Parwana: Ayubi family fled Afghanistan and created one of Adelaide’s best restaurants

When a border official turned a blind eye to a young family fleeing Afghanistan 35 years ago, he set in motion a turn of events that would ultimately create an Adelaide culinary institution.

Farida and Zelmai Ayubi stood nervously with their four young children opposite the border official in Torkham, the major town crossing between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

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It was 1985, and the family was fleeing their increasingly unsafe home of Afghanistan in the height of the Soviet-Afghan war.

Their way out was a crumpled piece of paper that stated they needed to enter Pakistan for a family wedding – a wedding that didn’t exist.

But there was a discrepancy with the dates on the paper, and the official noticed.

“My heart fell, and my legs started shaking,” says father Zelmai, then 38 and now 73.

“Not (that) I worry for myself, but my children. (My daughter) Durkhanai was nearly one-year-old …”

In what was either an incredible stroke of luck or divine mercy – perhaps both – the family was spared.

“He said, ‘Give me your hand’, and he marked my hand,” Zelmai says.

“He told me, ‘Go. I know you have no wedding; I know you are not coming back. Take your wife and your children and go, and I wish you a happy life’.”

That was the first step of a life-changing journey for the Ayubis, now a family of seven and the heart of award-winning and internationally recognised Adelaide suburban restaurant, Parwana.

Their story is told in a new book, penned by Durkhanai Ayubi – the fourth daughter and the baby who was taken across the border. The book, also titled Parwana, meaning butterfly, bundles her mother’s prized recipes with a detailed history of Afghanistan. It’s a history that reaches far beyond the recent “war on terror”, one that Durkhanai deeply believes has been erased to the detriment of all civilisation.

“Our narratives about humans and different countries, and the way history has developed has been eclipsed by violence … and Islamophobia,” Durkhanai, 35, says. “But, to me, that history is the past 40-50 years – that’s like the blink of an eye.”

I’m speaking with Durkhanai and her parents in the eclectic dining room of Parwana, on Henley Beach Road in Torrensville. There is colour at every turn, from the walls painted pink and blue, to the mismatched geometric floor tiles and turquoise chairs. It’s a far cry from the barren landscapes and confronting visions of war in Afghanistan we see on TV.

“Nobody knows Afghanistan other than through a lens of violence and terrorism,” she says.

Yet Afghanistan wasn’t always synonymous with war. Google “Afghanistan landscapes” and you will likely be stunned by what you see. Mighty, snow-capped mountains. Lush, fertile valleys. Even Durkhanai was surprised by this when she returned to her birthplace with her sisters in 2012. Of course, by then, those picturesque views were juxtaposed with crumbling buildings, overcrowded living quarters and army tanks rolling through the streets.

“You’ve got this beautiful landscape that is pristine in many ways, then you see how humans can destroy that,” she says.

Family matriarch and the restaurant’s celebrated cook, Farida, now 64, likens Afghanistan’s beauty to that of Australia and Europe. But the atmosphere, the culture, the people, has all been displaced.

“Sometimes when I think about it, it makes me really, really sad, because everything gone,” says Farida.

“It is very hard, especially because I saw everything – I was in the golden time of Afghanistan when I was raised. How beautiful (it was).”

Farida is softly spoken but her smile, sometimes hidden in photographs, is infectious. Her husband Zelmai, on the other hand, is louder both in speech and dress. Today, he is sporting a vibrant patterned shirt, something of a trademark for the former lawyer. But the two of them radiate warmth and exude a sense of hospitality – and this is the cornerstone of Parwana.

The history of Afghanistan, a landlocked country in south-central Asia, is long and complex. In first century BC, it was at the centre of the ancient Silk Roads – an important network of trade routes that spanned key centres from China to Rome, India and Siberia, allowing the exchange of goods such as textiles, spices and precious metals, as well as ideas.

Afghanistan was wealthier for it. Various empires and political movements helped shape the country over time and the book delves deep into all that history, thanks to Durkhanai’s two year’s of research and writing. Contrary to recent events, it wasn’t long ago that things were looking promising for Afghanistan. The 1964 constitution looked to modernise the country, introducing women’s rights and open education.

“Then all sorts of twists and turns happened,” Durkhanai says. “Eventually what happened was a series of ideologies that is completely foreign to Afghanistan and its people – whether it was communism of the Soviet era, and then the fundamental Islam that emerges because of that … all of those things were so foreign to generations like my parents’.”

The Soviet invasion of 1979, which marked the start of a nine-year war between the two countries, was a major catalyst of Afghanistan’s downward spiral.

“The biggest thing … very early on is the intellectual and spiritual and cultural exile that happens because of war and violence,” Durkhanai says. “The culture and traditions of the nation collapse.”

Farida adds: “Good people, educated people – they (were) gone in two years.”

The Ayubis’ arrival in Pakistan in 1985 was not the end of their turmoil.

“The life for refugees, Afghan refugees, in Iran and Pakistan and Europe, they have very hard life,” Zelmai says. “In Pakistan we were not safe. We had no safety. The refugees have no freedom … everywhere we go there is fear.”

