The past few months in Afghanistan, even by the standards set by two decades of war, have been especially calamitous.
Since April, when President Biden announced the withdrawal of United States forces from the country, violence has escalated at a terrifying rate. Emboldened, the Taliban have advanced across the country and now surround major cities, including Kandahar, the second largest. The toll has been terrible: Vital infrastructure has been destroyed, hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced, and the number of people killed or injured has reached record levels. As the United States and its allies complete their withdrawal, Afghanistan, so long devastated by conflict, could be on the brink of something much worse.
It doesn’t have to be this way: Peace is still a possibility. For too long, there was a belief that the conflict could be resolved militarily. Throughout that time, the United Nations was too hesitant to step in. We should know: Between 2008 and 2020, across six years, we served as U.N. envoys to Afghanistan. In those years, the U.N. endeavored to create openings for the peace process but could not get one underway. Though last year’s agreement between the United States and the Taliban made possible the withdrawal of international forces, it sadly did not create conditions conducive to peace.
The U.N. must now step up and guide Afghanistan away from catastrophe. The alternative, as all-out civil war beckons, is too grim to contemplate.
The organization needs to do more. Though two U.N. envoys are currently assigned to Afghanistan, neither is sufficiently empowered to make a difference. The U.N.’s humanitarian appeal to support the basic needs of Afghans — nearly half of whom urgently need material assistance — remains woefully underfunded. At the diplomatic level, the Security Council has looked on blankly as peace talks, held in Doha, Qatar, have failed to make any serious headway.
Fortunately, by contrast to times in the past when disagreements among members hobbled effective responses to global crises, the U.N. is in a good position to act. The United States, Russia and China — three of the five permanent members of the Security Council — all have a stake in Afghanistan’s stability. Along with Pakistan, they issued statements in recent months calling for a reduction in violence and a negotiated political settlement that protects the rights of women and minorities. They also encouraged the U.N. to play “a positive and constructive role in the Afghan peace and reconciliation process.” Taken together, the statements demonstrate a hopeful amount of political will.
But there has not been a unified effort to hold the peace process together. The Taliban, resisting talks with the government, have focused instead on taking as much territory as possible, spreading violence across the country. Faced with a fight for its survival, the Afghan government has encouraged local warlords and leaders to take up arms. In the absence of international mediation, the two sides are raging against each other on the battlefield rather than engaging at the negotiating table. It’s a situation that revives dark memories of the 1990s, when the country descended into civil war.
Yet no single country involved in Afghanistan is well placed to help. For its part in the conflict, the United States is now viewed with suspicion. Russia and China, which have different allies among Afghanistan’s neighbors, aren’t seen as neutral either. Pakistan, regarded with hostility by the Afghan government for its ties to the Taliban, doesn’t want the involvement of India, which has opened its own channels of communication with the Taliban. Turkey, Iran and the Central Asian states are all important, but cannot act alone.
The U.N. must step into this vacuum. In the first instance, the secretary general must immediately convene the Security Council and seek a clear mandate to empower the U.N., both inside the country and at the negotiating table. That would mean the United States, Russia, China and other members of the council coming together to authorize a special representative to act as a mediator. With the pivotal support of member states, this would put pressure on both sides to halt the fighting and reach a settlement.
The U.N. mission inside the country, whose mandate comes up for renewal in September, will also need support. The rapidly deteriorating security and humanitarian situation means that Afghans across the country will need more lifesaving assistance. The U.N. must also be able to continue its crucial work of reporting human rights violations, protecting children in conflict and supporting women and girls.
The U.N. is often criticized for failing to deliver on its original purpose: to maintain international peace and security. This is an opportunity to show its worth. In the past, international diplomacy has helped bring an end to conflicts in places as varied as Cambodia, Mozambique, El Salvador and Guatemala. The organization now needs to summon the same spirit, courage and energy. It cannot stand by and watch Afghanistan collapse.
For years, U.S. officials used a shorthand phrase to describe America’s mission in Afghanistan. It always bothered me: We are there to train the Afghan Army to fight for its own government.
That turned out to be shorthand for everything that was wrong with our mission — the idea that Afghans didn’t know how to fight and that just one more course in counterinsurgency would do the trick. Really? Thinking you need to train Afghans how to fight is like thinking you need to train Pacific Islanders how to fish. Afghan men know how to fight. They’ve been fighting one another, the British, the Soviets or the Americans for a long, long time.
It was never about the way our Afghan allies fought. It was always about their will to fight for the corrupt pro-American, pro-Western governments we helped stand up in Kabul. And from the beginning, the smaller Taliban forces — which no superpower was training — had the stronger will, as well as the advantage of being seen as fighting for the tenets of Afghan nationalism: independence from the foreigner and the preservation of fundamentalist Islam as the basis of religion, culture, law and politics.
In oft-occupied countries like Afghanistan, many people will actually prefer their own people as rulers (however awful) over foreigners (however well intentioned).
“We learn again from Afghanistan that although America can stop bad things from happening abroad, it cannot make good things happen. That has to come from within a country,” said Michael Mandelbaum, a U.S. foreign policy expert and the author of “Mission Failure: America and the World in the Post-Cold War Era.”
All of which leads to a fundamental and painful question: Was the U.S. mission there a total failure? Here I’d invoke one of my ironclad rules about covering the Middle East: When big events happen, always distinguish between the morning after and the morning after the morning after. Everything really important happens the morning after the morning after — when the full weight of history and the merciless balances of power assert themselves.
And so it will be in Afghanistan — for both the Taliban and President Biden.
Let’s start with the Taliban. Today, they are having a great morning-after celebration. They are telling themselves they defeated yet another superpower.
But will the Taliban simply resume where they left off 20 years ago — harboring Al Qaeda, zealously imposing their puritanical Islam and subjugating and abusing women and girls? Will the Taliban go into the business of trying to attack U.S. and European targets on their soil?
I don’t know. I do know they just inherited responsibility for all of Afghanistan. They will soon face huge pressure to deliver order and jobs for Afghans. And that will require foreign aid and investment from countries that America has a lot of influence with — Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the members of the European Union.
And with the United States gone, the Taliban will also have to navigate their survival while swimming alone with some real sharks — Pakistan, India, China, Russia and Iran. They might want to keep the White House phone number on speed dial.
“The post-2001 Taliban have proved to be a learning, more political organization that is more open to the influence of external factors,” said Thomas Ruttig in a paper for the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, The Washington Post noted.
We’ll see. The early signs — all sorts of Taliban abuses — are not promising. But we need to watch how, and if, they fully establish control. The Taliban’s main beef with America is that we were in their country. Let’s see what happens when we’re gone.
And let’s also remember: When the United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001, iPhones, Facebook and Twitter didn’t even exist. Flash forward to today: Afghanistan is not only much more connected to the world, but it’s connected internally as well. It will not be nearly as easy for the Taliban to hide their abuses from the world or from fellow Afghans.
In 2001, virtually no one in Afghanistan owned a mobile phone. Today, more than 70 percent of Afghans do, and many of them have internet-enabled smartphones. While there is nothing inherently liberalizing about owning a phone, according to a 2017 study by Internews, Afghanistan’s social media “is already propagating change as it has become a platform for denouncing cases of corruption and injustice, bringing attention to causes that have not yet been addressed on traditional media and seemingly letting any social media user voice a public opinion.’’
Maybe the Taliban will just shut it all down. And maybe they won’t be able to.
At the same time, a July 7 report in Time magazine on Afghanistan observed: “When U.S.-backed forces ousted the Taliban from power, in 2001, there were almost no girls in school across the country. Today, there are millions, and tens of thousands of women attending university, studying everything from medicine to miniature painting.’’
Maybe on the morning after the morning after, the Taliban will just order them all back under burqas and shut their schoolrooms. But maybe they will also encounter pushback from wives and daughters that they’ve never encountered before — precisely because of the social, educational and technological seeds of change planted by the United States over the last 20 years. I don’t know.
