“We, Afghans would like to say to the world, that they have left us in isolation, to the wolves in our country. I do not understand the United States for undoing and now redoing the Taliban in Afghanistan whose ruling will affect women's lives the most, which will be ruined yet again. I feel immense fear for the Afghan artists, singers, business tycoons who would be suspending their activities as they had done previously during the Taliban reign back in the 1990s,” said Afghanistan’s prominent human rights activist Mahbooba Seraj, while speaking to TRT World recently.
As the Taliban took control of much of Afghanistan’s territory this month, with Kabul among the last cities to fall on August 15, they wreaked havoc. President Ashraf Ghani fled to the UAE after signing a surrender deal with the Mullah Ghani brothers.
Now that the Taliban have full control, Afghan citizens are left in fear and uncertainty as diplomats, and representatives of international organisations are fleeing Afghanistan.
The war-weary Afghans are reliving 1994, when the Taliban assaulted the government of then-sitting Afghan leader Dr. Najeeb, taking control of Kabul by force, and establishing an Islamic reign headed by Mullah Umar.
The abrupt withdrawal of the United States and failed troika negotiations in Doha have resulted in more violence on the ground, reminding Afghans of what they suffered 25 years ago: the loss of their entire social structure and health infrastructure, the dismissal of women's rights ,and a complete shutdown of the educational system.
As a result, many are leaving Afghanistan in fear of what is yet to come. One such person is Gull Muhammad.
For Gull, who fled Spin Boldak, a border town with Pakistan, on August 7, along with his entire family, there was little sense in staying once the Taliban's fighters arrived in town. He remembers too well how, during the Taliban's previous regime, women were turned into slaves, forced into marriages with Taliban soldiers and into adultery. In an interview with Global Voices, Gull explained:
I saw men with turbans on their heads, and rifles in hands, on their Honda motorbikes in the middle of the night chanting ‘Allah-u-Akbar’ and entering Spin Boldak. It was then that I decided to find a safer place for my family. I left for Pakistan, crossing the Chaman border gate. The residents of Spin Boldak knew they could not continue living safely in the area, fearing that the Taliban had come with the similar intentions that they had in the past.
Gull crossed into Pakistan with his wife and five children, and the wives of his brothers and their three children. There, he received help from a man named Bakhtiyar, the owner of a motorcycle-tyre showroom. Gull explained that the women brought with them jewelry and fabrics which the family intends to use to make ends meet in Pakistan. “Now I will be leaving for Balochistan’s capital Quetta and subsequently for Karachi where I am intending to stay at my daughter’s home, who lives with her husband there,” explained Gull as he took a rest with his family from the scorching heat, inside the showroom.
Bakhtiyar helped Gull by arranging a motor vehicle that took Gull’s family to Quetta. “The Pashtun family arrived here in despair, looking for safety. I provided the family with food and shelter,” Bakhtiyar told Global Voices.
Gull’s family is just one of many refugee families expected to be arriving in Pakistan and other neighboring countries if the dialogue between the Taliban, the administration and the Taliban leadership sitting in Doha fails to reach a peace deal for the country.
The plight of Afghan women
One of the groups most affected by the decades-long war is Afghan women, who are now faced with a harsh and new reality. They fear that the loss of their lifestyles and their access to education alongside a total violation of fundamental rights is what awaits them under the Taliban.
In February of last year, long before the current crisis unfolded, an all-women press conference was held in Kabul. Among the attending guests were parliament member Fawzia Koofi, the executive director of the Afghan Women’s Network, Mary Akrami, and Palwasha Hassan, from the Afghan Women’s Educational Centre.
During the press conference, the women demanded “an immediate, permanent and unconditional ceasefire,” and an end to civilian killings, targeted killings, the sexual slavery of women and the practice of forced marriages to the Taliban fighters.
The women also demanded gender equality in the peace negotiations, highlighting that, otherwise, there could be shocking reversals in freedoms for girls and women, especially if the Taliban run the country in the absence of any control.
Speaking at the press conference at the time, Palwasha Hassan, said, “[The Taliban] have learned nothing from the past, and are more brutal and defiant than before. They have ‘zero knowledge’ about running a country, what is an inclusive Afghanistan, or what is the value of women’s participation in nation-building. Already in some Taliban-controlled areas, girls are barred from schools after reaching puberty, which is in violation of the Afghan constitution. Reports are emerging of Taliban handing down edicts, that women should not work, receive education or leave their homes without mahram [a male relative related by blood, like brother, father or husband].”
Afghan woman civil leaders have long been fighting a complicated war. They bear the brunt of terrorist violence, and Afghan women and children have suffered the most throughout the conflict. According to a United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan report, they constitute 46 percent of all civilian casualties and remain extremely vulnerable in times ahead. According to the Afghanistan Security and Defence Department, at least 20 international militant groups are operating in Afghanistan, most of whom will attack many soft targets in order to make territorial gains.
In the last year, there has been a spate of targeted killings of women journalists, human rights defenders and women working for the supreme court. Parliament member and negotiator Fawzia Koofi was shot in the arm in 2020, but survived the assassination attempt and went back to the peace talks in Doha as one of the few female participants. Her example illustrates the courage with which Afghan women have struggled for their rights during this difficult phase.
And despite their bleak prospects they are defiant and refuse to remain silent.
The world must give credit to these voices who speak up on one of the most complicated situations in the world.
It is 2021, and it is past time we saw Afghan women explicitly in the driver's seat at the peace talks, not just as recompense for all that they’ve suffered in these years of war, but because they are resolute and courageous leaders in the face of an uncertain future.