“Everywhere fear,” Farida adds. “In the middle of the night, like in Afghanistan, when you hear a car stop out there you’re thinking: ‘Somebody is coming to take him (Zelmai) to the jail, or take him to kill him’. All the time.” To say Zelmai was lucky to survive his later years in the Afghan capital of Kabul and then Pakistan is an understatement.

The family was Muslim, but not part of any Islamic party that had evolved in the fight against communism. Men who refused to join Islamic groups would either be killed, or go missing.

“We had more enemies than friends,” Zelmai says. “I was an easy target – they could say false things about me to make me in trouble. I was very, very lucky. Thank God, they didn’t capture me.”

The family’s lifesaving migration to Australia was made possible thanks to an old family friend, Dr Nouria Salehi, who moved to Australia in 1981 and, while working at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, was helping resettle Afghan families in Australia.

It was by chance that Zelmai saw Salehi’s father in Pakistan’s capital Peshawar, just as he was preparing to leave for Australia. Zelmai was able to pass on his family’s names and dates of birth for Salehi, so that she could organise a sponsor for the family.

Plans to leave Pakistan had to be made quietly, Durkhanai explains in her book. “Once a week, in the early hours of the morning so he wouldn’t be seen, my father would make his way over to the (Australian) embassy quarter,” she writes. After some time, Zelmai finally received the news he’d prayed for. His family had been accepted as migrants to Australia.

Zelmai, Farida and their four daughters – Fatema, who was now 11, Zelaikhah, 7, Zahra, 5, and Durkhanai, 2 – landed in Melbourne in 1987. “We got freedom!” Zelmai exclaims. “We got safe place for my children; for us. We had very hard life, but I pushed my children to study, to learn.”

The family spent their first two years finding their feet in a new country, but found Melbourne a little overwhelming.

A friend from Afghanistan was moving to Adelaide, and they decided to follow. Setting roots in Edwardstown, they truly began to feel at ease. The children enrolled in the local primary school, and Durkhanai would go to childcare while Farida and Zelmai caught the tram to English lessons. Zelmai’s law qualifications were invalid in Australia, so he took up odd jobs while Farida, a primary school teacher in Afghanistan, took care of the children. In 1994, the couple’s fifth daughter, Raihanah, was born.

While the family was relieved, and grateful, to be living in Australia, there was a yearning to preserve their culture.

“For us, living in Australia as a diaspora community, my mum’s intuition was really strong about holding onto those traditions, and, for Afghans, food and hospitality is a massive part of how we express the cultural identity,” Durkhanai says.

Farida always loved cooking, and everyone loved Farida’s food. “When God gives you food, you should share it,” Farida says. “That’s the important thing we learn from my dad and family: always share.”

The natural cook began catering local events and weddings, and soon word spread outside of the local community and demand picked up. Eventually, Farida thought a “little restaurant” might be worth a try – if nothing else, it would serve as a useful kitchen for her catering. In 2009, the family opened the doors to Parwana Afghan Kitchen.

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“Of course in the beginning it was very hard,” Farida says. But those who chanced upon the restaurant embraced it. Then came the positive reviews – the first from local food writer Ann Oliver, just a month after the restaurant opened.

“Every now and again you stumble across an establishment that is really good, and virtually unknown,” she wrote. “Farida weaves something magical in her kitchen.

“The bolani, the wafer thin crispy leek filled bread and yoghurt dip, was divine, uncomplicated delicious perfection.” The ashak, a style of dumpling, were described as “scrumptious”, and the narenj palaw (orange rind rice) “gorgeous”.

Later in the piece, she predicts the Ayubis would become a celebrated food family, much like the Singhs, of Jasmin fame. How right she was.

Next came The Advertiser’s Simon Wilkinson, who would include the restaurant in The Advertiser Food Guide for years to come. In his reviews, he describes the mantu dumplings as “heavenly”, cloaked in “just the right amount” of lamb mince, yoghurt and paprika; the banjaan borani (eggplant) as an “unctuous sludge that even the avowed eggplant hater among us scrapes up with glee”, and the palaw (rice) as the “Ginger Rogers to the eggplant’s Fred Astaire, each grain so perfectly light and tender you could almost imagine them dancing across the plate”. “The Kabuli version is topped with threads of carrot, sultanas and almonds,” he writes. “If there is better rice anywhere, please let me know.”

“It just kind of took off,” Durkhanai says of the restaurant. “I noticed a shift after the five-year mark, and then it expanded on another level again.”

In 2014, the family opened city offshoot, Kutchi – meaning nomad – with an approachable lunch menu that reached a whole new demographic. Then, in 2018, the main restaurant expanded to offer an extra dining room. Parwana now accommodates 200 people over two sittings per night, six nights a week. And, still, it remains one of very few suburban restaurants to require an advance booking.

Parwana’s most recent achievement was an unexpected, glowing review from The New York Times two years ago. But food critic, Besha Rodell, almost didn’t make it, unaware this was a restaurant that booked out, night after night. “There aren’t many high-demand reservations in the South Australian capital. But Parwana excels at many things, and defying expectations is one of them,” she wrote, having later returned to the restaurant with a booking. “The small storefront space has a striking aesthetic, one that is worthy of a design magazine but stays true to the history and culture of the family.”

