Let the first Afghan trade unionist to be killed by the Taliban be the last


This week, a terrible first took place. Although a government investigation is still taking place, there seems to be enough evidence to confirm that for the first time, an active member of the Afghan trade union movement has been murdered by the Taliban.

On Monday, 24 February, 2014, Khudai Noor Khan was coming from a family visit when he was brutally killed. Passersby found his decapitated body in the city centre of Lashkargah, the provincial capital of Helmand province in southeast Afghanistan.

Helmand is known for having been “cleared” of Taliban fighters by international troops, but recently Lashkargah has been ravaged by new killings, attributed to the Taliban.

Noor Khan was a prominent activist for workers’ rights and democratisation.

His murder, it is believed, may well be the first politically-motivated murder of an Afghan trade unionist since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001.

Noor Khan joined Afghanistan’s biggest trade union, the National Union of Afghanistan’s Workers and Employees (NUAWE), in 1986. NUAWE is currently Afghanistan’s only active nation union centre.

Shortly after joining, he was elected as a representative for 2400 workers in Helmand and the District of Arghandab.

During the Taliban regime, when organisations such as the NUAWE were prohibited (their close association with the Moscow-backed Afghan government was deemed un-Islamic) Noor Khan was waiting out at home.

After 2001, he immediately threw himself behind the idea of worker representation, first taking up a position as civil servant with Afghanistan’s new Ministry of Telecommunications in Helmand, and then striving to revitalise the NUAWE by once again becoming a trade union activist.

Since 2001, the Afghan trade unions have been struggling with dilapidated organisations and – after almost three decades of conflict and violence - with the loss of their professional know-how.

In 2012, a group of determined reformers prescribed the biggest of them, the NUAWE, a serious modernisation and reform course.

Since their reawakening, trade unionists have had to struggle on multiple fronts.

The biggest challenge has been reclaiming the once-impressive NUAWE-owned real estate, which, over the years, had wandered off into private hands.

In 2012, Noor Khan was voted head of NUAWE’s Helmand chapter. In that capacity he is believed to have stirred up controversy amongst Helmand’s elites in his attempts to reclaim NUAWE property.

As a prominent member of the provincial government’s administrative council, Noor Khan was a well-known figure and a passionate democrat, committed to struggling for a better future of his country.

The savage way in which he was killed can’t but lead one to the conclusion that he has become the latest victim of the Taliban’s relentless brutality.

Similar killings of other pro-democracy figures have occurred in the recent weeks in the newly restive Helmand province, where Taliban are believed to make a comeback.

The Taliban is yet to make a public statement on Noor Khan’s murder, but it has warned people not to attend his funeral.

This Saturday, the NUAWE will be holding a public demonstration in Kabul to remember the life of Khudai Noor Khan and to protest against the violence faced by trade unionists.

NUAWE only joined International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) last October, marking the first time an Afghan trade union became a member of a global network of solidarity.

Please show your support for the Afghan struggle for peace and a free and just society.