, which functions not only as the court of final appeal but also interprets the constitution and appoints all judges." As one Western diplomat noted, "'...if we don't get a professional and clean court passed by parliament, it will imperil reform at every level'. It is unclear when MPs will vote on the issue, but diplomats say the controversy over Mr Rahman's case has clearly raised the stakes of the debate." (Link 4)

FOR AFGHANIS, THE ISSUE IS SOVEREIGNTY

Most Afghanis do not accept the concept of religious liberty as a fundamental human right. They feel humiliated and outraged that Western interference in the Rahman case has, in their eyes, caused Afghanistan’s sovereignty to be violated. Resentful Afghanis will doubtless be keen to demonstrate that they do not wish to be dictated to by the West on any issue, especially issues pertaining to their religion.

For many Afghanis, Afghanistan's sovereignty is now intrinsically linked to Afghanistan's "right" as a sovereign Islamic nation to implement Sharia and deal with apostates and infidels as Afghanis see fit: to execute them in accordance with Sharia. For many Afghanis the apostasy debacle will also confirm the Taliban charge that President Karzai's administration is un-Islamic and a mere "puppet" of Western "foreign enemy forces". This heightening of Islamic nationalist zeal will aid both Taliban recruitment and anti-Karzai Islamist political forces.

A worst-case scenario could see angry Afghanis, provoked by Islamist, Taliban or al Qaeda forces, zealously acting to purge Afghanistan of Christians as a defiant exercise of sovereignty. Afghan Christians could be facing extremely dangerous times ahead.

RESURGENT TALIBAN

Stratfor Intelligence commented on 5 January 2006 that the increase in suicide bombings in Afghanistan during 2005 (a method not normally favoured by Pashtuns) and the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs: a weapon not previously used in Afghanistan) indicated that Afghanistan was receiving an influx of foreign, predominantly Arab, jihadists.

According to Stratfor, deputy al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri had said the jihad in Afghanistan should not be neglected for the benefit of the jihad in Iraq. Stratfor reports, "since summer [June/July] 2005, an increasing number of foreign fighters have been brought into Afghanistan from safe locations along the Pakistani border."

Not only is al Qaeda facilitating the entry of Arab jihadis into Afghanistan, but according to a report written by Syed Saleem Shahzad for Adnkronos International (AKI), the Taliban are sending Afghan jihadis to Iraq for training with al Qaeda affiliated groups.

According to AKI, at the end of 2003 Taliban leader and founder, Mullah Muhammed Omar, sent another Taliban leader, Mullah Mehmood Allah Haq Yar, to Iraq where he spent several months learning the techniques of urban guerrilla warfare. In 2004 Haq Yar started training groups within the Taliban to employ the techniques that have been successful in creating Allied casualties in Iraq. This resulted in fewer Taliban casualties and more Taliban success. Then from 2004 through 2005 around 500 Taliban fighters were sent to Iraq for training with the Islamic Army of Iraq as well as Ansar al-Sunna. Particular attention has been given to the latest techniques for use against the US-led forces' high-tech deterrence capabilities.

So the Taliban is launching its 2006 Spring offensive with new strength and confidence. They have been trained in guerrilla warfare, in strategy, and in how to build IEDs, lay mines, and spy on targets. According to AKI, "...up to 100 'death squads' are ready to launch targeted attacks in the Taliban's spring offence." (Link 5)

According to reports, the past month has seen a profound Taliban resurgence. During 2005 the Taliban staged 17 suicide attacks. There have 12 such attacks so far this year.

Following the strategy of terrorists in Iraq, the Taliban are targeting Afghan police. (Link 6)

Security for Christians in Afghanistan has always been difficult and tentative. But it is feared that 2006 could see the situation deteriorate markedly as the humiliating, infuriating apostasy debacle – coming as it does hot on the heels of the Guantanamo Bay Qur'an desecration myth riots of May 2005, and the recent Cartoon Intifada riots of February 2006 – ignites a passionate and defiant resurgence of political Islam in the presence of a resurgent Taliban.

Elizabeth Kendal

Links

1) A Community of Faith and Fear
By Matthias Gebauer in Kabul 30 March 2006
http://service.spiegel.de/cache/international/0,1518,408781,00.html

2) Convert must not flee country: Wolesi Jirga
KABUL, Mar 29 (Pajhwok Afghan News)
http://www.pajhwok.com/viewstory.asp?lng=eng&id=15737

3) Taliban condemns release of Christian convert, calls for jihad
AFP. Thursday, 30 March 2006
http://www.dnaindia.com/report.asp?NewsID=1021007
ALSO
Taliban condemn convert's release, urge people to strongly react.
30 March 2006, IRNA
http://www.irna.ir/en/news/view/line-16/0603302142194635.htm

4) Convert case threatens Afghan reforms
by Rachel Morarjee in Kabul. 6 April 2006
http://news.ft.com/cms/s/4b2f1296-c4ff-11da-b7c1-0000779e2340.html

5) Taliban trained in Iraq ahead of Spring offensive.
Karachi 13 March 2006 (AKI) - by Syed Saleem Shahzad http://www.adnki.com/index_2Level_English.php?cat=Security&loid=8.0.275042512&par=0

6) Karzai puppet policemen were killed
Kavkaz Centre (Islamist) 4 April 2006
http://kavkazcenter.com/eng/content/2006/04/04/4570.shtml
ALSO
Nine cops killed in Taliban attack. 3 April 2006
http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2006%5C04%5C03%5Cstory_3-4-2006_pg7_5