The rice, Rodell describes, is Farida’s “greatest gift to the universe”. “It is not often that a dish as common as rice will knock me off my dinner chair, but the aged, long-grain narenj palaw at Parwana left me agog.”

Praise also goes to the meats slow-cooked in yoghurt and spices, and served with a “deep green herb chutney that tastes like photosynthesis splashed with lemon”.

The NYT review spiked interest but above all, “it felt really special”, Durkhanai says. “There’s recognition outside of the country for something we’re doing so locally, and that was really rewarding.”

For local fans of Parwana, praise for the eggplant simmered in tomato, the mantu dumplings blanketed with lamb kofta sauce and decorative kabuli palaw are not surprising. The food is, in the simplest sense, delicious. It’s also incredibly generous – you’re best to go with a group to share. After all, dining at Parwana is a celebration – the colours, the cultural cues, a friendly Zelmai working the floor, and the beautiful patterned plates that make even a humble curry look pretty. It’s BYO only, and corkage is donated to local charity. It’s among many reasons why Parwana has been awarded, and is repeatedly nominated for, Best Community Restaurant in The Advertiser Food Awards.

Dig a bit deeper, and you’ll see these dishes aren’t just a harmonious blend of textures and flavours, but also a culmination and celebration of cultures that met on the ancient Silk Road. From the spices of India, to the aromatic rosewater of the Middle East. Like an artist to canvas, Farida applies her ingredients with a deft hand, creating something so comforting yet so full of flavour. And it’s all done in a modest-sized kitchen, where oversized pots of curry simmer on the stove while dumplings are hand-folded, and plated dishes are drizzled with seasoned yoghurt.

Farida has no hesitation in sharing her recipes (although writing them down in teaspoons and cups did not come easy). For her, and the family, the book is the next step in preserving their culture. Durkhanai also hopes the book will encourage people to think more deeply when it comes to Afghanistan and other war-torn countries, and their people. Fellow refugees.

“We all have stories and we all have ancestries and connections,” she says. “To be a foreigner in a different land to where you’re born usually comes with a lot of grief and loss and misfortune.

“If people had a choice to be safe where they are, where they’re connected to their own history and ancestry, of course people would choose that.”

Afghanis just like the Ayubis have continued to seek refuge since the Soviet-Afghan War. Civil wars in Afghanistan ensued after the Soviets withdrawal in 89, towards the end of the Cold War era. Then, unforgettably, came the United States’ “war on terror” in the wake of the attacks by al-Qaeda on Washington and New York in September, 2001.

A Brown University paper released in September states that since the post-911 wars, at least 5.3 million people have been displaced from Afghanistan. Across Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, the Philippines, Libya and Syria, this number rises to 37 million – more than those displaced by any war or disaster since the start of the 20th century except for World War II. And it’s a conservative number. It could be as high as 59 million – more than twice Australia’s population.

The Afghan community in South Australia is relatively small compared with the Greeks and Italians, who migrated earlier, but it has grown over time because of the ongoing waves of displacement. Afghanis find each other, through family, friends and active members in the community. “There are people … who do arts things, film festivals, and it’s all based on Afghanistan and its history,” Durkhanai says. “There’s a network of awareness.”

And while the restaurant, and the five daughters’ vocations, are keeping the Ayubis busy these days, those connections are always there.

The restaurant’s slogan reads: “At Parwana, we believe that even loss and suffering can forge beauty and generosity”.

For the Ayubis, their triumph has manifested into much more than a successful restaurant. Oldest daughter Fatema, now 44, has pursued her creativity in a patisserie offshoot, Shirni Parwana, which pops up at Plant 4 Bowden twice weekly. Zelaikhah, 40, now with three children of her own, is a forensic scientist. Zahra, 39, works for the Department of Human Services. Durkhanai is involved in the operations of Parwana and Kutchi Deli, while also a writer. And 26-year-old Raihanah has completed her law degree and is pursuing further study.

Five lives, five individuals who have flourished thanks to an improbable sequence of events that started with one border official who was willing to turn a blind eye to a fictitious travel paper.

Farida doesn’t plan on hanging up her apron anytime soon (“I love cooking. If you are successful and people are happy, why wouldn’t you love it?”) and calls Australia home. But she has hope for her homeland.

“How beautiful it would be if everybody could go and enjoy Afghanistan,” she says.

“Always hope is there. Nobody can win this sort of thing. They have to give up and they have to go to peace.”

Parwana by Durkhanai Ayubi; recipes by Farida Ayubi with assistance from Fatema Ayubi. Photography by Alicia Taylor. (Murdoch Books, RRP $45).

