Jan 24, 2022

US Warmongering Rhetoric Makes Russian Invasion of Ukraine More Likely

The world in battling against pandemic, climate change and its devastating drought and omnipresent hunger around the world and yet the US that just withdrew from Afghanistan is planning starting another war. For the past few weeks, the Biden administration has stepped up in its warmongering rhetoric against Russia, and it seems as they are making the Russian invasion of Ukraine very likely. Last week, the US sent 90 tons of military aid to Ukraine and it is now preparing for deployment of 8500 troops to Ukraine.

What is the underlying reason behind the US rhetoric? It's economic. For years, the US has been working hard to stop the German-Russian Nord Stream 2 pipeline project, that provide Russian gas to Germany and Western Europe, from happening. The US fears that the pipeline will make EU countries depend more on Russian gas exports, simultaneously, Russia becomes richer, and as a result, it will undermine US leverage on EU and also weaken its position against Russian influence on the global stage.

The hostility goes back to the previous administration in which Donald Trump began pressuring Germany to kill the plan. In July 2018, Trump criticized Chancellor Angela Merkel and said if the Nord Stream 2 project comes to fruition, Germany would become "captive to Russia." Though this came from Trump's mouth, it has been the US policy since the beginning. Pressure on Germany became futile because the country relies on natural gas about a quarter of its energy In May 2019, at the US Senate, a bipartisan bill was introduced by Ted Cruz in which it threatened companies involving in construction of the pipeline with sever sanctions. The threat didn't stop the construction of the pipeline and then in December of the same year, the bill reached Trump's desk and he signed it into law. 

When Biden became president, nothing changed, the antagonism and opposition against the pipeline regained strength. The US began pressuring German to end project over the poisoning of the Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

The US continued its pressure and simultaneously it started sending arms to civilians in Ukraine, though it started during Trump administration, in hopes for building a resisting defense against Russian aggression as well as well fighting the separatists in the Donbas regions, eastern of Ukraine. This is straight from the playbook of the US foreign policies during the Cold War in which it armed the Afghan Mujahideen to fight its war against the Soviet in 1980s. You can see where Afghanistan is right now. Afghanistan should be a lesson for Ukraine and any country seeking US involvement in their political affairs. But what is the US intelligence on Russian invasion that the US is relying on? 

On January 14, the NYT has published an article based on an obscure and anonymous intelligence that the Russian has sent saboteurs into Ukraine to stage "a false-flag operation”operation. It is maybe too simplistic to reject the danger, it might there but the US makes it more possible. Remember how American media and US intelligence communities peddled a false charge against Saddam Hussein that he had weapons of mass destruction (WMD)? A year after the US invasion of Iraq, the New York Times published mea culpa over its false news and coverage of Iraq saying they were wrong. Who can trust the NYT and any US intelligence communities' claims now? I don't think anyone can.

Right now, wherever the US warmongering rhetoric is heading, it is going to be dangerous. Of course the Russian troops buildup on its border with Ukraine is worrisome, but the troops are on its own soil, it has not invaded yet, and may not do so based on Russian officials. What Russia is doing is a deterrence strategy against the NATO incursion on its borders, which has supposedly violated its promise made during a negotiation with the Soviet Union in 1990 not to expand into Eastern Europe

Jan 9, 2022

Indonesia has become an inferno for refugees

Refugees sleeping on the sidewalk in Indonesia (Photo source: social media)

What is going on in Indonesia? It has become an inferno for thousands of refugees who have been stranded for years now. Indonesia has not signed the 1951 Refugee Convention and its supplemental 1967 Protocol which form the basis of rights of refugees and obligations of governments to protect them. The Indonesian government has done nothing but to create a situation that has become a protracted agony and suspense, a humanitarian predicament that has resulted in the loss of dozens of lives. 

In December 2016, in an attempt to a better humanitarian response to the refugee crisis, the Indonesian president Joko Widodo issued a decree called Presidential Regulation No. 125, which allows refugees and asylum seekers to stay in Indonesia, not to be forcibly returned to their country of origin. In the Article 1, no 1 it says:

Foreign refugee, hereinafter referred to as refugee, shall mean a foreigner who resides within the territory of the Republic of Indonesia due to a well-founded fear of persecution due to race, ethnicity, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, and different political opinions, and does not wish to avail him/herself of protection from their country of origin and/or has been granted the status of asylum-seeker or refugee by the United Nations through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. 

From the language, it is clear that Indonesia is able to protect refugees and wants them in its soil only for a terminable period, so to consider itself as a transit country. 

