In early 2020 when the United States under the Trump administration opened direct talks with the Taliban, many mainstream American media began to paint a new image of the Taliban. In February the same year, the New York Times published an opinion piece under the name of Sirajuddin Haqqani, the then-head of Haqqani network and current minister of interior affairs of the regime. In the write-up, Siraj talked on a range of issues including future challenges, inclusiveness of the government, respect of international conventions, and women’s rights albeit within the principles of Islam.
Taliban rule has evidently produced losers and winners. With the regime barring women from work and girls from higher education, the situation of women in Afghanistan is a forgotten tragedy. Ever since August 2021, the Taliban have tightened a series of draconian enforcements such as the ban on women from travel without a mahram—a chaperon—, girls ban from higher education, women from work, and public floggings that often take place across the country. The most shocking phenomenon that often makes headlines in the country is the rate of suicide among women. Though suicide, an act religiously forbidden by Islam, in most cases remain hidden in Afghanistan, the report shows an unprecedented increase in the suicide rate, notably among women under Taliban rule. A few brave women who took to the streets in the aftermath of the Taliban return demanding rights to education and work were silenced bit by bit. Women who were detained by the regime recount shattering stories of torture, abuse and in some cases forced marriage with young Taliban commanders.
The plight of women in Afghanistan gets worse as they do not have a unified voice against a barbarian regime that in one hand fears their presence in public domain and on the other hand excludes them from social lives without any consequential prospects. With the Western governments preoccupied with war in Ukraine, the question of Afghanistan and the situation of women in the country do not interest politicians on international stage. Exactly like Afghanistan, the country’s women have been taken as hostages by a regime that seeks to use population as a bargaining chip in the political game of foreign aid and possible recognition.
Taliban apologists on international stages seek to smokescreen the realities, notably the situation of women, and make a dishonest argument. To channel foreign aid to the regime’s begging bowl, they say that it is the hardliner circle within the regime that hinders progress and creates stumbling blocks against women rights to education and work while tempting to turn a blind eye on the dogged stubbornness of Taliban ideology and the rigid vice and virtue policy of the outfit.
Between the regime’s vice and virtue policy, life gets harder for women as the Taliban struggle to consolidate their grip over the population in cities. More misery looms for women in Afghanistan as the Taliban struggle to govern. Under the Taliban rule, the fate of women who are the primary losers in the aftermath of Taliban comeback to power continues to be a forgotten tragedy.
Yet in the region, many governments try to save the regime in power. The Pakistanis officially treat it as a “caretaker government”. Last week in a pure act of appeasement, the Islamic government of Iran handed over the charge of the Afghan embassy to the Taliban. Erdogan’s Turkiye will continue to play both sides. China, Japan, and Russia prefer not to risk their relationships with the regime on the issue of women’s rights. The gulf states continue to support the regime both morally and technically.
Though rights organizations headquartered in the West continue to maintain business as usual in Afghanistan public opinion and policymakers are divided in Western countries in terms of the future prospects in the country. As these rights organizations worry that the Taliban regime may resort to extreme violence to fully silence the whole women population, many in Europe and in the United States are convinced that Taliban restrictions on women is a century-old Afghan tradition that must be respected within its context.
Since the Taliban seized power in August 2021 and American troops left Kabul, the country plunged into the abyss of despair, ignorance, and loneliness. Almost the entire population is living in despair and poverty. The regime feeds its soldiers and supporters with ignorance and illusion. Women pay it to the fullest. With the regime’s police back on the city streets, the women of Afghanistan realize they are left alone and have nowhere to turn. They also know that a regime that depends on illusion and guns will not last long.
(Asad Kosha is an editor for Outlook India from Afghanistan now living in exile.)