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Taliban-era Afghanistan still in tatters over rights abuse

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)

By Mehdi Ebrahim

Widely termed abrupt, the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan on August 30, 2021 after more than two decades of occupation brought an abundance of hope, not to say chimera, to the Afghan men, women and children. However, as the clock was ticking by, things started to take a different tack.

The news hit the headlines so shockingly that the Afghans came to believe they had been thoroughly extricated from the manacles of modern colonialism whose tentacles stretched all the way from the Oval Office to the heart of Kabul.

The pullout, ordered by US President Joe Biden, was proceeded by the Taliban military offensive overrunning Afghan provinces one after the other and the eventual seizure of the capital, which caused the central government to collapse and President Ashraf Ghani to flee the country.

Upon withdrawal, the American occupation forces left a legacy of destruction, destitution, famine, starvation and misery, deteriorating the already-precarious humanitarian situation across the war-ravaged country.

Nearly 50,000 Afghan men, women and children lost their lives in the 20-year war, in addition to tens of thousands of casualties among civilians, the Afghan military and national police, insurgents and others, according to the Costs of War Project at Brown University.

The fall of the Afghan government gave the Taliban access to more than $7 billion worth of American military equipment, as stated in reports submitted to US lawmakers and confirmed by the Pentagon.

The bounty of weaponry and equipment was later claimed to be a Washington plan to build, support and maintain the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) as a counterbalance to the Taliban as well as terror groups such as al-Qaeda and Daesh.

Facing an uphill battle, the Taliban announced an interim government in early September.

The group ruled Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001, imposing a self-proclaimed and apocryphal interpretation of Islam that deprived women of most of their rights by the deployment of cruel punishments.

In the group’s first official press conference, Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesperson, sought to strike a moderate tone and said women would be permitted to work and study and “will be very active in society but within the framework of Islam.”

Mujahid also said at the televised briefing that the militants would neither seek revenge against former government officials nor pursue vendettas against Afghan soldiers they had fought for the past two decades.

Prior to the Taliban takeover, women and girls continued to experience gender-based discrimination and violence and after the group took office, they lost many of their fundamental human rights despite reassurances from the Taliban that women’s rights would be respected.

“Women employed in government ministries were told to stay at home while their male colleagues resumed work,” Amnesty International said in a report following the Taliban’s ascent to power. “There were reports of women being barred from their workplaces or sent home in different parts of the country… In some cases, women were reportedly escorted home from work by Taliban fighters and told that they would be replaced by their male relatives.”

There used to be more than 20,000 women police officers in Afghanistan but most of them were discharged by the Taliban and only a fraction was retained to manage women’s prisons.

As for the education sector, Taliban leaders announced that a “safe learning environment” was required before women and girls could return to education but boys were only permitted to resume school.

The UN Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) described in a new report last month the erosion of women’s rights as one of the most notable aspects of the Taliban rule.

"Women and girls have progressively had their rights to fully participate in education, the workplace and other aspects of public and daily life restricted and in many cases completely taken away," the UNAMA said in the report. “Not allowing girls to go to secondary school means that a generation of girls will not complete their full 12 years of basic education.”

The report also underlined that the Taliban government bears responsibility for a high rate of extrajudicial killings, torture, arbitrary arrests and detentions, and violations of fundamental freedoms.

Since the Taliban takeover, the UNAMA said it had listed 160 extrajudicial killings, 178 arbitrary arrests, and 56 instances of torture and ill-treatment of former government employees.

As per the rules on women's behavior in public, except for the capital and other urban areas, the Taliban decreed in more conservative Afghan regions located in the south and east that all women should have a male chaperone when they travel more than 78 kilometers.

The flagrant rights violations and curbs on personal freedoms have caused the international community to take what the Taliban say and promise with a pinch of salt.

The majority of Afghanistan’s 45 embassies and 20 consulates across the world are still run by diplomats appointed by the Ghani administration, declining to work with the Taliban government.

Still unrecognized by the international community, the Taliban are struggling to beat isolation by launching diplomatic ties with neighboring countries as part of attempts to garner formal recognition.

China, Russia, Pakistan and Turkmenistan have in recent months accredited Taliban-appointed diplomats while all have refused to recognize the de facto government in Afghanistan.

Less than a month away from the anniversary of a government formation by the Taliban, it has yet to be seen whether the former militants will show a penchant for advocating civil rights as well as leadership roles for women in public and political life. 

Mehdi Ebrahim is a news writer at Press TV news network.

(The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Press TV.)

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