Terror, Redux

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On Monday, the Taliban marked the first anniversary of their takeover of Afghanistan with a national holiday, small victory parades and televised speeches boasting of their “great achievements” over the past year, the Associated Press reported.

“We fulfilled the obligation of jihad and liberated our country,” Niamatullah Hekmat, a fighter who entered Kabul on Aug. 15, 2021, told France 24, adding, “Those were moments of joy.”

Around the country, however, most people were not celebrating. They were too busy scrambling to scrape together some sustenance or avoid getting in the Taliban’s crosshairs.

In the year since the Taliban promised Western leaders and their own people they would restore peace, boost the economy, eliminate corruption, offer amnesty to opponents, shut the door on terrorists and allow women to continue to study, work and travel alone, the country has hit rock bottom.

The economy and banking system have collapsed. Attacks by affiliates of Islamic State are growing, and women again are forced to remain indoors or face the vice and virtue police and end up beaten, imprisoned or forcibly disappeared, as Amnesty International reported. Meanwhile, the recent killing of an al-Qaida leader highlights how world-class terrorists can again call Afghanistan home – with the Taliban’s blessing.

“What does the record show,” asked Geraldine Byrne Nason, the Irish ambassador to the United Nations, writing in PassBlue, a magazine that covers the organization. “A year of broken promises.”

In the aftermath of the Taliban’s takeover, the international community has withheld recognition, frozen about $9 billion in Afghan assets and halted most humanitarian aid and financial support. Now, the country is experiencing a “potentially non-reversible” economic collapse, says the UN.

These days, only five percent of Afghan families have enough to eat. Nine million people face starvation, the most of any country in the world. And almost 97 percent of the country’s 40 million are estimated to be below the poverty line.

“People are already selling their children and their body parts, in order to feed their families,” said UN chief António Guterres.

Women-headed households are hit especially hard because the Taliban has made it almost impossible for them to work. In some cases, Taliban officials asked female government employees to suggest male relatives to replace them, the Guardian reported.

Others, like Fawzia Amini, a former senior judge on Afghanistan’s Supreme Court, were targeted from the start.

Soon after the takeover, the Taliban closed the Elimination of Violence Against Women Court that Amini headed, fired all its judges and froze their bank accounts, CNN reported. The new leaders also released thousands of inmates, including some she had sentenced in her courtroom for sexual assault, abuse of a minor and femicide.

Under threat, she escaped to London with her family, her law degree sewn into her dress.

About 80 female judges remain in Afghanistan, most in hiding, desperately trying to leave because of frequent threats, despite the amnesty the Taliban promised all former opponents, government officials and soldiers, many of whom are now dead.

“Now I live like a prisoner,” another judge, Samira, told CNN from Afghanistan. “They (The Taliban) stole my life.”

And they are stealing her daughter’s life, too, she added.

Her young daughter is growing up with new rules that leave girls out of school after the 6th grade, force them to cover their faces in public, and ban them from traveling more than 45 miles without a male relative.

In this new world, girls as young as nine are being sold in marriage – also to members of the Taliban – and at least one or two women a day end their own lives in Afghanistan because of the current situation, Fawzia Koofi, the former deputy speaker of the Afghan parliament, told the UN.

That situation she describes includes devastating earthquakes, droughts and floods and a security situation that has only somewhat improved – and that’s only because those who were perpetrating most of the violence are now in power, say analysts.

Still, new violence has ignited, instigated by breakaway Taliban leaders, resistance groups and warlords, and terror groups such as Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISIS-K), a bitter enemy of the Taliban. Over the past year, they have killed hundreds in attacks in Kabul on schools, mosques and other public spaces, reported the New York Times and the Washington Post.

That is partly due to the intensifying competition between al-Qaida and ISIS-K following al-Qaida’s return to the country and its consolidation of power there, with help from the Taliban, USA Today reported.

That collaboration – a violation of the troop withdrawal deal between the US and the Taliban – was underscored by the US drone strike on July 30 that killed one of the world’s most wanted terrorists, al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahri, an architect of the September 11 attacks. He was living in Kabul with the full acquiescence of the Taliban.

This rivalry between al-Qaida and the ISIS-K has resulted in both terror groups looking for ways to launch high-profile attacks in order to recruit and fundraise off of them, to generate more attention and differentiate themselves, Colin Clarke, research director at the Soufan Group, a security consultancy, told USA Today.

“They want to be able to say, ‘We’re not the kind of guys that sit around and talk,’” he said. “’We can get things done.’”

What that all means for the future for most Afghans is no respite from terror, be it from ISIS-K or the Taliban, or hunger.

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