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The Implications Of Continuing Terror And War Gains In Afghanistan

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May 12, 2020, as the world reels under the pressure of rising cases of the novel coronavirus, there is yet another attack in Afghanistan. This time the target is a maternity clinic run by one of the largest medical charities Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF or Doctors Without Borders). This was just one of the many attacks that are being carried out on almost a daily basis in war torn and coronavirus hit Afghanistan. Why this case in particular becomes important is because it ties togethers many factors that are rupturing peace in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan clinic
Dasht-e-Barchi Hospital which came under attack in Kabul, Afghanistan.

There are two things that must be noted when the motive of the attack is kept in mind. First, the government run hospital also housed a maternity clinic run by the international aid organization MSF, which is under protection within International Humanitarian Law or the Laws of War which are applicable to the armed conflict in Afghanistan. This law particularly protects patients and medical personnel, as well as hospitals and medical facilities (if not being used for offensive military operations). The violation of this results in the attacker being responsible for war crimes.

While this time the assailants were dressed in the garb of police officials, this incident gives us a flashback to March 2017 when gunmen disguised as doctors carried out a massive attack on one of the largest hospitals in the country.

The second reason one can fluff out from the scenario is the location of the 100 bed facility and there emerges a reason why it may have been specifically targeted. It must be pointed out that Dashti Barchi is a locality that is home to multiple families of the Hazara community, most of them Shia Muslim minority that have specifically been targeted by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/ISIS/Daesh). While no group has claimed responsibility for the attack, the Taliban issued a statement categorically stating they were not involved in the attack.

Within hours of the attack, Afghan president Ashraf Ghani addressed the nation through the medium of a televised speech wherein he made clear the fact that the Afghan security forces would no longer stay in a defensive position they were pushed to in light of the peace talks and would move to an offensive position in order to safeguard the lives of innocent civilians. He also spoke of attacks on the Taliban which have invited the threat of retaliatory attacks from the Taliban who have been since the peace talks focusing on the Afghan governmental forces and strongholds, largely leaving aside urban centres.

It is worth noting that attacks on medical facilities have increased since 2017, and ISIS and the Taliban have regularly targeted places of medical assistance, assaulted and killed medical personnel and patients alike. National security adviser Hamdullah Mohib tweeted, “there seems little point continuing to engage Taliban in peace talks”.

Afghan and American officials have stated that in the past few months, ISIL in Afghanistan has been weakened as a result of combined operations by the forces of both Afghanistan and the U.S. and offences by the Taliban.

Though this seemed to be the case when the Afghan Intelligence service declared in a statement that they had arrested an ISIL leader by the name of Zia-ul Haq, also known as Shaikh Abu Omer al-Khorasani, the opposite was to be seen when ISIL claimed responsibility for the funeral bombing in a statement posted on its media arm, Aamaq.

This stands as a testament to the sheer lack of disregard for human life in a pandemic that is spreading like wildfire, rendering medical facilities all the more precious at this time. In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, medical assessment is crucial and this shows the cowardice of said groups who aim to achieve their goals at a time of a global crisis.

It becomes important to analyse the response of three key stakeholders in Afghanistan, the U.S., Pakistan and India. U.S. secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, condemned these attacks, while stressing on the point that the Taliban had denied involvement in the attacks. He also stated that the lack of an intra-Afghan peace talk was the major reason contributing to ongoing terrorist attacks and it was when these talks were resumed that the Taliban and the Afghan government could put up a united front against these “outsiders” who were launching insurgencies against the state.

It is noteworthy though that the Pentagon, not wanting to disrupt the delicate peace talk balance created with the Taliban, declined to comment on President Ashraf Ghani’s statement. It noted, however, that U.S. forces continued to reserve the right to defend the Afghan security forces in case they were attacked by the Taliban.

