The fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban requires the world’s immediate and entire attention, solidarity, sympathy and rage. The fact that an extremist military organization has been able to capture major cities of a country and has sought the complete surrender of power from an elected government is horrific.
The horror intensifies as we take these observations into account: the Taliban captured major towns and cities within a sparse span of days, the Afghan army surrendered without resistance, and the entire operation unfolded in front of a world that lives off a brand of social media that populates news as it occurs.
The Afghan troops that had been trained for years by the United States failed to bolster any resistance. Reportedly, the US spent close to 83 billion dollars on equipping the Afghan forces to fight insurgencies but the enfeebled army collapsed in the face of the Taliban. As the Ashraf Ghani government collapsed, the withdrawal of the US troops from Afghanistan is being critiqued, not because the US was successfully rebuilding Afghanistan, but because this gave the Taliban the leverage to capture their lost fortress (which they called the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan) soon afterward.
US President Joe Biden however proceeded to justify his decision to withdraw troops in a speech made after the Taliban takeover. The insensitivity of airlifting US personnel stuck in Kabul on priority, among other things, as visuals of Afghanistan locals rushed to the Kabul airport tarmac to get on to planes, which led to some even falling off as the plane took off, is telling.
Joe Biden in his address stood by his decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan. He clearly pointed out that the objective of US was not nation building but to promulgate the larger narrative of ‘war against terrorism’.
This stance is in direct contrast to the faculties the US had employed for 20 years in Afghanistan starting from the involvement in their democratic elections to guiding their foreign trade policies. The existence of the deliberation weakened the opportunities for Afghanistan to become a self sustaining democracy through loops of social and political accretion cycles. Hence, the swift removal of US troops resulted in the Afghan government and the army face an existential void as their singular identities had not been formed, given how they were an extension of the Western Imperialistic governance imposed by the US. The Taliban swooping in and demonstrating absolute control left the forces and the government with no time to respond.
Meanwhile, several media sources have reported that the Taliban has claimed that they will protect the existing rights of all the citizens and will aim for a peaceful transfer of power without casualties. According to a Reuters report, the Taliban has vowed to not retribute against soldiers and contractors and had said would ‘respect women’s rights within the Islamic law’. Yet, visuals of Afghan women protesting in Kabul following the Taliban’s seize of power, were shared widely on the Internet. The women demanded equal rights, freedom to work and right to education in what is being reported as the first protest of its kind after the takeover.
According to reports, more women took to the streets, marching and demanding for their rights to not be taken away. To the concerns about how the Taliban coming back to power would mean all progress made with regards to women empowerment in the last two decades taking a backseat, Zabihullah Mujahid, the group’s spokesman, addressed a press conference and said “We are going to allow women to work and study. We have got frameworks, of course. Women are going to be very active in the society but within the framework of Islam.”
However, in the wake of the new developments, many Afghans recollected how in the 1996-2001 Taliban regime Afghanistan witnessed horrific public executions, intrusive surveillance, stifling of education and work for women, imposition of barbaric punishments for queer expressions, destruction of cultural texts and architecture, and suppression of secular thoughts and dialogues. So, the argument that the Taliban has become more liberal is a farce. They are essentially a religious fundamentalist group and visuals of the people of Afghanistan trying to escape their own country is a testimony to that.
Featured image source: Al Jazeera