Afghanistan Civil Society Rep, Ms. Hoda Khamosh, Speech in Oslo, Norway

In the name of God of Freedom and Equality.

My name is Hoda Khamosh, a woman among the millions women of Afghanistan. In here I do not represent any political group or faction. I lived under the Taliban rule for five months and eight days in Kabul. I have come here at the invitation of the Norwegian government to spread the message of the women of Afghanistan who are protesting on the streets of Afghanistan against the repression and terror that the world is responsible for. I made it alive here from the shadow of whips and bullets.

What I am saying here is the words of millions of Afghan citizens who are stuck in the midst of disaster and destruction. Millions of women are currently being subjected to gender apartheid by the Taliban. Women are systematically eliminated, denied, insulted, and humiliated.

After capturing Kabul, the Taliban created a factional, police regime through assassination and coercion, and by marginalizing and eliminating a large part of Afghanistan. Over the past five months, the Taliban have denied citizens basic rights; they have confined women inside the houses, deprived from education; they have killed and tortured their opponents, mostly former members of the Afghan National Security Forces, and they have perpetuated systematic discrimination against other ethnic groups. The Taliban have also created their interrogative machinery of people’s beliefs and behaviors in the name of [Ministry for] Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.

Now I turn your attention to a few of the many long lists of crimes and assassinations that have taken place over the last five months.

1. Photojournalist, Mr. Morteza Samadi, was arrested and tortured by the Taliban on September 7, 2021, during a civil protest in Herat.

2. Ms. Alia Azizi, the former head of the Herat Women’s Prison, has been missing for more than five months.

3. Mr. Taqi Daryabi and Mr. Nematullah Naqdi, reporters for the daily Etilaatroz were arrested and severely tortured by the Taliban while covering the September 7, 2021 protests in Kabul.

4. Dozens of young people demonstrated in Balkh on September 7 and 8 to demand their rights and freedoms. The Taliban arrested 70 protesters, including 40 protesting girls, and transferred them to an unknown location. They were tortured and some of them were raped. One week later, the bodies of eight detainees were found on the streets of the city [of Mazar]. Several detained women were assassinated after their release from prison. But the fate of the nine detained girls is still unknown and they are still missing.

5. Last Wednesday, five of my comrades Ms. Tamana Zaryab Paryani, along with her three sisters Zarmina, Shafiqa, and Karima, and another civil activist, Ms. Parwana Ibrahimkhel, who were protesting Taliban policies, were arrested. This happened in the dark of night, after breaking down the gate of their house. They have been taken to an unknown place and their fate is unknown.

I feel their pain from thousands of miles away with my bones and hear their cries under the Taliban torture. The question is: why are the Taliban imprisoning us in Kabul and now sitting here at the negotiating table with us in Oslo? What is the international community doing in the face of all this torture and repression? Suppression and assassination take place in front of your eyes. By remaining silent or tolerating the Taliban, you are partly responsible for these crimes and repression committed against men and women of Afghanistan. I am going back to Afghanistan, but I do not know what awaits us. I ask the Norwegian foreign minister how come she circumvented international law and invited those individuals who are on [international] sanctions list?. Isn’t this an indirect recognition [of the regime]?

On behalf of the Afghan women protesters, I propose the following four items to restore some civil order in Afghanistan:

1. Mr. Amir Khan Mottaqi must pick up his phone now and call Kabul. [He should] order the immediate release of Tamana Zaryab Pariani and her three sisters (Zarmina, Shafiqa, and Karima), Parwana Ebrahimkhel, Halia Azizi, and open the gates of all schools unconditionally.

According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and International Conventions on Civil and Political Rights, every human being has the right to take part in the peaceful assembly against inhuman and anti-human rights laws. We, the protesting women, only demanded our rights with the slogan of “bread, work, and freedom.” However, the Taliban arrested, tortured, and humiliated us.

