Afghanistan: One Year After the Fall, Life Has Changed for the Worse
‘The world cannot support a government which excludes the majority of its citizens by way of language and ethnicity along with not respecting women’s basic rights,’ expert says
[Islamabad] In August 2021, no one thought the Taliban would seize control of Kabul so quickly after the hasty withdrawal of the US-led international forces. But President Ashraf Ghani’s Western-backed regime collapsed seemingly overnight, ending 20 years of the so-called war on terror in Afghanistan.
The Taliban finally returned to power after the US-led forces overthrew their regime in a 2001 military invasion.
Ghani along with his close aide and national security adviser Hamdullah Mohib fled the country just ahead of the fall of the capital on August 15, 2021.
Thousands of panic-stricken Afghans, desperate to leave the country, gathered inside and outside the Kabul airport. Some died trying to board a cargo plane as it taxied down the runway.
Two days after the fall of Kabul, the Taliban‘s chief spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid held a press conference and for the first time appeared before the international media.
Mujahid assured the world that the “Taliban would seek no revenge, and everyone is forgiven.
“Women’s rights will be respected; they will be allowed to work and study and will be very active in society but within the framework of Islam,” he promised.
That was a key part of the 2020 Doha peace accord Taliban officials struck with the Trump Administration, a deal that ultimately led to the US withdrawal from Afghanistan.
A year later, the country of some 40 million people is facing serious challenges.
The Taliban government has not been recognized by any foreign country. The withdrawal of international aid has led to widespread unemployment and poverty in a country that was already among the world’s poorest.
The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) released a report last month outlining a host of human rights problems since the Taliban takeover, including with regard to the protection of civilians, extrajudicial killings, torture and ill-treatment, arbitrary arrests and detentions, the rights of women and girls, fundamental freedoms, and the situation in places of detention.
The report also contains recommendations for both the de facto authorities and the international community.
And “despite an overall, significant reduction in armed violence, between mid-August 2021 and mid-June 2022, UNAMA recorded 2,106 civilian casualties (700 killed, 1,406 wounded),” the report states.
The majority of civilian casualties were attributed to targeted attacks by the armed group self-identified as “Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant – Khorasan Province against ethnic and religious minority communities in places where they go to school, worship, and go about their daily lives,” it added.
Umar Karim is a leading Afghan expert and a visiting fellow at the Royal United Services Institute for Defense and Security Studies in London.
“The Taliban have by and large maintained their hold on all of Afghanistan and have not faced any serious challenge to their rule by any Afghan group,” he told The Media Line. “The rumors about divisions within the Taliban have been authenticated, but they have not resulted in any form of political fragmentation within the movement. This means that the Taliban don’t face any critical military or political challenge to their rule, at least for now.
“On the other hand, the Taliban certainly have been unable to get political recognition from states of the neighborhood and other important regional actors, and virtually live in political isolation,” Karim said.
“The economic situation has only grown worse, which further puts pressure on the government and its capacity to deliver basic civic amenities to the population,” he continued. “The political and economic isolation will perhaps continue unless the Taliban don’t give major concessions with regard to power sharing and human rights.
“Regional countries are cautiously engaging with them, but have also shown no inclination till now to accept the Taliban government in Kabul. For a stable Afghanistan, perhaps both the Taliban and international powers need to engage and reach a compromise,” Karim said.
Prof. Momina Fatima, former deputy head of the Department of Islamic Studies at Kabul University, told The Media Line, “During the era of [Presidents] Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani [from 2002 to 2021], bribery and a commissions mafia kept their claws in every government sector.”
She cited Transparency International’s 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index, which ranked Afghanistan in 174th place out of 180 countries.
“Despite the worst corruption, some good work was done in the education sector, the main reason for which was probably the existence of Western organizations in this sector. But at the same time, Western civilization was also promoted in some areas, which is completely against the culture of Afghanistan,” Fatima added.
“Most probably such thinking still exists in the minds of the Taliban. Therefore they have a particularly strict attitude toward women’s education and employment. It will probably take more time to change this perspective,” she continued.
However, “the ban imposed by the Taliban on forced marriages across the country is highly commendable,” Fatima said.
The Afghan women who are now refugees in Europe say that under the current Taliban regime, females are the most oppressed section of society.
Nilofar Ayoubi is an Afghan women’s rights activist, author, and entrepreneur currently residing in Warsaw. She was evacuated by a Polish military aircraft in August 2021.
“The Taliban have not fulfilled some of their assurances, particularly to protect women’s rights. Girls above grade 6 are not allowed to go to school and women are not permitted to work in most sectors,” Ayoubi told The Media Line.
“Afghan people are suffering from poverty, lack of food and other lifesaving essentials. Meanwhile, there is a rise in early-age forced marriages as well,” she said.
“Reports are confirmed from the remote areas that due to extreme unemployment and poverty, people have been forced to sell their organs to provide food for their families,” Ayoubi added.
“Hundreds of thousands of people fled to the neighboring countries where they have continued to suffer,” she said, adding that there is a continuing brain drain.
“Educated and experienced women have been eliminated from government offices and the private sector, and most of them were their families’ sole breadwinners,” Ayoubi said
Kamal Alam, a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center, told The Media Line, “The Taliban has proved its incompetence at governing. They won a country by way of its territory, but lost the chance to gain legitimacy through their ethno-nationalist fascism and ignorance.
“The world cannot support a government which excludes the majority of Afghans by way of language and ethnicity along with not even respecting women’s basic rights as practiced globally and in its fellow Muslim countries,” he added.
“The Afghan people must be supported, so aid and global agencies must work with Kabul. So in that sense, there should be no holding back. Irrespective of the blackmail, the Afghan population should not suffer,” he said.
“Sanctions and isolation will lead to more instability. So the Afghans must be supported. However, the Taliban should not be recognized until women, and all other linguistic groups [besides the Pashto speakers] which collectively make up the majority of the country are accorded rights and freedoms,” Alam said.
Andy Vermaut, a Brussels-based counter-extremism expert and the president of the World Council for Public Diplomacy and Community Dialogue, told The Media Line, “The Taliban regime has completely eliminated women’s rights.
“Seventy percent of Afghans are unable to satisfy their basic necessities. More than 20 million people, including more than three million children, are now in danger of malnutrition, which is being exacerbated in part by increasing food costs,” Vermaut added.
“The Afghan people are more conscious than ever that they are doomed without Western help and truly open elections,” he said.
“You can’t expect international credibility if the major source of power is terrorizing its own people. A government that fails to provide for its people’s fundamental requirements receives a ‘zero out of 10’ in my opinion, a year after it was established,” Vermaut said.