One year since the Taliban takeover, has the group fulfilled any of its promises?
Uncertainty, fear, and betrayal—those are some of the feelings shared by Afghans as they watched their country crumble on 15 August last year.
The day marked the official Taliban takeover of the capital Kabul following decades of fighting against the former Afghan government as well as foreign forces.
As the the militant group engaged in a lightning offensive to capture the country, all US and NATO troops scurried to Kabul International Airport for immediate evacuation, leaving behind an entire nation to suffer from a war they started.
Washington’s two decades of war led to the killing of some 71,000 civilians and ended with a chaotic and abrupt exit that triggered criticism and questions worldwide.
On the ground in Kabul, thousands of Afghans risked their lives by hopping onto crowded planes in a last bid attempt to flee the group that oppressed them in the late 90s.
At the time of the takeover, Qatar was quick to evacuate more than 70,000 Afghans and foreigners in what has since been described as history’s largest airlift. All the while, former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani departed onboard a private jet to Tajikistan, leaving his entire nation behind.
“Ashraf Ghani threw the national population under the bus and since then Afghans have been suffering and there was a way to save these institutions, to have some semblance of inclusive setup,” Obaidullah Baheer, lecturer of Transitional Justice at the American University in Kabul, told Doha News.
One year later, the Taliban-led interim Afghan government has declared that it ended the war in Afghanistan, pointing to what it claims to be nationwide stability in the aftermath of the US withdrawal.
However, analysts dispute this claim.
“The Taliban are taking credit for the discontinuation of violence even though they were a main party in that violence and it only ended because the rival, the party they were in conflict with, was disintegrated,” Haroun Rahimi, assistant professor of law at the American University of Afghanistan, told Doha News.
“A lot of what was gained was destroyed.”
The Taliban was able to seize the seat of former president Ghani following a series of rapid territorial gains weeks ahead of the capture of Kabul on 15 August.
In Doha, officials quickly mobilised for talks aimed at reaching a rapid solution. However, they ended with the former government walking out of negotiations while refusing to speak to the press. On the other hand, members of the Taliban were seen smiling and waving at cameras.
Days later, the Taliban surfaced in front of world cameras once more, holding a historic press conference in Kabul in which the group made several ambitious promises – from amnesty for all opposition, to the protection of women’s rights.
Despite global skepticism, cautious hope appeared to fill the air.
Among the first promises that were left unmet was the formation of an inclusive government that includes all social segments, including women. Instead, the Taliban in September last year appointed an entire administration composed of members of its own group as well as loyalists from the Haqqani network.
Led by Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhund, the acting government included members under UN and US sanctions. One member is interim minister of interior Sirajuddin Haqqani.
Haqqani is also on the FBI’s most wanted list, with the agency offering a $5 million bounty for his arrest.
No woman was appointed in the government despite women participating in the country’s politics for years, including during the 2020 intra-Afghan talks in Doha with the Taliban.
The Ministry of Women’s Affairs was also transformed into a ministry for the “propagation of virtue and the prevention of vice”.
“The basic structure of the state remains unclear, there seems to be a power struggle between ministries in Kabul,” said Rahimi.
While the Taliban has promised to “strive” to include all segments of the Afghan society in the next government, it remains unclear whether it will go ahead with implementing this on the ground.
Women and girls’ rights
A key concern raised on the global stage is the issue of women and girl’s rights in Afghanistan. At the time of the Taliban’s former rule in the 90s, girls were banned from getting educated and women were not allowed to work.
However, the Taliban last year vowed to preserve the rights of women and girls, marking a stark contrast and reversal of the former Taliban’s policies.
Qatar has repeatedly called on the Taliban to grant all Afghan females their basic rights, urging it to explicitly follow the examples of Muslim countries worldwide.
Speaking to Doha News last year, Taliban spokesman in Qatar Suhail Shaheen said girls are allowed to go to school as long as they wear hijabs.
While private universities reopened, images showed male and female students segregated by curtains. On the other hand, when girls attempted to return to school in March, they were sent home. In comparison, education for boys resumed almost immediately.
The move was condemned by Qatar and the international community. Analysts and rights groups say national university exams have yet to take place as senior high school female graduates have yet to graduate.
According to Rahimi, the Taliban is working on redefining the eligibility of university majors for girls while restricting the rights of females to peaceful assembly, cracking down on protests against restrictive policies.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the Taliban had searched the houses of high-profile women and noted female teachers who taught boys above year six were dismissed. The rights group said women were prohibited from travelling or going to work without a male family member accompanying them.
“In work, in the public sector, many areas are closed for women, women are denied jobs although many of them remain on payroll, but they are not allowed to work and many of them have simply been let go,” said Rahimi.
A report by the International Labour Organization (ILO) released in January found that women employment levels witnessed a 16% drop in the third quarter of 2021, with chances of a further fall of 28% mid-2022.
Fed up with the oppressive measures taken against them, Afghan women launched several rallies to demand their basic freedoms. Days ahead of the one year anniversary of the Taliban takeover, women took to the street but were faced with violence.
“When women do protest and demand for their rights, they are often faced with a lot of repression and crackdowns,” said Rahimi, noting that officers regularly fire gunshots in the air as a form of intimidation.
Violence and retaliatory attacks
Despite promises of a general amnesty, former national security members and other affiliates of the former Ghani administration have faced beatings by the Taliban.
