The Hindu – Open-ended USA presence in Afghanistan, Pakistan on notice, bigger role for India: Trump’s South Asia policy

“We can no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organizations,” Mr Trump said.

Varghese K George

Washington, 22 August 2017. Unveiling a new strategy for South Asia on Monday that has many elements of continuity from the past, President Donald Trump said the USA troops would stay in Afghanistan for an open-ended period of time and America would no longer tolerate Pakistan’s policy of harbouring terrorists.

Mr Trump said America’s strategic partnership with India will deepen in South Asia and the Indo-Pacfic and demanded that India make more financial contribution for the stabilisation of Afghanistan. The President linked this demand to India’s trade surplus with America saying, India makes “billions and billions of dollars” in trade.

In agreeing to continue with American engagement in Afghanistan, Mr. Trump deferred to the advise of conventional military planners in his administration. “My original instinct was to pull out, and historically I like following my instincts,” the President said, adding that once he studied the Afghanistan situation, he changed his mind.

He did not announce any increase in troops, but said the military will have more operational autonomy to pursue terrorists, and commanders have been given authority to attack whenever they chose to.

“…we will also expand authority for American armed forces to target the terrorist and criminal networks that sow violence and chaos throughout Afghanistan.

These killers need to know they have nowhere to hide, that no place is beyond the reach of American arms,” the President said, indicating willingness for a new wave of American offensive against Islamist groups in South Asia.

The Asian Age – In shadow of terror, Afghanistan celebrates Independence Day

Ghani welcomed dozens of Afghan officials for a morning ceremony at the presidential palace

Kabul, 20 August 2017. Afghan security forces were on high alert on Saturday as the war-weary country, reeling from a number of high-profile deadly attacks, marked its independence day with muted celebrations.

There was an increased police presence in the capital Kabul where President Ashraf Ghani hosted a private ceremony for Afghan dignitaries.

“All of our police units are on the highest state of alert and they are placed everywhere across the city,” Kabul police spokesman Abdul Basir Mujahid said.

“We have increased the number of police checkpoints in and around the diplomatic quarters (too),” he added, amid fears that the Taliban would mark the anniversary with a large-scale attack.

August 19 commemorates the signing of the Treaty of Rawalpindi in 1919, which granted Afghanistan full independence from Britain, although the country was never part of the British empire, after three bloody wars.

While Afghanistan’s red, black and green tricolour flag adorned many Kabul streets, the day was largely going unobserved by ordinary Afghans, who are frustrated by the deteriorating security situation and the lack of progress by the US-led international coalition forces.

As in recent years there are no public ceremonies planned in the capital. The city has been on edge since a massive truck bomb ripped through its diplomatic quarter during morning rush hour on May 31, killing about 150 and wounding around 400 people, mostly civilians, in an unclaimed attack.

Taliban insurgents are currently at the peak of their summer fighting season and have launched several deadly assaults around the country in recent weeks.

Ghani welcomed dozens of Afghan officials for a morning ceremony at the presidential palace and laid a wreath at the independence minaret inside the defence ministry compound.

“A very happy Independence Day to everyone in AFG,” Ghani said on Twitter.

“This day was earned with lots of sacrifices. We must pay homage & celebrate this legacy.”

Dawn – Twenty-four killed as car bomb explodes in western Kabul

Kabul-Afghanistan, 24 July 2017. At least 24 people have been killed and 42 wounded after a car bomb struck a bus carrying government employees in western Kabul on Monday, an official told AFP, in the latest attack to strike the Afghan capital.

“The car bomb hit a bus carrying employees of the ministry of mines during rush hour,” interior ministry spokesman Najib Danish told AFP.

No militant group immediately claimed the blast, but it follows the recent attacks by the Taliban across the country, with several new districts falling to the militants over the weekend.

The neighbourhood in which Monday’s bomb detonated is home to many Shia Hazaras, a persecuted ethnic minority who have been targeted many times in the past.

