Afghanistan after a year of Taliban’s return
Aug 16, 2022 - 07:24 AM
KABUL, Afghanistan (AA) – As the Taliban celebrate their first year of second rule in Afghanistan, the war-torn country — where security has improved relatively — is still embroiled in economic and humanitarian crises.
Another issue for which the Taliban got global flak is the status of women and girls’ education.
The Taliban returned to power in Afghanistan last year on Aug. 15 as the officials of the US-backed Kabul administration fled the country and foreign forces withdrew.
The first Taliban administration in Kabul was overthrown with the US military intervention in 2001 on the grounds that it harbored the perpetrator of the Sept. 11 attacks – al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. One year in office, the Taliban are yet to gain international recognition.
The interim Taliban government, which identifies itself as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, is facing a test of safeguarding human rights besides providing health, education, economy and agriculture services.
Since the Taliban took over the government, the ethnic, regional and sectarian divisions and political instability disappeared spontaneously. However, the visibility of the Pashtuns in the power corridors increased rapidly.
Killing of al-Qaeda leader
The killing of al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri by the US in Kabul last month was met with astonishment in the world and in Afghanistan. The fact that al-Zawahiri was staying in a house in the center of Kabul was hardly predictable.
The Doha Agreement, signed between the Taliban and the US in 2020, also stipulated that the Taliban would not allow individuals or groups that would threaten the US and its allies to take shelter in Afghanistan.
The Taliban condemned the attack and announced that they were unaware of al-Zawahiri’s presence in Afghanistan and that Biden’s “allegation” was being investigated. The Taliban and the US accused each other of violating the Doha Agreement.
While al-Zawahiri’s presence in Kabul overshadowed the Taliban’s promise not to allow any group to use Afghan lands against third countries, the Pakistani administration was also disappointed.
Pakistan, known as the most important supporter of the Afghan Taliban, took a stand against Kabul on the grounds that the Taliban administrators did not restrict the activities of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a conglomerate of militant groups operating in Pakistan.
From time to time, there were small-scale clashes between the Taliban elements and Pakistani soldiers on the border.
Recognition of Taliban administration
From the very first day, the Taliban officials stated that they would not allow the territory of Afghanistan to pose a threat to any country and that they want to develop good diplomatic relations with all countries.
They also declared a general amnesty for all employees of the previous administration and stated that employees can continue their duties.
Almost all governments, especially Western countries, required the establishment of an inclusive government representing all segments of Afghanistan and respect for human rights in order to officially recognize the Taliban rule or to develop good relations.
Defending the interim government, the Taliban made diplomatic contacts with many countries such as Norway, Switzerland, Türkiye, China, Qatar, Russia, Pakistan and Uzbekistan, to which they sent delegations and demanded the official recognition of their administration.
However, no country has yet recognized the interim administration led by the Taliban.
Many countries left Afghanistan and closed their embassies.
The Taliban also designated its spokesperson Suhail Shaheen as its ambassador to the UN but has not been accepted yet.
With western countries withdrawing, it was expected that China would have a strong influence in Afghanistan, especially through its investments in infrastructure and mining fields.
However, China is yet to make strong economic investments in Afghanistan, as expected. The Taliban officials, on the other hand, made statements lamenting the situation from time to time.
Women’s rights, girls’ education
The Taliban have faced strong criticism from many international institutions and countries for imposing restrictions on women.
Thousands of women were laid off or forced out of their jobs in government agencies and in the private sector. Very few women are able to work only in areas of necessity, such as hospitals, schools, police departments and airports in the country.
Also, girls are not allowed to attend public schools at the secondary and high school levels in most of the country.
Although the Taliban spokesperson previously announced that schools will open for girls as of March 21, 2022, the decision has been delayed until now. Afghan girls, who are currently able to attend primary schools and universities, are prohibited from attending secondary and high schools.
Classes were separated by gender in universities, and women were not allowed to go on long journeys without a relative.
The Ministry of Women’s Affairs was replaced by the Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice.
Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), which operated during the previous administration and investigated human rights violations in the country, was dissolved.
In May, the Taliban also made it compulsory for Afghan women to cover their bodies. The resolution stipulated that women should wear veils in order to protect their “honor and dignity.”
In addition, a directive was sent to television channels where all female announcers were asked to present news while wearing veils.
On the other hand, freedom of expression and press were limited by imposing restrictions on media. Hundreds of media outlets had to shut down, while thousands of media workers were unemployed.
Freeze on reserves causes economic crisis, hunger
Western states wanted the Taliban to become a partner in power through negotiations with the previous Afghan administration through peaceful means. It did not happen and the US-backed regime officials subsequently fled.