And what if all of the most educated Afghans try to emigrate — including civil servants, plumbers, electricians, computer repair experts and car mechanics — and the morning after the morning after, the country is left with a bunch of barely literate Taliban thugs to run the place? What will they do then? Especially since this is a much more environmentally stressed Afghanistan than the one the Taliban ruled 20 years ago?
According to a report published last year by National Geographic, “Afghanistan is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to climate change, and one of the least equipped to handle what’s to come” — including drought, flooding, avalanches, landslides, extreme weather and mass displacement.
As for the Biden team, it is hard to imagine a worse morning after for it in Kabul. Its failure to create a proper security perimeter and transition process, in which Afghans who risked their lives to work with us these past two decades could be assured of a safe removal to America — not to mention an orderly exit for foreign diplomats, human rights activists and aid workers — is appalling and inexplicable.
But ultimately, the Biden team will be judged by how it handles the morning after the morning after. Biden made a claim — one that was shared by the Trump team — that America would be more secure and better able to deal with any terrorist threats if we were out of Afghanistan than if we stayed embedded there, with all the costs of people, energy and focus. He again suggested as much in his address to the nation Monday afternoon.
The Biden team essentially said that the old way of trying to secure America from Middle East terrorists through occupation and nation-building doesn’t work and that there is a better way. It needs to tell us what that way is and prove it out the morning after the morning after.
We’re at the start of one of the biggest geopolitical challenges the modern world has ever faced. Because there’s now a whole slew of countries — Libya, Lebanon, Yemen, Afghanistan, Somalia — that have evicted the colonial great powers that once controlled them (and that brought both order and disorder) but have now also manifestly failed at governing themselves. What to do?
When the French president, Emmanuel Macron, visited Lebanon in July 2020, he was presented on his arrival with a petition signed by some 50,000 Lebanese calling for France to take control of Lebanon because of the Lebanese government’s “total inability to secure and manage the country.”
I doubt that is the last such petition we will see.
For the last 20 years, America tried to defend itself from terrorism emanating from Afghanistan by trying to nurture it to stability and prosperity through the promotion of gender pluralism, religious pluralism, education pluralism, media pluralism and, ultimately, political pluralism.
That theory was not wrong. We are entering an unprecedented era in human history, two simultaneous and hugely challenging climate changes at once: one in the climate of technology and one in the climate of the climate. Without such pluralism, neither Afghanistan nor any of these other failing states (or America, but that’s for another column) will be able to adapt to the 21st century.
But the theory relied on there being enough Afghans willing to sign on for more such pluralism. Many were. But too many were not. So Biden determined that we needed to stop this effort, leave Afghanistan and readjust our defense strategy. I pray that he is right. But he will be judged by what happens the morning after the morning after.
By Vijayta Lalwani
Published August 20, 2021
On Aug. 16, Wali Salek was resting in his two-storey home in District 11 in Khair Khana, a neighbourhood in the northwest of Kabul. His daughters were cooking and his two sons were asleep. Suddenly, a loud thud from above jolted the family awake.
“It sounded like a bomb blast,” Salek told Scroll.in over a video call on Tuesday afternoon. The 47-year-old works as a security guard in the main city nearly 9km away from his home.
Plaster began to crumble down from the walls and ceiling. Hearing the crash, his neighbours came out of their homes, Salek said. He climbed up to the roof of his house to see what had happened.
He was greeted by a horrific scene, he said: blood splattered across his roof and two bodies, badly damaged. “Their stomachs and their heads had cracked open,” Salek said. “Their brains had come out.”
But where had the bodies dropped from? Salek lives about 8 km away from the Hamid Karzai International Airport and his neighbours told him they watched as two men holding on to the wheel of a plane had fallen off.
News of the tragedy spread quickly—and it wasn’t long before Salek’s relative Shapoor Zarifi in Delhi’s Lajpat Nagar heard about it. The 27-year-old Zarifi, who runs a travel agency and a property company, put Scroll.in in touch with Salek. As Salek described the dramatic events in Pashto, Zarifi translated the video call into Hindi.
Salek sent photographs and videos of the bodies, which Scroll.in has chosen not to publish.
Wali Salek, over a video call, with Shapoor Zarifi and this reporter.
By Aug. 15, the Taliban had taken full control of the capital leaving several residents scrambling at the airport to find a way out of the country.
On Aug. 16, videos emerged from Kabul showed chaotic scenes of thousands gathered at the airport. Some were trying to desperately cling on to a US Air Force plane as it was gearing to take off from the runway
“When I saw them [on the roof], I first thought they were Taliban men who were thrown off the plane but we [the neighbours] checked the bodies,” Salek said.
Salek sent a photo of the plaster on his ceiling that had cracked and crumbled after the bodies fell on his roof.
His wife, Zakia Salek, had followed him up to the roof but fainted after she saw the bodies, he said. He took her down to the bedroom and then gathered 10 to 12 of his neighbours. They wrapped the bodies in cloth and blankets, and took them to Amir Hamza Mosque at 1 pm, Salek said.
Salek sent a photo of the blood splattered across his roof.
Salek’s neighbour confirmed to Scroll.in that two men fell onto his roof around noon on Monday. “I thought it was an explosion but when I came out there was no explosion,” said Abdul Wajid, a 20-year old who lives with his family in the area.
“Two young people fell from the aeroplane…on the roof of Wali Salek,” Wajid said. “When I saw them they were dead.” The young man, who graduated from Mohammad Anwar Bismil High School located 2 km away from his home, is currently unemployed.
The bodies of the two men were then taken to the mosque located 300 metres away, he said. The maulana of the mosque found the identity card of both the men from the pockets of their clothes after which their families were contacted, Wajid said.
Salek identified one of the men as Shafiullah Hotak after he found his birth certificate in the zipped pocket of the coat he wore over a shirt. Hotak appeared to be aged between 25 and 27 years, he said. The other man appeared to be barely 20 years old and Salek claimed that he did not find any identity markers for this man, or other markers such as rings, wristwatch, bracelets, or chains on either of them.
Wajid said the mosque authorities had identified the second man as Fida Mohammad who hailed from Paghman, a town near Kabul.
After Salek dropped the bodies at the mosque, he said he returned home and washed away the remnants of flesh from his roof. He then took a taxi to the city to start his six-hour-long shift at 6 pm.
When he returned home that night, his neighbours told him that the families of the men had come to claim them at the mosque. Hotak, he claimed, was a doctor who hailed from Hotkhil village in Kabul, and the other man hailed from Qargha, also located within the capital.
Living close to the airport, Salek and his family had become used to the harsh sounds of military aircraft moving about. But he had never imagined anything thundering from the sky and onto the roof of his house.
“I thought maybe the plane would drop some dollars but never bodies,” Salek said.
But the whole incident has left the family harrowed and fearful about their safety in the city. His wife has been unable to eat or sleep. In his family, including his six children, he is the only one with a passport, so leaving the country would not be possible. For now, the family was trying to relocate to a safer province.
By Aug. 17, his wife had left Kabul with one of their daughters to travel to Panjshir province, situated north of the country. “We are in shock and we are not feeling safe,” Salek said.
Shapoor Zarifi in South Delhi and Salek in Kabul over a video call.
“So much desperation”
Salek’s relative in Delhi, Shapoor Zarifi, also hails from Panjshir province. He came to Delhi in 2014.
As the Taliban have taken charge of most of the country, Zarifi has been inundated with phone calls from Afghanistan with desperate pleas for help. Afghans with passports, birth certificates and financial resources asked for his help in filling out their visa applications to India.
But none of that would matter until flights start again from Kabul. Zarifi said that his family including his mother, three brothers and two sisters, have been granted visas to India but are now stuck in Afghanistan.