It is also near prominent politician and former warlord Mohammad Mohaqeq’s home. Omid Maisom Mohaqiq, a spokesman for the politician, said the bomb had detonated near the first checkpoint approaching the house, “killing and wounding some civilians”.

Kabul is regularly rocked by suicide bombs and attacks. A recent UN report showed they accounted for nearly one-fifth of all civilian Afghan casualties in the first half of 2017.

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), which has been documenting civilian casualties since 2009, said in its recent report that 1,662 civilians were killed and more than 3,500 injured in the first six months of the year.

Many of those deaths happened in a devastating single attack in Kabul in late May when a truck bomb exploded, also during the morning rush hour, killing more than 150 people and injuring hundreds.

UNAMA put the civilian death toll at 92, saying it was the deadliest incident to hit the country since 2001. The bloody toll for the first six months of 2017 has unsettled the government of President Ashraf Ghani, who has come under increasing pressure since the May attack in Kabul.

Protests and deadly street clashes hit the Afghan capital in the wake of the May attack as people incensed by security failures called for his government’s resignation.

The UNAMA report also said that nearly half of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces have seen an increase in civilian deaths in the first six months of the year, mainly due to the rise in attacks by anti-government forces across the country.

Nato’s combat mission in Afghanistan ended three years ago, handing sole responsibility to the country’s security forces, who have also suffered spiralling casualties ever since as they try to beat back the resurgent Taliban and contain the growing threat from the militant Islamic State group.

This is a developing story that is being updated as the situation evolves. Initial reports in the media can sometimes be inaccurate. We will strive to ensure timeliness and accuracy by relying on credible sources such as concerned, qualified authorities and our staff reporters. [centre/italics]

Dawn – RAW operating from Afghanistan to create unrest in Pakistan: General Zubair Hayat

Karachi, 15 July 2017. Pakistan is fully aware of the threats emanating from hostile intelligence agencies, especially Indian intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), against the country and the multi-billion dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

The Chairman Joint Chiefs of the Staff Committee, General Zubair Mahmood Hayat, said this while speaking as the chief guest at a ceremony of the 107th Midshipmen commissioning term and 16th Short Service Commission Course at the Pakistan Naval Academy outside Karachi on Saturday.

He said these foreign intelligence agencies are operating from Afghanistan and other locations to foment unrest in Pakistan, especially in Balochistan.

“Their designs [and] oblique actions to sabotage CPEC are also well known,” he said.

General Hayat said Pakistan is confronting adversaries who are involved in an “indirect sub-conventional warfare against us”.

Pointing to the existential conventional threat emanating from India, General Hayat said asymmetry has reached a critical threshold in the east.

In order to counter such threats, the country’s armed forces are committed to undertaking “synergetic national efforts”, he said.

“Make no mistake, we will beat back the enemy’s design.”

General Hayat said Pakistan’s security forces along with law-enforcement agencies are playing a crucial role in tackling “external state-sponsored elements operating through local proxies”.

Former defence secretary General (retd) Alam Khattak had said last year that RAW has established a special cell at its Head Quarters in New Delhi to sabotage CPEC and the plan is executed via Afghanistan.

“RAW and Afghan NDS have launched joint secret operations against Pakistan by using three Indian consulates in Jalalabad, Kandahar and Mazar-e-Sharif,” he said at the time.

General Hayat in his address said Pakistan seeks a harmonious co-existence with all countries, especially its neighbours, adding that it will continue to make efforts for peace in Afghanistan.

“Stability, security, peace in Afghanistan is fundamental to the security of Pakistan.”

He, however, warned that Pakistan’s quest for peace and stability is not a “one-way traffic” but it has to factor in national interest and sovereign rights.

General Hayat congratulated the passing-out cadets for successfully completing their training. He said maritime security all along the coast, especially Gwadar, had assumed added significance in view of CPEC developments.

The commission term included 100 cadets, including 72 Pakistan Navy cadets and 28 cadets from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain.

