Taliban still firmly in the saddle: Afghans are hungry and women are not free

Exactly two years ago, the Taliban retook power in Afghanistan after the last U.S. troops withdrew. At first, the jihadists promised to rule “softly,” but that soon turned out to be an empty promise.

How are things going now?

The Taliban have no significant opponents two years after taking power. Occasionally, a group like Islamic State (IS) mounts an attack. As recently as March, for example, a senior member of the Taliban was killed in an explosion in his office.

But it is unrealistic that IS or any other group could take power in Afghanistan. They do not have enough money, fighters and other resources for a major offensive against the Taliban. Protests are rare.

“The secret of their success is that they are united,” Abdul Salam Zaeef told AP news agency. Salam Zaeef was Taliban envoy to Pakistan when they were in power in the 1990s.

According to him, the Taliban are united behind ideological leader Hibatullah Akhundzada. “If someone expresses his opinion or his thoughts, it does not mean that someone is against the leadership,” he said. According to him, disagreements are submitted to Akhundzada. He decides. “They follow his word.”

Criticism does come out from time to time. In February, for example, Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani was implicitly critical in a speech at the police academy. Also, according to a UN delegation, opinions are said to be divided over the oppressive measures Akhundzada is introducing against women and girls.

Little help from the West

Nearly 80 percent of the budget of the Western-backed Afghan government came from the international community. That money was used to fund hospitals, schools and ministries, among other things. When the Taliban came to power, this flow of money stopped. Billions of dollars in assets were also frozen. As a result, the Afghan economy collapsed.

Yet the World Bank reported last month that the afghani (the Afghan currency) was appreciating. Most civil servants are paid and most basic items are available, although demand is low.

The Taliban have held investment talks with countries in the region, including China and Kazakhstan. A meeting between the prime minister of Qatar and Akhundzada took place in June. And while Western countries refuse to recognize the Taliban, countries such as China, Russia and neighboring Pakistan are calling for an end to sanctions.

Poverty, malnutrition and child labor

Just because the Taliban is doing well does not mean the population is doing well. Afghanistan is experiencing severe drought for the third year in a row. According to the Refugee Foundation, the country is facing a humanitarian crisis. Poverty and malnutrition are on the rise. Of its 41 million inhabitants, 24 million depend on aid. Food shortages are looming for 20 million people.

Aid agency Save the Children surveyed 1207 adults and 1205 children in six Afghan provinces between July 8 and Aug. 2, 2023. It showed that 38.4 percent of children have to work to help their parents survive. Three-quarters of the children surveyed said they eat less than they did a year ago.

The aid agency is calling on the international community not to freeze or cut off existing funding for humanitarian aid, as it particularly affects the civilian population. “We hope that the international community, which has significantly reduced funding for food aid across Afghanistan, will reconsider this isolationist approach,” said country director Arshad Malik.

Women’s rights further curtailed

When the Taliban recaptured Kabul in August 2021, they initially promised to respect the rights of women and girls. Two years later, Amnesty International concluded that “any meaningful form of public or political participation by women and girls is now prohibited.”

Since November 2022, women have not been allowed to go to the park or the gym. In December, Afghan universities were declared off limits. A few days later, it was announced that they are also banned from working for national and international NGOs. And women are only allowed to take long trips in the presence of a male companion.

In July, the Taliban decided that beauty salons should close because they offer “non-Islamic services” such as eyebrow shaping. This affected 60,000 women entrepreneurs and further limited women’s meeting places outside the home. Women who protested this were dealt with harshly.

Women who resist oppression can be imprisoned, forced to “disappear” or tortured for no good reason, according to Amnesty. Rules to protect women from this kind of violence were abolished earlier by the Taliban.

Girls are still allowed to attend elementary school, but they are not always safe there. For example, 60 girls were hospitalized after people invaded their school in June and bombarded classrooms with a toxic substance.

Categorized in: