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Afghanistan: The Year of Illusions

An Afghan girl in the Nawabad District of Kabul, Afghanistan. Credit: UNICEF/Mohammad Haya Burhan
A year of Taliban rule in Afghanistan has led to a deterioration in the lives of women and girls, affecting all aspects of their human rights, according to a report from three UN agencies. August 2022

GENEVA, Sep 7 2022 (IPS) - Afghanistan is where history has taken it! The Trump-Taliban “Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan,” signed on 29 February 2020, is deemed by many as the submission of a superpower to a group that had perpetrated acts of extreme ferocity and terror.

The withdrawal of Western countries in August 2021 was the logical ramification of that “peace deal” and the dilapidation of the aspirations of Afghans who believed in democracy, respect for human rights, good governance, the rule of law, and many other attributes that had taken rightfully free societies to fame and gain.

The return of the Taliban to power reserves an unpredictable future for the Central and South Asia region and puts the entire world on alert. Western assertions during the past year that the religious clerics “had changed” or their regime “would improve with time” tallied the same dictions twenty years ago about the corrupt Karzai government.

Never fact-based, such postulations were not clear-sighted and cogent from various perspectives.

However, the Taliban articulate what the Western capitals desire to heed. In addition, falsity and negation of truth have become the daily practice of their leadership. A quick review of the situation since 15 August 2021 reveals drastic reversals in the country.

A – Human Rights and Humanitarian Situations

Human rights, particularly those of women and girls, are the prime prey of the Taliban. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs and the Independent Human Rights Commission were instantly banned. Instead, the Ministry of Virtues is established to implement archaic dogmas that they attribute to Islamic Sharia.

While children are permitted to attend school, the prospects of secondary and higher education and job opportunity remain unattainable to the female population. In addition to the imposition of total body cover, women are restricted from traveling, visiting a doctor, or reaching a health clinic without a recognized male chaperone, who must be the father, brother, or husband.

In retaliation to the nascent resistance that grows in strength in Central and Northern provinces, reports of young women and girls sexually assaulted and raped by the Taliban militants surface daily. In addition, collective punishment, torture, assassination, and expulsion/forced displacement of civilians, replaced by Taliban sympathizers brought from elsewhere, have increased.

Civil society activists are forbidden, and their demonstrations are viciously suppressed. Many human dignity advocates left the country. Others are arrested, tortured, and in some cases, assassinated.

Despite the Taliban’s impressive repression machinery, dauntless women still express their demands for access to freedom, higher education, and job, either in closed premises or in public, at the cost of their lives. One woman recently mentioned that “their struggle is against submission, dishonor, or suicide!”

Freedom of expression and independent media also befell targets of the new regime. Journalists and bloggers are not free anymore as they have to obey strict guidelines imposed by the Taliban. Reporters, scholars, and artists who freely expressed their opinion exercise no more such privilege. Some were arrested, and others were tortured and even killed. Culture has not been spared.

The Ministry of Virtues prohibited listening to music or performing shows. They focus on the size of men’s beards, people’s sartorial, parting men and women, and preventing unaccompanied ladies from using public transportation.

Ethnic, religious, and linguistic discriminations are manifest. Decision makers around the country are Sunni Pashtuns. The Hazara are deliberately targeted, justifying calls for genocide against them.

At the same time, the Taliban “impose” Pashtu in Dari-speaking provinces. Subsequently, conversations with Tajik, Hazara, Uzbek, Turkmen, and others appear quasi impossible, leading to systematic and senseless harassment.

The Taliban rebuffed recognition of the Shia Jaffary doctrine. Following the Jewish, the remaining Afghan Hindu and Sikh populations had no alternative but to depart the country. The few Christians face unbearable hardship.

The humanitarian situation is devastating. Most educated people lost their jobs and were replaced by religious clerics. Citizens depend on the alms of those residing outside Afghanistan.

In addition to repeated droughts, the recent destructive floods around the country have further deteriorated the conditions of ordinary people. The Taliban misappropriating international humanitarian aid has been reported in multiple instances, and sites.

B – Security Situation

The Taliban are a divided organization. Their leadership does not seem to have authority over the foot soldiers. Despite their spiritual leader’s amnesty to former security officers, hundreds of them have been brutally assassinated.

Resistance fronts in Panjshir, Baghlan, Takhar, Kapisa, Parwan, Badakhshan, Sari Pol, and many other provinces have gained strength. The Taliban suffer hefty losses in these mountainous areas.