“I can tell you that 90% of the people do not want the Taliban government or its rule,” Zarifi said. “Nobody can trust them and it does not matter if you are Hindu, Muslim or Sikh. There is so much desperation that is why people are risking their lives to leave.”
This piece was originally published on Scroll.ihttps://qz.com/india/2049994/two-men-fell-from-a-flying-plane-and-on-this-mans-roof-in-kabul/?utm_source=YPL
The Afghan all-girls robotics team have been offered scholarships at 'incredible universities,' says Oklahoma mother who helped them escape the Taliban
Sun, August 22, 2021, 12:03 PM
A mother from Oklahoma helped rescue members of the all-girl robotics team from Afghanistan.
Allyson Reneau previously met the girls at a conference in 2019 and wanted to help them escape.
Reneau told Insider the girls, who landed in Qatar this week, seem "safe, well, and happy."
See more stories on Insider's business page.
A 60-year-old Oklahoma mother who helped several members of an internationally recognized all-girl robotics team from Afghanistan escape the country said they are feeling "so grateful" to be out.
On Tuesday, 10 of the so-called "Afghan Dreamers," aged 16 to 18, were able to leave Kabul on a commercial flight to Doha, Qatar, after several failed attempts to flee the country.
One of the people who helped them get out was Allyson Reneau, a mother-of-11 from Oklahoma, who first met the girls at a Humans to Mars summit in Washington DC in May 2019.
Read more: The images of Afghans falling from the sky close the book on America's tragic and futile response to 9/11
"They left everything behind to pursue their dreams and to be free and educated," Reneau told Insider. "They now seem to be safe, well, and happy."
Reneau, who graduated from Harvard in 2016, said she kept in touch with the team since meeting them at the conference.
"Being a mother of nine biological daughters, I felt immediately drawn to them and I think it was it was mutual," she said.
The 60-year-old said that for weeks the girls had been texting her about the situation in Afghanistan and that one morning early in August, she woke up with an "overwhelming dreadful feeling that something was really wrong."
"I somehow felt that they were in great danger. And I couldn't shake it," she said. "It was so pronounced that I had to take action."
For days, Reneau was trying to speak to her senator and other local officials to find a way to get the team out.
But after hitting many roadblocks, she decided to take matters into her own hands and travel to Qatar herself. Shortly before her flight, she contacted an old roommate who lived in Qatar and worked for the embassy.
This friend was able to file all the paperwork, and with the help of the embassy, started the process of getting the girls out of Kabul. Reneau herself decided to stay and help from afar.
Four Afghan members of a robotics team make repairs on a robot.
Members of the Afghanistan team make a repair to their robot after their first round competing in the FIRST Global Robotics Challenge, Monday, July 17, 2017, in Washington. AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin
When she got the news that some of the girls got out safely earlier this week, Reneau said she "broke down."
"I got a text from one of the girls that just said: 'We did it.' All the emotion from two weeks of work and running into a wall constantly, and burying your feelings, and bearing your feelings for the girls, it just hit me all at once."
The all-girl Afghan robotics team made headlines back in 2017 when they traveled to Washington DC for an international robotics competition.
They were initially not able to obtain their visas to travel, but an intervention by former President Donald Trump allowed them to fly to DC and compete.
Reneau said that the girls are now figuring out where to go from Qatar but that they've already had an "abundance of scholarship offers from incredible universities" in the US.
"For the first time in their life, I really believe they have the freedom to choose and to be the architects of their own destiny and their own future," she said. "It's the freeing feeling to me to know that they will be able to go somewhere and get educated wherever they want."
Founder of all-girls school in Afghanistan escapes with students and burns records
Tue, August 24, 2021, 2:14 PM
The co-founder of the only all-girls private boarding school in Afghanistan said Tuesday that nearly 250 students, faculty, staff, and family members had made it out of the war-torn country and will temporarily resettle in Rwanda for a "semester abroad" for the entire study body.
"SOLA (School of Leadership, Afghanistan) is resettling, but our resettlement is not permanent," Shabana Basij-Rasikh tweeted. "A semester abroad is exactly what we're planning. When circumstances on the ground permit, we hope to return home to Afghanistan."
Basij-Rasikh also thanked the governments of Qatar, Rwanda, and the United States for helping the girls escape.
"My heart breaks for my country," she added. "I've stood in Kabul, and I've seen the fear, and the anger, and the ferocious bravery of the Afghan people. I look at my students, and I see the faces of the millions of Afghan girls, just like them, who remain behind."
Basij-Rasikh tweeted videos of herself Friday burning the academic records and files of the young women at her school amid the terror of what a return to Taliban rule could mean for women. Basij-Rasikh said she burned the documents to protect students and their families from the terror group.
"In March 2002, after the fall of Taliban, thousands of Afghan girls were invited to go to the nearest public school to participate in a placement test because the Taliban had burned all female students' records to erase their existence. I was one of those girls," Basij-Rasikh said. "Nearly 20 years later, as the founder of the only all-girls boarding school in Afghanistan, I'm burning my students' records not to erase them, but to protect them and their families."
Since seizing control of Afghanistan, the Taliban have attempted to reshape their image and portray themselves to Western reporters as a kinder, gentler extremist group that will respect women's rights within the limits of Shariah, though they provided no details of their new reading of Islamic law. When the Taliban were last in power in the 1990s, their hard-line stance led to the severe mistreatment of women. Women had become second-class citizens with very few, if any, rights. Girls were yanked out of school. And if that weren't enough, nearly all of the schools were either blown up or bullet-ridden.
Basij-Rasikh, who was born and raised in Kabul, was only 6 years old when the Taliban forbade girls from receiving an education.
Rather than giving in to their demands, her family dressed her and her sister up as boys and sent them to a secret school for girls in Kabul. They knew the stakes were high, and if caught, they could be killed. But they also knew the importance of education.
Basij-Rasikh attended high school in the United States through the YES exchange program and graduated magna cum laude in 2010 from Middlebury College in Vermont. After graduating, she returned to her homeland and co-founded SOLA, the first-of-its-kind Afghan-led private boarding school for girls.
Since the Taliban takeover, she has been pleading with the outside world to keep the girls stuck in Afghanistan in their minds.
"Those girls cannot leave, and you cannot look away. If there's one thing I ask of the world, it is this: Do not avert your eyes from Afg. Don't let your attention wander as the weeks pass. See those girls, & in doing so you will hold those holding power over them to account," she said.
Chris Hedges: The revengeful suffering orchestrated by the American empire on Afghans will be of Biblical proportions
1 Sep, 2021 13:58
Chris Hedges is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and host of RT’s On Contact, a weekly interview series on US foreign policy, economic realities and civil liberties in American society. He’s the author of 14 books, including several New York Times best-sellers.
Washington, humiliated in Afghanistan as it was in Iraq, Syria, and Vietnam, is blind to its declining strength, ineptitude, and savagery, but still capable of murderous retribution against those who expose these truths.
The Carthaginian general Hannibal, who came close to defeating the Roman Republic in the Second Punic War, committed suicide in 181 BC in exile as Roman soldiers closed in on his residence in the Bithynian village of Libyssa, now modern-day Turkey. It had been more than thirty years since he led his army across the Alps and annihilated Roman legions at the Battle of Trebia, Lake Trasimene, and Cannae. Considered one of the most brilliant tactical victories in warfare, centuries later it inspired the plans of the German Army Command in World War I when they invaded Belgium and France. Rome was only able to finally save itself from defeat by replicating Hannibal’s military tactics.
It did not matter in 181 BC that there had been over 20 Roman consuls (with quasi-imperial power) since Hannibal’s invasion. It did not matter that Hannibal had been hunted for decades and forced to perpetually flee, always just beyond the reach of Roman authorities. He had humiliated Rome. He had punctured its myth of omnipotence. And he would pay. With his life. Years after Hannibal was gone, the Romans were still not satisfied. They finished their work of apocalyptic vengeance in 146 BC by razing Carthage to the ground and selling its remaining population into slavery. Cato the Censor summed up the sentiments of empire: Carthāgō dēlenda est (Carthage must be destroyed). Nothing about empire, from then until now, has changed.
Imperial powers do not forgive those who expose their weaknesses or make public the sordid and immoral inner workings of empire. Empires are fragile constructions. Their power is as much one of perception as of military strength. The virtues they claim to uphold and defend, usually in the name of their superior civilization, are a mask for pillage, the exploitation of cheap labor, indiscriminate violence, and state terror.
The current American empire, damaged and humiliated by the troves of internal documents published by WikiLeaks, will, for this reason, persecute Julian Assange for the rest of his life. It does not matter who is president or which political party is in power. Imperialists speak with one voice. The killing of thirteen US troops by a suicide bomber at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul on Thursday evoked from Joe Biden the full-throated cry of all imperialists: “To those who carried out this attack … we will not forgive, we will not forget, we will hunt you down and make you pay.” This was swiftly followed by two drone strikes in Kabul against suspected members of the Islamic State in Khorasan Province, ISKP (ISIS-K), which took credit for the suicide bombing that left some 170 dead, including 28 members of the Taliban.
The Taliban, which defeated US and coalition forces in a 20-year war, is about to be confronted with the wrath of a wounded empire. The Cuban, Vietnamese, Iranian, Venezuelan, and Haitian governments know what comes next. The ghosts of Toussaint Louverture, Emilio Aguinaldo, Mohammad Mossadegh, Jacobo Arbenz, Omar Torrijos, Gamal Abdul Nasser, Juan Velasco, Salvador Allende, Andreas Papandreou, Juan Bosh, Patrice Lumumba, and Hugo Chavez know what comes next. It isn’t pretty. It will be paid for by the poorest and most vulnerable Afghans.
The faux pity for the Afghan people, which has defined the coverage of the desperate collaborators with the US and coalition occupying forces and educated elites fleeing to the Kabul airport, begins and ends with the plight of the evacuees. There were few tears shed for the families routinely terrorized by coalition forces, or the some 70,000 civilians who were obliterated by US air strikes, drone attacks, missiles, and artillery, or gunned down by nervous occupying forces who saw every Afghan, with some justification, as the enemy during the war. And there will be few tears for the humanitarian catastrophe the empire is orchestrating on the 38 million Afghans, who live in one of the poorest and most aid-dependent countries in the world.
Since the 2001 invasion, the United States deployed about 775,000 military personnel to subdue Afghanistan and poured $143 billion into the country, with 60 percent of the money going to prop up the corrupt Afghan military and the rest devoted to funding economic development projects, aid programs, and anti-drug initiatives – with the bulk of those funds being siphoned off by foreign aid groups, private contractors, and outside consultants.
Grants from the United States and other countries accounted for 75 percent of the Afghan government budget. That assistance has evaporated. Afghanistan’s reserves and other financial accounts have been frozen, meaning the new government cannot access some $9.5 billion in assets belonging to the Afghan central bank. Shipments of cash to Afghanistan have been stopped. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) announced that Afghanistan will no longer be able to access the lender’s resources.
Things are already dire. There are some 14 million Afghans – one in three – who lack sufficient food. There are two million Afghan children who are malnourished. There are 3.5 million people in Afghanistan who have been displaced from their homes. The war has wrecked infrastructure. A drought destroyed 40 percent of the nation’s crops last year. The assault on the Afghan economy is already seeing food prices skyrocket. The sanctions and severance of aid will force civil servants to go without salaries, and the health service, already chronically short of medicine and equipment, will collapse. The suffering orchestrated by the empire will be of biblical proportions. And this is what the empire wants.
UNICEF estimates that 500,000 children were killed as a direct result of sanctions on Iraq. Expect child deaths in Afghanistan to soar above that horrifying figure. And expect the same imperial heartlessness Madeleine Albright, then the US ambassador to the United Nations, exhibited when she told ‘60 Minutes’ correspondent Lesley Stahl that the deaths of half a million Iraqi children because of the sanctions were “worth it.” Or the heartlessness of Hillary Clinton, who joked, “We came, we saw, he died” when informed of Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi’s brutal death. Or the demand by Democratic Senator Zell Miller of Georgia, who after the attacks of 9/11 declared: “I say, bomb the hell out of them. If there’s collateral damage, so be it.” No matter that the empire has since turned Libya, along with Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, into cauldrons of violence, chaos, and misery. The power to destroy is an intoxicating drug that is its own justification.
Like Cato the Censor, the US military and intelligence agencies are, if history is any guide, at this moment planning to destabilize Afghanistan by funding, arming, and backing any militia, warlord or terrorist organization willing to strike at the Taliban. The CIA, which should exclusively gather intelligence, is a rogue paramilitary organization that oversees secret kidnappings, interrogation at black sites, torture, manhunts, and targeted assassinations across the globe. It carried out commando raids in Afghanistan that killed a large number of Afghan civilians, which repeatedly sent enraged family members and villagers into the arms of the Taliban. It is, I expect, reaching out to Amrullah Saleh, who was Ashraf Ghani’s vice president and who has declared himself “the legitimate caretaker president” of Afghanistan. Saleh is holed up in the Panjshir Valley. He, along with warlords Ahmad Massoud, Ata Mohammad Noor, and Abdul Rashid Dostum, are clamoring to be armed and supported to perpetuate conflict in Afghanistan.
“I write from the Panjshir Valley today, ready to follow in my father’s footsteps, with mujahideen fighters who are prepared to once again take on the Taliban,” Ahmad Massoud wrote in an opinion piece in the Washington Post. “The United States and its allies have left the battlefield, but America can still be a ‘great arsenal of democracy,’ as Franklin D. Roosevelt said when coming to the aid of the beleaguered British before the U.S. entry into World War II,” he went on, adding that he and his fighters need “more weapons, more ammunition and more supplies.”
These warlords have done the bidding of the Americans before. They will do the bidding of the Americans again. And since the hubris of empire is unaffected by reality, the empire will continue to sow dragon’s teeth in Afghanistan as it has since it spent $9 billion – some estimates double that figure - to back the mujahideen that fought the Soviets, leading to a bloody civil war between rival warlords once the Soviets withdrew in 1989 and the ascendancy in 1996 of the Taliban.
The cynicism of arming and funding the mujahideen against the Soviets exposes the lie of America’s humanitarian concerns in Afghanistan. One million Afghan civilians were killed in the nine-year conflict with the Soviets, along with 90,000 mujahideen fighters, 18,000 Afghan troops, and 14,500 Soviet soldiers. But these deaths, along with the destruction of Afghanistan, were “worth it” to cripple the Soviets.
Jimmy Carter’s national security advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, along with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, oversaw the arming of the most radical Islamic mujahideen groups fighting the Soviet occupation forces, leading to the extinguishing of the secular, democratic Afghan opposition. Brzezinski detailed the strategy – designed, he said, to give the Soviet Union its Vietnam – taken by the Carter administration following the 1979 Soviet invasion to prop up the Marxist regime of Hafizullah Amin in Kabul:
We immediately launched a twofold process when we heard that the Soviets had entered Afghanistan. The first involved direct reactions and sanctions focused on the Soviet Union, and both the State Department and the National Security Agency prepared long lists of sanctions to be adopted, of steps to be taken to increase the international costs to the Soviet Union of their actions. And the second course of action led to my going to Pakistan a month or so after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, for the purpose of coordinating with the Pakistanis a joint response, the purpose of which would be to make the Soviets bleed for as much and as long as is possible; and we engaged in that effort in a collaborative sense with the Saudis, the Egyptians, the British, the Chinese, and we started providing weapons to the Mujaheddin, from various sources again — for example, some Soviet arms from the Egyptians and the Chinese. We even got Soviet arms from the Czechoslovak communist government, since it was obviously susceptible to material incentives; and at some point we started buying arms for the Mujahideen from the Soviet army in Afghanistan, because that army was increasingly corrupt.
