Kabul’s targeted Shiites rely on armed community protection force against Daesh

An Afghan security force keeps watch at the site of a suicide attack in Kabul, Afghanistan September 9, 2018. (Reuters/File)
Updated 16 September 2018
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Kabul’s targeted Shiites rely on armed community protection force against Daesh

  • Given the large population of Kabul and an overstretched police force, the Afghan Shiites seek expansion in their local force amid Muharram
  • Many families have stopped sending their children to school since last week after Daesh warned of more attacks on Shiite education centers

KABUL: The restaurants and cafes in Kabul’s upmarket Pul-i-Sorkh, at the entrance of the city’s Shiite dominated neighborhood, used to be bustling spots for female and male customers most evenings.
Some dressed up in local attire, observing full hijab. Others, both men and women, wore Western clothes and occasionally smoked shisha in some of the cafes, with loud music blaring inside.
Sometimes, girls wearing heavy makeup walked arm in arm with their husband or fiancé on the streets, breaking the social taboo.
The neighborhood has rightly earned the pseudonym of Kabul’s “Little Europe” because of the liberal way of life that some of the Shiites and Hazaras have adopted since the US landing in Afghanistan in 2001.
However, the new wave of deadly strikes by Daesh affiliates in the Shiite-dominated suburb of Dashte Barchi, which is further down from Pul-i-Sorkh, has not only shocked the Shiite community of Kabul but also affected business for many of these restaurants in Pul-i-Sorkh.
Several Shiite gathering areas, including mosques, cultural and educational centers and even a sports gym, have been targeted by Daesh suicide bombers since 2016. The attacks have resulted in the loss of hundreds of people in Kabul and other parts of Afghanistan.
At the request of Shiite leaders, the government last year allowed a community protection force to be formed from among local residents.
Volunteers were given arms and cash as a salary to protect their mosques and religious centers in their community.
However, the initiative has not been very productive as numerous attacks have occurred since.
Shocked by the increase in Daesh attacks in recent weeks, and the blatant warning issued by the group to target Shiite schools and other centers in future, the Shiite leaders have now asked President Ashraf Ghani for an expansion in the local community protection force.
Scores of families since last week have stopped sending their children to school after the warning that certain schools will be the target of attacks.
Afghan Vice President Sarwar Danesh spoke with the special envoy of the United Nations to Afghanistan this week, calling the attacks targeted and urging him to include the issue as a separate debate point for the world body.
Speaking to a group of reporters, Ghani on Wednesday said Daesh and other anti-state elements wanted to fan sectarian and ethnic clashes through such attacks.
In meetings with Shiite leaders earlier this week, Ghani pushed for boosting security for the protection of Afghan Shiites ahead of Muharram, a holy month, mostly observed by Shiites which includes flagellation and parades on the streets.
Chaman Ali Behseodi, a group leader for the community protection force, said the government will recruit more individuals, equip them with arms and pay them cash for permanent security of schools, educational, cultural and religious centers for Shiites in the Dashte Barchi area.
“Since the population of Kabul is high and police are overstretched, people have asked for extra men to be deployed to these places,” he told Arab News.
“People will cooperate with government for their own protection and expect the government to take serious action in this regard.”
Nasrat Rahimi, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, told Arab News that individuals recruited will undergo checks such as biometric tests and will have to be vouched for by their community elders.
Nasrullah Neli, a Shiite lawmaker, told Arab News that the expansion of the community protection force has had a divided response from lawmakers.
Some local Shiite residents have already started using their private arms for protection of their streets in certain parts of Dashte Barchi and Kabir Wasiq, a local resident told Arab News.
Arming of locals may be a temporary solution, but not a permanent answer to security, he adds.


Trump picks ambassador to Canada for UN post

U.S. Ambassador to Canada Kelly Craft takes part in a meeting with Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Trudeau's office on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, November 3, 2017. (REUTERS)
Updated 23 February 2019
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Trump picks ambassador to Canada for UN post

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump announced Friday that he has selected Kelly Craft, the US ambassador to Canada, as his nominee to serve as the next US ambassador to the United Nations.
Trump said in a pair of tweets that Craft “has done an outstanding job representing our Nation” and he has “no doubt that, under her leadership, our Country will be represented at the highest level.”
Two people familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss personnel matters had told The Associated Press that Trump had been advised that Craft’s confirmation would be the smoothest of the three candidates he had been considering to fill the job last held by Nikki Haley.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, had backed Craft for the post, and she also has the support of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton, the people said. Trump’s first pick to replace Haley, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert, withdrew over the weekend.
Craft, a Kentucky native, was a member of the US delegation to the UN General Assembly under President George W. Bush’s administration. She is also friends with McConnell’s wife, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, and thanked Chao for her “longtime friendship and support” at her swearing-in as ambassador.
As US ambassador to Canada, she played a role in facilitating the US-Mexico-Canada trade agreement, a revamp of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Trump had also considered US Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell and former US Senate candidate John James of Michigan for the post.
Nauert’s withdrawal from consideration came amid a push within the administration to fill the position, given a pressing array of foreign policy concerns in which the United Nations, particularly the UN Security Council, is likely to play a significant role. From Afghanistan to Venezuela, the administration has pressing concerns that involve the world body, and officials said there had been impatience with the delays on Nauert’s formal nomination.
Trump said Dec. 7 that he would pick the former Fox News anchor and State Department spokeswoman for the UN job, but her nomination was never formalized. Notwithstanding other concerns that may have arisen during her confirmation, Nauert’s nomination had languished in part due to the 35-day government shutdown that began Dec. 22 and interrupted key parts of the vetting process. Nauert cited family considerations in withdrawing from the post.
With Nauert out of the running, officials said Pompeo had been keen on Craft to fill the position. Although Pompeo would like to see the job filled, the vacancy has created an opportunity for him and others to take on a more active role in UN diplomacy. On Thursday, for example, Pompeo was in New York to meet with UN chief Antonio Guterres.
Trump has demoted the UN position to sub-Cabinet rank, in a move backed by both Bolton and Pompeo, according to three other officials. Grenell had suggested he wasn’t interested in a non-Cabinet role. The officials were not authorized to discuss internal personnel deliberations and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Haley had been a member of the Cabinet and had clashed repeatedly with former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and others during the administration’s first 14 months. Bolton was not a Cabinet member when he served as UN ambassador in President George W. Bush’s administration, and neither he nor Pompeo is eager to see a potential challenge to their foreign policy leadership in White House situation room meetings, according to the officials.
Nelson Wiseman, a political science professor at the University of Toronto, said Craft was appointed ambassador to Canada because of her financial contributions to the Trump campaign, but said that’s not unusual as past ambassadors have also contributed to presidents who have appointed them.
“I think Ottawa has regarded Craft as a light weight, partly because of her background and partly because the sense is that Trump, unlike his predecessors, doesn’t listen to his ambassadors or care what they think,” Wiseman said.
Craft is married to billionaire coal-mining executive Joe Craft, and they are major Republican donors.
Craft has been ambassador during a low point in relations. Last year Trump called Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau weak and dishonest, words that shocked Canadians.