2.  Women of Afghanistan want equal rights. Until a new constitution is created, the second chapter of the previous constitution must be upheld to restore and recognize the fundamental rights of citizens. The Taliban and no other group have the authority to restrict our fundamental rights. Any kind of redefinition of rights and freedoms must be done through national dialogues and a collective consensus.

3. An autorotative and independent Council should be established by the United Nations consisted of the families of the victims, the victims, representatives of the people, and independent international human rights bodies. [The Council should] monitor and investigate the conduct and policies of the Taliban. The Council should investigate [the situation inside] Taliban prisons and immediately release prisoners of conscience based on political [beliefs] and gender. Next, the Council should address all the war crimes committed in the last twenty years.

4. To restore political order and stability, Afghanistan needs a legitimate system based on the approval of all citizens. We need the agreement of political factions and different segments of the people on a roadmap for a political and democratic solution to the dilemma of Afghanistan. Traditional solutions, such as holding a Loya Jirga, cannot replace democratic ways of establishing political legitimacy.

The new chapter of our struggle for Afghanistan, which respects the rights and equality of all citizens, especially women, began five months and eight days ago, and we have a long way to go. The international community should not close its eyes to us.

In the hope of freedom and equality.

Hoda Khamoush 

Oslo – Norway

Translated by Sabir Ibrahimi from the original Farsi text in the

Photo credit 

The United States Must Airdrop Aid to the Blockaded Regions of Afghanistan

Said Sabir Ibrahimi

With the Afghan economy is on the verge of collapse, the United Nations has warned that half of the population in Afghanistan needs humanitarian aid. The U.S. military’s combat operations in Afghanistan have come to an end but Washington has pledged to remain engaged with the country through diplomacy, development, and humanitarian aid. After the sudden collapse of the U.S.-backed government on August 15, 2021, the Taliban swiftly seized 33 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces –  the last standing is Panjshir. As Panjshir leads the resistance, it has also become a safe refuge for many Afghans escaping the wrath of the Taliban, as well as a humanitarian crisis.

The Panjshir Valley is surrounded by magnificent mountains and a roaring river at its heart. It has historically been an unconquered territory, be it against the Soviet Union in the 1970s or the Taliban in the 1990s. The current resistance force is led by Mr. Ahmad Massoud, the son of the legendary anti-Soviet freedom fighter Ahmad Shah Massoud, who was tragically assassinated by al-Qaeda in collaboration with the Taliban two days before the horrific attacks of 9/11. Mr. Ahmad Massoud is now leading the National Resistance Front (NRF) of Afghanistan, alongside Vice President Mr. Amrullah Saleh, who has proclaimed himself as care-taker President in the absence of President Ashraf Ghani, who has fled the country.

While people across the country suffer from the shortage of food and basic needs, the situation in Panjshir is dire as the NRF and Taliban are fighting tooth and nail. Notably, several of Massoud’s closest aides have been killed, allegedly by Pakistan’s drones, and there is an active blockade imposed on the valley by the Taliban. The NRF’s attempts to negotiate a peace deal with the Taliban, which included some level of autonomy for Panjshir under a decentralized Islamic democratic system were rebuffed. The Taliban insists on a centralized and puritanical theocracy with the group as the dominant power at the center.  While both sides have sustained casualties, reports indicate a devastating toll on the civilian population.

The Panjshir valley has been surrounded by the Taliban from all entry points, and they have callously enforced an active blockade, inhibiting humanitarian relief from reaching the afflicted. Internet and telephone communication lines have been cut off for several days. Mr. Saleh has appealed to the international community for humanitarian assistance, but his pleas for help have fallen on deaf ears. The Taliban has confirmed the blockade, by saying that due to fighting goods and food items have not entered the province for some four days but promised to reopen the supply lines. The Taliban also claimed to have captured the entire province, including the capital Bazarak. However, the NRF reports resumption of fierce fighting across the province. This is at a time when Ahmad Massoud has called for a national uprising which has inspired some movements in other provinces. Additionally, several women have also participated in protesting for their rights in cities like Kabul, Herat, and Mazar e Sharif.

