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A Tragedy Unfolds in Front of our Eyes

Helmut Sorge | Posted : October 18, 2021

If any proof was needed that change was in the air and repression on the horizon, it was in the center of Kabul: a simple sign was changed, the Ministry of Women’s Affairs was turned into the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtues and Prevention of Vice. This was nothing less than the return of the Taliban’s moral police, well remembered by the older population, ready to enforce a harsh interpretation of the religious law, the Sharia, including stoning, amputation, lashing, and public executions.

As soon as the white banner of the Taliban replaced the black, red and green national colors of the Afghan nation, the new masters announced that women were not chosen to be part of the interim government and girls were not allowed to attend secondary schools anymore, making Afghanistan “the only country on earth”, as The Guardian reported(September 17, 2021),“to bar half its population from getting a secondary education.”

Women, except nurses and female doctors, should remain at home, pray and cook, and leave the house, if at all, accompanied by a male relative. Eventually women would be allowed to study, but not alongside men. The authorities will review the subjects students can be taught. They will be forced to wear loose fitting, full-length robes, and hijab is mandatory. Ahmadullah Wasig, deputy head of the Taliban’s cultural commission, confirmed in an interview with the Australian broadcaster SBS, that it was “not necessary” for women to be involved in sports and that “Islam and the Islamic Emirate(Afghanistan) do not allow women to play cricket or play the kind of sports where they get exposed.”

In other words: Kabul has returned to the Taliban normality, practiced with vicious determination, particularly against women, from 1996 to 2001.“I was hoping that we would not go back to zero, ”said Fawzia Koofi, former deputy speaker of the Afghan Parliament(who has survived two assassination attempts and was part of the delegation in the peace negotiations with the Taliban in Doha), in an interview with Deutsche Welle (September 9, 2021). She added, “but we will not give up; aminority of people with guns and weapons will not be able to survive politically.”

During Washington’s engagement in Afghanistan, the U.S. invested more than $780 million to encourage women’s rights. Women and girls have joined the military and police forces, held political office, reported the Times of India(August 18, 2021),competed in the Olympics and scaled the heights of engineering:things that once wereunimaginable under the Taliban.Now the question is writes the Times of India”,: will the Taliban once again trample over women’s rights with the same speed with which they captured the country?

Since the Taliban were removed from power in 2001, “enormous progress has been made”, commented the BBC (September 13, 2021),“in improving Afghanistan’s educational enrollments and literacy rates-especially for girls and women.”A recent report by UNESCO, quoted by the BBC((September 13, 2021) stated that the number of girls in primary schoolhad increased from almost zero to 2.5 million in the years after Taliban control.The report also said the female literacy rate had nearly doubled in a decade to 30%.“Thenotion that the Taliban will suddenly change their ways has been greeted with great skepticism”, wrote the Times of India (August 18, 2021).

When dozens of women demonstrated in front of the presidential palace—now the Taliban command center—carrying banners and chanting slogans for an equal society, they were beaten by security forces. “Please spare a thought for the people, women and girls of Afghanistan”, PhumzileMlambo-Ngcuka, executive director of UN Women, wrote on Twitter.“Atragedy unfolds in front of our eyes.”Heather Barr, associate director of the women’s rights division at Human Rights Watch(August 17, 2021) is convinced that Afghan women “find themselves in the untenable position of looking for help to the international community”.

“But these countries, the United States chief among them, are licking their wounds after two decades of military failure in Afghanistan. They most likely wish they had never seen Afghanistan (Heather Barr). The investment of more than one trillion dollars did not achieve democracy or freedom. Worse, the military hardware left behind by the U.S., and handed to their allies, the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces, has made the Taliban the first terrorist movement to be equipped with Brazilian made turboprop ground-attack aircraft, tanks, fighter jets,C-130 transport aircraft, UH 60 Black Hawk helicopters, artillery, hundreds of jeeps and trucks, drones, and unknown quantities of ammunition.

