By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
Afghanistan’s Deputy Foreign Minister is in hot water this week over calls for his resignation following controversial comments about Afghanistan’s large diaspora community abroad. Speaking on a local station he was asked about a recent case where an Afghan official visiting a German university had his lecture at a Muslim community center abruptly cancelled after complaints from a group that calls for sanctions on Afghanistan over its policies. He was hosted by a separate Muslim association in the wake of the cancellations.
Speaking on Herat24 Wednesday the Deputy Foreign Minister was asked about the growing divide between Afghanistan’s diaspora and the government in Kabul. “I can’t understand that,” he said. “Maybe they feel too young to remember how it feels to be an Afghan without the homeland. Perhaps they do not remember the days of Soviet and Taliban rule.” He continued, “but there is another issue and I think it is not understanding the complexity of the region. People that never send their children to fight for the country, most of the Afghanistan diaspora doesn’t have children serving as soldiers, going to the army, going to fight in foreign countries, most of them are living quiet, relaxing lives. They don’t feel how it is to be under the threat of Taliban rockets, or ISIS bombings as we do in Kabul.” The interviewers pressed for more. “I think part of the difference is to actually experience what we do on a daily basis.”
Afghanistan has been the frequent target of attacks this year. On November 23rd 8 people were killed in the east of the country. A suicide bomber killed five at a mosque in Kabul in September. In May more than 150 were murdered in a major attack in the capital.
Asked about recent religious freedoms discussions between Afghanistan’s diaspora and leaders at home, the Deputy Minister said that most Afghans abroad rarely come to pray in Kabul.
The President’s office issued a rare condemnation after the comments by the Deputy-minister made the rounds on local and foreign TV. The office condemned the “offensive” comments and noted that the Afghanistan diaspora is an inseparable part of the home country. “There is no place for such attacks and they do not reflect the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan’s position.”
The Deputy Foreign Minister said he didn’t mean to hurt others by his comments. “The realities of life in Afghanistan and in Germany, the US, Iran and elsewhere are very different.” He went on; “The Afghanistan diaspora is very important to me, the dialogue is like that between a family.”
However some of the leaders of Afghanistan’s community abroad are not satisfied One leading community member has called for the Deputy Foreign Minister to be fired. “This is a new low, one of many of the government’s actions offending the rights and importance of us in the diaspora.” Another said it is “unacceptable for any Kabul official to be disrespectful of the Afghan people living in the diaspora.” Others claimed the comments were “Islamophobic” and “shocking.”
The Deputy Foreign Minister said the comments had been taken out of context. “The point I was trying to make, in English which is not my first language, is that the reality of life for us in Afghanistan is very different than life in the US or Canada or the UK. It doesn’t contradict the connection and dialogue that must continue and is important.”
You may have realized similarities between the case described above and the one unfolding in Israel on November 24th. When read through the context of other countries, conflicts and diasporas, one wonders if the comments seem as offensive and controversial as they are being described.