Middle East

'Just a game': Afghans who fled Taliban for Australia demand more inclusive peace talks

0:00

As talks between the US and Taliban progress - what do those in Australia who have suffered from war in Afghanistan think about the prospect of peace?

Under the cover of darkness, the Taliban attacked Hadi Karimi’s home village of Hotqol in the Jaghori district of Afghanistan. It was the last time he spoke with his brother Baqir.

Now, he's a world away in his new home of Melbourne - but the memory still haunts him.

"When I heard, I straight away called my brother," Mr Karimi told SBS News.

"He said we are here but under heavy fire from the Taliban."

The mountainous Jaghori district of Afghanistan.
The mountainous Jaghori district of Afghanistan.
SBS News

Ongoing peace talks between the United States and the Taliban are aimed at bringing an end to the 17-year-old war - and events like the one that separated the siblings. 

But for those like Mr Karimi, who have suffered countless nights fearing for the safety of relatives abroad, the prospect of peace still seems far away.

Mr Karimi is Hazara - an ethnic minority group that has historically been harshly targeted by the Taliban.

Persecuted for their mostly Shiite Muslim beliefs, thousands of Hazaras were killed in the 1990s under Taliban rule, according to the Minority Rights Group.

The most significant such recent assault happened in November. Taliban forces carried out attacks on Hazara villages in Khas Uruzgan, Malistan and Jaghori districts killing dozens and displacing thousands of people.

Torn asunder by violence 

As heavy gunfire rang out over the mountainous terrain of Mr Karimi’s homelands - he lost contact with his brother.

“For two days I was calling every single number in Afghanistan but nobody answered,” he said.

“Then when I called the next person. They were crying and said he’s gone.”

Over three days Mr Karimi lost his only brother, his uncle and two cousins.

Hadi Karimi’s brother Baqir Karimi.
Hadi Karimi’s brother Baqir Karimi.
SBS News

Hadi Karimi’s uncle Anwar Yawari.
Hadi Karimi’s uncle Anwar Yawari.
SBS News

Peace prospects

Progress in peace talks between the Taliban and US follows years of violence.

Last year there was an 11 per cent increase in civilian deaths in Afghanistan to 3,804 - making 2018 the conflict’s bloodiest year on record, according to the UN.

More air strikes by US and Afghan forces were also responsible for the higher death toll.  

Former Taliban and IS militants surrender their weapons during a reconciliation ceremony in Jalalabad, Afghanistan last month.
Former Taliban and IS militants surrender their weapons during a reconciliation ceremony in Jalalabad, Afghanistan last month.
ap

At least 32,000 civilians have been killed in Afghanistan and another 60,000 wounded in the past decade.

There are now up to 1,400 US troops in the country, down from a peak of more than 100,000, since US forces arrived a few weeks after 9/11.

Niamatullah Ibrahimi of Deakin University, an analyst of Afghanistan politics, told SBS News both the Taliban and US have increased military action to gain leverage in the ongoing peace talks, most recently held in Dohar.

“The common understanding behind this escalation is that each side wants to increase their bargaining power during those negotiations,” he said.

Surrendering Taliban forces. The militants want a withdrawal of US troops.
Surrendering Taliban forces. The militants want a withdrawal of US troops.
AP

But those negotiations have so far not included Afghanistan’s government.

Mr Ibrahimi said peace talks now hinge on the Taliban promising that Afghanistan won’t be used as a sanctuary for terrorists again in the future - much in the manner of the pre-9/11 years.

In exchange the Taliban wants a withdrawal of US troops - but there is still a gap to bridge before such a deal can be reached.

Hadi Karimi’s cousin Nasrullah Ahmadi.
Hadi Karimi’s cousin Nasrullah Ahmadi.
SBS News

“The Taliban have been under a lot of pressure to announce a ceasefire, [but] have refused because they may risk losing control over there militias and armed forces,” he said.

“There is a national concern among many Afghans of a deal being struck… before there is a proper peace settlement established.”

