Afghans fear similar fate awaits them as Harkis in Algeria: Who they are

United States president Joe Biden stuck to his guns and on 31 August, America saw the end of the long war in Afghanistan , with the last pla...

United States president Joe Biden stuck to his guns and on 31 August, America saw the end of the long war in Afghanistan, with the last planes taking off from the Hamid Karzai International Airport.

However, as per last reports, all Americans haven't been evacuated, along with scores of thousands of Afghan allies who worked with the military or contributed to the cause of crushing the Taliban. And many of those Afghans are going to have to pay the price of having cast their lot with the Americans.

This begs the question of what will happen to those left behind and will they face the same fate as the 'Harkis' -- the native Muslim Algerians who served as auxiliaries in the French Army during the Algerian War of Independence from 1954 to 1962.

Who are the Harkis?

Harkis were indigenous Muslim soldiers in Algeria who, organised into units called harkas, served in the French army during the colonial period in Algeria (1830–1962).

Initially, the French administration recruited the Harkis as irregular militia based in their home villages or towns throughout Algeria. However, from 1956, they increasingly served along the French army in the field.

As per a report to the United Nations dated 13 March 1962, an estimated total of 263,000 "pro-French Muslims" broken down to 20,000 regular soldiers, 40,000 conscripts, 78,000 Harkis and Moghaznis, 15,000 mobile group commandos and 60,000 civilian self-defense group members took part in the war.

According to experts, Harkis’ allegiance to the French stemmed from mixed motives. Unemployment was widespread among the Muslim population, especially in rural districts. Additionally, some enrolled on the French side to avenge the deaths of their relatives at the hands of the Algerian nationalist Front de LibĂ©ration Nationale.

Why Harkis were bt=rutally killed?

When the savage eight-year conflict ended with the Evian accords in March 1962, which secured Algeria's independence after nearly 130 years of French colonisation, the Harkis were seen as traitors by their fellow Algerians.

Harkis were tortured and saw their wives and daughters raped before being murdered. A low estimate puts the number of harkis massacred in the immediate aftermath of Algerian independence at tens of thousands. Harkis associations cite much higher figures.

Recounting the kind of torture they suffered, one of the surviving Harkis soldiers speaking in court said, "I was locked in a cave with 16 comrades for five months. They cut off the genitalia of one prisoner with scissors. Others were decapitated, had their throats slit. We had to swallow food mixed with ground glass."

Why are harkis not welcomed in France?

Some harkis, who managed to escape Algeria and enter France, encountered a chilling welcome there. More often than not they were arrested and returned to Algeria to face torture, imprisonment, and death.

Initially, the French government of Charles de Gaulle ordered officials and army officers to prevent the Harkis from seeking refuge in metropolitan France.

After facing widespread condemnation from the international community, France agreed to accept around 40,000 Algerians who had wanted to be French.

But, life for them wasn't easy and they were hardly given the opportunity to start new lives. Most harkis spent many years in camps akin to ghettos, during which time their children were not allowed to attend local schools.

They were educated in special camp schools, which further perpetuated the stigma of their harkis identity and made their integration into French society even more difficult.

How do harkis survive in present day?

Caught between the deadly revenge of fellow Algerians and the sudden abandonment of the French authorities, the harkis who managed to settle in France have long been the object of contempt from all sides.

Algeria to date presents them as criminal collaborators, while in France they are viewed as traitors to the aspirations of their own people.

The French has been indifferent to the Harkis. However, the community itself has fought an uphill battle to restore their honour.

In 2005, this was partially achieved when a law was passed on 23 February, 2005, by the French Parliament. The law expressed France's gratitude towards the harkis and established a monetary compensation for the sons and daughters of former French allies in Algeria in the form of an allocation de reconnaissance (gratitude grant) of €2,800 per year or a lump sum of €30,000.

The law also guarantees protection against insults and defamation and other efforts of denying the tragedy of the harkis, although the law stops short of admitting the responsibility of the French state in this tragedy.

There are signs that French society, in general, has come to accept France's role in the Harki tragedy. The French army has also stepped forward. At the Army Museum in Paris there is an exhibit on the military's 130 year presence in Algeria. In it, the army recognises its widespread use of torture during the Algerian war; there is even a section, albeit small, on the Harkis themselves.

Will Afghans become the new Harkis?

There is a fear that those who sided with the US in the ‘long war’ could see a fate similar to the Harkis in France.

Will the Taliban forgive those who lent their support to the Americans? Will those who have fled Afghanistan to seek a better life in the US, actually get to see a ‘brand new day’?

As per a report released by the Association of Wartime Allies, a group advocating for Special Immigrant Visa for those in Afghanistan and Iraq, an estimated 5,000 have been evacuated from Afghanistan.

As of now, these Afghans have been sent to US military bases in Virginia, Texas, Wisconsin and New Jersey for processing, following which they will be connected with a US refugee resettlement organisation.

However, as what the future holds for them, it's anyone's guess for now.

Wih inputs from agencies

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