Many amongst the ranks of the NRF are former members of the Afghanistan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF). They have risked their lives fighting alongside American troops against al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and the Islamic State Khorasan, and many feel abandoned while they continue to resist. While we do not know a lot about the intensity of the issue due to complete media blackout, some with access on the ground report of the catastrophic humanitarian crisis is unfolding in places like Panjshir and Andarab, a district in neighboring Baghlan province. Upwards of a quarter of a million civilians are trapped in these areas,  and desperately need “food supplies, including baby formula, rice, wheat, and other perishables” and medicine.

While the U.S. military’s combat mission has ended in Afghanistan,  America and its allies can provide critical assistance through humanitarian aid as originally planned. Some small amount of aid from the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have reached Kabul, but a lot more needs to be done to prevent the catastrophe that the United Nations has warned about. One of the quickest ways to get aid across the country would be through airdropping. The US has conducted several airdrop missions in the past including one in 2014 in Iraq. The US should start with airdropping the much-needed supplies in areas such as Panjshir and other regions where the Taliban has imposed blockades. This can bring great relief to the people in need. Delays in delivering humanitarian aid could risk the lives of many people from starvation and medical attention.

Photo credit: Nonprofit quarterly.

Growing Sectarianism Can Challenge Lasting Peace in Afghanistan

By Said Sabir Ibrahimi

October 15, 2020

As the peace talks continue between the Afghan government and the Taliban in Doha, Qatar, the Taliban have resorted to sectarian positioning that has the potential to derail lasting peace in the country. Last February, the United States and the Taliban signed a peace deal, two main elements of which are the withdrawal of U.S. troops and the beginning of the intra-Afghan peace talks, which finally started a month ago. 

The process is slow and the Afghans and the international community are anxious for results. The two sides have been discussing a “code of conduct,” or guidelines on how the “real” negotiations should proceed. One of the hurdles is the Taliban’s insistence on using the Sunni Hanafi fiqh (jurisprudence) as “a guide to all aspects of the terms and conditions.” Taliban’s insistence on the supremacy of Sunni Hanafism has alarmed Afghan Shias, who have long been marginalized.

After the toppling of the Taliban regime in 2001, the Shias of Afghanistan (mostly ethnic Hazaras) not only gained constitutional rights but also assumed public offices and took up government positions. Shias participated in politics, making their way to the Afghan parliament and several government institutions, including the office of the second vice president under President Hamid Karzai and President Ashraf Ghani. The Shia Personal Status Law became part of the Afghan legal system, allowing Shias to have the freedom to be judged by their own laws – Jafari fiqh. In other words, Afghanistan has worked to achieve legal Shia-Sunni parity, which is now at risk because of sectarian posturing by the Taliban and other groups.

Shias and Sunnis share a common belief in the oneness of god, the holiness of the Quran, and the finality of the prophethood. What set the two apart over a millennia ago was a divergence in their beliefs regarding in the rightful leadership of the “umma” or Muslim community after the passing of the Prophet Muhammad. Afghanistan’s population of 35 million includes an estimated 15 percent Shias.

Sectarianism has not always been a major social problem in the country in comparison to other Muslim majority countries such as Pakistan. Second Vice President Sarwar Danish, also a Shia leader, said “Shias do not have problems with the Imam Abu Hanifa.” He said that Imam Hanifa established a rationalist and justice-centered school of thought and said “that anyone who prays to Kaaba (in Mecca) is a Muslim.” 

Nevertheless, throughout the history of contemporary Afghanistan, Shias remained marginalized by the state. The first episode of Afghan state anti-Shia policy was executed by King Abdur Rahman Khan, known as the Iron Amir, to subjugate them to his rule. In 1892, Khan had his Ulema Council issue a fatwa denouncing Shias, particularly ethnic Hazaras, as infidels and imposed Hanafi jurisprudence on the Shia population. This led to the large-scale massacre and enslavement of ethnic Hazaras.  