Subsequently, they target civilians, including women and children, accusing them of helping the resistance and apply the “Discovery Doctrine.” Some already speak of war crimes.

In addition, over 100 incidents of explosive weapons have been recorded in the country. Recruitment by the Taliban of youngsters in the south to fight in the north will inevitably deepen the divide in Afghanistan. Reports of one million internally displaced and many more fleeing the country seem credible.

Fatal border clashes have occurred with neighboring Iran, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Despite the Taliban’s denial, the presence of notorious regional and international terrorist organizations in Afghanistan cannot be refuted, transforming this country into a haven for evildoers.

The killing of Ayman Al-Zawahiri in Kabul supports the above assertion. Some foreign militants fight alongside the Taliban; others pursue their specific objectives. Confrontation with numerous resistance fronts would likely intensify in the near future.

C – Political Situation

Similar to communists, the Taliban are inspired by deleterious ideologies. They derive their philosophy, policies, and actions from “self-defined” doctrines that are often contradictory even to the fundamentals of Islam. International norms for human dignity are ignored. The regime’s effort for international legitimacy has so far dramatically failed.

The willingness of the world community to provide humanitarian aid has been presented to the Afghan people as “de facto recognition” of their regime. The West bears a heavy responsibility for the current situation.

Their capitals deliberately trusted the Taliban rhetoric to justify their failure and hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan. However, the current contentious debate in the UN Security Council on the travel of the Taliban leaders may be a sign of change in the right direction.

There seems to be no place for democratic institutions in the Islamic Emirate. The “Supreme Leader,” assisted by a selected group of “religious scholars,” defines and decides everything. Under such circumstances, it would be challenging for the International Community to recognize the Taliban regime.

D- Economic Situation

Prior to the arrival of the Taliban, there was no viable economy in Afghanistan. Lack of proper vision and planning, rampant corruption, mismanagement, nepotism of the rulers, politicians, and senior managers, and many other misdeeds had gangrened public and private sectors. Since August 2021, the situation has worsened.

The Taliban appointed religious clerics to run each sector of the government (security, political, social, economic, financial, humanitarian, public relations, etc.) Those who could assist have either been sidelined or left the country. Afghanistan is in a terrible economic situation.

Despite numerous hydroelectric dams, Central Asian countries provide electricity to Afghans. Kazakhstan and India have provided significant quantities of wheat. And the International Community continues providing humanitarian assistance to delay or avert a looming calamity.


A new corrupt “Taliban elite” is being formed. They desperately lobby the Western countries for the sustention of their regime. Afghans have lost trust in bilateral or multilateral foreign security, humanitarian, and development actions.

World superpowers seem to compete to assert their supremacy in Central and South Asia. It can lead to another prolonged phase of instability! Though it is difficult to predict the corollaries of the current situation, the following would constitute the basis of sound assertions:

1 – Afghanistan is central to peace, stability, and security in Central and South Asia.

2 – The Taliban cannot govern Afghanistan alone. Their zealous effort to convince the Afghan people and the International Community that they are the right choice to govern the country failed. However, they would not share power. Therefore, insecurity will increase, and soon they will lose territory to the resistance. Lawlessness will intensify, and Afghanistan could face a “fractured country-like” situation. Human rights and humanitarian situations would severely worsen.

3 – Superpowers may destabilize each other’s interests through diverse internal and foreign groups rooted in Afghanistan. Neighboring countries would try to safeguard their interests using ethnic and/or religious affinities. The country could face the serious challenge of disintegration and the region the possibility of lengthy conflicts.

4 – To ensure that Afghanistan poses no threat, its entire political, social, and economic structures must alter with the sincere assistance of the International Community. The Afghan society has dramatically changed; previous government formulas and leaders proved futile.

For nearly three centuries, the centralized government has not served the population equitably. The so-called “peace agreements” and “all-inclusive governments” never proved efficient as they did not address the root causes of the repeated conflicts.

There is an urgent need to invest in a new generation of leaders from within the country and support them to identify the main grounds of dispute, disparity, injustice, and unhappiness. New good-governance formulas must be agreed upon. A unique Afghan-led peace process in which national, regional, and international dimensions of the puzzle are addressed must be sponsored and backed unequivocally. Any foreign interference would cause disruption and further deteriorate the situation.

The link to Afghanistan: What Went Wrong

Saber Azam is a former official of the United Nations and author of Soraya: The Other Princess, Hell’s Mouth: A Journey to the Heart of West African jungles, and numerous political and scientific articles [].

IPS UN Bureau


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