Afghanistan faces an uncertain future after Taliban takeover

After 20 years of the US’ War on Terror, President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw all American forces from Afghanistan on September 11 this year marked the end of an era.

After decades of war, the Taliban has once again claimed full control of Afghanistan. Making their offensive advance across the country by capturing its capital Kabul on August 15, the Taliban consolidated its power in Afghanistan following a peace deal between the US and the Taliban, 20 years after US forces removed the militants from power in 2001. 

After taking power in Kabul, the Taliban said they seek no “revenge” on opponents and that they respect women’s rights within the norms of Islamic law without further elaborating. However, some Afghans remain skeptical of the group’s vow of moderation, as thousands have rushed to the airport wanting to flee the country.

Since then, the Taliban has announced that women are required to wear a hijab, and banned women’s sports and co-education at universities. Kabul residents said groups of armed men have been going door-to-door searching for individuals who worked with the overthrown government and security forces.

On the topic of women serving in the new government, spokesman Zekrullah Hashimi said: “The women of Afghanistan are those who give birth to the people of Afghanistan, educates [sic] them on Islamic ethics… what a woman does she cannot do the work of a ministry. You put something on her neck that she can not carry.”

Photograph: Sidiqullah Khan/AP Photo

A lot of women have been reportedly hiding at home in fear. The women who took to the streets in protest demanding for equal rights were met with whips, batons and gunfire.

The Taliban is a militant group that rose to power in northern Pakistan following the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan. 

Meaning “students” in the Pashto language, the Taliban promised to restore peace and order, and enforce their strict version of the Sharia once in power. In September 1995, they seized the province of Herat, and captured the capital Kabul the next year, effectively overthrowing the rule of President Burhanuddin Rabbani. The militant group held authority over 90% of the country by 1998. 

After a protracted period of mujahideen’s infighting following the Soviets’ retreat, Afghans welcomed the emergence of the Taliban initially. The group took decisive action against corruption, disorder and improved security, which encouraged the commerce of the areas under their control. 

However, the Taliban also preached a hardline form of the Sharia and enforced punishments accordingly. They introduced public executions of convicted murderers and adulterers, amputations for those charged with theft, forbade beard trimming for men, required women to wear the all-covering burqa and banned girls aged 10 and over from receiving education. Television, music and cinema were also outlawed. These actions warranted international accusations of various human rights abuses.

20 years ago, the world turned its attention on the Taliban, as the US identified Islamist militant group al-Qaeda, and its leader Osama Bin Laden to be the ones responsible for the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, in which nearly 3,000 lives were lost. 

The Taliban was accused of harbouring the prime suspects of the attacks. Less than a month later, a US-led military coalition invaded Afghanistan and ousted the Taliban government. The group’s then-leader Mullah Mohammad Omar and other prime suspects, such as Bin Laden, eluded the large-scale manhunt and reportedly found sanctuary in the Pakistani city of Quetta, albeit Pakistan denied it. 

In spite of an influx of foreign troops, the Taliban slowly recovered and aggressively expanded their influence in Afghanistan, through military offensives, suicide bombings and raids. One of the most widely known and criticised Taliban attacks occurred in October 2012, when 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai was shot on her way home after taking an exam in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan. 

The hardline Islamists conducted direct discussion with the US in 2018. In February last year, the two parties struck a peace deal – the US was to withdraw all troops within 14 months and the Taliban was to stop attacks on US forces, prevent al-Qaeda or other militants from operating in areas under its rule and proceed with national peace talks.

However, the peace talks did not commit the Taliban to a ceasefire with regards to the local government or Afghan citizens. Shifting from larger-scale attacks in district headquarters and city centres, the militant group started a course of targeted assassinations of civilians, journalists, judges, activists and women in leadership positions. 

How the Taliban plans to govern Afghanistan remains uncertain. Despite the Taliban officials vowing to fully adhere to the US deal, many are certain President Biden’s decision to go through with the withdrawal of US troops was a mistake, especially with regards to women’s rights in Afghanistan and the risk the Taliban poses to the country and to the world.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell made it known that in order to earn access to €1.2 billion (£1.02 billion) in development funds earmarked through 2024, the Taliban must respect the UN Security Council resolutions and human rights.

U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the US and other governments will keep a watchful eye on the Taliban: “We’ll see what the Taliban end up doing in the days and weeks ahead, and when I say we, I mean the entire international community.”

Photograph: Us Army/Reuters