The second major wave of state-sponsored anti-Shi’ism came from the Taliban during their rule in the 1990s. The group banned the public proceedings of Shia rituals during the month of Muharram. While Shias were allowed to practice their faith in their mosques and in private, they lived in fear. The Taliban massacred hundreds of Shia civilians in Daikundi, Bamyan, and Mazar-e-Sharif  – in retaliation for armed Shias’ resistance to the Taliban rule. In 1998, the Taliban governor, Mullah Niazi, in Balkh denounced the sect and asked the Shia population to convert to Sunni Islam or leave Afghanistan.  ADVERTISEMENT

As the peace talks are underway, the Taliban’s spokesperson has said that two sectarian schools of thought cannot be implemented in one country. In April, Mullah Fazel Mazloom, a senior Taliban official in Quetta, Pakistan, categorized Shias with infidels. On another occasion, Mullah Abdul Manan Niazi, a Taliban splinter group commander in Herat, said that Shi’ism is fake. These assertions are alarming and resonate in the Taliban thinking. This is also an indication that extremists would resist coexistence with the Shias in Afghanistan. At the very least, these extremist views will keep the fire of sectarianism burning. At the worst, extremists could continue to resort to violence on their own or through new alliances with Pakistani anti-Shia groups or the Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISKP).

More concerning, sectarian voices also come from other extremists who live under the umbrella of the Afghan government. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the leader of Hizb-e-Islami, a former anti-U.S. and anti-Afghan government insurgent, also said that he agrees with the Taliban that Sunnis are the majority and thus Hanafi jurisprudence should be applied to bigger national issues. While Hekmatyar says that personal issues between Shias can be resolved through Jafari fiqhhis assertions point to the dissatisfaction of the Hanafi Islamists with the sectarian parity in the country. Both Hekmatyar and the Taliban have said that this issue will be discussed during the debates over amending Afghanistan’s constitution  – another uphill battle.

Taliban’s religious ideology stems from the Deobandi order of Sunni Islam in madrassas in Pakistan, including Darul Uloom Haqqania, where many of its leaders have studied. In the early 18th century, the Deobandi order was established in India as an anti-colonial institution. While the Deobandi order distinguished itself from anti-Shia Wahhabism, which originated in today’s Saudi Arabia, one of its leaders, Abdul Aziz Dehlawi wrote a prominent anti-Shia book in rejection of the sect. After India’s partition, the Deobandi branches in Pakistan moved toward Wahhabism, especially during the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan, when madrassas were subsidized by Saudi Arabia to produce dogmatic militants. The Darul Uloom itself became the university of jihad with links to several Sunni militant groups and some anti-Shia groups involved in sectarian violence in Pakistan. 

The Taliban through their deeds have shown that they see Shias as second-class citizens in Afghanistan. For practical reasons they have publicly distanced themselves from attacks on Shias and have established relations with Shia-majority Iran. In some instances, the Taliban even have reached out to the Shia communities. However, in areas under Taliban control, Shias have been harassed and attacked. The Taliban are also trying to capture Shia-dominated districts. This has prompted some Shias to pick up arms in provinces such as Sar-e PulDaikundi and in Ghor  – which could give birth to a new wave of warlords in the country. Meanwhile, ISKP has continuously targeted Shias since 2015. 

The cloud of sectarianism looms over Afghanistan at a time when the country is going through yet another pivotal historical moment with the peace talks underway in Doha. The Taliban have insisted on sectarianism, throwing a wrench into the process and simultaneously encouraging other extremist elements to show their dissatisfaction with the attempt at sectarian parity in the country. Sectarianism will challenge the prospects of lasting peace in Afghanistan and can prolong the war in another form. While the issue is now put aside, it will likely resurface again when there is a political settlement, and the constitution is up for an amendment.

