President Ashraf Ghani’s first visit to Australia prompted a sizable protest on April 3 among the Australian Hazara community amid claims of institutional discrimination against Hazaras in Afghanistan.
Numbering thousands, peaceful protesters gathered from across the country and demanded from the Afghan President equality, fair distribution of resources, and an end to governmental discrimination.
Under the banner of the Enlightenment Movement that recently emerged in Kabul, the Canberra protest chimed with the global Hazara call for justice, and equality. At every notable overseas conference, including the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) Conference in London, or the Brussels Conference in Belgium, Hazaras welcomed Ashraf Ghani with indignant cries.
In an exclusive interview, Daoud Naji, a spokesperson for the Movement who flew from Kabul to Australia to attend the protest, said the Afghan government’s failure to provide security for the July protest which led to 80 deaths and left more than 230 wounded, and the additional failure to bring the perpetrators to justice, further proved their claim of discrimination.
The 2016 Human Rights Report on Afghanistan, compiled by the US Department of State and upon which largely rests their claims of discrimination, identified numerous ethnic-related issues.
It found “Societal discrimination against Shia Hazaras continued along class, race and religious lines in the form of extortion of money through illegal taxation, forced recruitment and forced labour, physical abuse and detention.”
The 52-page report revealed that “according to NGOs, the government frequently assigned Hazara ANP [Afghan National Police] to symbolic positions with little authority within the Ministry of Interior”.
It also said “Hazara ANSF [Afghan National Security Forces] officers were more likely than non-Hazara officers to be posted to insecure areas of the country”.
It further revealed that minority groups including “ethnic Hazaras, Sikhs, and Hindus, were subjected to discrimination in hiring and work assignments in addition to broader societal discrimination”.
On a par with their claim of discrimination, there was also the claim of persecution.
A briefing paper presented to the Embassy of Afghanistan in Canberra and the Parliament, detailed the ascendency of ISIS and other local and regional anti-government elements and the risk that entailed, particularly for the Hazaras.
Professor William Maley of ANU’s Asia-Pacific College of Diplomacy, an expert whose advice is sought on Afghanistan’s condition, said: “In light of ISIS’s claims of responsibility, they put on display a commitment to attack on the basis of religious identity, plainly engaging one of the bases of refugee status under Article 1.A(2) of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees; and they highlight particular dangers for Hazaras, who are overwhelmingly Shiite, are physically distinctive because of their East Asian phenotypes, and make up the vast bulk of the Shiite component of the Afghan population.”
Maley’s updated opinion is also supported by the Refugee Council of Australia. Paul Power chief executive of RCOA said: “There has clearly been brutal, episodic violence, particularly targeted at minority groups such as the Hazara.
“While this violence continues we urge the Australian Prime Minister Turnbull and President Ghani to not consider deporting or receiving people who risk death or persecution at the hands of terrorists.”
An active 2011 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) — which contributes to the legal basis for Australia’s refoulement of Afghan asylum seekers — is the document the protesters called the President to amend.
The briefing paper called for a “moratorium on all forced returns until at least 2019”. The latest forced removal was from Adelaide on March 19.
A controversy surrounds the MOU. Jamahir Anway, the then Afghan Minister for Repatriation and Immigration and a signatory to the MOU, purportedly denied that the document obliges Afghanistan to accept involuntary deportation. However, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection argues otherwise, saying the MOU did incclude involuntary deportation.
The status in the MOU supports Anway’s claim: “This MOU embodies the understanding of the participants. It does not create legally binding obligations, nor create or confer any right, privilege or benefit on any person or participant. It is not intended to modify or supersede any national law or international obligations.”
The visit of Shakir Murady, from Afghanistan’s National Security Council, who was sent by Ghani to deliberate with the Afghan community in Adelaide, was seen by many as an attempt to justify a need for a clearer MOU in which the document explicitly obliged Afghanistan to accept deportees.
Two informants present at the meeting disclosed that Murady told those present that although it is not the wish of the Afghan government to engage in deliberations over the refoulement deal, they were specifically asked to undertake this course of action by the Australian government.
Meanwhile, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade reported that Murady’s South Australian visit was to “discuss disaster response and emergency management”.
Afghanistan’s Government Media & Information Centre (GMIC) tweeted that the President’s visit will focus on “advancing cooperation on commerce, higher education, mines, agriculture”, without divulging the President’s almost clandestine refoulement agenda. Ghani signed a $320 million aid agreement with Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull.
A speaker at the protest, Hadi Zaher, questioned with what conscience Ghani signed the refoulement deal to forcibly repatriate Afghan asylum seekers in Europe, given his own children live abroad, and that at any given time Ghani is accompanied by an entourage of armed bodyguards and the country remains locked in horrific violence against the Hazaras.
Two weeks ago, the Taliban captured the district of Sangin, a strategic district that many foreign troops died to keep, further prompting questions of security and safety.
Ghani was recently in hot water for nepotism, after The New York Times reported that his uncle, Quyyum Kochai, was made the Ambassador to Russia. Prior to Ghani’s presidential election, he had promised that if any of his relatives were seen in the high echelons of government positions, the people could lop off his hand.
A minute portion of members of the Hazara community were not against the President’s visit per se. Hamid Saberi, a Hazara who did not oppose Ghani’s visit, said “statesmen can visit countries in general”.
But regarding Ashraf Ghani’s policies and fairness in expenditure of aid and other resources, he said: “I think it is a fact that Afghanistan is one of the most corrupt countries in the world. It includes corruption in the Afghan parliament, local authorities, public service, judiciary and cabinet.”