Have the Taliban actually ‘come back’ after two decades? In power, may be yes, by force. But the truth is they never left Afghanistan. Therefore, it became impossible for the US-NATO troops and the Afghan non-Taliban administration to root them out of the country completely. Rather, in these 20 years, Taliban have worked towards regrouping, organizing their strategies, adapted to technology, propagated their version of Islam & societal functioning, all in an effort to gain eventual control over Afghanistan with complete support of the Pakistani State.
On August 14, one day before ‘capturing’ the capital city of Kabul, in an endeavor to attain international legitimacy, Taliban had stated that they respect women’s rights. They went on to assure that the women will be allowed to leave homes alone and they will have access to education and work, but will have to wear the hijab.
However, the ground reality is far different from the Taliban ‘claim’. Few recent incidents depicting the actual situation are outlined below:
On the very same day(Aug 14), the Taliban made the announcement on women’s rights, advertisements and billboards in the city of Kabul depicting women wearing wedding dresses were being taken down and painted after the Taliban fighters entered the city. A man was seen using a roller and white paint to cover up these large images outside a building in a photograph posted on Twitter.
• Earlier (July 16) Taliban’s Cultural Commission in a letter ordered that, “All imams and mullahs in captured areas should provide the Taliban with a list of girls above 15 and widows under 45 to be married to Taliban fighters.”
• New laws and regulations were also issued (July 3) in the captured districts of Takhar province, ordering women to not leave home alone. Taliban also set dowry regulations for girls.
• A video on the internet shows a woman being subjected to 40 lashes by the Taliban Court. The incident took place in Haftgola area located near Obe district of Herat province. In between the victim’s cries of pain, one can hear her saying, “I repent … it’s my fault … I messed up.” She was accused of “immoral relations” because she spoke on the phone with a young man. The man was also subsequently arrested and put up in a Taliban prison.
In its report titled, “Report on Violence against Women in Afghanistan (The first 10 months of 2020)”, Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) recorded a total of 3477 cases of violence against women in the first ten months of 2020. Also, the gross violations of women’s rights that have been documented by AIHRC include cases of murder, rape, abduction, and suicide which amount to a total of 281 cases. Out of all 281 cases of violence against women, 167 of them are of murder. These murder cases are mostly “honour killings”.
Violence against women as a result of war and militant attacks, has become an accepted ‘way of life’ in the war-ravaged country of Afghanistan. Most Afghan men in this traditionally orthodox country still hold the view that women are inferior to them and have no right to freedom. The Taliban have gone a step ahead in vocalizing the prevalent mindset which is anti-women while advocating harsh and extreme measures that completely curb a woman’s right to live her life independently, with dignity and freedom. The factors causing such a miserable situation of women in Afghanistan are: illiteracy; a culture of impunity; failure to deal decisively with perpetrators; perceptions that violence against women is ‘normal’; ignorance and lower level of public consciousness; traditional patterns of marriage; corruption and abuse of state positions; women’s limited access to justice; the absence of security; and the fragility of authority to deal with such crime and violence.
Since the late 1970s, the ongoing chaos and warfare in Afghanistan has completely ruined the country’s social structure. Once a multicultural region with a history of trade and intermingling of people belonging to different tribes, races and ethnicities; post the intervention of the Taliban, the nation’s sociocultural fabric deteriorated to become backward, patriarchal and essentially regressive. Religious & sectarian differences were despised and people were repeatedly harassed and killed in the name of faith. Moreover, the deep-rooted social taming of women has resulted in women lacking the confidence and voice to participate in the social, 2 political and economic mainstream of Afghanistan.
The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) Annual Report, 2020, also recorded 1,146 women casualties (390 killed and 756 injured). UNAMA also continued to document incidents of deliberate killing and acts of cruel, inhuman, or humiliating punishments of women by the Taliban, frequently under the pretext of enforcing decisions of their parallel justice structures. Such incidents were often in reaction to the purported transgression of moral or gender norms, such as extramarital relations. Two such examples were stated in the report. In the first, Taliban shot and killed a 28- year-old woman in front of her three children in her house in the north of Afghanistan on the accusation of having relationships outside of marriage. In the second case, the head of the Taliban’s so-called Vice and Virtue Department in a district of a northern province beat two women in their twenties with a cable in market place for being outside their homes without a Mahram (male guardian).
Thus gender-based violence against women is an ugly and widespread reality in a patriarchal and traditionalist Afghan society under the Taliban diktat. Today, women in Afghanistan face a multitude of daily threats in the form of beating, insurgency, lashing, rape, honour killing, suicide and forced immolation, giving away of girls in marriage to resolve disputes, enforced prostitution, giving away girls as war booties, forced marriages to Taliban fighters, burning or using chemical substances to deface, generally in the name of religion and tribal customs. Besides, other difficulties being faced by Afghan women are: poor enactment of the law, lack of access to the formal justice system, overreliance on traditional (anti-women) dispute resolution systems, and the violence and insurgency that has claimed numerous lives of young Afghans leaving many women at the mercy of the Taliban diktats.
One of the most significant changes brought about by the Allied Forces in conjunction with the democratic government in Afghanistan was in the realm of women’s rights. A whole generation of women for the last 20 years had access to education, had jobs, could interact freely with members of the other sex and could be socially, politically and economically independent. But all that has changed now.3
Over the past few months, through the attacks on girls schools, targeted killings of women journalists, artistes, judges & government officials, the Taliban made it amply clear that they do not respect women as equals, more so in the public space. The earlier Taliban regime (1996 to 2001) was infamous for triggering havoc in the lives of Afghan girls and women by endangering them to violence in the form of public lashing and barbaric executions through stoning. Keeping in mind the ‘track record’ of the Taliban and the ongoing incidents of violence against women, the future looks grim and ghastly for not just Afghanistan as a country but more so for its female population, who had treasured the fruits of freedom over the past two decades.