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Terror attacks in Afghanistan, Maldives should alarm South Asia: European think tank

A file photo shows the site of an attack in Afghan capital Kabul (Photo: IANS)

The recent Kabul girls' school blasts and the attack on former Maldives President Mohammed Nasheed should alarm South Asia says a European think tank.

In a commentary released recently, the Netherlands-based EFSAS said that the attack on the Syed-ul-Shuhada High School in Kabul, which killed nearly 80 girl students, showed that half of Afghanistan's population is vulnerable—a prospect that could worsen with the withdrawal of all US troops from the country in September.

Women rights under attack in Afghanistan

Highlighting the explosions near the Syed-ul-Shuhada High School the think tank said: "… what made it even more heartrending was the scale of the devastation that resulted, the section of the Afghan population that was deliberately chosen as the target, the depressing history that girls and women in the war-ravaged country have had to endure, and most importantly the implications and the prognosis for the prospects of this highly vulnerable half of Afghanistan's population".

By talking about the blasts at a girls' school which killed girls just 10-16 years' old, EFSAS has pointed out that the future of women in Afghanistan is bleak once the US troops withdraw in September.

Ethnic Hazaras being targeted 

The think tank takes note of the fact that the blasts which took place in the Dasht-e-Barchi neighbourhood of Kabul targeted the minority Hazara community along with the girl students. It says: "The ethnic Hazara minority group, whose members are overwhelmingly Shiite Muslims, live in the Dasht-e-Barchi area. It is for this reason that the neighborhood has been subjected to several attacks by Sunni terrorist groups, especially the Islamic State in Khorasan Province (ISKP), in recent years. In a gruesome attack a year ago on 12 May 2020, three gunmen had attacked a maternity clinic in the Dasht-e-Barchi area and killed 24 mothers, newborns, and a medical professional."

The report also castigates the US for abdicating its responsibilities in Afghanistan. It says that after raising the hopes for a generation of Afghan people, particularly girls and women, the US cannot just walk away from the embattled country.

Democracy unable to take roots in the Maldives

On Maldives, the think tank observes that a country of just 350,000, "the islands of the Maldives have shown an unusual propensity towards extremism and terrorism."

Underlining the assassination attempt on Nasheed, EFSAS noted that the former President is one the most consistent and unwavering torchbearers of democracy in the region. "He has also been a vociferous critic of extremism and terrorism. His western views and liberal policies have come in for criticism by religious hard-liners in the Maldives".

A popular leader, Nasheed was targeted by an improvised explosive mounted on a parked motorcycle which was detonated remotely by terrorists. Nasheed was severely wounded and had to be provided life-saving surgery. He was eventually flown to Germany for treatment.

The importance of this event for the region can be gauged from the fact that Australia is assisting Maldives in the investigations.

EFSAS quoted Maldivian President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih as saying that the assassination attempt on Nasheed was "an attack on democracy and the Maldivian economy". The Indian External Affairs Minister, Dr S Jaishankar expressed his concern at the attack and said that Nasheed “will never be intimidated”.

Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia Program and senior associate for South Asia at the Wilson Center, told Al Jazeera that “This is very significant, not just in terms of scale but also in terms of target. The fact that you have a former president who is still a very prominent political figure and a very prominent democratic leader in a region that is now marked by strongmen and hardline nationalists … is quite a big deal”.

The EFSAS report says that the developments of the past week do not bode well for South Asia as these undermine human rights and democratic forces in the region. It quoted Eva Abdulla, the deputy speaker of the Maldives parliament, as saying that the attack on Nasheed should be perceived as a “warning not just for the Maldives, but the region”.