The last US military personnel left Afghanistan for good on 30 August 2021. By then, the Taliban had already been in Kabul for a fortnight after a lightning campaign lasting just over a week in which they conquered almost the entire country. President Joe Biden favoured such an operation, both by bringing forward the ultimately chaotic exit from the country and by speeding up the Doha agreement, in which the Taliban undertook to respect the basic freedoms won by Afghan women.
As soon as President Ashraf Ghani fled to Abu Dhabi and the country's offices and institutions were occupied, the Taliban set about two objectives: confiscating all the modern weaponry that the US troops were unwilling or unable to take with them, and convincing the international community that they were no longer the same people who had established a brutal medieval regime in the country between 1995 and 2001.
It did not take long to see the value of the students' word - that is what Taliban literally means - and their obsession with returning women immediately to their previous painful state: to stay at home, to cover their bodies and faces completely in public, to place them in the custody of a male guardian in their travels, restricted to exceptional circumstances, to abandon any jobs they had, and to forbid them once again access to education. The Shari'a and the more restrictive and limiting interpretation of Islam and the laws of the Quran were back.
Those who could left in a stampede, and a year after the Taliban regained power, Afghanistan is now the second largest country in the world, after Venezuela, in terms of the number of exiles: almost three million, spread over a hundred countries -more than two thousand in Spain-, mainly in Pakistan and Iran. In addition, another three million have had to abandon their homes in the interior of the country, over which all possible curses seem to have fallen: in this year alone since August 2021, Afghanistan has sunk into misery, with more than half of the 34 million inhabitants suffering from severe malnutrition and associated diseases.
The biggest human catastrophe on the planet
The UN special rapporteur, Richard Bennett, who visited the country last May, led the UN in his report to describe Afghanistan as the "greatest human catastrophe on the planet", in need of a humanitarian emergency that would require a minimum of $4.4 billion to begin to alleviate it, the largest request for aid for a single country. The international community has collected less than half of this amount, beset by the pressing needs imposed by the food and energy crises resulting from the war in Ukraine, and the broader crisis caused by ongoing climate change.
Other reports, such as those produced by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, agree in their diagnosis and analysis of the situation. Particularly dramatic is the description given by the latter organisation's rapporteur, Fereshta Abbasi: "The Taliban have arrested, tortured and summarily executed critics and opponents. The Afghan people are living a human rights nightmare, victims of both Taliban cruelty and international apathy".
Before they moved back to Kabul, international aid covered 40 per cent of the budget and 70 per cent of the country's food and health needs. All this ceased as soon as the Taliban showed the reality of their face and their intentions to return to their medievalist conception of society. Still, at least, the testimonies collected by reporters who have been allowed to enter the country reach the rest of the world. They are the ones who have been able to transmit the violence with which they repressed the demonstration of forty brave and daring women who, taking advantage of the presence of foreign media, dared to take to the streets to demand "Bread, work and freedom". The Taliban intelligence agents were unfazed by this presence, and the demonstrators were intimidated with shots fired in the air and on the ground, chased and beaten with the butts of Kalashnikov rifles, as well as having their mobile phones confiscated.
As if Afghanistan's plagues were not enough, the recent earthquake in the miserable region bordering Pakistan, and the persistent drought that has hit almost the entire territory, aggravate its state of prostration.
The question of terrorism protection is an open question.
In the Doha agreements between the Taliban and the Americans, the Taliban and the Americans pledged not to harbour or abet terrorism. The liquidation of al-Qaeda mastermind Ayman al-Zawahiri in Kabul itself shows that they have not respected this chapter either. Joe Biden boasted that his liquidation (by a drone equipped with six cutlasses that instantly dismembered his target) proves that there is no need for a permanent physical presence on the ground. But in any case, the truth is that the real proven intentions of the strongman in Kabul, Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada, do not seem to include honouring his word by honouring the commitments he has made.
No one in the past has been able to subdue Afghanistan's complex array of clans and tribes. The so-called international community seems to have realised that it will not be able to implement a model of society based on freedoms, as understood in the UN Charter and the Declaration of Human Rights, there either. But neither can it abandon to their fate the forty million Afghans, especially women, whose sad plight is a constant wake-up call for those who can enjoy the freedoms that most of the younger generation in the West is living without having lifted a finger to win them.