Tolo News – Sikh gang in court over smuggling Afghan migrants into UK

A court heard on Monday that the gang smuggled in almost 70 illegal Afghan immigrants by using real passports belonging to other people.

London, 11 July 2017. A London-based Sikh gang helped nearly 70 illegal Afghan immigrants wearing turbans sneak into the UK using passports that were stolen or borrowed from family members.

According to the UK’s Daily Mail, the scam netted the gang about $ 800,000 USD.

A court heard on Monday that three Sikh men helped nearly 70 Afghans to sneak into the UK using the real passports of British Sikhs.

According to the Daily Mail, border officials were unable to distinguish between the illegal immigrants who masqueraded as the genuine passport holders because they were wearing turbans, which Sikh men are allowed to have on in their ID documents.

The accused, cousins Daljit Kapoor, 41 and Harmit Kapoor, 42, and Davinder Chawla, 43, a member of the same extended family had all previously pleaded guilty to running the scam which charged each family over $12,000 USD.

The hearing continues.

Dawn – Pakistan’s anxiety

Moeed Yusuf

Op/Ed, 4 July 2017. In a recent op-ed published by the New York Times, former US national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley and I argued for a US approach to Pakistan that centred on understanding Pakistan’s strategic anxieties.

We argued that encouraging an India-Pakistan dialogue, including on how to coexist in Afghanistan, and efforts for a political settlement in Afghanistan offer the best hope for the US to get greater Pakistani support in Afghanistan.

Expectedly, a fair share of American policy readers didn’t bite. These voices much rather see the US punish Pakistan to coerce a change in its attitude.

Of course, on the Pakistani side, you can always trust some to read too much into everything: for many here, the op-ed was a camouflaged attempt to blame Pakistan for sheltering the Afghan Taliban and legitimise India’s primacy in South Asia.

But neither of these reactions worried me as much as some of the more complimentary feedback from Pakistani readers, especially those who matter in the policy arena.

I say complimentary only because they vindicated the thrust of our argument by confirming that those entrusted to make decisions for this country remain fixated on India.

The views represented genuine concern, some truth, and quite a bit of conspiracy theory, all of it echoing a simple fact: Pakistan won’t budge until it feels its worries about India’s clout in Afghanistan are being addressed.

An approach that is India-centric is holding back progress

These responses also exposed just how blinded the Pakistani strategic mind is to its own follies. The angst towards the US is deep. Ultimately, Washington, Kabul, and Delhi are seen as the root of the problem. Many feel their anti-Pakistan agenda is so set there’s no point in trying to engage constructively.

They want Pakistan to look to China instead. When I expressed my disappointment, I bewildered them. They were complimenting me for my argument, but I was taking issue. Here is why.

The op-ed was an argument intended for the US policy enclave. It echoed my view that the more commonly touted US policy options like sanctioning Pakistan are not likely to deliver the desired results for the US.

I also believe some of what is being talked about in US policy circles could rupture the bilateral relationship altogether and destabilise Pakistan, creating an even bigger problem for the US in the long run.

But this view should have offered no solace to Pakistani decision-makers.

As important as it is for US policymakers to recognise that no policy that ignores Pakistan’s fixation on India will succeed, this in no way justifies Pakistan’s outlook.

So now, to the Pakistani policymaker

Pakistan’s India-centred strategic paradigm is one of the biggest drags on the country’s progress. Data to prove this is indisputable. I have contended Pakistan must invert its traditional refrain of ‘politics before economics’ with India by transforming itself into a transit and investment hub for the region.

This is just about the only way Pakistan can retain a solid negotiating hand with India in the long term while furthering its (and the region’s) human welfare goals.

The status quo is untenable because it isn’t working, differential with India is growing by the day. Also, no one in the international community, including China, accepts the logic of Pakistan’s approach anymore.

Second, while I accept the unfairness of looking at Pakistan from a purely Afghan lens, as many in the US do, far more important for Pakistani policymakers is to recognise what their policies may have done to reinforce this.