The government of Afghanistan and the country’s civil society should stand firmly for the constitutional rights of all religious minorities as well as women, and the freedom of speech. There is also a need for a counternarrative to extremist sectarian views, with calls for tolerance and coexistence. Moderate Sunni and Shia leaders should speak out against sectarianism and launch an inter-sectarian dialogue to counter extremist views and protect the limited gains in Afghanistan.

This article was originally published in the the Diplomat.

Photo credit: Unsplash.

In Afghanistan, Peace Must Come Without Compromising Hard-Earned Gains

By: Said Sabir Ibrahimi

Progress on freedom of speech, political participation, and women’s rights in Afghanistan cannot be compromised.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has announced a road map for peace negotiations with the Taliban. The United States backed Ghani’s proposal for peace and called upon the Taliban to enter negotiations. Thus far there hasn’t been any public response from the Taliban side on the offer.

Over the last 17 years, Afghanistan has achieved some level of social and political progress, including on freedom of speech, political participation, and women’s rights. These achievements are nowhere near perfect but they are positive steps in the right direction and have come at a high cost. As the governments of Afghanistan and the United State push for a political settlement, there are uncertainties on the fate of the past decade-and-a-half’s achievements.   

Under the Taliban’s rule, Afghanistan was one of the most isolated states on earth. Only two countries, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, recognized the theocratic regime. In the absence of media, Afghans knew little about freedom of speech; or if they knew, they could not safely exercise it. There was no such thing as public protest. All forms of entertainment and free speech were banned, including television, print, and radio, except for the Taliban radio, “The Voice of Sharia.”

Today, there are dozens of private and public television channels, over 100 radio stations, and hundreds of press titles in the country. Afghans have established a civil society and have the right to peaceful protests — even in the midst of grave insecurity.

Since 2001, Afghanistan has held three presidential and two parliamentary elections in which millions of Afghan men and women participated. These elections have been imperfect, plagued with vote rigging, and the outcomes have been fiercely contested. Nonetheless, in 2014, the process led to the first peaceful transfer of power from one president to another. According to an Asia Foundation survey, a majority of Afghans supportdemocracy. Meanwhile, the Taliban perceive elections as a Western phenomenon and have not yet indicated whether the group would be interested in participating in such a process.

Most importantly, women’s rights under the current Afghan constitution are guaranteed. Under the Taliban regime, women were barred from attending school or working. Today, Afghan women are visible in every layer of society. They are doctors, engineers, politicians, athletes, police officers, radio and TV presenters, and more. Even so, this improvement in gender parity is minimal. Afghanistan is still one of the worst places for women and scored the lowest in the 2017/18 Women Peace and Security Index.  A compromise to appease the ultra-conservatives could halt the marginal progress that has been achieved in gender equality.

These hard-earned gains have come at an immense cost to Afghans, Americans, and their allies. Thousands of Afghan military personnel, as well as allied forces, have given their lives in fighting the Taliban and other terrorist groups in the country. In 2017 alone, 6,700 Afghan security forces were killed and 12,000 wounded. Since 2001, 3,546 coalition forces have died — among them 2,408 Americans. Thousands of Afghan civilians have also lost their lives. From 2009 to 2017 alone, 28,000 civilians died and more than 50,000 were injured. Additionally, billions of dollars have been spent; the United States alone has spent more money on the war in Afghanistan than on the Marshall Plan for reconstruction of post World War II Europe.

After all this sacrifice and 40 years of conflict, the Afghan people want peace. Recently, the message of peace was reiterated at the Tashkent Conference on Afghanistan in Uzbekistan. The Afghan government has offered enter into negotiations without preconditions, a great concession. Peace must come, but it must come without compromising hard-earned gains, especially not at the cost of setbacks to the freedom of speech, political participation, and women’s rights. Afghanistan should not be understood as homogeneous but as a diverse society. An inclusive peace process that can represent the interests of rural and urban populations and has the genuine support of the international community is needed. Afghans can achieve a sustainable peace only when the rural and urban interests are served in a representative system, not in an isolated theocratic regime.

