Hazara’s Abduction: An Enigma or A Political Gimmick?

by Amjad Hussain (Journalist)

Australia – April 18, 2015 |

 

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Photo Courtesy: Roohullah Farhang / Karim Yari

The abduction of 31 Hazara passengers from Zabul province of Afghanistan on February 23 has become an enigma as the kidnappers and their demands are still unknown and the Afghan government has failed to track down the culprits to ensure release of the abductees. There are contradictory statements by various quarters some attributing the incident to Taliban, some to Daish (ISIS) and some to Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Afghan government due to unknown reasons is, however, yet to officially divulge the actual identity of the kidnappers, their demands and the rescue efforts made so far. This complaint has even been made by the Speaker of the Wolesi Jirga (the lower house), Abdul Rauf Ibrahimi, who recently declared that the government had not shared accurate information about the fate of the 31 Hazara hostages with the house.

 Contrary to Afghan government’s mysterious silence, Mohammad Mohaqiq, the deputy chief executive, is the only Afghan official who has openly blamed the Islamic State for the abduction. While talking to Associated Press on April 4, he named two former Taliban militants Mulla Abdullah Kaka and Mulla Mansoor Dadullah to be behind the abduction. Mullah Mansoor is the brother of Mullah Dadullah (a former key Taliban commander infamous for his atrocities during Taliban regime) who was killed in Afghanistan by foreign forces in 2007.  He was released along with six other Taliban leaders from a Pakistani prison in September 2013 on what Pakistan said Afghan government’s demand to facilitate the peace process in Afghanistan. Although Mansoor has not pledged allegiance to the Islamic State he is reported to have ties with the group leader Abu Bakar Al-Baghdadi and an inclination towards his ideology.

Meanwhile, a video posted online by Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) late March (which later went viral on social media) wherein the masked men of the group were shown beheading an Afghan solider was regarded as an evidence by some Afghan news outlets to term IMU to be behind the abduction. One of the masked man in the video was claiming to have so many more Hazaras as hostages and threatening the Kabul government to meet their demand (of releasing their captured activists) or be prepared for the same fate to be meted out to other hostages. Faithful to Taliban leader Mullah Umar before the group has now reportedly pledged allegiance to Al-Baghdadi, the ISIS chief in Iraq. Some media outlets described the solider in the video as one of the 31 hostages and claimed the group to be behind the abduction seeking a prisoners swap deal. The claim was, however, rejected by the National Directorate of Security – the Afghan intelligence agency – with the assertion that the video had no connection with the kidnapping of the 31 passengers.

Who is behind the abduction and what are their demands are the questions yet to be answered unequivocally, but one thing is quite obvious that the Afghan government has failed to secure the release of Hazara abductees. President Ashraf Ghani’s refusal to grant any guarantee to abducted people’s families regarding their loved ones’ release alludes to the same failure. In other words, this is a brazen confession by Mr Ghani that the Afghan government is incapable of dealing with militants and terrorists and that these elements are more powerful than the government. And this, in fact, is what Mr Ghani wants to prove to the world just to pave way for longer stay of the allied forces in Afghanistan which is scheduled to be withdrawn completely by the end of 2015.

The recent spate of Hazara’s abduction from different parts of Afghanistan must be seen in the backdrop of the present Afghan government’s wish to strengthen and lengthen its rule over the country without being challenged by any militant or insurgent group. The 13-year NATO combat mission in Afghanistan formally ended on December 28, 2014 following which only 12500 to 13500 troops including 5000 US soldiers will remain in the country in 2015. Ashraf Ghani’s national unity government being in embryonic stage needs the allied forces support to establish its writ and counter Taliban’s possible resurgence in the country. That is why Mr Ghani and his allies in the Afghan government are creating hype about the presence of the Islamic State in Afghanistan to make the world believe that their country is now facing a serious threat from another militant group apart from Taliban.

 It is also noteworthy that late last March just before his visit to the US to convince President Obama to slow the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan , Mr. Ghani acknowledged for the first time that Islamic state  is gaining influence in Afghanistan and stressed that the danger should not be under-estimated. In the interview with NBC news, he asserted that ISIS is operating inside Afghanistan and eying the country as a strategic foothold in its broader war to establish a caliphate in Middle East. Afghan Hazara Deputy chief executive, Mohammad Mohaqiq’s cool nerves and composure on the abduction of his own people and his nomination of ISIS as the kidnappers also seem part of the same effort of the Afghan government to magnify Islamic State’s threat to Afghanistan.

