Despite six months of Taliban’s catastrophic rule, the international community continues to turn a Nelson’s eye.
The expedient withdrawal of the US armed forces followed by the Taliban’s resurgence to power in Kabul has spiralled Afghanistan’s humanitarian situation into a catastrophe. As a result of which, millions of Afghans are now facing widespread income losses, cash shortages, and high food costs with thousands displaced, killed, and wounded amidst the Taliban advances. However, amongst them, it is the women—violations of whose rights continue to remain central to the ideology of the Taliban—who are paying a much greater price.
Reports emerging from the ground suggest that majority of women in Afghanistan are today experiencing severe restrictions including forced wearing of burqa, prohibition of public appearances without a male chaperone, lack of educational and employment opportunities, etc. And whilst all these actions are a clear depiction of the group’s merciless atrocities against women under their previous rule—from 1990-2001—the ‘responsible’ international community in the past six months of the Taliban’s gradual erasing of women’s rights has chosen to remain silent.
As a result of which, millions of Afghans are now facing widespread income losses, cash shortages, and high food costs with thousands displaced, killed, and wounded amidst the Taliban advances.
In October 2021, women activists in Kabul were in fact, seen risking the wrath of the Taliban by publically protesting against the global inaction on the Afghan crisis, holding up signs that read “why is the world watching us die in silence?”. However, even these sentiments failed to provoke the international community to take adequate steps for protecting the Afghan women who continue to live under the Taliban’s threat. This inaction is nonetheless, surprising given that back in 2001, improvement of women’s rights and freedoms was used as one of the main justifications by the global powers to intervene in Afghanistan.
The important question that thus needs to be raised is—why is the international community that was once so concerned about women’s situation in Afghanistan today preferring to remain on the sidelines? Perhaps, looking at the reasons is critical before even engaging inthe blame game, which for centuries has remained a common practice at the global stage. And whilst, each country might have its own explanations for inaction, some of the most prominent reasons are listed as follows:
The international community is rather drained after funnelling billions and billions of dollars into nation building—including progression and protection of women’s rights—within the war-torn country of Afghanistan. In fact, over the past two decades, it was the provision of the traditional siloes of the international aid system that kept the now-collapsed, Western-backed government led by President Ashraf Ghani going. As per the World Bank, 43 percent of Afghanistan’s GDP came from foreign aid and about 75 percent of the public spending—especially on women’s education and development programmes—was funded by donor grants.
However, despite these provisions and constant efforts, the international community themselves have perceived to gain very little in return with their deployed troops often engaging in clashes with the Taliban fighters to protect the Afghan civilians. Thus, going by the cost-benefit analysis, the international community today, prefers utilising the money that they have been pouring in Afghanistan for the development of their own countries, conveniently brushing off the responsibility to protect women in Afghanistan under the carpet of their own self interests.
The states in the past—for the sake of Afghans—have led and participated in peace processes with the Taliban where the latest commitment urged the group to engage in an intra-Afghan dialogue rather than pursue a military offensive.
A prominent example of such prioritisation came about on the 4 of February 2022, when the US President Joe Biden signed an executive order freezing US $7 billion in Afghan funds to use the money as his country deems fit. However, as reality suggests, this amount might not mean a big deal to the US, but for the Afghan women it could mean saving lives. International aid is thus, extremely important for thousands of Afghan women who are today facing severe economic stress and food insecurity.
Besides, many within the international community—far from granting diplomatic recognition to the Taliban—are not yet even willing to deal with a bunch of Islamist fundamentalists to encourage them towards ensuring the protection of women. The reason for this is simple: The lack of trust in believing that the leopard could change its spots. As a matter of fact, in the 1990s, the group’s unceasing violations of women’s human rights had turned the Islamists into an international pariah with the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) declaring the Taliban as a terrorist organisation in 1999.
However, despite this declaration, the states in the past—for the sake of Afghans—have led and participated in peace processes with the Taliban where the latest commitment urged the group to engage in an intra-Afghan dialogue rather than pursue a military offensive. However, even this commitment is being broken with impunity as the Taliban’s recent military offensive has been marked by a relentless campaign of direct targeting of women’s rights, imposing unlawful restrictions on their lives and freedoms.
Thus whilst, the Taliban, this time around has made all its efforts to present a more moderate image vis-á-vis woman, seeing their words fail the test of practice, some players in the international community have gone ahead and written off any dialogue with the Taliban or the Afghan peace process as dead in the water. They, in fact, find little value in engaging with a terrorist organisation that should be dealt fully as per the considerable capacity of international law and practice. Having said that, Afghanistan’s underlying economic and humanitarian troubles, which disproportionately impact women and girls, cannot simply be ignored because of the Taliban’s past record.
If the international community is vocal about holding the Taliban responsible for its actions against women, it could fuel the group’s engagement in acts of terrorism as a way to put pressure on the countries to withdraw their anti-Taliban statements.
Apart from this, another plausible reason for the ongoing global silence can be accounted to the swiftly emerging geopolitical challenges, where any communication against or for the Islamist fundamentalists could have severe repercussions, threating the country’s own positioning and stature. The international community is, thus, conceivably stuck in limbo. For instance, if the global powers provide any kind of political and diplomatic legitimacy to the Taliban, it could create an opportunity for the terrorist group to manipulate aggrieved and impoverished Afghan people, unleashing policies and practices that could further harm the women. It could also attract negative judgement towards the actions and fortitude of the countries extending recognition to the Taliban.
On the contrary, if the international community is vocal about holding the Taliban responsible for its actions against women, it could fuel the group’s engagement in acts of terrorism as a way to put pressure on the countries to withdraw their anti-Taliban statements. And as we all already know, three major countries—Russia, Pakistan, and China—have all signalled varying levels of enthusiasm and support to the new regime. Speaking against the Taliban could, thus, also hamper relations with this emerging power block.
With this puzzlement, the world is perhaps, waiting to see the Taliban’s next course of action. However, inaction is untenable. Walking away from provision of vital services, ignoring or sideling women’s situation, or politically isolating the country won’t stop the Taliban but will only hurt the Afghan people—especially the women—increasingly.
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Akanksha Khullar is a Visiting Fellow with the ORFs Strategic Studies Programme where her work focuses on the intersection of policy advice and academic research ...Read More +