Twenty Years Ended in One Week
It feels like eternity since American and European troops fully pulled out of Afghanistan. But it was just last year. The decision of US President, Joe Biden, acted as a catalyst for withdrawal, ordering US forces to leave by 30th August 2021. It marked the end of a 20 year war, fought from 2001 to 2021. However, this was not the end of turbulence for the country: Since the chaotic events of August 2021, the media appear to have paid little attention to Afghanistan; a country which has sadly plunged into a staggering humanitarian crisis since the withdrawal.
According to the UNHCR, 55 percent of Afghanistan’s population is currently in need of aid. It has been devastated by conflicts over the past 30 years, forcing it to become dependent on foreign aid. However, when NATO and US allies decided to withdraw from Afghanistan, the government collapsed and the Taliban is now in de-facto control of the country. Due to this and other intersecting factors such as international sanctions and the withholding of Afghan foreign exchange reserves, the economy has collapsed causing a drastic deterioration of living standards. Businesses, humanitarian aid, and NGOs are unable to pay salaries while the cost of living is starkly increasing.
Throughout 2022, the humanitarian aid that does manage to reach Afghanistan takes on the form of supplies and cash. However, according to a recent study conducted by the World Bank, 70 percent of Afghan households have insufficient income to meet basic human needs. On top of a stunted economy, Afghanistan is experiencing one of the worst droughts in the country’s history, causing millions of Afghan civilians to face devastating famine. As a consequence of the conflict in Ukraine and the associated sanctions, these conditions have been exacerbated as the world’s eye is focussed elsewhere.
Afghanistan has a historic dispute with Pakistan concerning the Durand Line (Afghanistan-Pakistan border), tracing back over a hundred years. Despite this, Pakistan was the main beneficiary to the Taliban during the insurgency in August 2021. However, tensions between the countries are increasing now that the insurgency has ended. The Taliban are said to be defying Pakistan by contesting the legitimacy of their shared border and taking in anti-Pakistani revolutionaries, commonly known as the Pakistani Taliban, who have killed thousands of Pakistanis. This has culminated in a series of air strikes and clashes between armed forces, leading to numerous civilian casualties.
Terrorism on the Rise
While Afghanistan has seen an overall decline in security incidents, the number of terrorist attacks specifically targeting civilians has increased. A particularly devastating series of attacks occurred throughout the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in April 2022. These attacks mostly targeted Mosques, and killed dozens of civilians, injuring many more. This was one of the deadliest waves of attacks the country has seen since the West withdrew last summer. Although many of these attacks have been claimed by the Islamic State and its affiliates, many remain unclaimed. This climate is forcing civilians to live in a state where tension and insecurity are the norm.
The Deterioration of Women’s Rights
Following the takeover, the Taliban assured that women would not see their rights put at risk, socially, in work, or in education. Over the past 20 years, with the help of humanitarian groups, Afghanistan made significant progress in granting women and girls the opportunity to be educated within the country. But sadly, once again, this progress is under threat and women are quickly vanishing from public life. Under the Taliban, women and girls have been banned from getting a secondary school or higher education, and the curriculum has changed for those that are of school age to be more focused on the practicing of Islam. In May 2022, the Taliban announced that women are now required to be covered in public and should not leave their homes unless completely necessary. The Taliban followed their announcement by emphasising that failure to comply would result in the persecution and punishment of male relatives.
Since their announcement the Taliban has been pressuring male relatives of women who fail to comply. In a 2022 Vice documentary, ‘Life in the Taliban's Afghanistan’, a man was interviewed who had been arrested by the Taliban for helping his sister to seek a divorce. His sister wanted to divorce her husband on the grounds that he was abusing her. Under the previous government this woman was close to receiving her divorce and convicting her husband of domestic violence. However, with the Taliban now in power, it seems unlikely that she will be able to legally separate. Accounts of domestic abuse such as this are not uncommon in Afghanistan, but as women are driven into the background of society, their voices are being silenced.
Essentially, the rollback of female autonomy has been codified into Taliban law. Despite the backlash from activists, the Taliban have insisted that their system protects the rights of women and that they are in fact safer under these regulations. The UN has released a statement expressing grave concern for the future of women’s rights in the country. Afghanistan’s deprivation of the rights of nearly half its population is rapidly escalating and not only threatens the livelihood and identity of women, but also deprives the country of a vital resource to its economy.
An Uncertain Future
It remains unclear what the near future will hold for the country. Economic instability is likely to continue, pushing the country into an increasingly severe humanitarian crisis. It can be anticipated that the stability of the region will also deteriorate, as tensions between Afghanistan and Pakistan grow, and violence remains ongoing. As things stand for the women of Afghanistan, humanitarian organisations are urging for international action in order to address their continued persecution and oppression. It will be interesting to see how the West responds in the coming months. Have the cries for help in Afghanistan become lost amidst the backdrop of other world events?
If you liked this article, you can subscribe to our monthly magazine for free with one click: