Opinion

Afghanistan: the Taliban's reconquest

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The scenes from Afghanistan are heart-rending. Images of ruin, destruction and surrender. In the weeks that have passed since the departure of the United States and the diplomatic representations of Western countries, the world has seen hundreds, even thousands of people, men, women, and children crowded into Kabul airport. Dozens of citizens chased moving planes and even Afghan mothers threw their babies out to be taken away by US soldiers. Traffic jams, congestion, and thousands of Afghans trying to flee for their lives, hell itself or the triumph of obscurantism, have been the immediate postcards left by recent events on that side of the world.

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In the midst of the crowds, many Afghans found it impossible to reach the planes, despite being registered on an evacuation list and having been granted protected status through special migrant visas. "A safe corridor has not been established to facilitate access for Afghans who have a reserved place on the military planes", as the media outlet VozPopuli recalled. Amid tears and cries of pain, the struggle of thousands to leave a chaotic territory. People devastated, destroyed and desolate in the face of the reality of their country. Women fleeing, women denouncing, women resisting after having dared to break taboos and to fight for equality and the conquest of their freedoms in recent years. There is consensus in affirming that the Taliban today are more sophisticated in their use of Western means to advance their aims, while simultaneously repressing and persecuting opponents and erasing the faces of women who until recently were exposed in the streets of the country. Afghan women will be eliminated from the public sphere, and it is not for nothing that they fear their rights will disappear completely. To be a woman under the Taliban, the Iranians or the Saudis is no longer to be rendered invisible and annulled every day, it is a kind of life sentence.

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The Taliban, for their part, celebrated their reconquest and compared the victory to the conquest of Mecca. "Afghanistan's debacle marks the path taken by other countries that have adopted theocracy as a system, embodied internally by the Taliban regime and externally by Al-Qaeda". "In the flight [Afghan military] left behind military vehicles, weapons and even uniforms that the US had equipped them with; today the Taliban are armed to the teeth with US-made weapons". "Few countries have adopted theocracy as a form of government: Iran, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen with Sharia (Islamic law) and the Vatican with a Christian monarchy embodied in the Pope. Is Afghanistan, under the Taliban regime, on the way to becoming an emirate in which its eventual president or leader exercises political power as a minister of God," asked the expert Jorge Elías weeks ago.

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Hillel Neuer, a human rights activist, questioned the Taliban's alleged change, exposing the blindness of various Western governments willing to recognise the Taliban regime for the foreseeable future as long as it forms an 'inclusive' government. There should be no illusions of moderation or change when it comes to the promise of fundamentalist redemption. The myth: "The Taliban changed". The reality: "Taliban fighters are "intensifying" their "persecution" of Afghan officials, security forces and police and punishing their families when they cannot find them," revealed an intelligence report obtained by ABC News. "Why do we fantasise that the Taliban have changed and their policies for women have changed? No, they have not changed," said former Afghan Deputy Minister of Women's Affairs Hosna Jalil. Rina Amiri, who served in the Obama administration in diplomatic affairs, whose family fled Afghanistan when she was a child in the 1970s, said the Taliban have lists of targets: "Women, journalists and activists. They know their names, go to their offices and homes, terrorise their families and intimidate these people. There is no honeymoon period". Gulalai Ismail, an exiled human rights activist, argued that the supposedly 'reformed' Taliban are trying to appease Western powers, while continuing in practice to attack Afghan identity and sovereignty, as well as the vulnerable population. There are people there who are resisting and the world should not look the other way, Ismail said. 

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Afghan citizens have a history of suffering under the Taliban who have in the past severely punished different 'crimes', including working or studying, said Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, adding that it will only be a matter of time before the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan is elected to the UN Human Rights Council, whereas EU diplomats and representatives have gone so far as to justify, for example, the election of the totalitarian regime of Iran to the Women's Rights Commission, or those of China, Russia and Cuba to the Human Rights Council because, they say, being there will allow them to 'learn' and improve their standards of freedoms and human rights.

Neuer pointed to regimes that systematically violate human rights and yet have a presence on the UN Human Rights Council: Cuba, which is a tyranny; Libya, which tortures migrants; China, which holds a million Muslims captive and in deplorable conditions; Russia, which poisons dissidents; Eritrea, which maintains forms of slave labour; Somalia, which practices female genital mutilation; Pakistan, which harbours terrorists; Cameroon, which murders protesters; Venezuela, which is a dictatorship and a collapsed state; and Mauritania, which in practice maintains slavery. Whoever said that the Taliban changed is lying and omits that the fundamentalists are hunting down all individuals and collaborators of the former government and when they cannot find them, they choose to punish their families by applying Sharia law. Just like the fundamentalist, extremist and misogynist ayatollahs who rule Iran.

