Lara Kajs | 30 August 2022 |
A year ago today, our team watched as the last airlift departed from Kabul, and the US and its allies left Afghanistan. As the aircraft disappeared in the dark sky, the realization that things would never be the same sunk in, and we were filled with apprehension for what was to come now that Afghanistan was under Taliban rule once again.
The Taliban enforces a harsh brand of justice. Taliban law is drawn from the Pashtun’s pre-Islamic tribal code and versions of sharia law, stained by the strict Wahhabi doctrines of the Saudi madrasas. One of the first moves by the Taliban was to begin chipping away at the political and civil rights granted in the constitution that was created by the US-backed Afghan government. Promises were made in the 2020 US-Taliban agreement such as amnesty for people who supported US efforts, to maintain the advancements in rights for women, girls, youth, and minority communities, among others Those promises quickly disappeared and were replaced with tyrannical policies that are reflective of its brutal rule in the late 1990s.
Women’s rights have been abolished. The group sees women as second-class humans and is committed to erasing women from public discourse. It is as if women are not permitted to think. Does the Taliban realize that without women, there are no more people? Or is reproduction the only reason the Taliban tolerates women? When leadership was asked about women’s rights or girls’ education, the questions were met with laughter and a look that implied, “women have no rights.”
Any channel or outlet women had to ensure the protection of their rights has disappeared under Taliban rule. In the days following the takeover, the Taliban abolished the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and replaced it with the oppressive Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice – which enforces prohibitions on behavior considered un-Islamic. Women can no longer drive, nor can they work, or appear in public without a male chaperone. Women are required to cover their bodies from head to toe with the chadri burqa.
Men, women, and youth have been arrested for violating discriminatory policies. Men have been arrested for having too short beards. Women are at an increased risk for domesticate violence. Girls are prohibited from attending school and forced child marriages have also increased.
Sixty percent of the Afghan population are under the age of twenty-five. This new generation was to be the light of Afghanistan – educated, reform-minded men and women. But fear of the Taliban forced thousands to flee during the evacuations. The ones who remained, struggle to survive, and the rest keep a low profile to avoid the wrath of the Taliban and the Ministry for Virtue and Vice.
Human Rights Violations
The Taliban promised a pardon for anyone who worked for the US military and Afghan government. Then reports began filtering of mass executions, beheadings, and disappearances, which turned into a race against the clock to evacuate as many of them as possible before troops evacuated. However, some forty thousand were left behind. Those people are now in hiding from the Taliban.
The UN Mission in Afghanistan has documented a multitude of human rights violations. The Taliban is under investigation by the International Criminal Court for alleged abuses of Afghan civilians, including crimes against humanity, committed in 2003 and ongoing.
The Taliban have intimidated journalists, restricted press freedom, and forced news organizations to close down. Foreign Policy journalist Lynne O’Donnell said that the Taliban told her to retract her statements, or she would face prison. Protesters and activists have been arbitrarily arrested, tortured, extrajudicially executed, or disappeared.
Economically, under Taliban rule, the country has witnessed a sharp decline. More than ninety percent of the country has suffered from some form of food insecurity and depends on humanitarian aid for survival. The Afghan government has been dependent on assistance from dozens of countries for many years. At least seventy-five percent of government funding for public services was covered by grants from international partners, according to the 2019 World Bank report.
The Taliban has struggled to provide Afghans with basic necessities including food, economic opportunities, and security. Since the takeover, there has been a pause in aid by countries and international organizations, which had been the support the people depended on for survival. Aid was suspended, and there were immediate concerns over economic instability. While humanitarian aid has partially been resumed, due to $2 billion in donations, the UN adds that for aid to continue, it will take another $2 billion.
Foreign trade has been significantly reduced in the year since the takeover. According to the UN monitoring team, much of the revenue is generated from customs collection. The fiscal budget for 2022 is $2.6 billion, whereas in the previous government the budget was $6 billion.
Before the takeover, the Taliban earned revenue through criminal activity including opium poppy farming, drug trafficking, extortion, and kidnapping for ransom. In 2021, Afghanistan was the source of eighty-six percent of the world’s illicit opium production. In 2022, the Taliban banned poppy farming.
