Promises, Betrayed

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This week, the Taliban marked two years since it returned to power following the US-led troop withdrawal.

Men and boys waved Taliban flags from armored vehicles, played Taliban songs and spoke about how “happy” they were to finally have freedom, NBC News reported. Men wished each other a “happy freedom day.”

Nowhere in the scenes of celebration were women. That was not surprising, though. Because in the past two years, females in Afghanistan have been virtually “erased,” CNN wrote.

In practice that means bans on women going to most workplaces, parks, gyms and pretty much anywhere else in public without a male relative, even in a taxi, the Associated Press reported.  That means no school beyond the sixth grade, much less university – 3.5 million females are now out of school. It means poorer health because women are denied access to male doctors and female doctors have been disappearing.

“There is no such thing as women’s freedom anymore,” Mahbouba Seraj, an Afghan women’s rights activist told CNN. “The women in Afghanistan are being slowly erased from society, from life, from everything.”

Afghan leader Hibatullah Akhundzada recently countered that his government has improved Afghan women’s lives, and that they are now provided with a “comfortable and prosperous” existence.

Over the past two years, Akhundzada has realized his vision of a country governed under his version of Sharia law. Music is banned, as are musical instruments, which have become kindling for bonfires, the BBC reported. So are ties for men and the shaving of beards. And as of Wednesday, all political parties, too, VOA reported.

The harsh punishments are back, too, for violating the rules. Stoning, public floggings and amputations are common again, as they were in the 1990s when the Taliban was first in power, according to RFL/RE. The courts that deliver these rulings are made up of loyal Taliban officials or clerics, not judges, and are often corrupt, the broadcaster noted.

Afghanistan, meanwhile, has remained isolated on the diplomatic front: The Taliban-run government is not officially recognized by any country.

Economically, the Taliban takeover has been a disaster for the country. About 80 percent of the government’s budget before 2021 came from international aid most of which has been frozen along with the country’s assets abroad for two years. The economy has all but collapsed, Bloomberg wrote, with inflation and unemployment in the mid-double-digits. About 90 percent of the country grapples with food insecurity.

In the meantime, the violence goes on. The death toll in terror attacks has dropped mainly because the perpetrators are now in power, as the Diplomat noted. But 1,095 people have died since August 2021, the majority in bombings and other attacks perpetrated by the Taliban, sometimes against former officials and military, sometimes against minority groups, according to Al Jazeera. But for the Taliban, this terrorizing of the population is necessary to flaunt its jihadi credentials to young men who might be tempted to join other militant groups.

Those groups include the Islamic State’s local affiliate, the ISIL-K, which is continuing to grow in strength and is the Taliban’s main threat. Besides other militant groups, the armed opposition to the Taliban hangs on. For example, the National Resistance Front continues to fight the Taliban in the Panjshir Valley.

There is a growing division within the Taliban, too, as CBS News noted, and Atalayar detailed, mainly from the faction that originated in Pakistan known as the Haqqani network, which controls Kabul and the east. At the same time, many Afghans are growing increasingly resentful of the harsh rules and punishments, the disastrous economic situation, the continued violence and instability and domination by the minority Pashtuns who make up less than 50 percent of the country’s population.

The Taliban is not living up to its promises in the US-brokered troop withdrawal agreement to be inclusive, the UN says, adding that it also breaking its commitment to stop harboring terrorists.

These days, members of Al-Qaeda openly serve in the government, including one terrorist on the US’ most wanted list, VOA noted. They serve in positions that include provincial governors, the deputy director of the intelligence agency and a training director in the defense ministry. In fact, that ministry is using the terror group’s training manuals.

“The link between the Taliban and both Al-Qaeda and (Pakistani terror group) Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) remains strong and symbiotic,” a recent report by the UN Security Council detailed. “A range of terrorist groups have greater freedom of maneuver…There are indications that Al-Qaida is rebuilding operational capability…”

The report said about 20 insurgent groups are now openly operating training camps. Some are threats to China, others to Tajikistan, to Uzbekistan and also to Pakistan, which has threatened Afghanistan with a military response.

The international community, however, is doing little to counter the Taliban as it betrays its promises other than complaining about the women’s rights issue and withholding aid and diplomatic recognition, wrote David Loyn, a research fellow at Chatham House. It is not investing in any opposition movement but it should, he added.

That’s because the Taliban’s control is fragile, he added: “If it implodes, there is a danger Afghanistan would become a failed state of feuding warlords and a crucible for terrorism.”

In other words, Afghanistan could easily revert to the state that led to the 2001 US-led invasion in the first place.

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