‘Over-the-horizon’ is just the newest buzz phrase for American incompetence – as proven by recent drone strikes in Afghanistan
The clandestine campaign to destabilize the Soviet Union by making it “bleed for as much and as long as is possible” was carried out, like the arming of the contra forces in Nicaragua, largely off the books. It did not, as far as official Washington was concerned, exist – a way to avoid the unwelcome scrutiny of covert operations carried out by the Church Committee hearings in the 1970s that made public the three decades of CIA-backed coups, assassinations, blackmail, intimidation, dark propaganda, and torture. The Saudi government agreed to match the US funding for the Afghan insurgents. The Saudi involvement gave rise to Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda, which fought with the mujahideen. The rogue operation, led by Brzezinski, organized secret units of assassination teams and paramilitary squads that carried out lethal attacks on perceived enemies around the globe. It trained Afghan mujahideen in Pakistan and China’s Xinjiang province. It shifted the heroin trade, used to fund the insurgency, from southeast Asia to the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
This pattern of behavior, which destabilized Afghanistan and the region, is reflexive in the military and the intelligence community. It will, without doubt, be repeated now in Afghanistan, with the same catastrophic results. The chaos these intelligence agencies create becomes the chaos that justifies their existence and the chaos that sees them demand more resources and ever greater levels of violence.
All empires die. The end is usually unpleasant. The American empire, humiliated in Afghanistan as it was in Syria, Iraq, and Libya, as it was at the Bay of Pigs and in Vietnam, is blind to its own declining strength, ineptitude, and savagery. Its entire economy, a “military Keynesianism,” revolves around the war industry. Military spending and war are the engine behind the nation’s economic survival and identity. It does not matter that with each new debacle the United States turns larger and larger parts of the globe against it and all it claims to represent. It has no mechanism to stop itself, despite its numerous defeats, fiascos, blunders and diminishing power, from striking out irrationally like a wounded animal. The mandarins who oversee our collective suicide, despite repeated failure, doggedly insist we can reshape the world in our own image. This myopia creates the very conditions that accelerate the empire’s demise.
The Soviet Union collapsed, like all empires, because of its ossified, out-of-touch rulers, its imperial overreach, and its inability to critique and reform itself. We are not immune from these fatal diseases. We silence our most prescient critics of empire, such as Noam Chomsky, Angela Davis, Andrew Bacevich, Alfred McCoy, and Ralph Nader, and persecute those who expose the truths about empire, including Julian Assange, Edward Snowden, Daniel Hale, and John Kiriakou. At the same time a bankrupt media, whether on MSNBC, CNN, or Fox, lionizes and amplifies the voices of the inept and corrupt political, military and intelligence class including John Bolton, Leon Panetta, Karl Rove, H.R. McMaster and David Petraeus, which blindly drives the nation into the morass.
Chalmers Johnson, in his trilogy on the fall of the American empire – ‘Blowback’, ‘The Sorrows of Empire’, and ‘Nemesis’ – reminds readers that the Greek goddess Nemesis is “the spirit of retribution, a corrective to the greed and stupidity that sometimes governs relations among people.” She stands for “righteous anger,” a deity who “punishes human transgression of the natural, right order of things and the arrogance that causes it.” He warns that if we continue to cling to our empire, as the Roman Republic did, “we will certainly lose our democracy and grimly await the eventual blowback that imperialism generates.”
“I believe that to maintain our empire abroad requires resources and commitments that will inevitably undercut our domestic democracy and, in the end, produce a military dictatorship or its civilian equivalent,” Johnson writes. “The founders of our nation understood this well and tried to create a form of government – a republic – that would prevent this from occurring. But the combination of huge standing armies, almost continuous wars, military Keynesianism, and ruinous military expenses have destroyed our republican structure in favor of an imperial presidency. We are on the cusp of losing our democracy for the sake of keeping our empire. Once a nation is started down that path, the dynamics that apply to all empires come into play – isolation, overstretch, the uniting of forces opposed to imperialism, and bankruptcy. Nemesis stalks our life as a free nation.”
If the empire was capable of introspection and forgiveness, it could free itself from its death spiral. If the empire disbanded, much as the British Empire did, and retreated to focus on the ills that beset the United States, it could free itself from its death spiral. But those who manipulate the levers of empire are unaccountable. They are hidden from public view and beyond public scrutiny. They are determined to keep playing the great game, rolling the dice with lives and national treasure. They will, I expect, preside gleefully over the deaths of even more Afghans, assuring themselves it is worth it, without realizing that the gallows they erect are for themselves.
KABUL, Afghanistan — An Islamic State suicide bomber devastated a Shiite mosque in the northern Afghan city of Kunduz on Friday, killing dozens of worshipers in a deadly continuation of the terrorist group’s campaign against the Hazara minority.
The massacre, while the mosque was crowded for Friday Prayer, was the group’s second attack against a mosque in just a few days. And it was the realization of Afghan Hazaras’ fears that the Islamic State’s predation would go unchecked under the rule of the Taliban, which itself preyed on the Hazara in the past.
Witness accounts described a powerful explosion with many casualties. Matullah Rohani, a Taliban official in Kunduz, told local media that at least 43 people were killed by the attack and more than 140 were injured.
A local Shiite community leader put the death toll much higher. Sayed Ahmad Shah Hashemi, who represents Kunduz Province’s Shiite population, told The New York Times that more than 70 people were killed in the attack.
“This deadly incident has caused trauma among Shiites and other sectors of the society,” Mr. Hashemi said.
Hours after the bombing, it was claimed by the Islamic State Khorasan, also known as ISIS-K. It was the group’s deadliest strike since the suicide bombing at the international airport in Kabul on Aug. 26 that killed about 170 civilians and 13 U.S. troops.
ISIS-K is a Sunni extremist group that has long targeted Shiite Muslims in Afghanistan, focusing heavily on the Hazara ethnic minority, which is predominantly Shiite. Most of Afghanistan is Sunni, and ethnic Pashtuns — who make up most of the Taliban’s ranks — are a plurality in the country.
ISIS-K also staged an attack several days ago outside a mosque in Kabul, the capital, which killed several people.
In the months before American forces withdrew from Afghanistan, some 8,000 to 10,000 jihadist fighters from Central Asia, the North Caucasus region of Russia, Pakistan and the Xinjiang region in western China poured into Afghanistan, a United Nations report said in June. Most were said to be associated with the Taliban or Al Qaeda, which are closely linked, but others were allied with the Islamic State.
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Multiple Islamic State suicide bombers at a mosque in southern Afghanistan killed dozens of people and wounded dozens more during Friday Prayer, the second such attack on a Shiite place of worship on successive Fridays in the country.
The attack, which witnesses said involved multiple explosions, took place in Kandahar city — considered the heart of the re-established Taliban government. The Islamic State Khorasan, also known as ISIS-K, claimed responsibility hours later, saying the attack was carried out by two suicide bombers. The terrorist organization had said it was behind a similar strike last week on a Shiite mosque in Kunduz Province, in the north, that left more than 40 people dead.
Hafiz Saidullah, a Taliban official in charge of the culture and information department in Kandahar, said that the latest attack killed 47 people and injured at least 68.
Witnesses described a bloody scene at the mosque, after multiple blasts erupted inside the building.
“We have no idea if it was a suicide bomber or an I.E.D. — but it was powerful; human flesh and blood were seen all around the mosque,” said a worshiper, Mohammad Ali, referring to an improvised explosive device.
Mr. Ali said the Taliban arrived shortly after the blast and cordoned off the area. Outside Mirwais Regional Hospital, where victims were taken, people were lining up to donate blood.