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Attacks around Afghanistan kill at least 23

The Conversation

In Mike Pence, US evangelicals had their ’24-karat-gold’ man in the White House. Loyalty may tarnish that legacy

Mike Pence has remained one of the only constants in the often chaotic Trump administration.Variously described as “vanilla,” “steady” and loyal to the point of being “sycophantic,” he is, in the words of one profile, an “everyman’s man with Midwest humility and approachability,” and in another, a “61-year-old, soft-spoken, deeply religious man.”But that humility and loyalty are being tested as his tenure as vice president draws to an end. “I hope Mike Pence comes through for us,” Trump told supporters at a rally on Monday, seemingly under the mistaken belief that Pence can overturn the election result as he presides over the Electoral College vote count at a joint session of Congress today. Balancing the ticketThroughout the past four years, the vice president has offered a striking contrast to the mercurial, abrasive temperament of his commander in chief. Indeed, in his acceptance speech at the 2016 Republican National Convention, Pence joked that he’d been chosen because Trump, with his “large personality,” “colorful style,” and “lots of charisma,” was “looking for some balance on the ticket.” Commentators have attributed Pence’s steadiness to his Hoosier roots and his “savvy political operator” skills. But it is his religious beliefs that perhaps inform his politics and style more than anything else; as Pence has oft repeated, he is “a Christian, conservative and Republican – in that order.” In a 2011 profile during Pence’s run for Indiana governor, noted state political columnist Brian Howey remarked, “Pence doesn’t just wear his faith on his sleeve, he wears the whole Jesus jersey.”It isn’t a characterization that Pence has shied away from. “My Christian faith is at the very heart of who I am,” Pence said during the 2016 vice presidential debate.Richard Land, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and current president of Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, told the Atlantic in 2018, “Mike Pence is the 24-karat-gold model of what we want in an evangelical politician. I don’t know anyone who’s more consistent in bringing his evangelical Christian worldview to public policy.” But as a scholar of U.S. religion and culture, I believe that Pence’s faith and political identities are more complex than these statements suggest. In fact, one can trace three distinct conversion experiences in his biography. Three-point conversionGrowing up in an Irish Catholic family with five siblings, working-class roots and Democratic political commitments, Pence attended Catholic school, served as an altar boy at his family’s church, idolized John F. Kennedy and was a youth coordinator for the local Democratic Party in his teens.It was as a freshman at Hanover College in 1978 that Pence experienced an evangelical conversion while attending a music festival in Kentucky billed as the “Christian Woodstock.”For some years afterward he remained active in the Catholic Church, attending Mass regularly, serving as a youth minister and seriously considering joining the priesthood. At the same time, he and his future wife Karen were part of a demographic shift of Americans who “had grown up Catholic and still loved many things about the Catholic Church, but also really loved the concept of having a very personal relationship with Christ,” as a close friend put it.By the mid-1990s he was a married father of three who identified as a “born-again, evangelical Catholic,” an unusual term that has caused some consternation among both evangelicals and Catholics.In subsequent interviews, Pence has spoken freely about how his 1978 conversion gave him a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ” that “changed everything.” But he has tended to avoid labeling his religious views when pressed, referring to himself as a “pretty ordinary Christian” who “cherishes his Catholic upbringing.” He has attended nondenominational evangelical churches with his family since at least 1995. Pence’s political conversion was more clear cut. Though he voted for Jimmy Carter in the 1980 presidential election, he quickly came to embrace Ronald Reagan’s economic and social conservatism and his populist appeal. In a 2016 speech at the Reagan Library, Pence credited Reagan with inspiring him to “leave the party of my youth and become a Republican like he did.” “His broad-shouldered leadership changed my life,” he said. Pence has frequently compared Trump to Reagan, arguing that they have the same “broad shoulders.”Pence ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 1988 and 1990, and the second bruising loss precipitated a third conversion, this time in political style. In a 1991 published essay titled “Confessions of a Negative Campaigner,” he described himself as a sinner and wrote of his “conversion” to the belief that “negative campaigning is wrong.” Between 1992 and 1999, Pence honed his blend of family values and fiscal conservatism in an eponymous conservative talk show.The show’s popularity provided a springboard to a successful run for Congress in 2000. During his six terms in the House, Pence acquired a reputation for “unalloyed traditional conservatism” and principled opposition to Republican Party leadership on issues like No Child Left Behind and Medicare prescription drug expansion. Religious actsIn addition to his “unsullied” reputation as a “culture warrior,” he also attracted attention for following the “Billy Graham Rule” of avoiding meeting with women alone and avoiding events where alcohol was served when his wife was not present. During the 2016 vice presidential debate, Pence said that his entire career in public service stems from a commitment to “live out” his religious beliefs, “however imperfectly.”One of those beliefs is his opposition to abortion, grounded in his reading of particular biblical passages. As a congressman in 2007, he was the first to sponsor legislation defunding Planned Parenthood, and did so repeatedly until the first defunding bill passed in 2011. “I long for the day when Roe v. Wade is sent to the ash heap of history,” he said at the time.In 2016, over the objections of many Republican state representatives, he signed the most restrictive set of anti-abortion measures in the country into law, making him a conservative hero. Among other things, the bill prevented women from terminating pregnancies for reasons including fetal disability such as Down syndrome. Although opponents succeeded in getting the bill overturned in the courts, Indiana is still seen as one of the most anti-abortion states in America.As vice president, Pence also cast the tie-breaking Senate vote to allow states to withhold federal family planning funds from Planned Parenthood in 2017.Pence has also been an outspoken opponent of LGBTQ rights. He opposed the inclusion of sexual orientation in hate crimes legislation and the end of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. He likewise supported both state and federal constitutional amendments to ban same-sex marriage, and expressed disappointment at the 2015 Obergefell decision, which required all states to recognize such unions.At the same time he has been a strong supporter of “religious freedom,” particularly for Christians.In March 2015, as Indiana governor, he signed the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act “to ensure that religious liberty is fully protected.” The act ignited a firestorm of nationwide controversy: Critics alleged that it would allow for individuals and businesses to legally discriminate against members of the LGBTQ community. Under pressure from LGBTQ activists, liberals, business owners and moderate Republicans, Pence signed an amendment a week later stipulating that it did not authorize discrimination. Staked reputationPence’s religious and political biography mirrors key political and religious shifts over the past 40 years, from the rise of the religious right and its growing influence in the Republican Party to the conservative coalition of evangelicals and Catholics across denominational lines, to the legacy of the “outsider” celebrity president.These threads converge in Mike Pence, whose “24-karat,” “unalloyed” conservative credentials were instrumental in rallying evangelical voters behind Trump in the 2016 election and who has staked his political future on continuing to defend him.This article is republished from The Conversation, a nonprofit news site dedicated to sharing ideas from academic experts. It was written by: Deborah Whitehead, University of Colorado Boulder.Read more: * Why Trump’s Senate supporters can’t overturn Electoral College results they don’t like – here’s how the law actually works * What’s next for American evangelicals after Trump leaves office?Deborah Whitehead does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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A big beautiful wall – Pakistan has fenced itself off from Afghanistan | Asia