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Afghan citizens have a history of suffering under the Taliban who have in the past severely punished different 'crimes', including working or studying, said Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, adding that it will only be a matter of time before the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan is elected to the UN Human Rights Council, whereas EU diplomats and representatives have gone so far as to justify, for example, the election of the totalitarian regime of Iran to the Women's Rights Commission, or those of China, Russia and Cuba to the Human Rights Council because, they say, being there will allow them to 'learn' and improve their standards of freedoms and human rights.

Neuer pointed to regimes that systematically violate human rights and yet have a presence on the UN Human Rights Council: Cuba, which is a tyranny; Libya, which tortures migrants; China, which holds a million Muslims captive and in deplorable conditions; Russia, which poisons dissidents; Eritrea, which maintains forms of slave labour; Somalia, which practices female genital mutilation; Pakistan, which harbours terrorists; Cameroon, which murders protesters; Venezuela, which is a dictatorship and a collapsed state; and Mauritania, which in practice maintains slavery. Whoever said that the Taliban changed is lying and omits that the fundamentalists are hunting down all individuals and collaborators of the former government and when they cannot find them, they choose to punish their families by applying Sharia law. Just like the fundamentalist, extremist and misogynist ayatollahs who rule Iran.

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Masih Alinejad agreed with Neuer, explaining that 42 years ago there were millions of Iranian women who heard the same lies now being told by the Taliban spokesman who spoke to the Western media to affirm the Taliban's commitment to women's rights: "No prejudice against women will be allowed, but Islamic values are our framework," he said. Khomeini, four decades ago, also claimed that all would be well in Iran, but with the triumph of the revolution, Iranian women were locked up and veiled. Since then they cannot go out without hijab, ride a bicycle or sing.

"We lost everything," Alinejad stressed. "We will give women all kinds of freedoms, but we will prevent moral corruption, and in that, there is no difference between men and women," Khomeini said at the time. Apart from appeasing Western observers, Khomeini was trying to reassure his liberal allies in the revolution against the shah, which included a large number of women. Women who have suffered under these systems, like Alinejad, are today trying to make visible Afghan women who are raising their voices to say and even shout that the Taliban have not changed in 20 years, but that they have changed. When the Iranian Islamists took over, they took over for good and established the new reality: female judges were sacked, female singers were banned, a whole range of activities and sports were banned for Iranian women, the veil was made compulsory and women and girls who refused to wear it were denied access to education, work and have since faced arrest and long prison sentences for opposing the forced wearing of the veil. According to Iran's interpretation of Islamic law, women who resist the compulsory wearing of the hijab in public can be punished with up to 74 lashes.

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Meanwhile, journalist and correspondent Clarissa Ward, duly attired in the imposed attire, gave an account of the reality of life on that side of the world. The CNN correspondent left Afghanistan a few days after her arrival to cover the events that made the news. Ward left Afghanistan in one of the planes chartered to evacuate Americans in the country. She walked and showed what the streets of Kabul looked like amidst the extremist takeover, gunfire and full veils. Beside her walked men with AK47 assault rifles. Zabihullah Mujahid, spokesman for the jihadist insurgent group, said after the seizure of Kabul that the picture would be clearer in the "Muslim nation" when the government of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan was formed, which will decide the laws that will govern the country from now on.

Correspondents and analysts warned in the days following the US departure that the Afghan refugee and migration crisis would worsen, as well as regional instability. However, other views, such as that of US writer David Rieff, put forward a different and more nuanced interpretation. For Rieff, the Afghan migration crisis will not be worse than the migration and humanitarian crises in Ethiopia, Mozambique or Haiti today: "Those are real humanitarian crises. I don't see Afghanistan as such. From Europe, some experts warn about upcoming issues in Afghanistan, external threats and the spill-over effects of the Afghan conflict, namely: the imminence or establishment of a totalitarian Islamist regime; the jihadist instrumentalisation of migrant or refugee status for the transfer of jihadists to the West; and, Islamist terrorism as a latent threat to Western countries.
latent threat to Western countries that will face terrorist actions planned from Afghanistan.

*Clara Riveros, Colombia. Political scientist, political analyst and author.