“A bitter result of the chaotic Western withdrawal from Afghanistan is that the very group the U.S. ousted 20 years ago,is not only back in power”, said the Los Angeles Times(September 3, 2021),“but better equipped militarily than ever before to repel adversaries and enforce its brand of repressive rule. ”Taliban fighters rode into Kabul airport on U.S. pick-up trucks, wearing U.S.-made uniforms and brandishing American M-4 and M-16 rifles .As National Public Radio(August 21, 2021)confirmed,“theU.S. Military removed planes, heavy weapons and sophisticated military equipment as it began winding down its operations in the spring. But it couldn’t take home 20 years of accumulated hardware and instead left much of it to the Afghan military. ”National security adviser Jake Sullivan acknowledged as much earlier this week(National Public Radio, August 21, 2021)3 We don’t have a complete  picture, obviously ,where every article of defense materials has gone ,by rt certainly, a fair amount of it has fallen into the hands of the Taliban.”

An estimated64,100 Afghan and about 6,000 allied soldiers died, and with them the illusion of the democratization of the torn nation.

Completely Out of TouchWith Reality

Spy satellites, local informers, CIA agents, drones, cyberspace intercepts, and military commanders on the ground apparently and inexplicably did not anticipate the sweeping advances of the Taliban towards Kabul in early summer. In the weeks before the Taliban seized Kabul, reported National Public Radio, retreating Afghan Forces “ditched billions of dollars’ worth of U.S. supplied military hardware –from assault rifles to Black Hawks helicopters.”

Stefano Pontecorvo, NATO’s senior civilian representative in Afghanistan, told Elisabeth Braw, a columnist at Foreign Policy (September 16, 2021)about the frustration and despair of his last days in Kabul. Earlier in 2021, NATO was still planning to train some 5,000 Afghan women as mechanics, intelligence employees, telecommunication officers ,and in similar noncombat roles, still believing in a peaceful solution, but his last days at the airport marked the end of a maddening period. Weeks before his own escape on an Italian military plane, it had become clear to the NATO representative that Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani “was completely out of touch with reality.”

“By the end of July, when the Taliban were already taking one district capital after another, Ghanigavea one-hour speech to a group of ambassadors. We were expecting him to say something about the peace process or what he was going to do to defend the country. Instead, he focused on the digital agenda.” NATO’s man in Kabul according to Foreign Policy, was supposed to go with his staff to the airport on the 18thto start preparing evacuation flights,” but when places like Herat and Kandahar started falling, I thought it was prudent to move to the airport already on the 14th.”One day later the Taliban moved into the capital. Hardly any shots were fired, the Armed Forces of Afghanistan evaporated; not even a white flag of surrender was visible. The President escaped to the United Arab Emirates, Afghan military pilots and aircrews scattered with 22 military planes and 24 helicopters to neighboring Uzbekistan.

An Australian former professional football player and human rights activist, Craig Foster, convinced his country’s government to save members of the Afghan national female football team and some dependents. They were flown on a Royal Australian Air Force C 130 Hercules to safety. The Australian main base in the Middle East, the AlMinhad airbase in the United Arab Emirates, 15 miles south of Dubai, was the first stop on the journey to a new future .Foster said that “High profile athletes and people who were advocates for citizens’ human rights or women’s sport have been at extreme risk and really terrified. ”The country’s biggest popsinger, Aryana Sayeed, left the country on a U.S. cargo plane, whilefilm director Sahraa Karimi was evacuated to Ukraine. Female Afghan lightweight boxing champion SeemaRezaiwas forced to leave her country after the Taliban issued death threats against her.

“The Taliban tweet these days, which is new”, observed Heather Barr from Human Rights Watch, “but aside from that they haven’t changed much. When they wanted to seem presentable to the international community during negotiations in Doha, their rhetoric about women’s rights shifted. They pledged to let girls study and women work, but usually with a vague caveat along the lines  of “as permitted by Islam.”


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