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Sunday, November 26, 2023

World must understand the miseries of Afghan journalist, women and children

The knowledge and rights of Afghan women journalists and children must be protected as we look to ensure independent media survives this tough period. But immediate support is a distant prospect as the Taliban deliberate on governing the country and the global community mulls over how to engage and pressure the fledgling government. With internal rifts leading to jockeying for power and a severe shortage of technical capacity, the Taliban are less prepared to meet these problems.

After the three months of the Taliban takeover of Kabul, Afghanistan goes down as one of the worst humanitarian crises globally with a poor economy. As the harsh winter season begins, aid agencies have issued a warning that over half of the country’s people, nearly 22.8 million people, will face acute food insecurity, including 3.2 million children under five. Now the Taliban is in power, the Taliban’s failure to deliver essential services worsens this dire humanitarian condition. Female journalists who fled the country tell Al Jazeera they were left with no choice amid fears of Taliban persecution.

But immediate support is a distant prospect as the Taliban deliberate on governing the country and the global community mulls over how to engage and pressure the fledgling government. With internal rifts leading to jockeying for power and a severe shortage of technical capacity, the Taliban are less prepared to meet these problems. “There’s no solution,” Stephen Brooking said, a former adviser on the Afghan peace process for the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan at the US Institute of Peace. “How will the Taliban be using the income they do receive? Is there a budget that they can put together?” So far, “They haven’t changed on from being a militant movement to being in government,” Brooking said. Meanwhile, everyday Afghan people are living in increasingly inhumane, squalid conditions and confronting an uncertain future.

Read more: Afghan women to continue playing cricket – Major win!

What is the future of the Afghan people?

“Most people I know want to move from Afghanistan,” said Naheed Farid, a member of parliament from the province of Herat. “They want to flee because they don’t see a future for themselves and their family.” Amid this humanitarian and economic crisis, the West enforce several sanctions on the Taliban government. Washington has frozen the Taliban’s $10 billion of Afghanistan assets housed in the American Federal Reserve. World Bank has also cut its funding for Afghan public health services and the IMF has suspended loan servicing. Afghanistan’s weak economy has long been dependent on the foreign support that has dried up since the Taliban’s takeover.

At a UN donor meeting in September, donors pledged over $1 billion in aid. And in the last of October, the United States said it would provide $144 million additional aid, bringing total American assistance to Afghanistan and refugees to nearly $474 million this year. But more to be needed to tackle this crisis, as a massive gap in aid remains. “There’s a pretty big math problem here,” Scott Worden, USIP Director to Kabul, said. He noted that the US and Western countries provided $7 billion in assistance before the Taliban took control — and even with that, Afghanistan was dealing with major humanitarian problems. The Global community has only promised $2 billion in total, with sanctions on the Taliban limiting further help.

Even if the sanctions are lifted and aid is restored to previous levels, the Taliban cannot run the country’s economy or address the full-scale humanitarian crisis. The Taliban proclaimed the composition of its caretaker government in September, which included nearly of members of its senior leadership. Women are not part of it; no senior politician from Afghanistan are got the status of a minister in the Taliban cabinet. Brooking said, “I know one of the reasons they didn’t include other politicians in government as they were busy to sort out their internal differences.” Members of the Haqqani Network wing hold vital ministries such as the interior ministry.

LotfullahNajafizada, the director of the TV channel from Afghanistan, said, “The Haqqanis are the more powerful than the others.” The tension between Haqqanis and traditional Kandharis has yet to be resolved. Prime issues between both groups are women’s and girls’ rights and roles in society. “Taliban ground soldiers would question their leadership,” if they were agreed to give rights and freedom to women and girls they had over the last twenty years, said Farid, who also worked as Afghanistan’s House StandingCommittee for Human Rights, Civil Society and Women Affairs.

Read more: The smokescreen of Afghan women

Why were we struggling for two decades?

It could push Taliban militants to establish splinter fictions or even join the Islamic State Khorasan, which has already shown muscle by conducting several deadly attacks since the Taliban captured Kabul. “I think the Taliban are very much worried about that split in the group and therefore have been cautious in their decision making,” said Brooking. In recent days, the Taliban has made some strides to establish a government and appoint17 new provincial governors and ten provincial police heads.

Despite Taliban divisions, there is no prominent political opponent to the Taliban for the foreseeable future. Although fractured by ethnic and political divisions, Najafizada said Afghans need unity on all sides if such an alternative emerges. When the Taliban entered Kabul, they said “all the positive things,” said Farid. “They announced that they have no problem with girls’ education. Women can work freely. The Taliban will provide basic women rights; they had no objection.” But, the Taliban quickly went behind and began imposing restrictions on females’ education and right to work. “I can say about the situation against [Afghan women] a ‘gender apartheid,'” said Farid.

Following the withdrawal of US and NATO troops, some believe that the global community has abandoned Afghan women. “I cannot accept there isn’t a bigger outcry from the global community,” said Najafizada. How the Taliban behave women will be a crucial benchmark in whether the international community engages with the Taliban government. Farid argued that the international community can now do more to ensure that women’s voices are integrated into aid efforts and diplomatic engagements. She said Afghan women should not be considered solely as “victims” of the Taliban militants or “beneficiaries” of Western assistance.

“Women should be a part of any delivery, planning, design and implementation of all this aid that goes to Afghanistan,” said Farid. She also showed her disappointment in the global community for rarely including women in delegations that meet with the Taliban leaders. Afghan women have decided they will continue to fight for their basic rights. “In a country where your president has moved, there are girls who are not afraid of the Taliban and protests in front of them for their rights. It shows women have got a voice from the last two decades democratic process.

Read more: Afghan women activists plead for basic rights in their homeland

Many of the other hard-won gains made in Afghanistan over the last 20 years beyond women’s rights, including freedom of speech and media, have evaporated mainly during the Taliban’s earlier rule. “Objective reporting is almost not there or isn’t there as much as we want it,” said Najafizada. On a positive note, he added, “There are hundreds of journalists who have bravely chosen to stay behind and continue to work. We should be grateful to them.” There are indicators that the global community will begin to engage the Taliban.

This week, US Special Representative Tom West said that the US was considering reopening the Kabul embassy but wants to see positive behavior from the Taliban. Germany’s special envoy for Afghanistan reportedly travels to Kabul to “reassess” Germany’s relationship with the Taliban. The foreign minister of the Taliban has met with representatives from Pakistan and China recently. Can the global powers pressure the Taliban to moderate their behavior, or is there an internal source of pressure that can do the same? If the Taliban cannot achieve some legitimacy within Afghanistan, “then the international recognition and international legitimacy will be severely lacking,” said Brooking.

The question is how the Taliban will react to such pressure? “Will they respond … by adapting, by softening policies, by being more inclusive, or will they have a crackdown?” asked Worden. Afghanistan’s crises require immediate urgency from regional countries, which will be forced to tackle refugee flows and instability if further chaos ensues. “I think the region made some strategic miscalculations … I fear that the region did not believe Americans would leave,” said Brooking. With Afghanistan descending a dire path, “one would be hopeful that people can sit together to provide a more multilateral approach,” he added.

“But, I’m not hopeful.” The Taliban have shown that they are resilient to pressure, leaving the global powers in a dilemma. The global powers will have to engage with the Taliban one way or another to address Afghan’s massive crises. But, there are no quick or easy fixes — which means that Afghans have a hard road ahead.


The writer is a Visiting Lecturer at the Department of International Relations, Government College University Faisalabad, Pakistan. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.