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    Leunig's Laidbackistan and the Sea of Difficult Boats

Gillard's Karzai Solution as dangerous as Afghanistan Theatre

On July 5, 2010, the Australian reported that the new Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, planned to develop a pact with Afghanistan to ensure safety for Hazara refugees to be returned from Australia.

Cartoon: thanks to Michael Leunig and The Age

Below is our press release, followed by a report by Professor William Maley and the article in the newspaper. Reportage as a result of our press release follows below that article.

MEDIA RELEASE: Gillard's Karzai Solution as dangerous as Afghanistan Theatre

Project SafeCom Inc.
P.O. Box 364
Western Australia 6312

Office (08) 9881-5651
Mobile 0417 090 130

MEDIA RELEASE: Gillard's Karzai Solution as dangerous as Afghanistan Theatre

Media Release
Thursday July 5, 2010 7:30am WST
For immediate Release
No Embargoes

"If reports by today's Australian newspaper are to be taken seriously, then Prime Minister Julia Gillard is about to announce the Karzai Solution, where in a "pact" with Afghanistan she expect guarantees for safety for Hazaras from the Karzai government. If these reports are accurate, then the Prime Minister is either dreaming or lying about the prognosis of safety for Hazaras to the Australian electorate," WA Human Rights group Project SafeCom said this morning.

"In the context of the "pact plans" Gillard's media lines of the last couple of days about "opening up the debate" are her first brazen political misrepresentation of the facts since winning office, and we will not forget. Neither will the thousands of Hazaras forget, or the family members of those Gillard plans to send back to the war theatre, ready for point-blank-range targeted killings, beheadings or other ways the Taliban will think of to kill Hazaras," spokesman Jack H Smit said.

(Recent report on Aghanistan by Prof William Maley is below)

Flooded by boats?

"Gillard overlooks the most potent and open-eyed line she has available to her: in the BIGGEST EVER year for boat arrivals, the year 2000, just 5,516 people arrived on boats. That number was less than 50% John Howard's annual intake quota of 12,000 refugees at the time."

"This year, since January 1, we welcomed 3,545 asylum seekers on 74 boats. Even if that number DOUBLES by December this year, those 7,000 people will be just over 50% of the current annual refugee intake quota of 13,250 humanitarian entrants."

By peddling to the John Howard and Pauline Hanson line, giving space to the ghastly misrepresentation of the International Rights of Unauthorised Arrivals by the coalition, Gillard has shows she's already lost the plot on boat arrivals, and she's shown how she has been wedged by hardline right-wingers in her own party."

"Such a position from our new Prime Minister is not about opening up the debate, that's about keeping the a priory party position of the ALP a secret to all Australians."

For more information: Jack H Smit, Project SafeCom Inc.
Office (08) 9881-5651 | mobile 0417 090 130

On the Position of the Hazara Minority in Afghanistan

Professor William Maley
Unpublished email communication
27 June 2010


I have been asked to provide an expert opinion on the position of members of the Hazara minority in Afghanistan. I am Professor and Director of the Asia-Pacific College of Diplomacy at the Australian National University. I have published extensively on Afghan politics for over two decades, and am author of Rescuing Afghanistan (London: Hurst & Co., 2006) and The Afghanistan Wars (London and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002, 2009).

I have also written a study of The Foreign Policy of the Taliban (New York: Council on Foreign Relations, 2000); co-authored Regime Change in Afghanistan: Foreign Intervention and the Politics of Legitimacy (Boulder: Westview Press, 1991) and Political Order in Post-Communist Afghanistan (Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 1992); edited Fundamentalism Reborn? Afghanistan and the Taliban (New York: New York University Press, 1998, 2001); and co-edited The Soviet Withdrawal from Afghanistan (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989). I authored the entry on Hazaras in John L. Esposito (ed.), The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009) Vol.II, pp.385-386.

In the following paragraphs, I address in turn the general situation in Afghanistan in 2010, some specific problems for Hazaras, and past experiences of over-optimism that should serve as a warning about the drawing of premature conclusions about the Afghan situation.