Shelter for Terrorists
There is deep concern that Afghanistan will become a refuge for terrorists, although the Taliban has said it will not allow Afghanistan to be used against the security of another country. The 2020 US-Taliban agreement stipulated that the US and NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan was contingent upon the Taliban upholding its commitments including cutting ties with terrorist groups.
The UN team that monitors the Taliban said that the group remains close to al-Qaeda and that al-Qaeda has security under the Taliban and increased “freedom of action”. The UN report indicated that al-Qaeda is likely using Afghanistan to recruit, train, and solicit funds. And while US assessments dispute the notion that al-Qaeda has reorganized in Afghanistan; experts posit that the intelligence coming out of the region suggests differently.
However, confirmation that the Taliban is harboring al-Qaeda came in August 2022, when a US drone strike killed al-Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri in Kabul. Zawahiri had taken refuge in the home of a Taliban aide. It is believed that other al-Qaeda leaders are also taking refuge in Afghanistan.
The US invaded Afghanistan after it refused to hand over Osama bin Laden. Two facts are clear: the US is determined in its efforts to keep al-Qaeda from being a threat to it or its allies and the Taliban has no intentions of changing its direction.
Back at the Beginning
And this is where we are… back at that beginning. In 1999, the UN Security Council imposed the first sanctions on the Taliban for harboring al-Qaeda. The Security Council then expanded sanctions after September 11th. Sanctions targeted the financial assets of Taliban leaders and banned most of them from travel. The Security Council also imposed an arms embargo on the Taliban. The US and the EU maintain to this day, additional sanctions which have deterred aid deliveries since the Taliban’s takeover. Additionally, the US has blocked the Taliban from accessing billions of dollars in assets.
Diplomatic dialogue has been discontinued with Afghanistan, as many countries – primarily Western – have refused to recognize and establish diplomatic ties with the Taliban, which now calls the country the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. The UN General Assembly has indefinitely postponed a vote on who can represent Afghanistan at the United Nations.
Today, the Taliban is led by thirty-three men, former Taliban officials in a “cabinet” of sorts. Several of the cabinet members are considered terrorists and sanctioned by the UN. Afghanistan is governed by Mohammad Hassan Akhund – acting prime minister, and Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who played a prominent role in the 2020 negotiations with the US and is Akund’s deputy.
Sirajuddin Haqqani is acting interior minister. Haqqani is also the head of the Haqqani Network, a militant group in southeast Afghanistan and northwest Pakistan that has close ties with the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and Pakistan intelligence. Other cabinet members include Mullah Muhammad Yaqoub as acting defense minister; Mawlaw Amir Khan Muttaqi as foreign minister, and Zabi Mullah Muyahid as the government’s spokesperson.
Ironically, the greatest threat to the Taliban is another terrorist group: The Islamic State in Khorasan, or ISIS-K. ISIS-K was responsible for the attacks at the Kabul airport Abbey Gate and the Baron Hotel on 26 August 2021, four days before the evacuation was complete. Our team was on a plane set to leave for Doha when the explosion occurred. We were removed and taken back to the hangar. Our first thoughts were that the Taliban had decided not to wait four more days and were attempting to take the airport. We learned within a few minutes that was not the case and were deeply saddened to find out that thirteen US service members and sixty Afghan civilians were killed, and hundreds were injured.
Before regaining power, support for the Taliban from Afghans stemmed from grievances against public institutions. However, in the aftermath of the takeover, as women’s rights, freedom of speech, and the constitution have fallen to the side, or outright been suspended – that opinion has shifted dramatically.
Despite the Taliban’s insistence that it had moderated its position, a year of its rule has proven otherwise. Twenty years of advancements have evaporated like it never even happened. The corrupting power hoarded by the Taliban subjugates the people and if the people are oppressed, then they cannot rise and challenge its authority. After twenty years of occupation, the world left the Afghan people to fend for themselves against a group that many governments have labeled, a terrorist organization. The first year of Taliban rule is not unlike what life was like in the 1990s, and we all know how that turned out.
Photo Credit: Afghanistan: UNICEF Girl’s Education – UN Photo: Eskinder Debebe