According to the UNHCR website, there are currently 13,273 refugees registered (there might be unregistered refugees and not counted) in Indonesia. Of that number 56% which is 7,432 are from Afghanistan, the rest are from Somalia and Myanmar. But the refugee resettlement has been slow and some of these refugees have been waiting to be resettled in third countries for nearly 10 years or more. 

The endless waiting coupled with terrible conditions of living contributed to psychological trauma. Pictures of refugees being shared on social media showing they are sleeping on sidewalks, under harsh weather conditions, on the side of the road and parking lots, some of them are placed in abandoned military buildings without running water or electricity and proper sanitation facilities. The resettlement refugees attrition in tandem with all these harsh conditions have driven refugees to feel they are condemned to slow death. As a result, 14 refugees have committed suicide and a dozen of others made failed attempts. Those who took their lives were all Afghan refugees who did not see any prospect of resettlement in third countries. Refugees have constantly protested against these inhuman conditions, they went on hunger strike, sewed lips, and set themselves on fire, but unfortunately none of these objections have changed policies implemented by the IOM, UNHCR, and the Indonesian government. 

According to UNHCR, in the year 2021, only 391 refugees were settled in third countries. This is extremely slow considering the overall number of refugees totaling 13,273 in Indonesia. If we consider the average resettlement 400 refugees per year, it would take nearly 32 years for all refugees to be resettled in third countries.

One of the options that UNHCR can take to end this predicament is to negotiate with countries that have already promised accepting Afghan refugees in the aftermath of US troops withdrawal that resulted in the collapse of the Afghan government. These refugees have the priority to be resettled because they escaped the brutality and persecution of the Taliban, and after all, they have been in limbo for over a decade in a country where they have little rights as a human being. Countries like Germany, Canada, the UK, and the United States have pledged to admit thousands of refugees. The majority of these refugees are young, single, educated, ambitious and ready to contribute to societies they would land in. 

Today, on January 09, 2022, people (mostly Afghanistani diasporas) have turned into Twitter using hashtag #HelpRefugees_Indonesia to amplify their voice against the pain and suffering that refugees have been enduring for years. If you can please go on Twitter and raise your voice in support of refugees who have been languishing in camps in Indonesia without access to basic rights such as work, education, and healthcare, and worst of all, living in limbo not for one or two years but over a decade. 

Jan 8, 2022

A response to my earlier post about

In response to my previous blog post about the crises at the Afghanistan Embassy in Washington DC, I received the following e-mail the Afghan Embassy and for further transparency, I am going to copy and paste it here. The purpose of that blog post was to highlight the misery and injustice that the US brought on the people of Afghanistan not only inside but also outside. I have spoken to a few Afghan diplomats, they are struggling to survive as their country is handed over by the United States to the the criminal group, the Taliban. Anyway, the following email is indicating that I got a few facts wrong. This post is for that purpose.  

Embassy Admin *******@afghanembassy.us

Dear Fekrat,

We are writing to inform you that the information contained in your blog post published today, supposedly provided by our diplomats, are false. In this regard, we would like to clarify the following.

1.      We are not told by the Department of States not to talk with the media. And our Bank accounts are frozen by Citibank, not the Department of States. We in fact are talking to the State to get our Bank accounts released through them.

2.      The rent for the house that Ambassador Raz is living in is not $12,000. Following the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban, we negotiated with the landlord and signed a new contract for $4,200 monthly from November 2021 to June 2022. Furthermore, no one at the embassy has received money from any entity. Our new year message published on 30 December on our website and social media accounts clarify that we are continuing to provide our services in the absence of funding from any source.

We have documents to support the above and should the documents remain confident, we could share them with you. We hope that you will revise your post and reflect our comments.

With regards,
--


EMBASSY OF AFGHANISTAN, WASHINGTON, D.C.

+1 202-483-6410 Ext 1033AFGHANEMBASSY.US

This message is intended only for the named recipient. If you are not the intended recipient you are notified that disclosing, copying, distributing or taking any action in reliance on the contents of this information is strictly prohibited.

Jan 3, 2022

Afghanistan's Diplomatic Mission Under Pressure from U.S. State Department

Afghanistan's flag flutters outside the Afghanistan embassy in Washington, DC. (Photo Source)
The collapse of Afghanistan's government was a catastrophic event for all Afghans, but for perhaps no one more so than for staff of Afghanistan’s diplomatic missions in the United States whose employees are not only distressed financially but also oppressed politically. For months now, Afghan diplomats and staff have not received their salaries and recently, the U.S. State Department has pressured them to limit their diplomatic activities and asked them not to speak to the media.