The statement reeks of desperation by the U.S. to maintain the delicate peace agreement they had concluded with the Taliban, all while trying not to upset the ‘legitimate’ government of Afghanistan nor the Taliban. This also becomes crucial at a time when the U.S. is struggling to pull out from its longest war in history and handover the task of security to regional players. The U.S. had also asked India a couple of days back to play a bigger role in Afghanistan and overall regional security, as India seeks to establish its dominance as a regional power and ultimately a global one.

The Ministry of External Affairs of India also came forth to condemn the attacks and term them “reprehensible” and “barbaric”. But Afghanistan is expecting more than just empty words from a country that boasts being the largest regional donor and one of the world’s top donors in terms of developmental aid.

ashraf ghani and modi
With India being one of the top countries in terms of military power and personnel, it is time that India takes a firm stand in the region in order to protect its interests and safeguard its friends.

For a long time now, there have been calls that even though India continues to invest millions of dollars in Afghanistan, displaying its soft power capabilities and a will to establish stronger ties with the country, it is backing away from engaging militarily in the country. Without the engagement of hard power, the Indian state quashes its dream of being considered the regional ringmaster.

India furthers its trade interests as well, in terms of the building of the Chabahar port in Iran, thus, trying to manoeuvre a line of trade that bypasses Pakistan and establish strong trade ties with Central Asian countries. This serves the purpose of killing two birds with one stone. Many complications arise though. With the repeated attacks on minority Muslims rising, the religion specific CAA and the humongous tide of right wing Hindutva fundamentalism, the Muslim majority countries that India so evidently pursues may turn against it instead. 

When it comes to Pakistan, it seems sort of hypocritical that they release statements condemning such violence. But then why wouldn’t they, especially as they assert their regional importance in maintaining the security balance in Afghanistan and denying that the ISI engages in supporting any of the malicious attacks that are carried on despite there being overwhelming evidence of the opposite. This incident also becomes especially noteworthy when we keep in mind the fact that the Afghan security forces have hinted that the Haqqani network could have a role to play in this operation.

Tamim Asey, the former deputy minister of defence of Afghanistan also noted that only the Haqqani network have such operational capacities to be able to launch such an attack in Kabul. He also stated how the ISKP (ISIL-Khorasan Province) has had long-standing ties with the Haqqani network, and the ISKP claimed responsibility for the attack at the funeral that was carried out later that day. It could be a possibility that the attacks were a retaliatory move to the capture of an ISIL leader earlier.

Among a string of attacks being carried out as Afghanistan struggles to battle the coronavirus sweep with its limited medical facilities, this particular case hints at the many factors that are intertwining and playing a role in the insurgency in the war torn or may I say, war-ripped country. The fact that the attack could be carried out either due to the locality being inhabited by people who are Hazaras or to target an international aid organisation to warn outsiders to leave the country alone are both reprehensible, yet, very possible reasons.

hazaras protest

Crimes against the Hazara community and their decimation has been a long standing practice in Afghanistan, with the majority Pashto Taliban launching offences and specified attacks against them and the dominant “Sunni” ISIL members targeting the Hazaras as many of them belong to the Shia community. This shows the growing prevalence of religious fundamentalism and the hunger of such groups to establish something of a Nazi Germany, people who are “pure bred”, while exterminating all the “unwanted” communities who look to be contaminating the society. 

The fact that a hospital associated with an international aid organisation was attacked also can be considered intimidation, as insurgents in Afghanistan have long been vocal about the need to drive out any international presence and feel Afghanistan is capable of handling its citizenry. While the Taliban in recent times have extended a hand in developing relations with countries such as India, for its regional partners, international interference in the country is a strict no.

While the Afghan government scrambles to get aid in to re-construct the country, players like India believe that when the American forces withdraw completely from the state, that might increase the chances of an attack on Indian embassies and development projects, both from the Taliban and Pakistan.

With India being one of the top countries in terms of military power and personnel, it is time that India takes a firm stand in the region in order to protect its interests and safeguard its friends, who it very openly embraces and pours development aid into. On the domestic front, India must look at the mounting attacks at Muslims and the curbs placed in Kashmir or it risks losing valuable allies and the support of a huge chunk of its own population.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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