The story published by Radio Free Europe on March 30 in which a spokesman for the so-called Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan had announced allegiance to the Islamic State and the video released by the group of beheading of the Afghan solider also need to be seen as part of the same game to promote the perception of ISIS’s presence in Afghanistan.

Truly speaking, the Afghan government does not look willing to recover the abducted Hazaras at this stage that is why all its efforts in this regard including the military operation have proved fruitless. Tracking the culprits is not a hard job provided there is a will. Moreover, the kidnapper’s keeping of the hostages alive without making any demand despite a lapse of two months is also a worth-considering question which has created doubts about the actual culprits and their intentions behind the act. There seems to be a collusion between the Afghan government and the kidnappers. Given these presumptions the abducted people are most probably to be released once the US decide not to pull out it forces from Afghanistan by the year end. The abductees may also lose their lives if the US make an opposite decision which is unlikely.

It is the same ambition of the Afghan unity government to remain in power undisturbed that Mr Ghani has adopted a soft approach towards Pakistan unlike his predecessor which has even led his opponents to label him as a pro-Pakistan man.  Mr Ghani is also showing an exceptional bend towards Taliban to the extent of seeking apology from them for what he called ill-treatment they suffered after the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 in a bid to persuade them to join the Afghan government. He also offered ministries to Taliban leaders which was reportedly turned down by them as they wanted some amendments in the constitution, a guarantee for not being prosecuted for their persecution of people particularly ethnic minorities and complete ouster of foreign troops from Afghanistan.

President Ghani does not want the allied forces to leave Afghanistan until he enters into a power-sharing deal with Taliban. He is afraid that Taliban could overthrow his unstable and weak government in the absence of allied forces and the deal. Conversely, the Taliban want the allied forces out of the country before making any decision to join the Afghan government which has led to an impasse in power-sharing talks between the two sides.

The US on the other hand also seem to be complicit with the Afghan government in creating hype about ISIS in Afghanistan to ensure continuation of its forces’ presence in the country due to its important geographical and strategic location. Washington wants to stay in Kabul, a centre from where it could keep a close watch on the activities of its rivals including Beijing, Moscow, Tehran and allies including Islamabad and New Delhi besides the Central Asian states. The recent accord signed between Pakistan and China to grant the latter the right to operate the Gwadar port for 40 years has alarmed the US as it could result in enhancing China’s influence in the region and its easiest and shortest access to oil-rich Middle East and warm waters of Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean. New York-based American daily The Wall Street Journal has termed China’s $46 billion infrastructure spending plan in Pakistan to open new trade and transport routes across Asia a challenge to the US dominance in the region. China, which hitherto had kept itself aloof from all these matters, is now out to play a role in brokering peace between the Afghan government and the Taliban to secure its own economic and military interests in the region and suppress the East Turkistan Independence Movement of Uyghurs in its Muslim-majority north-western Xinjiang province.

Pakistan has also played an important role in Afghanistan’s internal politics in an attempt to counter Indian influence in the country. Taliban, which ruled the country from 1995 to 2001 was the brainchild of Pakistani military agencies which wreaked havoc on Afghanistan during their seven-year long regime.  Pakistan has no ally in the present Afghan unity government but is trying to make the Taliban a part of the Afghan government to secure its interests. It is because of the same intention that Pakistan released scores of imprisoned Taliban activists from 2012 to 2014 including Mullah Mansoor Dadullah who has now been named as the man behind the abduction of Hazara travelers in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s role in release of these abductees cannot be overruled. It might be the reason that forced the Afghan deputy chief executive to reportedly have sent delegates to Pakistan to negotiate with Taliban leaders to secure abductees release.

The above political and strategic game being played by various players in the region suggests that Hazaras in Afghanistan are being made the scapegoats like their fellows in Pakistan by some powers that want to protect their own vested interests. Keeping in mind the rapidly changing situation in Afghanistan and political scenario in Middle East Hazaras must brace for new challenges they would be forced to face in Afghanistan and Pakistan. There is a dire need that Hazaras across the world forge unity among their ranks and gather at a united platform to figure out the challenges and device a strategy to cope with them to ensure their safety and existence both in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And in this regard Hazaras in Australia are especially needed to realize their obligations and responsibilities to play an active role to thwart any further persecution of their people in Pakistan and Afghanistan.