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The tragedy of the 15th of August 2021 in Afghanistan

Het is deze week 1 jaar geleden dat Taliban Kaboel, Afghanistan, innamen. Wij delen deze week bijdragen van activisten die zich inzetten voor de rechten van alle vrouwen, meisjes en andere groepen in een gemarginaliseerde positie in Afghanistan.
By Storai Tapesh

The tragedy of the 15th of August 2021 in Afghanistan

Afghanistan has a long history of strife among warring divisions and domination by foreign conquerors that have wrecked the infrastructures and weakened the economic growth. The war against the Old Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, USSR in the late 1970s caused immense destruction, 2 million (1) Afghans were killed and millions fled to the neighboring countries mostly Pakistan and Iran. Taliban (extremist Islamic militia) began as an armed group that emerged in the 90s out of Afghanistan's civil war and ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, as a result, more than 1 (2) million  Afghans flee to Pakistan. Today Afghan refugees are the third largest group in the world and since 2001, 5.9 million Afghans have either fled the country or have been displaced internally. After the incident of 9/11, the U.S. and British forces hurled airstrikes against the bases belonging to the al-Qaida network in Afghanistan. After weeks of severe fighting with the Taliban forces, the Northern Alliance entered the capital (Kabul) and the rule of the Taliban formally broke out.

In December 2001, Hamid Karzai swore as the leader of the interim government in Afghanistan and a new Afghanistan came to life. Lots of people have since returned, despite the country still being in a fragile situation. Afghan women and girls have paid the hefty and painful price in the Afghanistan tragedy throughout the proxy war and conflicts. From 2001 to 2021, Afghan women and girls made intense strides toward their fundamental rights and gender equality. The war-torn country was rapidly going toward progress and socio-economic developments. 

Historically Afghan women stood side by side with men for development, economic growth, peace, reconciliation, and stability. 

In mid-August 2021 during the complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan and the steady collapse of the country, Afghan women and girls once again encountered thousands of life barriers. It is yet hard to believe that 20 years of U.S-backed government was overthrown by the Taliban.

Taliban has one of the vilest human rights records in the world, and the human rights situation is worsening since Afghanistan’s downfall in August 2021. Afghan people especially women have been facing the worst economic crisis. The humanitarian crises, famine, drought, and hunger have caused hundreds of thousands of people to lose their source of income in many ways. 70 percent of the households are unable to afford food and other necessities. The development aid has halted and people’s capital is stuck in the commercial and government banks and there is no chance to get it abroad. The human rights situation in the provinces is even times worse than in the capital (Kabul). The stark economic outlook is alarming of higher rates of poverty and economic opportunities. The systematic exclusion of women and limiting women’s participation in public and private sectors impacted the annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP), UNICEF estimates a loss of at least. 500 million U.S. dollars for the Afghan economy since August 2021 from depriving girls of accessing secondary education alone.  

Taliban announced an all-male cabinet on 7 September. Dismissed the State Ministry for Peace (3), Afghan Parliament, Election Commissions (4), Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC (5)), and replaced the Ministry of Women’s Affairs with the Ministry (6) for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. Taliban threatened and detained women from speaking up and advocating for their rights, ban women from working in leading and decision-making positions, ban girls’ education above grade six, and denied women’s political participation as well as their social, economic, and cultural inclusion. Since the takeover, the Taliban has released at least 31 decrees that further restricted women and girls from enjoying their rights. 

It has been a year since Afghan girls are barred from accessing secondary school and Afghanistan is the only country in the world where girls' education above grade six is prohibited!

Target killings, extrajudicial killings, torture, arbitrary arrests, and detention are happening to an unprecedented level on daily basis, UNAMA recorded 2106 civilian casualties (700 killed, 1406 wounded) from 15 August 2021 until 15 June 2022. 

The world should understand that a larger and longer-standing human tragedy continues in Afghanistan more than ever!

Taliban’s violations do not have any limits, Afghans are frustrated by the hypocrisy of the world’s leaders by facilitating and putting red carpets for the Taliban’s unconditional return in Doha and now tricking Afghans by providing international platforms for the Taliban!

Taliban imposed vague restrictions on the media and journalists and suffocated media freedom across the country. 70 percent of all Afghan media outlets closed, while the remaining are operating under coercion and are unable to reflect on the atrocities and whatever is happening on the ground due to censorship and massive restrictions. At least 12 Afghan journalists are detained by the Taliban in the last month and the total detention goes beyond 40 journalists since the takeover. Some media channels are being used as a tool for defaming some specific group of people with paid deals. In general, the media should obey the existing government internal policies imposed by the Taliban.

We recall on passive bystanders that the Taliban is a terrorist group and would be a threat to the region and the world if not stopped

Over half of the Taliban’s prominent leaders remain designated for the U.S. and are on the UN sanctions list. The presence of Ayman al-Zawahiri in the capital of Afghanistan showcased a clear example to the world that the Taliban has close ties with Al-Qaeda, and are never committed to delivering the promises that were signed in Doha in February 2020.

Afghan people strongly urge that the United Nations Security Council re-apply the travel ban against the Taliban. Denial to re-inflict the travel ban on the Taliban leaders will intensely question the role of the UN and the international community and their commitments to human rights, and gender justice.

The world should facilitate and support a representative and elected Afghan government in which women and minorities from diverse ethnic and cultural groups can meaningfully participate. Sustainable development would be attainable only if the Taliban discontinue atrocities and violations, and build on accountability, diversity, good governance, and human security, creating job opportunities for men and women, promoting gender justice, fundamental freedom, and human rights for all.

The international community including donors must directly finance women-led national and local organizations to restore the women’s movement across the country. Delivering humanitarian services must be implemented in partnership with prominent local institutions with intense background in human rights. Donors must make sure that Afghan men and women access the aid equally across the country reminiscing that humanitarian assistance alone is not enough, investing in private sectors, infrastructure, employment, agriculture, and revitalizing trade could be a long-term solution to alleviate the current crises. 

The United States, UN, and donors must pressurize the Taliban by imposing more sanctions and conditionalizing aid flow to Afghanistan until the reopening of the girls’ secondary schools and allowing women and girls to fully and meaningfully get engaged in the country’s affairs including in politics, decision-making, and public life.  

I urge the women activists, human rights defenders, and journalists of the region and elsewhere around the globe to not turn their backs on Afghanistan’s future, a tragedy unfolds in front of your eyes—stand with Afghan women—spread the word, and hold decision-makers accountable for leveraging Taliban’s demands and denouncing the calls of Afghans especially women.  

Amidst all political chaos, recently Afghanistan is hit badly by the natural disaster of earthquakes and floods, thousands of innocent Afghans have died and their homes are flooded. Afghans are in the need of emergency humanitarian assistance and relief programs more than at any time. UN, the international community, and donors need to take immediate and multidimensional actions by providing financial and life-saving assistance including shelters, food, and safety information for the victims in the affected villages and provinces. Meanwhile, donors must finance and support initiatives in the area of natural resource management, environmental and natural resource protection, and remediation of environmental damage caused by climate change. 

About the author:
Storai Tapesh
Ms. Tapesh is a dedicated woman and human rights activist with extensive development and programming experience with civil society, international organizations, and UN agencies. She is the former chair and board member of the Afghan Women Social Protection Organization (AWSPO), a member of the CEDAW technical committee of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and deputy director and senior program manager of Afghan Women’s Network (AWN). Ms. Tapesh has designed and led several programs and initiatives that advanced and promoted the WPS agenda, women’s role in decision making, gender equality, and access to justice, accountability, and transparency.


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