Such an attack in a Taliban stronghold poses the risk of undermining the Taliban government’s commitment to provide security to Afghan citizens after the Western-backed government collapsed in August.
That pledge has become increasingly difficult to uphold as Taliban fighters are now responsible for securing major urban centers like Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second-largest city, and Kabul, the capital. And it remains unclear if the Taliban will extend that promise of security to Afghanistan’s Shiite minority, whom the Sunni militant movement regards as apostates.
“People are very worried,” said Abdul Wahed Pazhwak, whose shop is just a few hundred feet from the targeted mosque. “It was the first time in Kandahar that they went inside the mosque. The chatter among us is to what to do, should we migrate? Should we stay or leave?”
Afghan Art Flourished for 20 Years. Can It Survive the New Taliban Regime?
So far, the Taliban have not banned art outright. But many artists have fled Afghanistan, fearing for their work and their lives.
The day Afghanistan’s president, Ashraf Ghani, fled and handed the country over to the Taliban, Omaid Sharifi was in downtown Kabul, helping his colleagues paint murals on the wall of the governor’s office. By noon, panicked employees in nearby government buildings were flooding the streets, some jumping into cars, others pedaling bicycles or running to get home, or to the airport.
Mr. Sharifi, 36, decided to leave his work unfinished, asking his colleagues to pack the painting tools and head to the office.
The Taliban were in charge of the country’s capital a few hours later. Mr. Sharifi stayed at home for a week, until he and his family were evacuated to the United Arab Emirates on Aug. 22.
Since the Taliban’s return to power, hundreds of artists — actors, comedians, singers, musicians and painters — have fled Afghanistan, according to estimates provided to The New York Times by several of them. Some have resettled in the United States, France or Germany, while others are waiting in third countries, unsure where they will be allowed to live long-term.
Most left because they feared for their lives; others simply saw no future in the country, and were certain they would not be able to continue practicing their art and feeding their families.
Under the new government, there has been a concerted campaign to remove artworks from all aspects of life, in an attempt to make society more Islamic, the Taliban have said. In doing so, the group is erasing two decades of craftsmanship that blossomed after the collapse of its first government in 2001.
The Taliban have closed music schools and covered up public murals. Radio and television networks have stopped airing songs, as well as musical and comedy shows. Production of Afghan films has come almost completely to a halt.
“The future of art and culture seems bleak,” Mr. Sharifi said from Virginia, where he and his family have resettled. “It is not possible for the Taliban to live with art.”
Afghan Economy Nears Collapse as Pressure Builds to Ease U.S. Sanctions
Afghanistan’s economy has crashed since the Taliban seized power, plunging the country into one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.
MAZAR-I-SHARIF, Afghanistan — Racing down the cratered highways at dawn, Mohammad Rasool knew his 9-year-old daughter was running out of time.
She had been battling pneumonia for two weeks and he had run out of cash to buy her medicine after the bank in his rural town closed. So he used his last few dollars on a taxi to Mazar-i-Sharif, a city in Afghanistan’s north, and joined an unruly mob of men clambering to get inside the last functioning bank for hundreds of miles.
Then at 3 p.m., a teller yelled at the crowd to go home: There was no cash left at the bank.
“I have the money in my account, it’s right there,” said Mr. Rasool, 56. “What will I do now?”
Three months into the Taliban’s rule, Afghanistan’s economy has all but collapsed, plunging the country into one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. Millions of dollars of aid that once propped up the previous government has vanished, billions in state assets are frozen and economic sanctions have isolated the new government from the global banking system.
Now, Afghanistan faces a dire cash shortage that has crippled banks and businesses, sent food and fuel prices soaring, and triggered a devastating hunger crisis. Earlier this month, the World Health Organization warned that around 3.2 million children were likely to suffer from acute malnutrition in Afghanistan by the end of the year — one million of whom at risk of dying as temperatures drop.
No corner of Afghanistan has been left untouched.
In the capital, desperate families have hawked furniture on the side of the road in exchange for food. Across other major cities, public hospitals do not have the money to buy badly needed medical supplies or to pay doctors and nurses, some of who have left their posts. Rural clinics are overrun with feeble children, whose parents cannot afford food. Economic migrants have flocked to the Iranian and Pakistani borders.
As the country edges to the brink of collapse, the international community is scrambling to resolve a politically and legally fraught dilemma: How can it meet its humanitarian obligations without bolstering the new regime or putting money directly into the Taliban’s hands?
A decades-long fight over land has been reinvigorated as Taliban leaders look to reward their fighters with property, even if that means evicting others.
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — For decades, roughly a thousand families called the low-slung mud-walled neighborhood of Firqa home. Some moved in during the 1990s civil war, while others were provided housing under the previous government.
Soon after the Taliban takeover on Aug. 15, the new government told them all to get out.
Ghullam Farooq, 40, sat in the darkness of his shop in Firqa last month, describing how armed Taliban fighters came at night, expelling him at gunpoint from his home in the community, a neighborhood of Kandahar city in southern Afghanistan.
“All the Taliban said was: ‘Take your stuff and go,” he said.
Those who fled or were forcibly removed were quickly replaced with Taliban commanders and fighters.
Thousands of Afghans are facing such traumatic dislocations as the new Taliban government uses property to compensate its fighters for years of military service, amid a crumbling economy and a lack of cash.
Over decades, after every period of upheaval in Afghanistan, property becomes a crucial form of wealth for those in power to reward followers. But this arbitrary redistribution also leaves thousands displaced and fuels endless disputes in a country where the land ownership system is so informal that few people hold any documentation for the ground they call their own.
Just as during past changes in government, distributing property to Taliban disciples in swaths of rural farmland and in desirable urban neighborhoods has turned into at least a short-term recourse to keep stability within the Taliban ranks.
“Who has the guns gets the land,” said Patricia Gossman, the associate Asia director for Human Rights Watch. “It’s an old, long continuing story.”
Afghanistan’s National Museum Begins Life Under the Taliban
Some experts hope the reopening of the museum in Kabul is a sign the Islamic regime will show greater tolerance toward art. Others worry it is all optics.
A Taliban fighter, Mansoor Zulfiqar, visited the National Museum of Afghanistan in Kabul earlier this month.Credit...
Under the watchful eyes of Islamic Emirate soldiers, the galleries of the newly reopened National Museum of Afghanistan in Kabul are often quiet these days, the antiquities and other treasures inside safe from the sort of looting that overwhelmed the museum the last time the Taliban seized power there.
But visitors, the lifeblood of any museum, have dwindled.
Many of the educated people who were regular patrons of the museum have fled the country, some schools have shut down and there are not many tourists sightseeing in Kabul.
The museum, which closed in August, when the Taliban seized control, reopened in late November, a positive sign to some who hope restrictions will be looser this time and that rampant destruction won’t reoccur.
When the Taliban were last in power, from 1996 to 2001, an estimated 70 percent of the Kabul museum’s collection of 100,000 pieces was ransacked or looted. The Taliban also notoriously blew up the 1,500-year-old Buddhas of Bamiyan, the colossal statues carved into a cliff in Afghanistan’s Bamiyan valley.
Omaid Sharifi, an Afghan artist and activist who’s now based in Virginia, said that the news of the museum’s reopening brought a smile to his face. “Opening the museum gives an opportunity for the residents of Kabul and people who are traveling to Kabul to have the chance to learn about the artifacts, about their history, about their culture,” he added.
“The history of Taliban with art and culture is dark,” he continued. “When I heard that the Kabul museum is not looted again, that was a sigh of relief. I said, ‘Thank God it’s not happening all over again.’”
Still, music in public areas has been banned, street murals have been painted over and what’s aired on radio and television is limited, so some express concern that the decision to reopen the museum is simply the Taliban’s attempt at projecting a less harsh image.
