Activists assaulted & injured in London by Afghan president Ashraf Ghani’s bodyguards

Editor’s Note: This post is originally published on The Interpreter  (the Lowy Institute for International Policy)

“Sit down like a dog, you idiot” Yells President Ghani’s chief security officer Gen. Akhtar Mohammad Ibrahimi at rights activist Jafar Atai as he questions Ghani’s decision to reroute the TUTAP transmission line.  This happened at the prestigious Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) right in the capital of the United Kingdom.

“At this point Ghani’s personal guards rushed towards me. I asked them to let me talk. But they grabbed my tie, covered my mouth, pressed my neck, pulled me down and beat me up.” Jafar told me on telephone from London.

“Please help me. They are beating me.” Jafar is heard screaming in a video clip produced by AFP News Agency.  “I was almost suffocated. They expelled me violently while pulling my tie which was tightening around my neck”. Says Jafar.

“We just wanted to raise our concerns about the change in TUTAP route. We had no intension of disruption or insulting the president. It was Ghani’s guards who caused the heckling through abuse and violence.” Jafar explains. He has got bruises on his face and already filed a complaint against the attackers at Metropolitan Police in London.

“You are a liar. You lied to people of Afghanistan. And now you lie to the world.” Ahad Bahaduri from the audience had interrupted President Ghani while was thanking British soldiers for their sacrifices in Afghanistan. “Listen to him but don’t trust him” He continued as he was forcefully removed from the event. “One of Ghani’s guards followed me outside to actually beat me but he was intercepted by a British security personnel in plain dress. The Afghan guard threatened me to death (in Dari).  I am worried about my relatives back in Afghanistan now.” Ahad told me in a telephonic interview.

Although it is not the first time activists disrupt a leader’s speech to voice their concerns but it is very unprofessional, to say the least, that a visiting head of the state’s bodyguards abuse, assault and beat up British citizens and activists at a prestigious institute right in the capital of the United Kingdom. The irony, however, is that British Government has chosen to remain dead silent on the issue. All evidence suggests that the activists were at no point threatening the president and thus no point for his personal bodyguards to attack the demonstrators. It was entirely the RUSI’s responsibility to ensure the discipline at the event, not the Afghan security force’s.

Had an ethnic Brit been assaulted like Jafar Atai, it would have undoubtedly created a media hype and diplomatic crisis between the United Kingdom and Afghanistan. Apparently even the British government treats its citizens based on their ethnic background. Beating up rights activists in London and getting away with it does not strengthen freedom of expression or democratic values in anyways.

The activists are obviously disappointed over media blackout and the British government’s inaction. “Of course, not doubt about that. Although I am a British citizen but I am sure the government and the media would have definitely responded and reacted differently if I were a Mr.Green” Responds Jafar to my question if he feels abandoned.

A female attendant, Rahila Muhibi, is seen in the video clip asking Ashraf Ghani very politely about the change in TUTAP route to Salang rather than Bamyan. And this time it is Sir Malcolm Chalmers, Deputy Director-General of RUSI who tries to silence Rahila.  I contacted Rahila to know about the response despite being very polite and humble. “I was shocked.” She says.  “Sir Malcom was apologetic and let the guards do what they wanted to do.”

The presidential guards “continued to throw all sorts of unprofessional and abusive remarks and insults”. The female activist also confirms that Ghani’s guards threatened them to death, “gab nazan, mekoshomet.” (Don’t talk. I will kill you, otherwise)

“I have been having nightmares. In my dreams I see the shadows of random people chasing me. In real life, I remain absent minded. And on two occasions, I mistook another medication instead of my hay fever meds.” Rahila told me.

Siamak Harawi of Afghan Embassy in London, however, tells BBC Persian that they (the activists) were there to disrupt the President’s speech, which ultimately lead to heckle, and physical clashes.

Background

Just a couple of days before global Anti Corruption Summit in London the British Prime Minister David Cameron was caught on camera telling the Queen that leaders of two “fantastically corrupt” countries are attending the summit, namely Afghanistan and Nigeria.

Afghan president Ashraf Ghani attended the event saying he had no hard feelings for the Cameron’s corruption remark because “the first part of addressing a problem begins with acknowledgment.”

However, hundreds of Afghan-British protesters demonstrated right in front of Lancaster House where the summit was being held.  They were carrying banners depicting ‘Welcome, “fantastically corrupt” leader. The demonstration was actually launched against president Ghani’s decision to change route of TUTAP (Turkmenistan-Uzbekistan-Tajikistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan) electricity project from central provinces that are dominated by ethnic Hazaras to Salang, which instead passes through northern provinces. Asian Development Bank funds the multi-billion-dollar power project.

The protesters accuse President Ashraf Ghani of ‘bias’ and even ‘racism’. They claim that Mr. Ghani has changed the rout just because he did not want the transmission line pass through Hazarajat, despite the facts German consultancy firm Fichtner has recommended Bamyan route because, among others, it “will allow connecting further generation by coal fired power plants along the route and will secure power supply of Kabul and south Afghanistan by using a separate route”.

Despite the fact that Bamyan-Wardak route is relatively safe and exposed to lesser natural disasters as compared to Salang route, the government’s decision to change the route is largely seen as plain act of discrimination against the already deprived central provinces. The fact is that there is already a transmission line passing through Salang. This has deepened the sense of deprivation amongst the residents of central Afghanistan who believe the Kabul has intentionally kept development projects away from those areas.

Multiple demonstrations have been held in various provinces against the route change, including the so-called ‘Million March’ in Kabul on May 16, in which tens of thousands of people took part. But it didn’t remain limited to Afghanistan. Afghan president who is an ethnic Pashtun is accused of having ethnic discriminations against non-Pashtuns, particularly Hazaras. British-Afghans, mostly with roots to central Afghanistan, gathered in Lancaster to demand implementation of the TUTAP power project through central provinces. They demanded the President to cancel his cabinet’s ‘bias’ decision and let the 500kv transmission line pass through Bamyan as per earlier version recommended by Fitchner.

The demonstrations followed Ahsraf Ghani’s events in London. at least four protesters where expelled by Ghani’s bodyguards as they questioned Ghani’s stance about TUTAP project.

 

 

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