Afghanistan at the crossroads

The way it is being ruled is unique, unprecedented, and irrelevant to the 21st century
The relatively progressive societal norms under communists (post 1970) change drastically with the arrival of Mujahideen followed by the Taliban.
The relatively progressive societal norms under communists (post 1970) change drastically with the arrival of Mujahideen followed by the Taliban. Special arrangement

Pain demands to be felt.’’ A piece of literature that confirms this line is Khalid Hosseini’s masterpiece novel - A Thousand Splendid Suns. While it convinces the readers of humans to be “collective bastards of a semi-savage civilization’’, it also establishes the beautiful truth of empathetic bonding and situational connect.

By telling the heart breaking story from the perspective of two Afghan women, the author emphasizes certain aspects of Afghan history that differ from the established historical narrative. The novel draws on the frustrating limitations imposed on Afghan women in order to explore how women have subverted these constraints.

The relatively progressive societal norms under communists (post 1970) change drastically with the arrival of Mujahideen followed by the Taliban.

Fluctuating occupation and laws bring reforms in the societal patterns, one constant theme persists throughout- endurance of Afghan people in general and women in particular, serving not only as a source of escape but a means to assert their own legitimacy and dignity.

In the present context, against the backdrop of the changing world order, under the Taliban regime, where does Afghanistan stand today? August 15 will mark two years since Taliban’s return to power; the hardships of daily life in this overwhelmingly aid dependent country have grown exponentially.

Yet the main highlights of their rule have been draconian restrictions on women’s rights, heart wrenching poverty-hunger, baffling drug dependency, illegal human trafficking and shadowed flesh trade. The International Development Community isn’t blind to the increasingly pressing predicament as it was in 1990s but Taliban’s restrictive policy blocks basic human help.

Taliban. Who are they?

Religious association? Ethnic armed organisation? Warlord militia? It is hard to describe Taliban in few sentences, majority of them are Afghan refugees who grew up in Pakistan, went to informal religious schools (madrasas); as a result of the hard line religious education they received, this group created their own ideologies which meant strict interpretations of the Islamic shariah law.

Unlike as in 1996, there is no evidence of a large general public support for any change in the political system thus posing a challenge to their governance. By design, they have been an effective but destructive force with unique fighting capabilities but lacking the experience to govern.

Failed to establish a basic social contract, they have ignored the diversity of the Afghan society- Hazaras, Pashtuns, Tajiks, Uzbeks and others don’t see themselves well represented in their establishment. Taliban policy making is confined to their own unique circle of leaders, thus making them incapable of governance.

Fluctuating Stand on Women’s Rights

Thinkers are unable to decode the mixed message by Taliban on women’s right to education and work. Is it a deliberate strategy or there is some serious discontent in leadership? It is a combination of both.

The Taliban political team settled in Doha for years negotiated with US on a peace deal- gave promises on basic rights and civil liberties. This did not influence the hard liner Taliban ideology.

Simply put, Taliban diplomats aren’t listened to by their government. While some leaders send their daughters to prestigious universities, some don’t observe the commitment that the Doha group had made.

Thus, there is discontent and disagreement from within their groups on the particular issue of women’s rights. But the differences are not at a level which could influence decision making, unfortunately.

Any room for Taliban evolution?

Afghanistan is not “the only” Muslim majority, there are many such countries. But the way it is being ruled is unique, unprecedented and irrelevant to the 21st century.

Their radical interpretation of Islamic values is unsuitable to this era. Not engaging with the subject matter experts or in dialogues with the general population means becoming more irrelevant to the realities on ground.

Basically, the decisions are made by a bunch of leaders in Qandahar, announced through a supreme leader, implemented by the government. Unlike in their previous government where information flowed both ways- people were heard somehow, officials engaged in deliberations; under the present regime those doors have been closed.

International Development Community - Challenges

40 million people are in need of aid. UN estimates over 97 percent Afghan population suffering. There are two major challenges - first is the missing enabling environment that keeps aid agencies away from Afghanistan.

In a scenario where poverty has transcended into starvation, the international community is in a helpless position. To address these challenges, NGOs must be allowed to function independently; hiring Afghan citizens (men and women). Any ban on women participation in NGOs will create lacunas in their effective functioning.

Second, the aid organizations need donor commitments/funding to be able to continue assisting people. The promise of 4 billion dollars to Afghanistan through delivery channel “United Nations” holds lesser meaning with Taliban putting a ban on women working in institutions. Is understanding the need of 40 million this difficult?

Way Forward

There are opportunities that Taliban can seek and build on. Their “rise to power” wasn’t by any legitimate process; the number of opportunities they could have would be limited but luckily chances prevail.

The best way forward is to engage with the political actors and the civil society of Afghanistan and come up with a proper roadmap for the coming years. Without this process being initiated where Afghans see light at the end of the tunnel, the otherwise chaotic situation will turn the country into a misfortune struck battlefield. 

Aiman Shabir Is a student of History.

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