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Defence Chief thanks troops, acknowledges ‘difficult’ Afghanistan inquiry in Christmas message

The Chief of Defence has used his Christmas message to thank military personnel deployed away from home, while acknowledging this year’s “difficult” Afghanistan war crimes inquiry.

At the end of a year which began with bushfire operations, and ends with continuing COVID-19 assistance missions, General Angus Campbell has thanked Australian Defence Force (ADF) members for their hard work.

“Please take a moment to also remember our mates and colleagues who continue to serve and support our nation on operations during this time,” General Campbell said in a video message posted on the Defence Department’s website.

This Christmas, around 1,600 ADF members are deployed around the country as part of Operation COVID-Assist, while almost 1,500 personnel are stationed on various operations across the globe.

In his remarks, General Campbell also noted the damning findings from the Afghanistan war crimes inquiry which were released last month.

“The release of the Inspector General of the Australian Defence Force’s report into Afghanistan marked a difficult step forward for our community and the nation,” he said.

“I’d like to thank those who had the courage to speak up — together we’ll work to ensure the ADF always and everywhere reflects the best of Australia”.

Defence Secretary Greg Moriarty echoed General Campbell’s sentiments in his Christmas message to the ADF.

“This year has been a tough one — your country has asked much of you in 2020,” he said.

“Some of you have been separated from your families, endured long quarantine periods and faced extended or uncertain postings.

“We know you have given much this year and we thank you for your continued service throughout.”

ADF personnel to celebrate Christmas lunch heading to Fiji

A further 750 Australian defence force personnel are currently heading to Fiji to provide humanitarian relief after Tropical Cyclone Yasa devastated the Pacific nation last week.

The ADF’s largest warship, HMAS Adelaide, departed Brisbane on Christmas Eve, carrying specialist medical and engineering teams.

Deputy Chief of Joint Operations Rear Admiral Jaimie Hatcher says the ship’s crew will get a moment to celebrate Christmas at sea as they make their way to Fiji.

“It’s a fantastic Christmas lunch served by some of the Navy’s and some of our nation’s greatest chefs and we’ve organised a small beer issue which is very old sailor’s routine for a couple of cans of beer for each person on board if they wish to participate in that,” he said.

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With Relaxed Restrictions, More Civilians Died in Air Strikes in Afghanistan in 2017-2020 – The Diplomat

The Pulse | Security | South Asia

Relaxed rules of engagement for air strikes led to increased civilian casualties in Afghanistan.

From 2016 to 2019, the number of civilians killed by international air strikes in Afghanistan increased around 330 percent, according to a new report from Brown University’s Costs of War project. The increase in civilian casualties was a product of a 2017 decision by the Trump administration to relax the rules of engagement.

It’s not difficult to connect the dots: “When the United States tightens its rules of engagement and restricts air strikes where civilians are at risk, civilian casualties tend to go down; when it loosens those restrictions, civilians are injured and killed in greater numbers.”

In 2009, General Stanley McChrystal took over the coalition war effort in Afghanistan and, bothered by the high rate of civilians being killed by U.S. airstrikes, ordered a tightening of the rules of engagement. As the Costs of War report recounts, two weeks later a U.S. air strike in Kandahar injured 13 and killed five people. “What is it we don’t understand? We’re going to lose this fucking war if we don’t stop killing civilians,” McChrystal said in response. 

Per the Costs of War report, the restrictions on air strikes fluctuated depending on which source of pressure was most acute. When international and government forces feared they were losing or needed to increase pressure on militants, rules were relaxed; when pressure from the Afghan government, NGOs, and media was higher or Washington viewed civilian casualties as “counterproductive” the rules were tightened. 

In October 2017, then-U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis revealed changes to the rules of engagement. The biggest adjustment was scrapping a prior requirement that U.S. forces had to be in direct contact with enemy forces in order to call in an air strike. The Trump administration’s intention to intensify the war had been signaled earlier in 2017, with the April dropping of one of the largest non-nuclear bombs ever built, the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast, also called the Mother of All Bombs (MOAB), in Nangarhar on Islamic State forces.

