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This article was collaboratively written by Jenna Rowley and Mackenzie Lawton.
On 15th August 2021, the Taliban finished their conquest of Afghanistan and stormed Kabul, the capital and most populous city in Afghanistan. This led to the collapse of the former democratic Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the formation of the self-proclaimed Taliban-led ‘‘Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.’’ However, with the Taliban takeover, the threat level to innocent civilians has become dire.
The legacy of the previous Taliban rule has sparked international fears of a return to the former abuse of basic human rights for Afghan women that occurred in the late 1990s, such as the subjection of women to laws banning them from travelling without a male relative and punishments of such extremity that public executions were considered lawful. Despite, the Taliban pledging to honour women’s rights within the norms of Islamic law and assurances that there will be “no revenge attacks”, these promises have already been proven hollow with the murder of Dawa Khan Menapal – the head of the Afghan Government’s Media Centre – and an assassination attempt of Afghanistan’s acting Defence Minister. One extremist militant went further, pledging to kill anyone who stood in the way of the Taliban’s Holy Visions.
With attacks intensifying in the lead up to the takeover, a Taliban bombing killed over 90 (mainly female) students outside a school in Kabul, it can be said with certainty that the Afghan women are fair from safe. Professional working women have been the targets of social media death threats, harassment and attacks, including 23-year-old police officer Fatima Rajabi who was stopped by the Taliban when travelling home and murdered. Her remains, which showed evidence of torture, were sent to her family.
Since the takeover, there have been other numerous instances of women being brutally treated by Taliban soldiers with one victim savagely beaten and killed in front of her children after being unable to serve food to 15 fighters. The chairperson of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission – Shaharzad Akbar – shared the inevitable fact that “female heads of households [and] women travelling alone… are receiving more and more harassment”.
In an attempt to escape the brutality, many have risked their lives and gathered at Kabul airport where daily beatings take place and tear gas is thrown into helpless crowds. In desperation, parents pass their babies into the hands of strangers at the airport, hoping that their children will have a better future.
The collapse of the country has been heavily blamed on US president Joe Biden after his withdrawal of nearly all remaining troops from Afghanistan left a power vacuum in an already unstable nation. However, Biden’s actions weren’t the ‘be-all-end-all’ with numerous problems making the state a cumbersome suitcase filled with valuable natural resources but too awkward for one international power to handle.
Afghanistan’s unfortunate geographic location is one factor responsible for ongoing turmoil. British-drawn Afghan borders forged at the close of the 1919-21 British/Afghan war deemed Afghanistan a landlocked nation with no direct route to the ocean; this massively affected its ability to engage in the growing global maritime trade networks.
Drawn borders also led to 14 major ethnic groups being under the same jurisdiction. Non-homogeneity – ethnic conflicts arose across the Afghan population – along with the power void created through Afghanistan’s new existence as a recognised state, affected the ability of central Kabul to govern the population. As a result, multiple nationalised and political institutions claimed power over the large expanse of Afghanistan as the lasting political turmoil stunted economic and social development.
Furthermore, the nation was pinned between two spheres of major influence – the USSR to the north and the British Raj to the south – leaving Afghanistan’s stability continually in limbo. Afghanistan’s $1,000,000,000,000 in mineral deposits (in modern estimates) could have been a huge asset in developing the Afghan economy. However, the allure of potential economic gain ultimately led to endless conflict, for example the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan from 1979-1989. Despite, Afghan forces being victorious, the conflict had a disastrous socio-economic burden with 1,000,000 Afghan freedom fighters dead and millions more civilians fleeing to neighbouring Pakistan.
The national economy dwindled as the war strangled any chance for development whilst the fragile warlords governing across Afghanistan further destabilised the country. Such economic stagnation and fragile governance catalysed the rise of the Taliban in 1994.
The Taliban ultimately conquered Afghanistan in 1996 with fairly little resistance, leading to another 20 years of civil unrest and further devastation of the national economy as foreign western powers such as the US, UK and Germany attempted to force out the Taliban in what Biden labelled the ‘‘never ending war’’. Yet, constant conflict, lack of economic development and political instability instead led to Afghanistan becoming completely dependent on western powers. Hence, when foreign support lessened and Biden ultimately pulled out all remaining troops stationed in the country, Kabul didn’t have the funds, soldiers or infrastructure to combat Taliban forces.
Ultimately, Afghanistan has been repeatedly fumbled by occupying international powers, each seeking to abuse valuable natural resources but ignoring the political and social conditions of the country. Afghanistan holds, not just resources, but nearly 40 million innocent people, who have been – too long – at the mercy of instability and now suffer a resulting militant rule.
In the face of an uncertain future, the perpetrating actions of greedy intervention and discarding of the country must not be forgotten, lest they be repeated.