The general situation in Afghanistan


The general situation in Afghanistan remains profoundly threatening. As of 27 June 2010, Australia's official travel advice for Afghanistan, issued by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, refers to the 'extremely dangerous security situation'. It states that

The security situation throughout Afghanistan, particularly in the south of the country, remains extremely dangerous.

It goes on to say that

Warlords control many areas in Afghanistan and overland travel is dangerous.

The official US travel advice for Afghanistan, current for 27 June 2010, states that

No part of Afghanistan should be considered immune from violence ... Afghan authorities have a limited ability to maintain order and ensure the security of citizens and visitors ... The security environment remains volatile and unpredictable [1].


These observations are mirrored in a recent report to the UN Security Council on Afghanistan by the Secretary-General:

The deterioration of Afghanistan's security situation has continued, with 2009 being the most volatile year since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, averaging 960 security incidents per month, as compared with 741 in 2008. The situation worsened in January 2010, with the number of security incidents 40 per cent higher than in January 2009 ... Overall, the intensification of the armed conflict in the south, and its expansion into areas previously considered stable, made 2009 the worst year for civilian fatalities since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001 [2].

In the most recent such report, the Secretary-General stated that

Overall, the number of security incidents increased significantly, compared to previous years and contrary to seasonal trends ... The rise in incidents involving improvised explosive devices constitutes an alarming trend, with the first four months of 2010 recording a 94 per cent increase compared to the same period in 2009 ... The shift to more complex suicide attacks demonstrates a growing capability of the local terrorist networks linked to Al-Qaida [3].


When a country has suffered as much as Afghanistan, the consolidation of new political structures takes many years. In 2004, according to poll data collected by the Asia Foundation, 64% of Afghans felt that the country was going in the right direction, and only 11% felt it was going in the wrong direction [4]. It is a measure of the deterioration in Afghanistan that when the same question was asked in a 2009 survey, only 42% of Afghan felt that the country was going in the right direction, and 29% felt it was going in the wrong direction [5]. Furthermore, this last survey was conducted before the August 2009 Presidential election which was marked by some of the worst fraud ever seen in an internationally-supported vote. The longer-term implications of this fraud may well prove catastrophic. As Professor Thomas J. Barfield has recently put it,

A tree whose roots are rotten may still stand, but it is only a matter of time before it crashes under its own weight or is blown over by a windstorm [6].


The hopes that were initially entertained that the fall of the Taliban regime would rapidly produce a secure and stable Afghanistan have not been vindicated by the passage of time. Instead, a range of factors have frustrated the hopes that initially prevailed, notably the failure to build a state with appropriate capacity and legitimacy This is now widely recognised by scholars and policymakers alike [7]. There is little reason to be confident that the general situation in Afghanistan will take a turn for the better in the foreseeable future.

The position of Hazaras in Afghanistan


Hazaras have been subject to discrimination and persecution at least since the 'Hazara Wars' of 1891-1893, and there is no reason to believe that the underlying factors (both ethnic and sectarian) fuelling hostility towards Hazaras have dissipated. For example, on 6 January 2004, there was a grisly massacre of Hazara travellers near the border between Uruzgan and Helmand, leading a provincial official, Mohammed Wali Alizai, to suggest that the object of the assailants was 'to stir up ethnic tensions' [8]. A much more recent example came in late June 2010. As reported by Reuters newsagency,

The bodies of 11 men, their heads cut off and placed next to them, have been found in a violent southern province of Afghanistan, a senior police official said on Friday. A police patrol discovered the bodies on Thursday in the Khas Uruzgan district of Uruzgan province, north of the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar, said police official Mohammad Gulab Wardak. "This was the work of the Taliban. They beheaded these men because they were ethnic Hazaras and Shi'ite Muslims," he said. [9]

It is particularly alarming that this has occurred in Uruzgan, the province in which substantial numbers of Australian troops are deployed to boost local security.