In a post-9/11 world where proxies that espouse Islamist ideologies are out of fashion, extremist elements have continued to use Pakistani soil to attack targets elsewhere.

This is not the place to unpack the finer debates and disagreements on the realities surrounding this issue. The bottom line is that the presence of externally focused extremist groups in Pakistan has done more to harm to its international standing than anything else. And it promises to continue bringing grief if things don’t change.

Finally, let’s stop pretending that China offers a substitute to the US. No good can come out of goading a US policy machinery already frustrated with Pakistan. Even the Chinese have been saying this.

Yes, the US needs Pakistan. But the opposite is also true. The US is the largest export market; it, and not China, wields influence over the international financial institutions Pakistan depends heavily on. The military benefits greatly from its relationship with the Pentagon and wants it to continue.

Unfortunately, none of this is will be heeded. But neither is my view on US policy going to wrest the anti-Pakistan momentum in Washington. The US and Pakistan are on a collision course that will hurt both, and the region. Pakistan should not wait for the US to prevent it.

The writer is a foreign policy expert based in Washington, DC

Dawn – Pakistan, Afghan envoys in US trade barbs at Washington moot

Anwar Iqbal

Washington, 21 June 2017. Afghanistan cannot blame Pakistan for all its ills, as terrorist attacks happening there originate in that country, says Ambassador Aizaz Chaudhry, Islamabad’s envoy in Washington.

His Afghan counterpart Hamdullah Mohib argues that Afghanistan is not alone in blaming Pakistan; other neighbours, including Iran, also accuse it of interfering in their internal affairs. “Only the fish (of the Arabian Sea) do not because fish do not complain”.

The two ambassadors met on Monday afternoon in a dialogue on ‘Pakistan & Afghanistan relations, diplomacy & security challenges’, organised by a Washington-based think-tank, Indus, at Carnegie Endowment.

While Ambassador Chaudhry stressed the need for a dialogue, reviving the quadrilateral peace process and seeking a political solution to the Afghan conflict, Mr Mohib was not in a reconciliatory mood.

He not only accused Pakistan of stirring troubles in Afghanistan but also asked other nations, like China and the United States, not to give weapons to it. “One day, those weapons will be used against you,” he warned.

He was obviously emboldened by media reports that the Trump administration was ready to harden its approach toward Pakistan to crack down on militants who use their alleged hideouts in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas for launching attacks into Afghanistan.

Washington’s options

One report claimed that National Security Adviser General H R McMaster had told Pakistani officials that the US could attack targets inside Pakistan if American hostages held by the Afghan Haqqani militants were killed.

Reports in the US media claimed that the Trump administration was considering various options, which included expanding drone strikes, redirecting or withholding some aid and eventually downgrading Pakistan’s status as a major non-Nato ally.

But there are elements within the US administration that oppose taking such tough measures against Pakistan.

They argue that America’s close ties with India are already pushing Pakistan away and such harsh measures would further reduce Washington’s influence in Islamabad.

Whether motivated by these reports or other factors, the Afghan ambassador minced no words in attacking Pakistan in the dialogue.

“Military grade explosive were used in last month’s truck-bomb attack in Kabul” that killed more than 90 people, he said. “Those are not produced in ungoverned spaces of Afghanistan.”

Ambassador Mohib said that there were several “real issues” in working with Pakistan.

“We must work with Pakistan, yes. Which Pakistan? The one occupied by the military or the civil government?” he asked.

“Policies are made by the military. We are talking about today’s military that has a liberal mindset and uses extremism as tool for foreign policy. This new generation trained by Dawa institutes of Zia. We are seriously concerned about that generation.”

Ambassador Chaudhry began politely, expressing Pakistan’s desire to stay engaged with Afghanistan. “Time and history has shown that when Afghanistan was unstable, instability came to Pakistan as well,” he said.

“We have a genuine interest in a stable and prosperous Afghanistan.”