Samiullah Nabipour, the former head of the cinema department at Kabul University, said that the reopening “is more a political move” than one out of concern for art and culture. “Taliban are an ideological movement, and they oppose the art and artistic values ideologically,” he said.
In its heyday, the museum was a gem of Afghan culture, open six days a week and filled with visitors eager to behold its invaluable collection of artifacts. The museum, established in 1919, has been in its current building since the 1930s. The collection contains artifacts from the prehistoric, classical, Islamic and Buddhist eras, including manuscripts, weapons and sculptures, but it focuses largely on Afghanistan’s past and does not exhibit contemporary paintings or sculpture.
Now, the museum is open only on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and there are frequent power outages. The museum staffers haven’t been receiving their salaries, and visitors are required to show a permission letter from the Islamic Emirate for admission.
The work of conserving ancient artifacts that tell the story of Afghanistan’s heritage has continued at the national museum.
The work of conserving ancient artifacts that tell the story of Afghanistan’s heritage has continued at the national museum.Credit...Petros Giannakouris/Associated Press
In interviews this week, the museum guards said that they had been treating the visitors very well, and that nothing inside the museum had been stolen or damaged. But during a two-hour visit on Wednesday morning, there were no visitors to the museum and it suffered a blackout. Earlier this month, The Associated Press reported that the museum was averaging 50 to 100 visitors a day.
Fabio Colombo, a conservator who led a restoration project at the museum in the years following the Taliban’s ouster in 2001, remembered how back then attendance at the museum grew bit by bit.
But by 2019, the last full year that he was there, he said the museum “was absolutely full of people.” For many of the museum’s visitors, Colombo said, it was their first time learning about the country’s history and culture that was not affiliated with Islam.
Colombo also recalls thousands of fragments and shattered pieces of artifacts being scattered across the museum’s floors. “We tried to recombine and put so many sculptures back together,” he said.
Sharifi described having to destroy, more recently, his own sculptures and hide his paintings when the Taliban arrived in Kabul in August, remembering what happened the last time they were in power. “Any expression of art was banned,” he said. “My daily routine walking anywhere in Kabul was seeing all these cassettes, tapes, TVs all broken on every square and road.”
“There is no positive news for artists or for art and culture,” Sharifi said, reflecting on how the Taliban painted over murals made by his artists’ group, ArtLords, and how artists were forced to flee the country this August. But the museum reopening is “a very small step in the most dire of situations. It’s a candle lit. We’re not sure how this will go beyond this moment, but it is a positive gesture.”
Nabipour added that he doesn’t have many positive memories of visiting the museum in the past. He said he was always worried about its fate.
“Instead of enjoying to see the priceless artifacts of the different and glorious history of my country, I was worrying about losing them when I, along with students of the art school, visited the national museum or national archives,” he said. “I thought to myself, what would happen if an explosion targeted this place? What would the Taliban do with these artifacts if they win?”
But Gil Stein, a professor of archaeology at the University of Chicago and the director of the Chicago Center for Cultural Heritage Preservation, said it’s a good sign that the Taliban allowed the director of the museum, Mohammad Fahim Rahimi, to remain in his position. In September, Rahimi told The National, a publication focusing on coverage of the Middle East, that he “felt the responsibility for the museum: that I should take care of it, and that I should not leave it. I was ready to give my life for it.” Rahimi did not respond to requests for comment.
In a statement released in February, the Taliban vowed to protect cultural heritage and stop people from looting. “As Afghanistan is a country replete with ancient artifacts and antiquity, and that such relics form a part of our country’s history, identity and rich culture, therefore all have an obligation to robustly protect, monitor and preserve these artifacts,” it read. “All Mujahideen must prevent excavation of antiquities and preserve all historic sites like old fortresses, minarets, towers and other similar sites.”
The Taliban’s fundamentalist interpretation of Islam includes a rejection of art that is not Islamic or portrays living beings, and people are concerned that view hasn’t changed between last time and now.
“I don’t think that their ideology has changed at all, but I think that they’ve gotten much more savvy about the public perceptions of their regime,” Stein said. “They’re very desperate to have a more neutral stance with the international community.”
Taliban forbids long-distance trips for Afghan women without male escort
Our Foreign Staff
Sun, December 26, 2021, 10:14 AM
Afghanistan's Taliban authorities said on Sunday that women seeking to travel long distances should not be offered road transport unless they are accompanied by a close male relative.
The guidance issued by the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice drew condemnation from rights activists and called on vehicle owners to refuse rides to women not wearing headscarves.
The move follows the Taliban barring many women in public-sector roles from returning to work in the wake of their August 15 seizure of power, and as girls remain largely cut off from state secondary schooling.
It also comes despite the hardline Islamists seeking to project a moderate image internationally in a bid to restore aid suspended when the previous government imploded during the final stages of a US military withdrawal.
"Women travelling for more than 45 miles should not be offered a ride if they are not accompanied by a close family member," ministry spokesman Sadeq Akif Muhajir told the news agency AFP, specifying that the escort must be a close male relative.
The new guidance, circulated on social media networks, also asked people to stop playing music in their vehicles.
Weeks ago, the ministry asked Afghanistan's television channels to stop showing dramas and soap operas featuring women actors. It also called on women TV journalists to wear headscarves while presenting.
Mr Muhajir said Sunday that the hijab, an Islamic headscarf, would likewise be required for women seeking transport.
The Taliban's interpretation of the hijab - which can range from a hair covering to a face veil or full-body covering - is unclear, and most Afghan women already wear headscarves.
Human Rights Watch blasted the guidance.
"This new order essentially moves... further in the direction of making women prisoners," said Heather Barr, the group's associate director of women's rights.
It "shuts off opportunities for them to be able to move about freely, to travel to another city, to do business, (or) to be able to flee if they are facing violence in the home", Ms Barr added.
Early this month, the Taliban issued a decree in the name of their supreme leader instructing the government to enforce women's rights.
But it did not mention girls' access to education.
Women's rights were severely curtailed during the Taliban's previous stint in power in the 1990s.
They were forced to wear the face-covering burqa garment, only allowed to leave home with a male chaperone and banned from work and education.
Respect for women's rights has repeatedly been cited by key global donors as a condition for restoring aid.
The UN has warned that Afghanistan faces an "avalanche of hunger" this winter, estimating that 22 million citizens face "acute" food shortages.
Fri, December 31, 2021, 12:03 AM
SHEDAI CAMP, Afghanistan (AP) — In a sprawling settlement of mud brick huts in western Afghanistan housing people displaced by drought and war, a woman is fighting to save her daughter.
Aziz Gul’s husband sold their 10-year-old into marriage without telling his wife, taking a down-payment so he could feed his family of five children. Otherwise, he told her, they would all starve. He had to sacrifice one to save the rest.
Many of Afghanistan’s growing number of destitute people are making such desperate decisions as their nation spirals into a vortex of poverty.
Afghanistan’s aid-dependent economy was already teetering when the Taliban seized power in mid-August amid a chaotic withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops. The international community froze Afghanistan’s assets abroad and halted funding, unwilling to work with a Taliban government given its reputation for brutality during its previous rule 20 years ago.
The consequences have been devastating for a country battered by war, drought and the coronavirus pandemic. State employees haven’t been paid in months. Malnutrition stalks the most vulnerable, and aid groups say more than half the population faces acute food shortages.
“Day by day, the situation is deteriorating in this country, and especially children are suffering,” said Asuntha Charles, national director of the World Vision aid organization in Afghanistan, which runs a health clinic for displaced people near the western city of Herat. “Today I have been heartbroken to see that the families are willing to sell their children to feed other family members.”
Arranging marriages for very young girls is common in the region. The groom’s family pays money to seal the deal, and the child usually stays with her parents until she is at least around 15. Yet with many unable to afford even basic food, some say they’d allow prospective grooms to take very young girls or are even trying to sell their sons.