Attacks of this kind can be politically effective for the attackers in at least three ways:

(a) they can lead to the withdrawal of international agencies whose presence adds to the credibility of the central state;

(b) they can undermine the legitimacy claims of the state, by illustrating its inability to offer basic protections to ordinary citizens;

(c) they can trigger a cycle of slayings at the local level, again compromising the credibility of the state.

The claim was made on 9 April 2010 that

The Taliban's fall, durable security in parts of the country, and constitutional and legal reform to protect minorities' rights have improved the circumstances of Afghanistan's minorities, including Afghan Hazaras' [10].

Unfortunately, the limited capacity of the Afghan state means that 'constitutional and legal reform to protect minorities' rights' are meaningless for most Afghans, the Taliban remain active, and the reference to 'durable security' is contradicted by the most recent Australian travel advice noted earlier, as well as by the June 2010 massacre.


I understand that in assessing claims for refugee status, decision-makers have referred to Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Cable number CX240092 dated 21 February 2010 and entitled Afghanistan: Situation of the Hazara Minority. At the outset, one should note that while the Australian Embassy in Afghanistan is staffed by excellent officials, their ability to conduct field research of their own is extremely limited, given the tight security constraints under which they operate. This applies also to a number of the organisational informants on whom they rely in other embassies and in international agencies such as UNHCR. This poses a problem in relying on such sources for an assessment of the general situation for Hazaras, namely that the scale of persecution and abuse of power in Afghanistan tends to be under-reported. The Human Rights Watch report Killing You Is A Very Easy Thing For Us: Human Rights Abuses In Southeast Afghanistan refers at page 35 to a particularly unpleasant case of harassment in Afghanistan, and directly quotes a UN official, interviewed on 14 March 2003, as stating:

This incident is not unique. It has happened to a lot of Afghans, who haven't reported it. There is a need for monitoring. We find it extraordinarily difficult to get information [11].


In a number of recent decisions, there appears to have been a tendency to see violence and displacement experienced by Hazaras (most recently reported from Wardak province, adjacent to Kabul, in May 2010) as simply a consequence of land disputes between settled Hazaras and Pushtun nomads (kuchis) that do not give rise to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for a Convention reason. In my view, this reflects an overly-simplistic reading of complex social relations. There is no doubt that land disputes abound in Afghanistan [12]. However, latent tensions over issues such as land are tailor-made for oppositional groups that seek to build support by assisting one party or another, and there is every reason to suspect a Taliban role in fuelling such tensions. Here, the position of Hazaras as an overwhelmingly Shiite non-Pushtun minority makes them an easy target for overwhelmingly-Pushtun Taliban seeking to rebuild support from Sunni Pushtun groups such as the kuchis. A June 2010 study by the highly-regarded Afghanistan Analysts Network notes that

Taleban involvement also was presumed in this year's renewed clashes between settled Hazaras and incoming Pashtun nomads in Behsud and Daymirdad districts in Wardak/Maidan province [13].


Many asylum seekers in Australia have come from the province of Ghazni. The Taliban are now active in parts of Ghazni. As early as 20 May 2003, it was described by Todd Pitman in an Associated Press despatch as 'a hotbed of suspected Taliban activity southwest of Kabul'. The former governor was assassinated in 2006, and an analysis in April 2006 concluded that

A fierce Taleban-led insurgency in recent months has placed Ghazni, which lies just 135 km south of Kabul, among the most volatile provinces in southern Afghanistan [14].

The situation since then has arguably become even worse [15]. No part of Ghazni can realistically be considered safe for Hazaras, even in districts where they might seem numerically predominant. Most disturbingly, the June 2010 study by the Afghanistan Analysts Network warns of a risk to these areas:

The Taleban successfully have infiltrated Northern and Northeastern Afghanistan and destabilised certain areas, mainly in Kunduz province. Now, there are signs that they might attempt to push forward into mainly Hazara-settled areas [in] the central region. The main road into Jaghori, an important Hazara area, has been blocked raising fears of a new economic blockade or event an attack [16].


