European Eye on Radicalization
In August 2021, Afghanistan fell to a jihadist coalition led by the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Since that time, repression within the country has escalated as the jihadists impose their version of the shari’a. The most recent ordinances, just before Christmas, banned women from attending university and girls attending primary school, completing the exclusion of females from education in the country—a ban on girls going to secondary school has been in force since March.
The Taliban Minister of Higher Education justified banning women from entering universities in Afghanistan, saying that they “do not respect the dress code”, referring to the mandatory covering of a woman’s head, face and body. The minister noted that the girls, who were studying in a province far from their home, “did not travel with a mahram, an adult male companion.”
The Taliban growing restrictions on freedoms, especially against women, who were gradually excluded from public life and excluded from education. Women are no longer allowed to travel without a male family member and must wear the burqa. In November, the movement banned women from parks, gardens, gyms and public swimming pools. The Taliban rules against women are considered as a serious and unpresented setback in terms of the rights and freedoms of women.
Since the Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan, the group has tried to promote the idea that it will behave differently—that is, more moderately, on domestic issues such as female education, and externally on the matter of terrorism. However, the opposite has happened. Although the Taliban pledged, after returning to power in August 2021, to show greater flexibility, it soon returned to its very strict interpretation of shari’a law that characterized its rule between 1996 and 2001. Taliban Afghanistan was the planning base for the 9/11 attacks, creating worries that attacks of this kind would be repeated from Afghan territory. The Taliban tried to foster the image of being opposed to “terrorists” using the areas it rules, a reassurance it was difficult to take seriously since it involved treating the Taliban as if it was not a terrorist group.
EER was under no illusions that the fall of Afghanistan would return the country to a state of domestic terror and external threat to its neighbours, from destabilising refugee flows to terrorism. Chris Alexander, a former Cabinet Minister and diplomat from Canada, were likewise clear-sighted that the Taliban and their Pakistani patrons had no reasons to make any concessions after their total victory. So it has proven.
After a year of Taliban rule, the situation was thus:
Despite the friendlier messaging about what was intended, after a year of Taliban rule, Afghanistan has witnessed a sharp decline in its human rights situation and a severe humanitarian crisis. There has in some respects been a decline in violence in the country, though even this is qualified by pockets of nationalist resistance and the ongoing challenge of the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP),
The grim human rights situation in general under the Taliban has been particularly harsh for women. The Taliban has largely excluded women from government jobs, restricted their right to travel alone outside of the cities where they live, and prevented girls from attending middle and high school. The Afghan Supreme Leader Hibatullah Akhundzada ordered women to wear the niqab in public. …
The humanitarian crisis is acute. The World Bank measured the country’s GDP as dropping by 34 percent in 2022 compared to 2020 and prices of crucial goods have risen. The UN data show that 90 percent of all Afghans are malnourished. …
Intelligence reports confirm that the Taliban remains closely associated with Al-Qaeda. … Moreover, it is likely that the Taliban is unable to take concrete actions against ISKP, which has a more immediate intention and capability to wage external attacks. …
One year after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, it is clear how little has changed since the 1990s.
The killing of Al-Qaeda’s emir, Ayman al-Zawahiri, in the Taliban’s capital in July 2022 made clear that none of the promises about constricting Al-Qaeda’s activities were true—not that they ever could be, since core elements of the Taliban like the Haqqani Network are Al-Qaeda.
“They destroyed the only bridge that could connect me with my future,” said one Kabul University student. Another woman added that she had “lost everything”. There have been efforts to resist these changes. Afghan women have taken to the streets to engage in protests against the Taliban regime and a number of male students at the universities have quit in protest at the banning of their female counterparts. As brave as these actions are, they are unable to affect the situation: the protests have been met with brutal repression and the removal of men who support women’s rights from the universities might, if anything, make the Talibanization of these institutions easier for the regime.
The Taliban swiftly followed-up these ordinances by banning women from working in the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that are delivering life-saving aid to people in a country where the economy has collapsed. The United Nations protested this, and the NGOs have suspended their operations in the country. This will likely have dire consequences for the Afghan people, but there is little sign it will alter the behavior of the Taliban.
As Ajmal Sohail explained in a recent EER report, the Taliban’s leadership is dominated by figures who wish to have Afghanistan isolated from international institutions they regard as corrupting their pure “Islamic Emirate”, so the displeasure of the U.N. and the withdrawal of U.N.-sponsored agencies from Afghanistan is an ideological win for the Taliban-Al-Qaeda forces—and ideology is all that matters to them. They are unconcerned about the material costs this will inflict on the Afghan population.
In the nineteenth century, the Ottoman writer Namık Kemal, looking around at the declining state of the Empire against its European rivals, identified the subordinate status of women as a key reason why this had happened: “our national society is stricken like a human body that is paralyzed on one side … Many evil consequences result from this position of women”. What was true then is true now, with the difference that in an interconnected world, these evil consequences will not only afflict Afghanistan.