Mr Chaudhry said the Pakistani economy had stabilised and the country did not want to jeopardise that by seeking instability in Afghanistan.

He said that after the Tora Bora bombing in Afghanistan, militants came to the northern parts of Pakistan, but it had eliminated them from those areas at a huge cost, as 6,000 Pakistani soldiers had laid down their lives in those operations.

“Now peace has been restored and the economy is getting better. Investments are coming. These gains are at risk if Afghanistan does not become stable,” he said.

Kabul government control

Ambassador Chaudhry pointed out that the government in Kabul did not have control over the entire country and militants were using those areas for carrying out their activities, such as the militant Islamic State (IS) group in Nangarhar, which was a matter of concern for Pakistan.

“We are ready to contribute to peace in Afghanistan in whatever way possible,” he said.

“Glad to see the Pakistani economy picking up. So is the Afghan economy,” said Ambassador Mohib, but alleged that the global heroin trade was a third of the Pakistan economy and human trafficking and smuggling also contributed to it.

“We are at threat from these criminals who are threatening to take over,” he said. “No dialogue will succeed unless we are candid. We know what our objectives are. We don’t know what are Pakistan’s objectives.”

Mr Mohib said Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had “invested huge political capital” in ties with Pakistan but now he stated that Pakistan was engaged in an undeclared war.

“Nothing new, we have heard this mantra for the last few years,” Ambassador Chaudhry responded. “But we decided not to engage in blame game. It will not help any country.”

He told his Afghan counterpart that it’s “too simplistic to say Pakistan is responsible for all ills of Afghanistan,” and while doing so, the accusers ignored their own problems such as weak governance, corruption, drug trade and economic stress.

“Academically speaking, if the Pak-Afghan border is sealed completely, will it fix Afghanistan?” he asked. “We should show a friendly spirit, which was shown in Astana recently between President Ghani and PM Nawaz Sharif.”

He urged both countries to devise a mechanism to coordinate efforts to defeat terrorism.

Dawn – Exports to Afghanistan drop by over a quarter in a year

Mubarak Zeb Khan

Islamabad, 18 June 2017. Pakistan’s exports to Afghanistan fell by a significant 27 per cent over the past one year, thanks to growing mistrust between the two countries as well as downgrade of Nato presence in the war-ravaged nation.

According to officials on Friday, the worsening law and order situation in Afghanistan over the past months was another factor that contributed to the decrease in exports.

Hundreds of people and security personnel have been killed in bomb blasts and gun attacks by militants in Afghanistan recently.

Withdrawal of Nato forces, increased trust deficit and poor security are causes of the fall [bold]

The deteriorating security situation has triggered an intermittent war of words between the two countries with Afghan officials holding Pakistan responsible for each such incident.

For the first time, the commerce ministry of Pakistan admitted that frequent closures of the Pakistan-Afghan border had also contributed to the steady decline in exports to the neighbouring country.

Another reason was the diversion of Afghan trade to Iran.

Pakistan’s exports to Afghanistan had reached an all-time high of $2.4bn in 2010-11. It remained over $2bn annually in the subsequent two years, 2011-12 and 2012-13. Since then, exports started to dwindle and hit $1.43bn in 2015-16.

In the first quarter of the current fiscal, exports were recorded at $362.5 million. It clearly reflects that the annual exports to Afghanistan will now be around $1bn when the figure for the 2016-17 was finalised.

Contrary to this, imports from Afghanistan have witnessed a growth of 26pc as it reached $409m in 2015-16 against $323m in the previous year.

Talks on several issues have been on the back burner for the last couple of years because of Kabul’s loss of interest in concluding a trade liberalisation regime with Pakistan.

In 2014, both sides agreed to initiate negotiation on a bilateral preferential trade agreement (PTA). Pakistan shared a draft text of the agrement with Afghanistan.

In 2015, Afghanistan conveyed to Pakistan that it would formally respond to the draft PTA latest by January 2016.

“We have not received any response so far from Afghanistan,” a commerce ministry official said.