Hazara fears at present are gravely aggravated by the widespread claims from both Western political figures and President Karzai that some kind of reconciliation with the Taliban is required. These range from the widely-publicised statement of the then British Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, that Dialogue provides an alternative to fight or flight [17], to President Karzai's oft-repeated description of the Taliban as 'brothers'. With the terms of such 'reconciliation' still unclear, there is a risk that one outcome of current political processes (should they amount to anything) could be a 'spheres of influence' agreement that would concede local dominion to the Taliban in some provinces. The situation for Hazaras in such provinces could easily be dire, and certainly a fear of being persecuted would not be ill-founded [18]. What the late E.F. Kunz called anticipatory refugees [19], are no less refugees on account of their foresight; indeed, many refugees from Nazi Germany fell into this category, and their shabby treatment in the 1930s remains to this day a stain on international refugee protection.


It is of course the case that the situation for particular individuals and groups will wax and wane over time. This is true of all situations. In determining whether a fear of being persecuted for a Convention reason is well-founded, however, it is important to look beyond temporary, insignificant, or cosmetic changes. For example, the existence of prominent Hazara politicians tells one virtually nothing about the fears that may haunt the lives of ordinary Hazaras. This is equally true of the active involvement of some Hazaras in civil society groups in Kabul; civil society groups generally have little life beyond the capital city.

Past experience


It is important to note that the return of millions of Afghans from Pakistan to Afghanistan in 1992-93 -- the largest and fastest spontaneous repatriation that UNHCR had ever witnessed -- sadly did not mean that Afghanistan was secure: on the contrary, the period which followed saw countless Afghans exposed to the predations of the Taliban. When countries have experienced massive disruption, it may take years before one can be sure that it is safe for refugees to return -- something implicit in all serious commentary on the Cessation Clause in Article I(C)(5) of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees [20], and accepted in UNHCR Executive Committee Conclusion no.69 of 1992 on Cessation of Status which refers to the 'fundamental, stable and durable character of the changes' as an 'essential element' in states' assessments. While status determination decisions are not the same as cessation decisions, the broader underlying point -- that apparent improvements in a situation may be neither meaningful nor sustainable -- is an important one to keep in mind, and is directly relevant to the present situation in Afghanistan.


Finally, reports on returns to Afghanistan need to be used with caution when assessing asylum claims. Managed return programs can exist to serve a number of interests: in one study, two highly-regarded specialists concluded that was precisely UNHCR's "weak position" in relation to "the policies of its funders and hosts" that led it to launch a "facilitated" repatriation programme early in 2002 which was, arguably, in the best interests neither of its intended beneficiaries not of the long term reconstruction of Afghanistan [21].

But more importantly, most returnees are of a fundamentally different background from the Shiite Hazaras who make up the bulk of the onshore caseload from Afghanistan in Australia. The Afghan refugee population in Pakistan was and is overwhelmingly Sunni and non-Hazara, and even those who returned from Iran with UNHCR assistance in the years first following the overthrow of the Taliban were typically non-Hazara [22]. Very little can be read into these mass repatriations that is at all relevant to the special vulnerabilities of the Hazara minority.


[1]. Travel Warning: Afghanistan. Washington DC: Bureau of Consular Affairs, United States Department of State, 2010.

[2]. The Situation in Afghanistan and its Implications for International Peace and Security: Report of the Secretary-General. New York: United Nations, A/64/705 S/2010/127, 10 March 2010, paras. 23, 24.

[3]. Report of the Secretary-General pursuant to paragraph 40 of resolution 1917 (2010). New York: United Nations, S/2010/318, 16 June 2010, paras.18, 19.

[4] Democracy in Afghanistan 2004: A Survey of the Afghan Electorate. Kabul: The Asia Foundation, 2004.

[5] Afghanistan in 2009: A Survey of the Afghan People. Kabul: The Asia Foundation, 2009.

[6]. Thomas J. Barfield, Afghanistan: A Cultural and Political History. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010, p. 342.

[7]. See Ahmed Rashid, Descent into Chaos: The United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia. New York: Viking, 2008; and Seth G. Jones, In the Graveyard of Empires: America's War in Afghanistan. New York: W.W. Norton, 2009.

[8]. Associated Press, 7 January 2004.

