Scots-Afghan human rights campaigner condemns the West’s ‘betrayal’ of his country
Priti Patel must grant asylum to Afghans in the UK, says Mohammad Naveen Asif
BY MARK BROWN
Mohammad Naveen Asif is a well known figure in Scottish public life. Founding director of the Scotland-based Afghan Human Rights Foundation, he is a well-established campaigner against racism, and a fighter for the rights of refugees and asylum seekers.
Asif came to Scotland as a refugee from Afghanistan more than 20 years ago. In the two decades that he and his family have been living in this country, his tremendous contribution to Scotland’s civic life has been recognised by many people, including First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who has become a friend.
When I meet him on the southside of Glasgow, Asif is in the midst of trying to advise desperate friends and relatives in Afghanistan who are attempting to escape from the re-emergent Taliban regime. He is, he tells me, horrified by the rapid return to government of a violent, ultra-conservative force that is “barbaric and brutal”.
As an observant Muslim, Asif has always resolutely opposed the Taliban’s ideology, which is rooted, he says, in Saudi Arabian, Wahhabist distortions of the Islamic faith.
Asif shakes his head disbelievingly at the claims by US and British political leaders that they are surprised by how quickly the pro-US administration in Kabul fell to the Taliban. Having created the conditions for the current catastrophe in Afghanistan, he says, the Western powers are now “putting the blame on others”.
American and British leaders “knew quite well” what would happen when they withdrew their forces, he continues. Washington and London had intelligence reports months ago that made it clear that, in the absence of the US and its allies, the Afghan Army would be unable to prevent the Taliban sweeping to power.
The US and British governments “didn’t listen” to those intelligence reports, he says. “The reason they didn’t listen is that they don’t care about Afghans.”
Asif feels considerable contempt for US President Joe Biden’s assertion that the US was in Afghanistan, not on a “nation building” mission, but solely to defeat Al-Qaida. He agrees with those who consider Al-Qaida, a terrorist organisation built by the wealthy Saudi Arabian Osama bin Laden, to be a Frankenstein’s Monster created in large part by US foreign policy.
Throughout the Soviet-Afghan War of the 1980s and beyond, into the early-1990s, the leaders of the Islamist Mojahedin in Afghanistan, including bin Laden, were, says Asif, the “close friends” of the US. The Americans provided the Mojahedin with training, weapons and money.
“None of [the Mojahedin] was called ‘terrorist’ [by the Americans], they were called ‘holy warriors’”, Asif comments. Indeed, he recalls, at the outset of the Soviet-Afghan War, the US was so keen to foment Islamist opposition to the Soviet Union that President Jimmy Carter sent his national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski to a refugee camp for Afghans in Pakistan. He was there, in effect, as a recruitment officer for the Mojahedin.
Brzezinski was “chanting ‘Allahu Akbar’ [‘God is Great’] in the camp”, Asif says. The American official also stood at the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, pointed towards Afghanistan and told the prospective Mojahedin fighters, “that’s your land, reclaim it from the infidels.”
This, the Scots-Afghan activist says, was how the West helped to build an Islamist fighting force, complete with bin Laden’s “Afghan Arab” component, that would later give birth to Al-Qaida. It was a force that would also prove a fertile recruiting ground for the Taliban.
Asif’s words cannot be easily dismissed as mere conjecture. Everything he says about these issues is a matter of established public record.
Nor can they be dismissed as harking back to irrelevant history. The Soviet Union withdrew its last troops from Afghanistan in 1989. The September 11 attacks on the United States happened a mere 12 years later.
Asif considers the 9/11 attacks to be “atrocities” against innocent people. However, he adds, he agrees with the position taken by politicians such as “Tony Benn, Jeremy Corbyn and George Galloway”, and with the campaigners of the Stop the War Coalition, all of whom opposed the US/British led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.
Like them, he believes that the US must look at its own role in creating the very forces that turned so violently against America in September 2001.
The opposition to Tony Blair’s drive for Britain to join the US-led invasion of Afghanistan has been justified, Asif comments, by the obvious “failure” of the West’s mission in his homeland. It’s justified, too, by what he calls the West’s “betrayal” of the Afghan people.
That betrayal includes, he adds, the much-vaunted Doha Agreement, signed in February 2020, between the Taliban and the US. It was, he says, a dirty deal by which the Americans allowed the Taliban to carry out atrocities on the Afghan people, on condition that they didn’t attack US forces as they prepared to leave the country.
Asif has no respect for the former Afghan government of President Ashraf Ghani, who fled to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates as the Taliban forces approached Kabul. Ghani has portrayed himself as a regular refugee who fled his country with nothing but the clothes he was standing in.
Asif, however, considers him and his associates to be “cowards”. Ghani and his ministers were, he says, a corrupt puppet regime of the Americans who lived lavish lifestyles with “stolen money” that was supposed to have been spent on the Afghan people.
Like the US and British governments, Asif comments, Ghani has abandoned 38 million Afghans to their fate. The activist fears for his country folk, not least because there is little sign of the huge international effort needed to provide asylum for every Afghan who would seek sanctuary from the Taliban regime.
He is outraged that, even now, as Afghanistan descends into chaos and, soon, he fears, civil war, UK Home Secretary Priti Patel is proceeding with her draconian Nationality and Borders Bill. Instead of tightening up Britain’s already strict controls on immigration and asylum, Patel and the UK government should be extending the right to asylum to far more than the 20,000 Afghan refugees it has offered to accept over the next five years.
Indeed, he continues, shamefully, Patel’s Home Office continues to threaten Afghan asylum seekers in Britain with deportation to their catastrophe-stricken homeland. The Home Office must, he says, “reverse all of their decisions refusing asylum to Afghans”.
Moreover, every Afghan living in the UK who is currently going through the asylum system must have their hearings cancelled and asylum granted. What possible reason, Asif asks, could Patel have for continuing to put Afghans through such assessments of their asylum cases when it is obvious that “they have nowhere else to go”?
Following my interview with Asif, the appalling suicide bomb attacks at Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport by the terrorist group known as Isis-K (the Islamic State of Khorasan) took place. I contacted him following the bloodshed, to express my grief and to ask for his response to the attacks.
The events were, he told me, “so sad” that he had “no words to describe these atrocities”. He was, however, happy for me to quote his brief social media statement about the attacks. It read simply: “This is all because of the American and British failed intervention [in Afghanistan].”
This feature was originally published in the Sunday National on August 29, 2021
© Mark Brown