After the sudden fall of Kabul to the Taliban on August 15, the US decided to freeze nearly $9.5 billion in assets belonging to the Afghan central bank. In addition, it froze all accounts belonging to the Afghan government, including those belonging to Afghanistan's diplomatic missions, its embassy in Washington D.C. and consulates in New York and Los Angeles.

The Afghanistan embassy recently shut its consulate and resumed its services through the embassy in DC because it lacked sufficient funds to pay the rent and utilities, according to an embassy employee who asked to remain anonymous. Dozens of diplomats have not received their salaries, local staff at all Afghan diplomatic missions are laid off. The embassy and its consulates in New York City and Los Angeles remain for now, though employees are not mandated to show up for work. 

Afghan consulates are still trying to offer a range of services to Afghan citizens, such as passport renewal, issuing birth and marriage certificates, and document validation but with their account frozen, it cannot cash money orders. The embassy has recently started asking its customers to pay fees for these services in cash, but the amount they collect each week doesn’t cover the the inutility bills. 

Worse, the U.S. State Department has recently begun demanding the Afghan embassy limit its diplomatic activities, since Afghanistan is now under the control of the Taliban. Afghan diplomats have also been asked to abstain from speaking about the US withdrawal from Afghanistan or complaining about their frozen bank accounts. The anonymous diplomat told me that when asked, the State Department has repeatedly said they are in talks with the US treasury and the Department of Justice to release some funds, but so far, the embassies and consulates have had to try and operate without access to funds or bank accounts.

Adela Raz, Afghanistan’s ambassador to the United States, has also been under pressure from the State Department. According to Afghan diplomats, the State Department has urged her not to criticize the Biden administration, after she told Axios that "President Biden doesn't care about the fate of Afghan women and girls."

Desperation over embassy's account closure and pressure by the State Department has led to internal conflict. The diplomats and staff at the embassy are also at odds with Adela Raz who is still claiming to be leading Afghanistan's diplomatic mission. [This part that claimed Raz received cash gifts from other diplomatic missions is being removed after a cross-check for accuracy.] The staff at the Afghan embassy are preparing a press release to declare that the Afghanistan embassy has not received any cash gifts or donations from any entities.

According to employees, the Afghan embassy in DC and its consulates in New York and Los Angeles may soon close. It is now nearly for months staff have not received their salaries; the embassy has not paid its utility bills since its accounts were frozen in mid-August. Outside the embassy, diplomats struggle to pay their rent, utility bills and even buy winter clothes for their children. Those who lived with their families in government-sponsored housing have been forced to move out because they could not afford paying their rents without government support, and some families with sick members have been unable to afford doctor visits, since they lost their insurance when Kabul fell to the Taliban. I was told by several diplomats they are considering shutting down their diplomatic missions at the end of January if the US government does not unfreeze its employees’ salaries because they cannot afford rent, and some may apply for asylum in the U.S. while others are planning to escape to Canada.

Jan 2, 2022

The importance of using VPN in Afghanistan

Now that the Taliban have taken control of everything, privacy and safety on the web is more important than ever. This is especially important to those who are civil society activists, journalists and writers who want to avoid censorship and harassment from the Taliban. These two VPNs are working perfectly without putting too much constraints affecting the speed and quality of accessing the Internet. These are not free though but with one subscription you can connect five devices.

expressvpn*
nordvpn

It is important to shield ourselves against censorship and and control. One of the ways is to find alternatives to common Internet browsers we often use. Tor is a powerful browser, but it is also a VPN. You should first download it to your device and make sure it is connected. Then, everything you write or search while using Tor will bypass you local ISPs. For example, let's say you are in Kabul and you want to connect to the Internet via Roshan and Afghan Wireless or any other Afghan telecom, these companies give you a specific IP address. The IP address that is assigned to your computer or mobile phone by your local ISPs is your identification, you could easily be traced, recognized and whatever you search and see on the Internet can be seen. If you use VPN, you will taken to another region of the world and a different IP address will be assigned to you. Now all your information is encrypted and only the servers are able to know where you connected from, not the local ISPs.

Now, Tor connects you directly to its own servers, which is almost like a virtual world. Then you will be connected to the Internet. You can use Google, email and social networking sites. Local ISPs do not know that you are connected to the Internet through them because you are connected to the Internet from a third party. 

The advantage of using this browser and other VPNs is that it provides safety to you by providing you a detour, meaning it bypasses your local ISPs that might be in control of tyrannical governments whose will is to control and track down their citizens.

The disadvantage of this browser and VPN in general is that it slows down the Internet search because it bypasses the local ISP and connects to the Internet through a third party.

A Farsi version of this post with a little difference was already posted here on my Farsi blog.

* I was recently told by friends in Kabul that Roshan telecom has blocked expressvpn.