Afghanistan: the small Catholic community fears a withdrawal of American troops



In Kabul, the Barnabite Father Giovanni Scalese cannot contain his concern when he thinks of the total withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, which will take place gradually until September 11, 2021. Of Italian origin, the superior of the Mission sui iuris (independent mission ensuring a presence of the Church in the form of small isolated Christian communities) fears that civil war will fall on the landlocked country. “Will the current government be able to guarantee our security? “, he worried in a press release sent to several Catholic media on April 16.

Installed in May 2002 in Afghanistan by Pope John Paul II, the Mission sui iuris is under the authority of the Clerics Regular of Saint Paul, a missionary order founded in Milan in the XVIe century, also known as the Barnabites. In Afghanistan, a country where Islam is the state religion, the mission is limited to carrying out charitable and humanitarian activities.

Risks of civil war

The United States and its NATO allies have been engaged in a twenty-year-long war against the Taliban. In February 2020, the United States and the Taliban signed the Doha agreements, mentioning the gradual withdrawal of American and NATO troops. President Joe Biden has announced that between 2,500 and 3,500 American troops and around 8,000 NATO troops will leave Afghanistan by September 11, 2021 – the twentieth anniversary of the Al-Qaida attack at the World Trade Center in New York. According to the United Nations, more than 2,300 American soldiers lost their lives in this conflict which lasted twenty years, the longest war in the history of the United States. Between 35,000 and 40,000 civilians were killed.

Father Scalese, head of the Afghan Missionary Church until 2014, warns of the risks of a civil war breaking out. Under the terms of the Doha agreements, a transitional government of national unity should be put in place to organize free elections. “But if the different protagonists don’t talk to each other, how could they form a government together? annoys the 65-year-old Italian priest. It’s easier to let the guns do the talking. “ Meetings that should have taken place between the current Afghan government and the Taliban “Gave no result”, he observes.

Taliban more powerful than ever

The Taliban see the total withdrawal of American troops and their allies as a sign of victory for the jihadist faction. Some observers fear that this will lead to a regrouping of anti-American forces. In a recent report, the Council on Foreign Relations, an American think tank, asserted that the Taliban are now in a position of strength as they have never been since 2001, when American soldiers invaded Afghanistan.

Father Scalese argues that even if the Taliban were to return to power, they could not fully restore the totalitarian regime they formed in 1996. “The Taliban could never question the rights Afghans have grown used to all these years,” noted the priest. Much ink has also been spilled over the plight of Afghan women under Taliban law. According to the Italian missionary, it is unthinkable that they would agree to have to stay “At home or under a burqa”.

A thousand Christians on the spot

Even though the current Afghan constitution maintains that the country is an Islamic republic, Giovanni Scalese fears that the Taliban will try ” to impose a new constitution “. The Barnabite priest reports that just under a thousand Christians currently live in this country. The Missionary Sisters of Charity of Saint Teresa of Calcutta, and an inter-congregational NGO called Pro Bambini di Kabul (For the children of Kabul) are notably present in the capital.

Afghanistan has been a politically unstable country since 1978, when the government of Mohammed Daud Khan was overthrown in a coup. The ensuing wars lasted over forty years. Soviet troops occupied the country between 1979 and 1989, before the Taliban came to power in the early 1990s after a bloody civil war. The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, which the Taliban had established, was shattered after former US President George W. Bush attacked the country in response to the 9/11 attacks.

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