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  • Joe Clark

Afghanistan’s Human Rights Catastrophe Continues

Image courtesy of Getty Images

A year and a half of Taliban rule has plunged the country into arguably its darkest period with a deterioration of human rights. Although no longer on the front pages of Western news, 40 million Afghans are subjugated under Taliban rule with little cause for optimism.

Since the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, the situation has developed into a catastrophe. Once touted as a successful state-building project by the west during their occupation, Afghanistan is now the least democratic country with a massive humanitarian crisis. Roughly 90% of the population does not have enough to eat and some now sell their own organs to buy food. Meanwhile, international aid has been widely misappropriated by the Taliban, exploiting the lack of accountability in a cash-based economy. The presence of terrorist groups is also a concern. A UN report last year stated that “terrorist groups enjoy greater freedom in Afghanistan than at any time in recent history.”

The Taliban government has been more concerned with pushing their own extremist agenda than building a functioning state, according to US intelligence. They spend a significant portion of their money on weapons, buying loyalty from its commanders and paying the families of suicide bombers. They betrayed commitments they initially made to the international community for an “inclusive government,” which supposedly would have included women and ethnic minorities, but instead is composed of Taliban leaders as well as promises to the US in the 2020 Doha Deal in which they claimed they would prevent Afghanistan from becoming a haven for terrorists. Instead, the US killed the leader of Al-Qaeda in central Kabul in August 2022. Later, journalists discovered that the Taliban supported his hiding.

The most criticized policy of the new regime is the isolation of women from the public sphere. Experts described the Taliban policy towards women as “Gender Apartheid”. The Taliban previously banned women from attending secondary schools, going to public parks, traveling long distances without a male guardian, and, in addition, they have mandated a full-body veil when outside of the home. On December 20, 2022, the Taliban banned all women from universities. Before, women could still attend university, albeit with strict gender segregation. This generated a fresh wave of criticism from the international community and caused protests among Afghan women. These protests had more cross cutting participation than previous ones. This time, women were joined by male students and faculty, many going on strike or resigning in protest of the ban. The Taliban responded with beatings, kidnappings, water cannons and even live ammunition against unarmed demonstrators.

The right to divorce has also been abolished. Upon coming to power, the Taliban annulled all second marriages and divorces, declaring them adulterous. This means thousands of couples have been forcibly separated and thousands of women have been forced back with abusive husbands they once divorced to escape. Since women are banned from serving in any judicial positions, there is nobody in the government to fight for them.

A few days after their university ban, the Taliban announced that foreign organizations providing humanitarian aid were no longer allowed to employ women. Cultural barriers have made it harder to reach women without female employees. out of the hundreds of aid organizations assisting the Afghan people, 86% were forced to significantly scale back their relief efforts with 38% being forced to stop entirely. Although in the following months, some of these aid organizations have been able to resume operations albeit at a limited capacity.

This new decree has forced many organizations to choose between upholding their principles of gender equality and continuing to serve Afghans in need. For example, the World Food Program announced they would continue their mission, even if it meant complying with the Taliban’s decree or partnering with them for distribution. The WFP, primarily funded by the US, has had to comply with Taliban laws by Biden’s approval. Khali Haqqani, the Taliban Minister for Refugees and Repatriation, remained steadfast even if it meant less aid, claiming that “a kilo or two of aid won’t solve our problems.” From a strategic standpoint, this is unlikely to improve the situation as humanitarian organizations have been providing almost all social services in the country, leaving the Taliban free to spend their money on suppressing dissent.

Last year, the Taliban announced a return to their harsh punishments. Last time they were in power in the 1990s, these included public beatings, lashings, amputations, stonings and executions in a soccer stadium in Kabul. So many punishments occurred that the entire field needed to be replaced following the fall of the Taliban as it was too soaked with blood.

While no reports currently indicate the Kabul soccer stadium is being used, soccer stadiums in other parts of the country are once again being used for public punishments, sometimes against people accused of very small crimes such as women running away from home.

Despite the countless crimes against humanity of Taliban regime, the world’s governments seem to care little about Afghanistan’s suffering. In March, Iran became the latest country to grant the Taliban an embassy in their country, following Russia, China and a few others. This move not only serves as a de facto recognition of the Taliban, but endangers the thousands of Afghan refugees in the country who can now be surveilled and harassed by the Taliban. India, once a firm opponent of the Taliban, has recently trained Taliban government workers. Pakistan remains the Taliban’s primary international ally despite the Taliban waging an escalating insurgency against their government. The US and UN still transfer roughly 40 million dollars a week to the Taliban-controlled Afghan bank for humanitarian purposes despite substantial evidence that the Taliban is the only one benefiting. The US, UK and EU have also appeased the Taliban by issuing statements that they would not support Afghans fighting for their freedom.

Even though the world has seemingly turned its back on Afghans, they continue to fight. Women have continued to hold protests against the restrictions and have not stopped even in the face of brutal punishments. Armed resistance continues in the north of the country and is expected to intensify in the spring and summer. The National Resistance Council, a group made up of anti-Taliban leaders and officials, released their official platform for opposing the Taliban and are seeking to open representative offices in world capitals. Finally, in Tajikistan, the National Resistance Front, the largest anti-Taliban organization and closely related to the council, announced the creation of a women’s council to provide women with a platform to oppose the Taliban and address women’s rights issues in the country. The council announcement included speakers from female members of the former Afghan parliament, Jacinda Arden, the former prime minister of New Zealand and Helen Clark, another former prime minister of New Zealand and former administrator of the UN Development Programme.

Despite having long disappeared from Western headlines, Afghanistan is still silently suffering. Amidst the world’s governments mostly giving up on the country or collaborating with the Taliban, the people of Afghanistan refuse to give up their freedoms without a fight. It is the world’s duty to recognize the human rights abuses that continue to occur and to stand by the Afghan people in their fight.

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