Moreover, to encourage business-to-business interaction between the two countries, a joint business council (JBC) comprising leading businessmen from both sides was established.

The first meeting of the JBC was scheduled for August 2015. When Kabul failed to send its response, a new date for the JBC meeting was scheduled, 17 February 2016, in Islamabad.

According to the official, the Afghan government initially confirmed its participation in the meeting but later changed its mind. “Since then no meeting of the JBC has been planned,” the official said.

According to another official source, Pakistan has recently reminded the Afghan side to convene the 7th meeting of Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Coordination Authority (APTTCA) in Kabul as had been agreed during the last meeting held in 2016.

A similar request was also sent to Afghanistan for sharing the draft text of the amended Afghanistan Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement as was agreed in the last meeting of APTTCA held in Islamabad last year.

According to the source, both the Afghan transit and Afghan traders have suffered heavy demurrage, detention and over stay charges owing to the closure of border.

The deadlock between Afghanistan and Pakistan was due to Kabul’s insistence that India should be included in bilateral and trilateral agreements.

Kabul wanted to include India in Trilateral Transit Trade Agreement, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan. Kabul, according to officials, also wants market access to India and Saarc countries through Wagha border.

The Hindu – Deadly explosions rock funeral in tense Kabul

The burial was of a victim of violent clashes between the police and protesters on Friday

Kabul, 3 June 2017. At least six people were killed and dozens wounded as explosions rocked the funeral of an Afghan politician’s son who died during an anti-government protest over spiralling insecurity in Kabul, raising tensions in a city already on edge.

Witnesses reported three blasts at the burial site of Salim Ezadyar, who was among four people killed on Friday when the protest degenerated into street clashes with police, fuelling anger against the government.

The hilly, wind-swept site was littered with bloodied corpses and dismembered limbs, local television footage showed, with one witness telling AFP that “people were blown to pieces” due to the impact of the blasts.

“So far six dead bodies and 87 wounded people have been brought to Kabul hospitals,” Health Ministry spokesman Waheed Majroh told AFP.

The funeral of Salim Ezadyar, the son of an Afghan Senator, was attended by senior government figures including Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, but his office told AFP that the latter was unhurt.

No group has so far claimed responsibility for the attack. President Ashraf Ghani condemned the bombings, saying on Twitter: “The country is under attack. We must stay united”.

The fresh killings are likely to further polarise a city that has been on edge since a truck bombing on Wednesday in Kabul’s diplomatic quarter killed 90 people and wounded hundreds of others, in the deadliest attack on the Afghan capital since 2001.

The bombing highlighted the ability of militants to strike even in the capital’s most secure district, home to the presidential palace and foreign embassies that are enveloped in a maze of concrete blast walls.

Hundreds of angry demonstrators calling for Mr Ghani to step down over spiralling insecurity clashed with police on Friday, prompting officials to beat them back with live rounds in the air, tear gas and water cannon.

City on lockdown

Kabul city was on lockdown on Saturday with armed checkpoints and armoured vehicles patrolling the streets to prevent a repeat of Friday’s protests.

Before the blasts at the funeral, authorities had sealed off roads in the centre of the city, citing the threat of new attacks on large gatherings of people.

“We have intelligence reports that our enemies are trying again to carry out attacks on gatherings and demonstrations,” Kabul garrison commander Gul Nabi Ahmadzai said earlier Saturday. “We hope that people will stay away from protests.”

But dozens of people still gathered on Saturday under a tent close to the presidential palace calling for Mr Ghani’s government to resign, but the assembly was largely peaceful.

“Any government attempt to disrupt our fair and just demonstration will show their complicity with terrorist groups and the perpetrators of Wednesday’s attack,” said Asif Ashna, a spokesman for the protesters.

“It is the duty of the government to ensure security to the protesters… and the government will be held responsible for any violence.”

The United Nations and a host of international allies have urged the protesters for restraint.

“The enemy seeks to manipulate the people’s anger and sadness to create division and sow instability,” the U.S. embassy said in a statement.