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In comparison to 2016, the final full year of the Obama administration, the Trump years have marked a rise in the number of strike sorties and weapons released, and consequently a rise in the number of civilian casualties. The United States and the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) keep different statistics with regard to civilian casualties. For example, UNAMA attributed 546 civilian deaths to “international air forces” in 2019, the highest number since 2008. The U.S., however, counts just 97 deaths due to U.S. air strikes in 2019.

U.S. and international air strikes have decreased since the February 2020 deal between Washington and the Taliban, but Afghan Air Force strikes have risen in the ensuing months. While the Afghan government and the Taliban began talks in September, the report notes that “unless there is a ceasefire, both sides will continue to gain a tactical advantage while negotiations are underway.” Invariably, air strikes will be a part of that maneuvering for advantage and, given past patterns, civilians will suffer.

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Newest ADF leaders told they need to rebuild public trust following Afghanistan war crimes

The Governor-General has told the military’s latest graduates they will need to “reassure and reaffirm” the relationship with the Australian public following last month’s explosive Afghanistan war crimes report.

Retired General David Hurley, who served as Chief of Defence between 2011 and 2015, acknowledged the damning findings of the inquiry while delivering a graduation speech for officers at the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA) in Canberra.

“[The ADF has] an enormous task of protecting our country while reassuring and reaffirming its relationship with the Australian people following the findings of the Brereton inquiry,” General Hurley said.

“Bringing the Australian people along with the ADF will be an enormous part of your work in the future.”

A four-year-long inquiry by Justice Paul Brereton recommended 19 soldiers be investigated by police for the alleged murder of 39 Afghan prisoners and civilians, and the cruel treatment of two others.

General Hurley told the audience they were “extremely well equipped to make an important contribution to your country” but needed to ensure as military leaders they listened to their troops.

“Leadership is not easy — I think you’ve learnt that by now — you’ll have to make decisions that have consequences for people and often make those decisions under pressure,” he said.

“The good lord gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason: listen.”

Many veterans of the war in Afghanistan have expressed frustration that no senior officer has yet accepted any responsibility for the wrongdoings which occurred during the 12-year conflict.

Anger is also growing over a decision by Defence Chief General Angus Campbell to revoke the Meritorious Unit Citation for members of the Special Operations Task Group who served after 2007.

Any recommendation to revoke the military honour would have to be made to the Governor-General, meaning General Hurley could strip the citation from numerous soldiers who served under him.

In total 316 Navy, Army and Air Force trainee officers, as well as 24 international graduates, took part in Sunday’s graduation at the ADFA Parade Ground, following the three years of study at the military academy in Canberra.


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What’s Russia’s Aim in Afghanistan? – The Diplomat

Crossroads Asia | Security | Central Asia

The Russian presence in Central Asia, predicated on the threats from Afghanistan, stymies the political and economic development of the region.

On November 24, 2020, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, in a video message to the participants of the Geneva International Conference on Afghanistan, expressed Moscow’s concern about the ongoing escalation of violence in Afghanistan. In particular, he emphasized that Islamic State militants are concentrating forces in the northern provinces of the country in order to create a springboard for further expansion into Central Asia. This statement came following a decision by outgoing U.S. President Donald Trump to further reduce the number of U.S. troops in the county to 2,500 by mid-January 2021, which may serve to validate the fears of the Russian side about a deteriorating security situation. At the same time, there are factors that cast doubt on Moscow’s position, which can also be regarded as part of a Russian desire to substantiate its foreign policy objectives in the south.

Russian officials have made numerous comments in the past about the growing influence of international terrorist groups in northern Afghanistan that, Moscow says, aim to expand their operations into Central Asia. In November 2018, Lavrov touched on this topic during a speech at a conference on Afghanistan held in Moscow and announced that the Islamic State contingent in the Afghanistan was receiving support from foreign sponsors in order to turn the country into a zone for further advancement in Central Asia’s direction. In January 2019, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Zubkov also voiced concerns that Islamic State militants were grouping together in helicopters and readying an attack toward the Tajikistan border. That statement was made a few days before a visit by Lavrov to Dushanbe, where he offered additional security assistance to the Tajik side.

Despite the weakening of the Islamic State’s positions in the Middle East and Afghanistan, it is apparent that statements made by Russian officials about the existing threat of the spread of the conflict into Central Asia are both a reaction to Western policy and a desire to make the problem of international terrorism in Afghanistan topical in order to maintain Moscow’s influence in the region. Currently, Russia’s military presence in Central Asia is limited to the 201st Russian military base in Dushanbe, Tajikistan; an airbase in Kant, Kyrgyzstan; and a torpedo-test range on lake Issyk-Kul, also in Kyrgyzstan. According to observers, this presence allows Russia to maintain political influence in Central Asia and receive information about the combat and operational capabilities of the local armed forces.

