Afghans working for Nato fear reprisal after withdrawal

Published June 4, 2021
In this file photo taken on April 30, 2021, former Afghan interpreters for the US and NATO forces gather during a demonstration in downtown Kabul, on the eve of the beginning of Washington's formal troop withdrawal -- although forces have been drawn down for months. Afghan translators with NATO and US forces fear regular threats and deadly violence against them and their families will only increase ahead of a looming deadline for the alliance's planned withdrawal. — AFP/File
In this file photo taken on April 30, 2021, former Afghan interpreters for the US and NATO forces gather during a demonstration in downtown Kabul, on the eve of the beginning of Washington's formal troop withdrawal -- although forces have been drawn down for months. Afghan translators with NATO and US forces fear regular threats and deadly violence against them and their families will only increase ahead of a looming deadline for the alliance's planned withdrawal. — AFP/File

LONDON: Like thousands of Afghan translators who served with Nato forces, Nazir Ahmad fears for his life as the US-led alliance scrambles to pull out of the country in the coming weeks.

“The situation is deteriorating now as foreign forces leave,” he said in Kabul. “We are scared of the insurgents. They know our faces.” Afghans who worked for international armed forces face a threatened wave of Taliban reprisals and fear that resettlement plans by alliance members will leave many of them and their relatives still vulnerable.

Ahmad, 35, who is now in the Afghan capital, worked with British forces for two years in the restive southern province of Helmand, and has applied for relocation to the UK to escape the increased threats to former local staff.

“The insurgents, especially the Taliban, will take revenge and cut off our heads,” he said, explaining the militia considers former local staff “spies” and “foreign allies”.

Over the past two decades, dozens of Afghan translators have been killed and tortured in targeted assaults by the Taliban.

Many more have been injured in attacks on foreign troops during patrols in armoured vehicles.

Britain announced on Monday that it would accelerate relocation for its Afghan staff who worked with the military, offering priority to any current or former locally employed staff deemed at risk.

The UK has relocated 1,360 locally employed Afghan staff throughout the whole of the 20-year conflict, and says more than 3,000 Afghans are expected to be resettled under the accelerated plans.

But Ahmad’s contract with the British Army was terminated in 2012, for an alleged security breach, making his right to relocation in the UK uncertain. The government says that every dismissal during the conflict was valid and cases can only be reviewed in exceptional circumstances.

Those who were dismissed for minor offences can be considered for relocation with the presumption of approval, but others who are deemed a security threat will continue to be excluded, it says.

“They fired me while on a patrol with British forces for carrying an old Nokia phone that had no camera,” Ahmad said, adding that friends had been sacked for low-level infractions like arriving late for work.

British government figures show that 1,010 interpreters — roughly a third of all those employed in the period — were dismissed between 2001 and 2014.

Translators like Ahmad, who said he had routinely risked his life with British forces, say the Taliban do not consider why staff were dismissed.

“We put our life in danger,” he said. “Now we are seen as infidels looking for British citizenship.”

Published in Dawn, June 4th, 2021

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