More than two-thirds of the pre-Taliban Afghan administration’s budget was funded from outside and this all stopped last year. Most of the international institutions and organizations left the country.
The World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the US Federal Reserve also cut off Afghanistan’s access to international funds. Washington also froze about $9 billion of Afghan foreign reserves.
These curbs dragged the country’s economy into a deeper crisis. The banking system almost collapsed. Thousands of businesses had to close. Unemployment, poverty and hunger have reached alarming levels.
According to the UN, more than half of the country’s population is in need of aid. Similarly, while many diseases such as malnutrition, measles and polio are on the rise, health institutions are struggling with basic requirements.
In parallel with all these, the UN and its affiliates drew attention to the deepening humanitarian crisis in the country and demanded action to help Afghanistan. Although the restrictions on Afghanistan were eased to some extent, the humanitarian crisis in the country lingers on.
The wave of immigration to Iran and Türkiye increased due to the fear of a conflict and change of administration during the period when the Taliban returned to power.
Among them were members of the country’s elite, such as former administration soldiers, journalists, human rights and civil society activists.
The Taliban slowed the migration by promising the public and former officials that their property and life will be protected. However, immigration out of Afghanistan continues.
Though law and order improved after the return of the Taliban, Daesh/ISIS’ actions targeting civilians, especially Afghan Shiites, did not stop.
In the last year, more than 100 bombings and armed attacks were carried out across the country. Mostly claimed by Daesh/ISIS, these attacks killed hundreds of people.
Many people lost their lives in attacks during Friday prayers in Shiite mosques in Kandahar, Kabul, Kunduz, Mazar-i Sharif, and various provinces.
Resistance in Panjshir
The National Resistance Front of Afghanistan, led by Ahmad Masud and supported by ex-military members and mostly Tajiks, started to resist the Taliban in cities such as Panjshir and Parvan, where the majority of the population is ethnic Tajik.
When the negotiations between the parties were inconclusive, the conflicts intensified from time to time. While the Resistance Front claimed to inflict heavy losses on the Taliban in their attacks, the Taliban argued there was no security gap in these regions. However, journalists are still not allowed to visit the area.
Fight against drugs
With a decision taken in April, the Taliban announced that the use of intoxicating substances such as alcohol, heroin, drug pills, cannabis, and the cultivation of the plants from which they are obtained, the trade and factories producing all kinds of drugs are banned throughout the country, and anyone who violates this decision will be prosecuted and punished.
However, the orders are still not implemented.
The Taliban administrators emphasize that alternative income opportunities should be offered to farmers in order to completely prevent the cultivation of poppy and hemp. They sought the support of the international community in their fight against drugs.
Farmers say that many people plant poppy and cannabis due to the lack of legal job opportunities, drought, and problems with food supply.
The Taliban forces occasionally engaged in minor clashes on borders with neighboring Pakistan and Iran due to border crossings by migrants.
The Durand Line, which separates Afghanistan from Pakistan and was not recognized by the previous Afghan administration, is currently not recognized by the Taliban administration either.
Although Pakistan accelerated efforts to build fences on the border and expected the de facto border to be recognized by the Taliban, it did not find what it hoped for.
In addition, China, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan also warned the Taliban many times, claiming that there were armed structures in the north of Afghanistan, which they saw as a threat to them, in points close to their borders, and they held military exercises on the Afghanistan border from time to time.
Türkiye’s charity trains
As the post-Taliban world left Afghanistan in the lurch, Türkiye made a great contribution to alleviating the humanitarian crisis.
Five “Goodness Train” with more than 6,000 tons of humanitarian aid from Türkiye reached Afghanistan and helped hundreds of thousands of people in need.
Various kinds of food items, tents, blankets, wheelchairs, sewing machines, and stationery items were delivered to the needy in 34 provinces of the country.
On the first anniversary of their return to power, the Taliban said they had established a central government, and Afghanistan had regained full sovereignty.
“It has brought political stability and ended insecurity, corruption, and displacement,” said Abdul Qahar Balkhi, spokesperson for Afghanistan’s Foreign Ministry.
He said 500,000 employees of the previous administration were granted amnesty and reintegrated into the workforce.
Afghanistan now has a “fully independent budget,” he said, adding Afghan exports have doubled while 100 new investment companies have been registered in the past year.
The Taliban administration created 330,000 new jobs in the civil sector besides “hundreds of thousands of jobs in mining, construction, and other private sectors.”
There is “increased access to education and healthcare,” said Balkhi.
The spokesperson claimed there are 1,000 foreign reporters and 250 local media houses in the country.
He also mentioned mega projects planned or started by the administration, adding that commercial flights have also resumed to and from Afghanistan.
*Riyaz ul Khaliq contributed to the story from Istanbul