The withdrawal of Western coalition forces from Afghanistan expands the geostrategic field for the advancement of Russia’s interests in the broader region. Some observers note that Washington’s decision to withdraw troops can be regarded as a failure of U.S. policy in Afghanistan and could hand Moscow the role of main negotiator in the settlement of the inter-Afghan conflict. However, there is also speculation that the Kremlin’s relationship with the Taliban is not limited to diplomatic negotiations to reconcile the warring parties, but deeper, touching on coordination in a joint fight against the Islamic State. With reference to senior sources in the U.S. military and the Afghan government, it has been reported that Russia is supplying weapons and fuel to the Taliban through the countries of Central Asia.

Russia does not have sufficient resources to fully implement its ambitious plans to expand its geopolitical influence, but at the same time, it is trying by all possible means to preserve and strengthen its presence in Central Asia. Afghanistan is a clear core factor in that effort. Such circumstances restrain the countries of the region from building and conducting a more independent foreign policy, limiting the interest of Western investors and, accordingly, stalling regional economic development and improvement of the population’s welfare. Therefore, it is extremely important for the United States and the EU to maintain close contact with the countries of the region and provide assistance in their integration into the international community beyond the Eurasian space. In turn, the Central Asian countries need to continue reforms aimed at increasing the transparency of their economies, liberalizing their foreign exchange markets, and creating favorable conditions for investors and guarantees to protect their investments.

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Nodirjon Kirgizbaev is a former Uzbek diplomat and policy analyst.

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What the Afghanistan report means for the commanders

Actions taken at lower levels to cover up alleged war crimes mean that no officer from the Australian military can be held legally responsible, writes Paul Taucher.

ON 19 NOVEMBER 2020, the Chief of the Defence Force, General Angus Campbell, spoke publicly about the Inspector General of the Australian Defence Force (IGDAF) Afghanistan Inquiry Report (“the report”). The report, which does not make any legal findings, has recommended that 19 Australian military personnel be referred for investigation for 39 unlawful killings of Afghani personnel.

The identities of individuals mentioned, as well as the circumstances of the reported crimes have been redacted, though footage of suspected unlawful killings has been aired on two occasions by the ABC. The 23 personnel recommended for criminal investigation are all enlisted soldiers and non-commissioned officers from the Australian special forces community. Both the report and General Taylor have attributed the suspected unlawful killings to a fundamental breakdown of culture within certain elements of the Australian special forces.

No officers, from the rank of lieutenant through to lieutenant-general, have been recommended to be investigated for criminal investigation. Nonetheless, the report has highlighted that commanding officers operated within a chain of command that allowed for war crimes to occur and hold some degree of moral, rather than legal, responsibility. 

International humanitarian law, which includes the laws of war, can hold commanders criminally liable for actions committed by their subordinates under the doctrine of command responsibility. Commanders who know, or reasonably ought to know, that their subordinates have committed a war crime are required to ‘submit the matter to the competent authorities for investigation and prosecution’.

Australia has adopted this doctrine under the Commonwealth Criminal Code (s 268.115). The recommendation that several non-commissioned officers be subject to criminal investigation in the report is based on the doctrine of command responsibility. The fact that no officer, from lieutenant to lieutenant-general, has been recommended to face similar investigation requires explanation.

The report found that commanding officers at all levels of the Australian military were not in a position to know, or even become suspicious, that their subordinates were committing war crimes. Though special forces personnel record body camera footage during missions and are supported with a range of additional surveillance equipment, including drones, the report found that non-commissioned officers and support staff ensured that body camera footage was not made available to superior officers. The aerial drones which recorded missions were diverted to escape routes rather than recording the actual mission itself.

Furthermore, reporting on a mission would be delayed until a combat patrol returned to their base and the report finds this gave patrol leaders the opportunity to falsify reports, either by ensuring that every member could give the same story or to intimidate any patrol member who contemplated reporting an unlawful killing.

According to the report, the actions taken at lower levels to cover up alleged war crimes, as well as the natural trusting relationship between commanding officers and their subordinates, mean that no officer from the Australian military can be held legally responsible for the crimes committed.

Afghan War shows the need for a people’s inquiry into the U.S. alliance

Nonetheless, the report and General Angus Taylor apportion some degree of moral responsibility on commanding officers for the crimes committed. Principally, both the report and Taylor argue that the special forces community was allowed to deteriorate from a culture of responsible service to the nation to a culture that served the egos and personal aspirations of individual soldiers, especially non-commissioned officers, referred to as a “warrior culture”.

Non-commissioned officers who acted as the “boots on the ground” commanders of special forces missions were widely respected for their skills by both their subordinates and their superiors. According to the report, several of these non-commissioned officers used this respect to bully and intimidate subordinates and assert some degree of authority of their superior officers.

As well as cultural failings, the report found that commanding officers tolerated ill-discipline and under-reporting amongst the special forces community. Combat personnel from special forces would drink on missions, as well as heavily at their base, with lower standards of personal hygiene and standards of dress that would not normally be acceptable in the military.

Combat reports were accepted at face value and there was a general reluctance to question the accounts given by those on the ground. The report claims that while a relationship of trust and confidence is critical in maintaining unit integrity, commanding officers had prioritised this relationship over the requirement to scrutinise events, though not to a criminal extent.

