On June 11th, 2020, the US Embassy in Kabul shared the International Religious Freedom Report for 2019 on its web page and social media accounts. This research was conducted by the Office of International Religious Freedom at the Department of State. However, the report does not highlight some minority groups’ concerns and also contains incorrect information, which has no basis in Afghanistan laws.
According to the report that it quoted, it claims that the Ismaili community enjoys four reserved seats at the Afghanistan Parliament.
“The law mandates an additional seat in Parliament’s lower House be reserved for a member of the Hindu and Sikh community. Four seats in the Parliament are also reserved for Ismaili Muslims.” Afghanistan 2019, the International Religious Freedom Report.
But the sad reality is that there is no single Ismaili representative at either of two houses of the National Assembly in this legislative period, 2018-2023. Also, the question of the quota system or “reserved seats” for the Ismailis has never been raised a subject because, in a free and fair election, the Ismaili constituency can elect seven or eight representatives. The Ismaili community makes up 3-5% of Afghanistan’s population and lives in nine provinces: Kabul, Parwan, Maidan Wardak, Bamyan, Baghlan, and Samangan, Balkh, Kunduz, Takhar, and Badakhshan.
Afghanistan’s constitution (2004) in Article 82 describe Parliament; the National Assembly consists of two houses: The House of People, Wolosi Jirga, 250 members, and The House of Elders, Mishrano Jirga, 102 members; Thirty-four of these are members from the provincial councils and 34 from the district councils of each province. The president appoints the remaining one-third of the members. Nevertheless, since the district council elections are never held, the president in reality appoints two- thirds of the Senate members himself.
Based on an unwritten law of the systematic discrimination, neither President Karzai nor Ghani appointed a single Ismaili to the House of Elders. According to the number of voters, the Ismailis have the right to have three to five representatives at the House of Elders.
However, in 2005, three Ismaili representatives were elected to represent Baghlan, Badakhshan, and the capital, Kabul. Moreover, four members were elected in the 2010 parliamentary elections, and their campaign was on a national level, not based on the reserved seats as the report claims.
In 2018, Afghanistan held parliamentary elections, but none of the Ismaili candidates were elected because the president and his allies interfered with the electoral process, and it was they who appointed members of the Parliament, ignoring the vote cast by the Afghan people.
Unfortunately, systematic discrimination and exclusion have historical roots in Afghanistan and continue at all levels of political power. Throughout history the minority groups have faced all sorts of violence and even genocide.
However, I would like to add some recent facts about continued discrimination in the last few years and how the president and his team ‘engineered’ the election results in 2018.
A former chief spy, who is currently serving as the first vice president said that according to several reliable sources, he is informed that the chief staff for the president and a senior aide to the presidential office reached out several candidates saying they were the decision-makers and appointing members of the Parliament, so if you want to be an MP you need to listen to us and support our network.
Another allegation came from General Habibullah Ahmadzai, a former security adviser to the president. He stated that some ministers close to the president, his advisers in fact, and also parliament members are involved in prostitution and even that some female parliamentarians were declared the winner in elections based on sexual affairs.
In September 2017, a high executive official from the Administrative Office of the President sent guidelines to his colleagues, which were leaked on social media. A document of 12 articles wrote that the presidential office should appoint most of its employees from one specific ethnic group and symbolically appoint a few with other ethnic backgrounds, so that the public would think that the officials of the Administrative Office of the President are from all ethnic groups.
The Afghanistan electoral law and system should be based on democratic values, enabling people to exercise their political rights as the citizens of the country in a democratic process. However, the tragic reality is that the power structure is designed so that only specific ethnic and religious groups can occupy high authority levels.
Back to the report. By studying it closer, I found it quite similar to an accepted norm in Afghanistan, which denies and ignores the minority groups. Throughout history, minorities have suffered not only violence and discrimination but also our demography and geographical presence being ignored.
Therefore, such reports are created because they read and hear from the people who are in power. Furthermore, the report underlines some concerns about Ismailis’ political rights and their exclusions from positions of authority. Nevertheless, the report does not provide any additional information about the large number of Ismailis who were forced to leave their home during the civil war and are still unable to return because others occupy their lands and properties. My research shows that their number is nearly 1000 families only from the Parwan, Maidan Wardak, and Samangan provinces.
Another example of prejudice is given in a book published by the Academy of Sciences of Afghanistan in 2013. ‘Paradise from the Islamic point of view and some other religion’ stated that Ismailis believe in a dual god, which is called Shirk.That means they do not believe in the oneness of Allah. The author of the book is a member of the academic board of the Academy of Sciences. He claims that the Ismailis are aiming to destroy Islamic thoughts and the Islamic worship system. Such allegations by the country’s highest academic institution are extremely dangerous because they have created a great deal of risk for our people in a conservative community such as Afghanistan. The book clearly shows the Ismailis as a threat to Islamic worship and values.
International agencies are expected to be independent in their research, reflect reality, provide fact-based information, and not rely on a verbal reference from the people in power.
Furthermore, Afghans should not only accept but also value and respect the diversity of their country. It is time to admit the brutal reality of violence and discrimination against all minority groups and put an end to them. Those in power should have this ethical courage to apologize for imposing systemic discrimination against minority groups. The Afghan scholars must write and educate the people about diversity and highlight the country’s differences as a social objective to promote nation-building a democratic and peaceful Afghanistan.
Link to the Report:
AFGHANISTAN 2019 INTERNATIONAL RELIGIOUS FREEDOM REPORT
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