Gul, unusually in this deeply patriarchal, male-dominated society, is resisting. Married off herself at 15, she says she would kill herself if her daughter, Qandi Gul, is taken away.
When her husband told her he had sold Qandi, “my heart stopped beating. I wished I could have died at that time, but maybe God didn’t want me to die,” Gul said, with Qandi by her side peering shyly from beneath her sky-blue headscarf. “Each time I remember that night I die and come back to life.”
Her husband told her he sold one to save the others, saying they all would have died otherwise.
"Dying was much better than what you have done,” she said she told him.
Gul rallied her brother and village elders and with their help secured a “divorce” for Qandi, on condition she repays the 100,000 afghanis (about $1,000) her husband received. It’s money she doesn’t have.
Her husband fled, possibly fearing Gul might denounce him to authorities. The Taliban government recently banned forced marriages.
Gul says she isn’t sure how long she can fend off the family of the prospective groom, a man of around 21.
“I am just so desperate. If I can’t provide money to pay these people and can’t keep my daughter by my side, I have said that I will kill myself,” she said. “But then I think about the other children. What will happen to them? Who will feed them?” Her eldest is 12, her youngest - her sixth - just two months.
In another part of the camp, father-of-four Hamid Abdullah was also selling his young daughters into arranged marriages, desperate for money to treat his chronically ill wife, pregnant with their fifth child.
He can’t repay money he borrowed to fund his wife’s treatments, he said. So three years ago, he received a down-payment for his eldest daughter Hoshran, now 7, in an arranged marriage to a now 18-year-old.
The family who bought Hoshran are waiting until she is older before settling the full amount and taking her. But Abdullah needs money now, so he is trying to arrange a marriage for his second daughter, 6-year-old Nazia, for about 20,000-30,000 afghanis ($200-$300).
“We don’t have food to eat,” and he can’t pay his wife’s doctor, he said.
His wife, Bibi Jan, said they had no other option but it was a difficult decision. “When we made the decision, it was like someone had taken a body part from me.”
In neighboring Badghis province, another displaced family is considering selling their son, 8-year-old Salahuddin.
His mother, Guldasta, said that after days with nothing to eat, she told her husband to take Salahuddin to the bazaar and sell him to bring food for the others.
“I don’t want to sell my son, but I have to,” the 35-year-old said. “No mother can do this to her child, but when you have no other choice, you have to make a decision against your will.”
Salahuddin blinked and looked on silently, his lip quivering slightly.
His father, Shakir, blind in one eye and with kidney problems, said the children had been crying for days from hunger. Twice he decided to take Salahuddin to the bazaar, and twice he faltered. “But now I think I have no other choice.”
Buying boys is believed to be less common than girls, and when it does take place, it appears to be cases families without sons buying infants. In her despair, Guldasta thought perhaps such a family might want an 8-year-old.
The desperation of millions is clear as more and more people face hunger, with some 3.2 million children under 5 years old facing acute malnutrition, according to the U.N.
Charles, World Vision’s national director for Afghanistan, said humanitarian aid funds are desperately needed.
“I’m happy to see the pledges are made,” she said. But the pledges “shouldn’t stay as promises, they have to be seen as reality on the ground.”
Abdul Qahar Afghan in Shedai Camp, Afghanistan, and Rahim Faiez in Islamabad contributed to this report.
Nowhere to hide: Abused Afghan women find shelter dwindling
According to the UN, 87pc of Afghan women have experienced some form of physical, sexual or psychological violence.
AFPPublished about 16 hours ago
Married off at seven to a man old enough to be her great-grandfather, Fatema endured rapes, beatings and starvation until she could take no more and tried to kill herself.
Through tears she recalls the beatings she received — like the time, aged 10, she was flung against a wall and “my head crashed against a nail ... I almost died”.
Today the 22-year-old is living in one of the few shelters for battered women still open in Afghanistan since the Taliban's August return to power, but is fearful she could lose her place at any time.
If the refuge closes, Fatema will have nowhere to go. She has lost touch with her own family, while her in-laws have vowed to kill her for dishonouring their name.
Fatema's plight is shared by millions in Afghanistan, where patriarchal tradition, poverty and a lack of education have held back women's rights for decades.
According to the United Nations, 87 per cent of Afghan women have experienced some form of physical, sexual or psychological violence.
Despite this, the country of 38 million had only 24 shelters dedicated to their care before the Taliban's return — almost all financed by the international community and frowned upon by many locals.
In this picture taken on December 11, 2021, a victim of gender violence (L) helps a cook while preparing lunch for residents and staff in a shelter for Afghan women and girls victims of gender violence in Kabul. — AFP
'Start from scratch'
Some NGOs running shelters stepped up their work long before the Taliban takeover.
The director of one organization told AFP she began moving women away from shelters in unstable provinces in advance of the US troop withdrawal.
Some were sent back to their blood relatives in the hope they would be offered protection from vengeful in-laws. Others were sent to shelters in bigger provincial capitals.
As the Taliban onslaught continued the situation became desperate, and around 100 women were transferred to Kabul — only for the capital to fall.
“We have to start from scratch,” says the director, who asked not to be named or the organization identified while they navigated how to operate under the new regime.
The Taliban insist their strict interpretation of the Holy Quran provides women with rights and protection, but the reality is very different and they are slowly being squeezed out of public life.
Most secondary schools for girls are shut, women are barred from government employment apart from select specialized areas, and this week new guidelines stated they cannot undertake long journeys unless accompanied by a male relative.
In this picture taken on December 11, 2021, a survivor of gender violence watches TV in a shelter for Afghan women and girls victims of gender violence in Kabul. — AFP
There has been some glimmer of light.
Earlier this month supreme leader Hibatullah Akhundzada denounced forced marriage, while Suhail Shaheen — the Taliban's would-be ambassador to the UN — told Amnesty International that women could go to court if they were victims of violence.
The regime has not made any formal pronouncement on the future of shelters, although the refuges have not escaped their notice.
Taliban fighters and officials have paid several visits to the one housing Fatema and around 20 other women, according to employees.
“They came in, looked at the rooms, checked there were no men,” said one worker.
“They said this is not a safe place for women, that their place is at home,” said another.
Still, it gave one woman hope.
“It was much better than we expected,” the first worker told AFP.
'Accused of lying'
Even before the Taliban takeover many women in abusive households had little recourse.
Zakia approached the Ministry of Women's Affairs — since shut down by the Taliban — for advice on how to escape a father-in-law who had threatened to kill her.
“They didn't even listen to me,” she said, and told her that her situation was not that bad.
Mina, 17, who ran away from an abusive uncle seven years ago with her younger sister, had a similar reception.
“The ministry accused me of lying,” she told AFP.
In this picture taken on December 11, 2021, women and girls have lunch in a shelter for Afghan women and girls victims of gender violence in Kabul. — AFP
And it is not just the women seeking shelter who are vulnerable, with Amnesty International saying shelter workers also “risk violence and death”.
Several staffers said they had been threatened over the phone by people claiming to be Taliban seeking the whereabouts of women who had fled their households.
Cases of abuse are likely to rise with the virtual collapse of the economy bringing soaring unemployment, a cash-flow crisis and mounting hunger.
“When the economic situation worsens, men are out of work, and cases of violence increase,” one shelter worker said.
“The situation has probably worsened ... services have generally decreased,” said Alison Davidian, interim representative for UN Women in Afghanistan.
One of the few shelters open — albeit discretely — is run by Mahbouba Seraj, a pioneer in the struggle for women's rights in the country.
After being inspected by the Taliban it was “kind of left alone”, she says, but her concern is now for the women trapped in abusive households who have nowhere to go.
Zakia, at least, has shelter for now — but for how long?
“My own father said he didn't care about me,” she says.
You cannot post new topics in this forum You cannot reply to topics in this forum You cannot edit your posts in this forum You cannot delete your posts in this forum You cannot vote in polls in this forum