This article was originally published in the Diplomat Magazine. Photo credit: AP through ABC.

Said Sabir Ibrahimi is a Research Associate for Afghanistan-Pakistan Regional Project at New York University’s Center on International Cooperation. Opinions expressed in this article are personal.

A Tale of Two Pakistans: National Identity and the Hazaras


The Hazara community has been the target of negative political rhetoric and active violence since the end of the 19th century. Originally from the mountainous region of Hazarajat in the heart of Afghanistan, war, instability, and the urge to control this strategically located area, a branch of Hindu Kush, created diaspora communities outside Afghanistan. The composition of the communities is mostly people of Pakistani and Iranian descent.

Although the majority of Hazaras are practicing Shi’as, there are also small Ismaili and Sunni communities. Hazaras are believed to belong to the Turkic-Mongolian ethnic family group represented by their language, the Dari dialect derived from Persian, and their physical appearance, resembling that of Central Asian peoples.

In Pakistan, Hazara people are the most numerous in Quetta, the capital city of the Balochistan province, tangential to Southern Afghanistan. Tensions have risen during the last month with an outburst of violence on the 30th of April, the fourth that occurred in a short period of time. The causes are a mix of two variables worth considering: terrorist groups in constant battle with Shi’a worshippers and the failure of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan to protect the right of its minorities due to nescience and actively turning a blind eye, a direct result of the creation of a homogeneous national identity and political decentralization.

Pakistani nationalism has served as a leading cause of the insufficient protection of minorities. When Muhammad Ali Jinnah the Governor-General and the President of the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan in 1947, his vision was inclusive of the people living under the flag of the partitioned land. However, as it has happened for many other children of decolonization, the aim of the central government has been to create a homogeneous identity, praising orthodox Muslim rules over the rest in the course of history, and naming Islam, Sunni Islam, as the ultimate characteristic of the Land of the Spiritually Pure, which is what “Pakistan” stands for.

Secondly, it is the evolution of the Two-Nation theory that represented the intellectual basis for the partition of British India into two (later three) different entities in which religion appears as the defining cause. Muslims and non-Muslims were two different nations, understood as in the West,  and hence needed two different States. The idea of Pakistan as the homeland of Indian Muslims (and not of all Muslims, as it does not aspire to become an Islamic State) leaves many other communities– originally from abroad– out of this equation. Pakistan’s “blasphemy laws,” which are not exclusive to the country as over 70 others still have them, target religious minorities, pursue national identity uniformity, and combat terrorist groups. Human Rights Watch reported that at the end of 2017, 19 people still remained on death row for such accusations.

Amidst the ongoing attempt to build the Pakistani character lies the variable of terrorism in Balochistan. Separatist armed groups, the national Army movements, and the Taliban, along with the presence of ISIS, have found a viable getaway from the Middle East in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. These issues have been the cause of the pandemonium experienced by the local population. They have claimed responsibility for the majority of the attacks against the Hazaras. Even though the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) recognizes that terrorism present in the country has declined 16% during 2017, violence in the Balochistan province continues to be on the rise; as such, terrorism is likely to prevail as ISIS terror continues.

Pakistan is constantly adjusting to the volatile political dynamics of the country where stability has been made synonymous with homogeneity. If Pakistan fails in creating an inclusive national identity by disregarding minorities in the hopes of a homogenous community in religious and ethnic terms, the Hazaras will continue to live unprotected. Moreover, the presence of terrorist groups has created a prelude for ethnic and religious violence. As the state sponsors a correct interpretation of Islam via blasphemy laws, tensions will rise in an already divided society. How can security be brought to Hazaras when there is such utter confusion?

Andrea G. Rodriguez is an international security analyst. She holds a B.A. in International Relations from the Complutense University of Madrid. She has been part of several mobility programs, including at Charles University in Prague, where she studied Geopolitics and International Security, and at the National Taiwan University, where she focused on Asian security issues.