In response to the report, Taylor has foreshadowed a number of changes to the chain of command in special forces. Though commanding officers do not appear to face a criminal investigation, they are likely to face administrative and disciplinary action. In this case, Taylor is applying a mitigated theory of command responsibility, where commanders are held responsible for the actions of their subordinates, just not necessarily to a criminal extent. It is highly likely that several commanding officers will be redeployed and some may have citations rescinded or, in extreme cases, possibly be demoted or even retired.

Paul Taucher is a PhD candidate and casual tutor at Murdoch University with undergraduate degrees in Law and History.

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Paul Keating accuses government of using Afghanistan report to bury Treasury backing for superannuation | Superannuation

Paul Keating has accused the government of using the release of the bombshell report on Australian soldiers’ alleged murders in Afghanistan to hide Treasury report findings that he said backed increasing superannuation payments.

The former prime minister also dismissed suggestions that scheduled rises to the minimum contribution employers have to make to employees’ super accounts would slow a recovery from the pandemic.

Speaking to the ABC’s 7.30 program, Keating read from the Treasury’s retirement income review that was released on Friday, a day before the release of Maj Gen Justice Paul Brereton’s devastating report into the conduct of a small group within the elite Special Air Service regiment.

Keating said: “The government released the report on the day they released the Afghan revelations. The point was to not have people focus on the central finding.”

Days earlier, the government released selected excerpts from the Treasury report in a move interpreted as laying the groundwork to scrap the planned increases in the superannuation guarantee.

The Australian Taxation Office will raise the superannuation guarantee from 9.5% to 10% in July 2021. Five further 0.5% increases are scheduled each year until the rate goes up to 12% in July 2025.

Keating said the rise from 9.5% to 10% was equal to about $8 a week for a person on an average wage.

“You are talking about small amounts,” he said. “You think that $8 is going to upset the employment equation of Australia. 0.5% is worth $8 a week … two coffees!”

Keating, a champion since the 1990s of raising the minimum amount employers had to pay employees, rubbished concerns that the scheduled rises in the superannuation guarantee would impact on wages growth or slow recovery from the pandemic.

In September Keating attacked Reserve Bank of Australia governor, Philip Lowe, who had suggested raising superannuation would hit wages growth.

Weeks earlier he slammed “little bitchy Liberals” for trying to undermine his superannuation scheme.

Keating said at the time that wages growth had been stagnant since 2012, a point he repeated on on the ABC late on Monday.

Reading from parts of the Treasury document, Keating said: “[The government] wanted the report to say super was in trouble.”

Running his finger along lines of the report, Keating read that Treasury had found superannuation was effective and its costs were sustainable.

“The second line says, ‘Without compulsory superannuation, middle income earners would not save enough for retirement.’

“Here is the report. There it is. Point one, in other words, the report, the review has confirmed the universality of superannuation.”

Keating said the rise in the superannuation guarantee to 12% would be paid for by employers, and people had earned the rise because productivity had gone up.

He said if the superannuation scheme didn’t exist and people were instead left to manage their own investments, people would stop saving for their retirements.

“That’s what the [Treasury] report says. Middle income earners would not save enough for retirement. This is not just Australians, this is true around the world. Unless you’re compulsorily required to do it, they don’t do it.”

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Move to strip Afghanistan war veterans of military decorations possible due to changes signed off by Federal Government

A push to strip Afghanistan war veterans of their meritorious service awards has been made possible partly due to changes to the Defence Force’s honours system agreed to by the Queen and the Federal Government earlier this year.

The amendments to the Unit Citation Regulations were gazetted in July, well before the Defence Department had seen the damning findings of the long-awaited Brereton inquiry into alleged war crimes.

Anger is growing within the veterans’ community over the Chief of Defence’s decision to revoke the “meritorious group citation” for those who served with the Special Operation Task Group in Afghanistan between 2007 and 2013.

General Angus Campbell announced the move last week while handing down the explosive report which found Australian special forces murdered at least 39 prisoners and civilians during the Afghanistan war.

Labor MP Luke Gosling says the awards should not be withdrawn.(ABC News: Neda Vanovac)

The ABC has now uncovered amendments to the Unit Citation Regulations which were signed into effect on July 13, 2020, citing “Her Majesty’s Command” and the “Prime Minister”.

Former commando turned Labor MP Luke Gosling has been campaigning for the awards not to be withdrawn “because of the actions of a very small number of those troops”.

“It is clear that the Prime Minister and the Queen made his amendment many months ago, with the Afghanistan inquiry recommendations in mind,” the East Timor veteran told the ABC.

A Federal Government spokesperson told the ABC the Defence Department “undertook a full review of the Defence Honours and Awards Medal Instruments and changes were subsequently agreed by the Government and Her Majesty the Queen”.

That review sought to “strengthen and expand the eligibility for certain awards and ensure that more Australian Defence Force personnel and veterans are appropriately recognised for their service”.

The spokesperson added the review aimed to “reflect the previously agreed recommendations of reviews by the Defence Honours and Awards Appeal Tribunal in 2014 and ensure consistency in terminology and definitions”.

Unnamed former special forces soldiers have established a website to collect names for a petition to “maintain the memory of our meritorious many” by allowing the group military decoration to stand.

The Voice Of A Veteran site states that revoking the awards will “impact over 3,000 special operations personnel including the families of those heroes who have died in combat”.

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