[9]. 'Police find 11 beheaded bodies in Afghan south'. Reuters, Afghanistan, 25 June 2010.

[10]. Joint media release, Changes to Australia's immigration processing system, Canberra, 9 April 2010.

[11]. "Killing You Is A Very Easy Thing For Us": Human Rights Abuses In Southeast Afghanistan. New York: Human Rights Watch, 2003.

[12]. see Liz Alden Wily, Land Rights in Crisis: Restoring Tenure Security in Afghanistan, Kabul: Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit, 2003, and

Colin Deschamps and Alan Roe (2009), Land Conflict in Afghanistan: Building Capacity to Address Vulnerability, Kabul: Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit, 2009.

[13]. Thomas Ruttig, A New Taliban Front? Kabul: Afghanistan Analysts Network, 18 June 2010.

[14]. Borhan Younus, Taleban Call the Shots in Ghazni. Kabul: Afghan Recovery Report no.213, Institute for War and Peace Reporting, 25 April 2006.

[15]. see Christoph Reuter and Borhan Younus, The Return of the Taliban in Andar District: Ghazni, in Antonio Giustozzi (ed.), Decoding the New Taliban: Insights from the Afghan Field. London: Hurst & Co., 2009, pp.101-118.

[16]. Thomas Ruttig, A New Taliban Front? (Kabul: Afghanistan Analysts Network, 18 June 2010.

[17]. David Miliband, 'How to Win the War in Afghanistan', New York Review of Books, 29 April 2010.

[18]. See Dexter Filkins, 'Afghan Overture to Taliban Aggravates Ethnic Tensions', The New York Times, 26 June 2010.

[19]. E.F. Kunz, 'The Refugee in Flight: Kinetic Models and Forms of Displacement', International Migration Review, vol.7, no.2, Summer 1973, pp.125-146 at pp.131-132.

[20]. See James Hathaway, The Law of Refugee Status. Toronto: Butterworths, 1991, pp.199-205;

William Maley, 'Political Transitions and the Cessation of Refugee Status: Some Lessons from Afghanistan and Iraq', Law in Context, vol.22, no.2, April 2005, pp.156-186; and

Guy Goodwin-Gill and Jane McAdam, The Refugee in International Law. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007, pp.139-143.

[21]. David Turton and Peter Marsden, Taking Refugees for a Ride? The politics of refugee return to Afghanistan. Islamabad: Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit, 2002, p.56.

[22]. See Susanne Schmeidl and William Maley, 'The Case of the Afghan Refugee Population: Finding Durable Solutions in Contested Transitions', in Howard Adelman (ed.), Protracted Displacement in Asia: No Place to Call Home. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008, pp.131-179 at p.166.

Julia Gillard to send back boatpeople

Paul Maley and Samantha Maiden
The Australian
July 05, 2010 12:00am

Hundreds of Afghan and Sri Lankan asylum-seekers are likely to be sent home under Julia Gillard's tough policy agenda to deter boatpeople.

As the Prime Minister prepared to unveil a new approach to tackling the issue this week - possibly including a resumption to the processing of Sri Lankan boatpeople - The Australian understands officials are working on a pact with Afghanistan over returning asylum-seekers.

It is believed the agreement, which is not expected to be included in this week's announcement, would involve assurances from Kabul guaranteeing the safety of failed asylum-seekers.

Although up to 60 per cent of Afghan asylum-seekers have had their claims rejected, only two have been returned home since the surge in boatpeople started in late 2008.

Federal cabinet will hold talks on the new approach today ahead of the Thursday deadline for a decision on whether the three-month freeze on the processing of Sri Lankan asylum-seeker claims will be extended or terminated.

In an olive branch to Indonesia following the Oceanic Viking standoff in which dozens of asylum-seekers were left in limbo, Australian officials are working on plans to resource Indonesian police on the front line of the people-smuggling struggle.

Australian Federal Police have already supplied a patrol boat in Lombok, and local officials argue that an upgrading of the current small fleet of patrol boats is urgently needed.