“Now is the time to stand unified and announce to the enemies that Afghans… will not allow cowards to break the resolve to achieve a stable and peaceful nation. The enemies of Afghanistan cannot win. They will not win.”

The Kabul Times – Anarkali Honaryar; a heroine Sikh woman fighting for equal rights

Following is an article written by Sambuddha Mitra Mustafi about the prominent Sikh woman civil and human rights activist, sparing no time to fight for equal justice for the rights of Afghan women and looked over by The Kabul Times Desk of Reporters.

Sambuddha Mitra Mustafi

Kabul, 1 June 2017. She had a dream of becoming a pilot as a child, but has now been recognized as a leading campaigner for the rights of Afghan women.

“It is difficult for a woman to be a pilot in Afghanistan. My father said it does not fit in with this country’s culture,” Dr. Anarkali Kaur Honaryar told me, sitting in her office at the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC).

In some ways, the high flyer has taken on a challenge much tougher than piloting planes. She fights for women’s rights in a society that remains staunchly patriarchal, and where many of her genders still breathe beneath their veils.


In May 2009, the 25-year-old was chosen by Radio Free Europe’s Afghan chapter as their “Person of the Year”. The award has made her a household name in Kabul.

Dr. Honaryar, a trained dentist, is one of about 3,000 Sikhs and Hindus who remain in Afghanistan.

Their number and their prosperity has significantly dwindled since 1991 when civil war broke out.

Before then, there were an estimated 50,000 Sikhs and Hindus in this ethnically diverse country and many ran successful businesses in Kabul, Kandahar and other cities.

But the outbreak of hostilities meant that most, including Dr. Honaryar’s relatives, moved to safer places in India, Europe, and Canada.

She has led campaigns for the civil rights of the embattled communities who stayed on, including one to get crematoriums built for their dead.

“Some people still think we are foreigners. They think we are Indians who are working and living here for a while. But we are Afghans too, and we should have all the rights and opportunities that other Afghans have,” says the demure yet outspoken doctor.

She has grown up in turbulent times.

In the early 1990s, Afghanistan was a country at war, with no stable central government. The provinces, including Dr. Honaryar’s native Baghlan in the north, were ruled by warlords.


To make matters worse, swathes of the country were falling into Taliban hands.

Girls’ schools were banned in Taliban strongholds and religious minorities felt threatened by their extremist Sunni Muslim ideology, Dr. Honaryar fell into both categories: a female and a non-Muslim.

Fortunately for her, Baghlan did not come under Taliban rule. She carried on her education in relative freedom and graduated from high school four years ahead of her peers.

“I am grateful to my parents for supporting my education. Not all Afghan girls have been so lucky,” she says.

Once the Taliban were overthrown in 2001, Dr. Honaryar went to Kabul University to study medicine. She was part of the loya jirga (grand council) that selected the interim government to replace the Taliban.

“The situation for women has improved since the Taliban days. Now if the Karzai government does not listen to us, at least we can appeal to human rights groups,” she says.

And so she joined the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission in 2006.

“They know I am a Sikh but they still trust me with their most personal problems,” she says of the hundreds of mostly Muslim women she meets.

“The culture here is loaded against women. We try to solve their problems, but we also need to change the laws.”
Awareness of existing laws is also at a premium here, the female literacy rate is less than 20%. Dr Honaryar recounts how an illiterate woman had traveled a long way to Kabul to meet her.

The woman’s husband wanted to divorce her when she was expecting their child. “She didn’t know that Afghan laws state a husband cannot divorce his pregnant wife. He has to wait till the child is at least two months old. We helped her secure her rights,” she says, with a hint of pride.

To conclude with the writer said while conferences have taken her to different parts of the globe, Dr. Honaryar regrets not traveling enough in the land of her ancestors, India.

A visit to the Golden Temple in Amritsar, Sikhism’s holiest shrine, is top of her to-do list. And of course, the Taj Mahal.