American envoy Zalmay Khalilzad at the United States Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan.
American envoy Zalmay Khalilzad at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan.
NYTNS

‘Sense of fear’

Hadi Zaher is a community representative for Australia’s Hazara community, which is estimated to consist of more than 50,000 people, according to the Refugee Council of Australia.

Many fled the Taliban.

Mr Zaher said the community is “apprehensive” about the peace talks and “fear” an agreement being reached, that fails to ensure peace.

“The community has historically faced massacres [and] forced removal from their ancestral homelands,” Mr Zaher told SBS News.

“Looking at these talks that sense of fear comes back to the community." 

His fear is that concessions made by both sides could help the Taliban return to power.

“The Afghan government, the concerned groups, the people most threatened by a return of the Taliban are not part of these peace talks," he said, calling for these groups to be included in the talks.

“These talks are by and large taking place behind closed doors [and] that makes the community particularly uncomfortable.”

"The plight of the groups that are vulnerable in Afghanistan are not going away anytime soon.”

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has praised peace talks as "perhaps the most significant chance" to finally end the long-lasting conflict.

But stressed to be durable “any peace process must be inclusive.”

“There must be confidence in a shared future through the guarantee of the rights of all Afghans," he states in a report to the UN Security Council.

Hadi Zaher, a representative for the Hazara community in Australia.
Hadi Zaher, a representative for the Hazara community in Australia.
SBS News

Afghan women demand a voice

Najeeba Wazefadost is the founder of Hazara Women of Australia, a group helping Afghan women who have experienced war and persecution.

At 10-years-old, Ms Wazefadost fled the Taliban and Afghanistan with her parents.

She said she is concerned that peace talks have so far failed to include women in their negotiations.

“Women’s participation in peace talks in Afghanistan should be a red line," Ms Wazefadost told SBS News.

Najeeba Wazefadost at a girl school in Afghanistan supported by Hazara Women of Australia.
Najeeba Wazefadost at a girl school in Afghanistan supported by Hazara Women of Australia.
Najeeba Wazefadost

Women suffered numerous human rights violations under the Taliban’s rule, including being banned from education and work and not allowed to leave their homes without a male guardian.

“Knowing that the Taliban could come back into power… it basically means we are going to have the war started again,” she said.

“The suffering that we went through. All the persecution and killing is about to restart.”

Conflict threat remains

Many Hazara villages are located in border areas close to Taliban controlled regions of the country.

According to a 2018 report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, about 56.3 per cent of total Afghan districts were controlled by the government with the others held by rebels or contested. 

Melbourne-based Ramazan Hussaini's brother-in-law was a member of the local police when his village came under attack late last year.

Ramazan Hussaini's brother-in-law Muhammad John Ghulari
Ramazan Hussaini's brother-in-law Muhammad John Ghulari.
SBS News

“The Taliban took over and killed all of them including him,” Mr Hussaini told SBS News.

“The people from these families who lost members in that attack – a majority have been forced to flee,” he said.

He said snowfall has prevented the Taliban from launching further assaults since then. But the Hazaras are fearful of the coming spring.

“We appeal to the world to the international community to pay attention to the plight of the people,” he said.

For Afghans home and abroad the devastation of this 17-year conflict remains a heavy burden to carry.

Ramazan Hussaini and his wife Lila.
Ramazan Hussaini and his wife Lila.
SBS News

A weight Mr Hussaini’s wife Lila feels deeply.

“I realise physically I am here but my thoughts and concerns are with my brother’s children,” she said.

Mr Karimi too worries for his family still back in Afghanistan.

Having already lost four of his relatives, he is skeptical about the prospect of peace talks.

Hadi Karimi
Hadi Karimi
SBS News

“Honestly that is just drama,” he said

"Just a game the US is playing with the Taliban.”

Stay up to date with SBS NEWS

  • App
  • Subscribe
  • Follow
  • Listen
  • Watch