Photo Credit: Hazara News

The article was originally published on Please note that opinions expressed in this article are solely those of our contributors, not of Political Insights of Afghan Affair, which take no institutional positions.

Afghan Civilian Casualties, the Elephant in the Room

By: Said Sabir Ibrahimi

Civilian deaths in Afghanistan shouldn’t be treated as simple statistics.

Afghan civilians are becoming casualties of war in alarming numbers. More than 28,000 civilians have been killed and more than 50,000 injured since 2009, according to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). This number does not include thousands of others who died between 2001 and 2008.

2017 saw 3,438 dead and 7,015 injured — 65 percent of the casualties were attributed to the anti-government elements, namely the Taliban and Islamic State. Twenty-five percent of these casualties have been attributed to the pro-government elements (including 16 percent attributed to the Afghan National Security Forces, or ANSF, and 2 percent to international military forces). Eleven percent of these casualties were attributed to crossfire, and 1 percent to border shelling from Pakistan, while the rest cannot be attributed to any warring parties.

In January 2018, a car bomb attack by the Taliban using an ambulance killed over 103 and injured over 200 people, a textbook example of a war crime. Incidents like these happen in highly populated areas where civilians go about their daily lives. In this particular case, the attack took place near the Ministry of Interior and a hospital where men, women, and children gathered to receive public services.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.


The main problem is the multiplicity of warfronts in Afghanistan. The Afghan government is currently fightingover 20 different terrorist groups, as well as drug lords, while also attempting to rebuild its weak institutions and garner legitimacy. Another problem is the lack of attention and prioritization of the matter of civilian lives by both national and international actors.

Incident after incident, the Afghan government promises to avenge or launch investigations, which never end. Afghan officials send their thoughts and prayers with no real impact on prevention of further deaths. A recent declaration by the Afghan Ulema (religious scholars) barely mentioned the issue of civilian protection.

Consultations about a possible peace process overlook the issue of the protection of civilian lives. Emphasis on the prevention of civilian casualties has rarely surfaced in fora such as the Quadrilateral Coordination Group, a forum discussing a possible framework for peace between Afghanistan, China, Pakistan, and the United States.


The ANSF must ensure that their rules of engagement and operations include measures that ensure the safety of noncombatants. Protection of civilians must be institutionalized. Stricter control of Afghanistan borders, hunting down precursors to explosives, and raising the issue at the UN and other international arenas are some of the other ways to address the problem.

Among international forces, the U.S. military, which carries out most of the airstrikes in Afghanistan, has not only moral and legal obligations to protect civilians, but also for practical reasons it has to take the matter seriously. U.S. military veterans such as General David Petraeus and Chris Kolenda have acknowledged that civilian casualties by international forces sustained the war and concluded that protection of civilians is essential to the success of U.S. mission in Afghanistan.  

The rest of the international community and humanitarian organizations bear the responsibility to give voice to the voiceless. Recording civilian casualties is a great service to the families of the victims, who would hopefully one day be able to seek justice, but recording alone is not enough. The focus should be on prevention. How can further deaths of innocents be prevented? The international community such as the UN, European Union, Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), and others can help in building the capacity of the ANSF. They can also raise concerns about the matter with respective actors and emphasize on protection of civilian.

For the Taliban, if it is serious about taking part in a peace process, it must cease attacking civilian targets. No one is winning this war. The Afghan government has made a generous offer by signalling it is willing to enter into negotiations without conditions. The Taliban should seize the moment and enter into negotiations with the Afghan government. The sides should agree to a ceasefire which can help drastically reduce the suffering of civilians.

For too long Afghan civilians have suffered from this chronic conflict. They deserve to be included in national and international debates about war and peace. Civilian deaths shouldn’t be treated merely as statistics and or an elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about.

This article was originally published on the Diplomat Magazine.

Said Sabir Ibrahimi is a Research Associate for Afghanistan-Pakistan Regional Project at New York University’s Center on International Cooperation. Opinions expressed in this article are personal. Follow at @Saberibrahimi