As Australian officials confirmed the arrival of another suspected asylum-seeker boat over the weekend near Christmas Island, carrying 34 passengers and two crew, Ms Gillard again signalled a policy shift on the issue, pledging to cast aside "political correctness".

There is a push for the Gillard government to consider lifting the freeze on the Sri Lankan applicants on the grounds that conditions there are now much safer, allowing for the deportation of more failed asylum-seekers, provided that checks were in place to monitor their safety.

The move would send a tough message to families considering paying people-smugglers for passage to Australia.

"There is no doubt about it, the best deterrent is to return people back home who are not refugees," a Gillard government source said last night.

The Prime Minister yesterday confirmed a policy announcement on boatpeople within days, declaring: "We've got some governing to do. "What I can say about asylum-seeker policy is I can understand the concerns of community members about this. And for people to say they're anxious about border security doesn't make them intolerant. It certainly doesn't make them a racist."

But Sustainable Population Minister Tony Burke yesterday ruled out a return to Howard-era temporary protection visas that would refuse permanent citizenship to people found to be genuine asylum-seekers who arrived in Australia by boat.

"Certainly the experience of temporary protection visas was that when they were introduced, the number of asylum-seekers went up," he told Sky News' Australian Agenda program.

With Ms Gillard yesterday pledging to boost regional co-operation on the issue, is also likely that Australia would increase funding to the government of Hamid Karzai to help Afghan authorities reintegrate returned asylum-seekers as part of a deal with Kabul. At the core of negotiations with Afghanistan is an assurance that the deported would be safe.

The Australian has also been told another key objective is to minimise the incentive for deported asylum-seekers to return to Australia, potentially by offering financial reintegration packages.

Yesterday, a spokesman for the Immigration Department confirmed Australia was in talks with a number of countries "about these sorts of issues", including Afghanistan. However, the spokesman emphasised Australia did not need a return agreement to start deporting failed refugees.

Since the surge in boat arrivals began in September 2008, more than 3500 Afghan asylum-seekers have journeyed to Australia's shores, making them the single biggest category of refugee.

Most have been Hazaras, who traditionally have faced persecution. But despite refusal rates for Afghans climbing to around 60 per cent, only two have been returned. In both cases, the returns were voluntary, with the other deportations held up in appeals.

The Australian has been told an agreement with Kabul is not assured, although officials are said to be hopeful of clinching a deal.

Three months ago, the Rudd government announced a freeze on the processing of asylum-seeker claims from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan following a surge in arrivals from the two nations.

The Coalition argues the freeze on processing based on country of origin is unprecedented and the government should instead reinstate temporary protection visas for all asylum seekers who arrive by boat as a deterrent measure.

Tony Abbott yesterday sought to exploit the boat arrivals ahead of the election, expected to be called within weeks.

Unveiling a Liberal Party billboard in Perth highlighting the 143 boats that had arrived under the Labor government, he said Ms Gillard had helped shape Labor's failed policy on the issue and could not be trusted to halt the boats if re-elected. "Julia Gillard has been saying for the last few days that this is the next issue that she wants to deal with and I challenge her to deal with it by adopting the Coalition's policies," he said.

The government is waiting on new guidelines from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees that expected to remove the blanket assumption that any Tamil asylum-seeker from Sri Lanka's war-torn north should be considered a refugee. It will be replaced by assessments likely to -focus on high-risk groups, such as Tamils associated with the defeated Tamil Tigers or critics of the government.

Government sources said that while the government was expecting new UNHCR guidelines before Thursday's deadline, Australia was not bound by them.

The Immigration Department said yesterday 772 Afghans and 184 Sri Lankans had been affected by the freeze.

But the number of Afghans and Sri Lankans in detention is much higher. Of the more 3600 Afghans who have arrived since 2008 only 1622 had, as of July 1, been granted visas, meaning almost 2000 remained in detention.

Of the 1100 Sri Lankans who have arrived over the same period, 325 have been granted visas and 85 returned home, putting the number still in detention at around 700.

There are a total of 4251 unauthorised arrivals in immigration detention.

Additional reporting: Milanda Rout, AAP

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