Despite their promises, the Taliban have failed to honour their word on a number of commitments. There are still ongoing violations of basic human rights (such as the right of women to study and work, and freedom of the media). The amnesty offered to political opponents turned out to be mere lip service. The situation in Afghanistan still does not guarantee the security and safety of locals. Instead, what we are witnessing is continued contravention of human rights provisions, brutal persecution of dissenting voices and those standing up for individual liberties, as well as the blatant commitment of criminal acts.
No education for girls
Afghan girls are barred from attending schools and universities and women are also not allowed to teach. Officially, this ban is temporary. The students and their parents are however sceptical and worried that “temporary” according to the Taliban might not be a short-lived interim (BBC News, Afghanistan: Girls Excluded as Afghan Secondary Schools Reopen, 09/18/21). According to Malala Yousufzai – an activist for female education and one of the Taliban’s victims who was shot in the head for her human rights advocacy when she was only 15 years old – a “temporary” exclusion of girls from education enforced by the Taliban in the past lasted for five years (Yousufzai, M., 09/17/21).
Women not allowed to work
Women have been banned from working in the public sector. The previous ministry for women’s affairs has been cynically replaced by a ministry for “virtue” with an all-male staff (BBC News, Afghanistan: Taliban Morality Police Replace Women’s Ministry, 09/18/21). All women who were working previously, with the exception of those providing critical or indispensable services, have been ordered to stay at home. The initial assurance that this was a temporary measure was soon followed by a declaration by one of the Taliban leaders that women will not be allowed back to work unless “they are needed” in specific sectors (NBC News, In Afghanistan’s “Moment of Reckoning”, the Taliban Lead a Harsher-than-Promised Crackdown, 09/23/21). The Taliban leader added that women will be permanently banned from working in the public sector, banking and media. He stated that women “cannot be ministers” and “should give birth” instead of sitting in cabinets. In response to complaints about losing their sources of income and livelihood, the women were advised to ask their male relatives to replace them at their workplaces.
No media freedom
Many Afghan social media users who had posted anti-Taliban content in the past deleted their accounts out of fear of persecution after numerous reports of “revenge” murders of civilians committed by Taliban fighters (BBC News, Afghanistan: Social Media Users Delete Profiles Over Fear of Attack, 09/27/21). The mass media in the country is now fully controlled by the Taliban. Journalists (all male) have to seek approval from the Taliban before filing any report, while female journalists are banned from returning to work (VOA News, World Press Freedom, Taliban Return Signals “End to Press Freedom”, Afghan Journalists Say, 09/03/21).
Is this the Taliban’s “amnesty”?
Meanwhile, those who worked as judges, police officers or soldiers have been targeted for “revenge”. And, following the mass release of prisoners (including those convicted of murders), numerous female judges are receiving death threats from criminals they convicted in the past (BBC News, Female Afghan Judges Hunted by the Murderers they Convicted, 09/28/21). Recently, the Taliban were accused of murdering an eight-month pregnant police officer (BBC News, Afghanistan: Taliban Accused of Killing Pregnant Police Officer, 09/05/21). Despite the so-called amnesty, there are constant reports of former Afghan soldiers being killed (BBC News, Amid Violent Reprisals, Afghans Fear the Taliban’s “Amnesty” was Empty, 08/31/21). The Taliban have denied any involvement in the murders even though the number of “coincidental” deaths of their political and ideological opponents keeps rising.
Back to the old ways
Recently, the Taliban hanged and displayed the bodies of people they had shot, apparently for involvement in a kidnapping, although there are still no evidences that could either confirm or disprove the Taliban’s version of the circumstances. Crowds that included children and the elderly have witnessed the display, including that of a corpse suspended from a crane in the city centre (AP News, Taliban Hang Body in Public; Signal Returning to Past Tactics, 09/25/2021). The Taliban have made it clear that they will be resuming strict punishment of criminals, such as chopping off hands and executions (AP News, Taliban Official: Strict Punishment, Executions will Return, 09/23/21). One of the Taliban leaders added that “No one will tell us what our laws should be”, which clearly sounds as an intention to ignore international laws, even the ones on human rights protection.
What exactly is the framework of Islamic law?
When it comes to international law and human rights, the Taliban make it very clear that they will comply only to the extent that such laws do not contradict their religious convictions, Islamic traditions and Quranic teachings. However, they don’t exactly define these traditions, teachings and beliefs. History has shown that religious teachings can be interpreted subjectively and differently. The Quran, like most religious texts, is an ancient book and its interpretation is likely to be subjective. It can therefore be unwittingly, intentionally or maliciously interpreted. The fact, however, is that Islam does not condone violence or human rights abuses. All religions are premised on the promotion of peace and caring for each other. It is therefore hypocritical to use religious texts as an excuse to do evil. Complying with religious teachings and beliefs doesn’t have to deny people their rights to safety, education, work in fields of their choice, or suppress the freedom of thought, speech and the media.
What did the US expect?
The big question is: what did the US expect when they signed an agreement with the Taliban, a radical military organization. The Taliban are officially recognized as a terrorist group by several states. They have been linked to numerous terrorist attacks. They have members who are still on a US terrorism list (BBC News, Hardliners Get Key Posts in New Taliban Government, 09/07/21). And they are known collaborators with international terror groups like al-Qaeda. Did the US really expect the Taliban to form a free and democratic government that respects human rights, media freedom and gender equality? That the Taliban would revert to their old cruel ways once they attained power should have been easy to predict.
Was it right or wrong?
It is understandable why the US felt the need to end a long and fruitless war in a foreign country. As terribly wrong as it is in relation to the Afghans who were left on their own when the US moved out, the decision could be seen as justifiable when considering American citizens. Americans sacrificed the lives of their soldiers and civilians for 20 years in a foreign land without any tangible results. It made no sense for the Americans to continue their stay in Afghanistan for another 20 years with no guaranteed results, and it was clearly no longer in the best interest of their soldiers. It is also understandable why the US decided to sign a peace deal with the Taliban. The choice was simple: 1) publicly admit that their 20-year stay in Afghanistan was a failure that achieved none of the intended goals, in which case the Taliban would have won and freely do as they wished after taking over without restriction. 2) try to keep at least some semblance of rule of law in Afghanistan by negotiating with the Taliban. One wonders however if the US really expected the Taliban to keep their end of the bargain, given their reputation and notoriety.
It is also understandable why the Taliban do not publicly refuse to respect basic human liberties like the rights to education, work, or freedom of the press. Neither do they comply with these laws nor guarantee the rights. If they were to officially state that there will be no rights for women, no freedom of media, or amnesty for the opposition, their relationship with other states, except military ones, would become unsustainable. This could be catastrophic at a time of an economic crisis and a pandemic. However, by giving promises (even if empty ones) that they will protect human rights in the future (no matter how distant), they successfully manage to buy time without having to abide by international laws. The questions that inevitably arise are disturbing, though. For how long will they play this game? What happens next? There are no clear answers for now, but the likely possibilities are a source of concern.