Cablegate: Afghanistan: Demarche Delivered On Irfr

DE RUEHBUL #3440 3001251
P 271251Z OCT 09



E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (U) SUMMARY: Poloff delivered the Department of State's
International Religious Freedom Report (IRFR) to the
Afghanistan Ministry of Hajj and Islamic Affairs Director of
External Relations and Director of Publications Mr. Qazi
Habib Rahman Salehi. Salehi agreed in theory that religious
tolerance was an admirable goal for his country, but argued
that the mostly poorly-educated population could hardly be
expected to hold such a broad-minded view. He raised issues
of Shari'a law, corruption, and international influence in
his country. End Summary.

2. (U) Afghanistan Ministry of Hajj and Islamic Affairs
Director of External Relations and Director of Publications
Salehi met with Poloff October 27. In his role as Director of
Publications, Salehi publishes a monthly magazine entitled
"Payam-e-Haq," or "The Voice of Righteousness." When he
receives the Dari-translated version of the IRFR, he said he
will publish it in his magazine in order to broaden ideas and
inform readers about international perspectives. He believes
such documents provide useful leverage to promote new ideas
and prepare his country for participation in the community of

3. (SBU) Despite his opening remarks in which he emphasized
his own open-mindedness and high levels of education (he
speaks fluent Arabic, and was a professor in nine countries,
including Egypt, Indonesia, Libya, Malaysia, Malta, United
Arab Emirates, and Vietnam), Salehi voiced fairly
conservative views--views that are highly consistent with
Afghan standards--and that bespeak the difficulties the U.S.
will have in influencing Afghan views on religion.

4. (SBU) Salehi argued that there are two key problems to
expanding ideas of religious tolerance in Afghanistan. The
first is an underdeveloped culture: he said 80 percent of the
population is ill-educated, but the real problem is that
Pashtuns are ill-educated and monolingual. Special television
shows are needed to reach this population; no good shows
exist. The second problem is the environment created by
Afghanistan's neighbors. He said Iran uses radio to preach
routinely against Christianity, and Pakistan's ISI also
propagandizes, creating doubts in peoples' minds, taking
advantage of their ignorance. Anyway, he said complaints by
the Sikhs and Hindus are not true; that all groups are
permitted to practice whatever beliefs they wish. (NOTE: The
IRFR notes numerous complaints by these and other religious
minorities. END NOTE.)

5. (SBU) Salehi was especially passionate on the subject of
punishment: he said that more punitive measures are needed,
and that the U.S. should support Shari'a law, which is
well-suited to an aggressive culture like Afghanistan. He
said that people here don't respond to soft measures, but
respond well to methods such as cutting off the hand of a
thief: only 50 hands might need to be chopped off in order
for crime to drop. In his view, the current system, based on
our justice system, offers ineffective deterrents to crime.

6. (SBU) Salehi then raised the issue of Afghans who are
employed with international organizations: He believes most
are losing their cultural values by exposure to western
norms, have abandoned praying, and have taken up alcohol
consumption. The exception, he believes, are local employees
of the U.S. Embassy. He noted that the Embassy recently fired
eight employees suspected of corruption; this action improved
people's opinion of the U.S. government.

7. (SBU) Poloff asked his view of the Zalmai and Mushtaq
case. (NOTE: Ahmed Ghous Zalmai and Mullah Qari Mushtaq were
sentenced to 20 years in prison for publishing a Dari
translation of the Koran that allegedly contained errors and
lacked an accompanying Arabic translation for comparison. The
Supreme Court recently upheld the appeals court verdict. END
NOTE.) Salehi feels that these men are of such poor character
that it is a mistake to defend them, and cannot understand
how the U.S. could support anyone who insults Islam and
potentially brings harm to 40 million people. Further, he
said it is his private view that even asking about this case
constitutes interference with his government.

8. (U) Comment: Despite the negative tone of much of the
discussion, we parted on positive terms, and he welcomed
additional meetings with the Americans. Poloff plans to
follow-up with Salehi and will advise on reaction to the
report. End Comment.

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