According to HRW, the Taliban arbitrarily detained, tortured, and executed critics and opponents. This was revealed in December last year in a report titled “‘No Forgiveness for People Like You,’ Executions and Enforced Disappearances in Afghanistan under the Taliban“.
The report documented the killing or disappearance of 47 former members of the Afghan National Security Forces, who were also left behind by the US after years of training.
“There are also pockets of violence appearing in different parts of the country as armed resistance against the Taliban are active, but even if you don’t look at those pockets of armed resistance across the country there are many incidents of different groups of people experiencing violence for various reasons,” said Rahimi.
Meanwhile, attacks have continued against Afghanistan’s Shia community by the IS-affiliated Khorasan group, which the Taliban sees as its enemy. The resurgence of the IS-K raised major concern over the country’s stability.
Despite agreeing under the 2020 Doha Agreement, signed with the US, to halt support for terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda, the Taliban’s statements have come into question.
This is due to the latest targeting and killing of Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al Zawahiri who was sheltered in Afghanistan. To date, the Taliban insists that the body of the slain militant was not found at the site of the US drone strike and says it had no prior knowledge of his presence in the country.
The Taliban has also evicted hundreds of Shia Hazara families from their homes in September amid a crackdown on those who oppose the interim government.
Other victims include journalists and women journalists and anchors.
According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Afghanistan lost 39.59% of its media outlets and 59.86% of its journalists since the Taliban takeover.
In July, the UN revealed that 173 journalists and media personnel faced such violations. Out of the total reported, 122 were arbitrarily arrested and detained as 33 were threatened and intimidated.
It also founded 160 extrajudicial killings and 178 arrests of former Afghan government and military members. The Taliban was quick to dismiss the report as “baseless” and inaccurate.
“The question always has to be that safety has to be absolute, even if one Afghan man feels unsafe with regards to the deep state and the intelligence operating with regards to the crackdown on assembly, the freedom of expression, all of those are reasons to feel afraid and not safe,” said Baheer.
While Afghanistan was already struggling due to years of war and drought, the situation was made worse with the Taliban takeover. Even prior to the developments in the country, Afghanistan was 75% dependent on foreign assistance.
In the wake of the Taliban rule, the international community halted aid to Afghanistan as the US froze billions of dollars worth of foreign assets.
“The US chose to make a deal with the Taliban and one of the likely outcomes of that deal was the Taliban returning to power. And now that the Taliban returned to power, the US chose to take action to punish the Taliban or modify their behaviour that is mostly hurting Afghans,” said Rahimi, referring to the 2020 Doha Agreement.
In February, US President Joe Biden ordered the release of $7 billion of Afghanistan’s funds. However, the Biden administration only gave Afghans living under dire humanitarian conditions $3.5 billion of the total amount.
The other half of the funds was allocated towards victims of the 9/11 attack, a move that many described as the US “punishing” Afghans.
Qatar had hosted various meetings between the US and the Taliban, bringing together the two sides to discuss the issue.
The United Nations Development Program (UNDP), warned of universal poverty by mid-2022 as 97% of Afghans live below the poverty line.
A separate HRW report also stated that more than 90% of households have not been able to get a sufficient amount of food, with nearly half of the population suffering from food insecurity. While the country is rich in resources and food is available, many Afghans cannot afford this due to their economic circumstances.
As evacuation flights continued in the ensuing months, Qatar continued to send monthly humanitarian aid flights to Kabul. Officials in Doha had repeatedly called on the international community to avoid isolating Afghanistan’s people.
In 2021 alone, Qatar’s aid to Kabul was expected to reach $50 million.
The Gulf state has also been hosting various meetings between the west and the Taliban in an effort to break Afghanistan’s global isolation. Some of those meetings came just weeks after the foreign troop withdrawal last year.
The Taliban’s participation in the meeting was seen as part of its diplomatic efforts to gain international recognition and pave the way for foreign cooperation to resolve its economic turmoil.
To date it has not succeeded in achieving its goal, with most states citing their refusal to recognise the Taliban-led government over its ongoing rights violations.
“I think the Taliban’s pursuit for international recognition is a positive sign, it shows willingness to maybe come to terms with certain international standards of human rights, of governance,” said Baheer.
Baheer noted that “any form of external recognition is going to be contingent” on the Taliban’s internal legitimacy.
Absence of accountability
To date, much of the blame has been pointed at the former Ghani administration.
The ex president had reportedly fled to Tajikistan before reaching his final destination in the UAE with tonnes of cash. Ghani, however, denied those claims and has continued to insist on his position as president of Afghanistan.
At the time, Qatari diplomats, echoing similar sentiments by analysts worldwide, said the intra-Afghan talks would have continued if Ghani remained in the country.
“I absolutely think they [the former Afghan government] should be held accountable, the problem is there is no reliable, credible justice institution in the country that could actually hold fair trials for those involved in corruption and crimes over the past 20 years,” said Rahimi.
Meanwhile, the US and NATO continue to deflect any blame over the horrors Afghanistan witnessed during the deadly invasion of the country. Numerous reports by rights groups have pointed to crimes committed by the foreign forces, from torturing civilians to raping women.
With Afghanistan left behind amid an emergence of other global issues, including the Ukraine crisis, Rahimi believes Kabul is sliding back in terms of news coverage.
Responding to a question over the solution to Afghanistan’s economic state, Rahimi believes the issue cannot be quickly resolved.
“Afghans need an economy beyond humanitarian aid and that economy requires a credible government that can participate in international relations. It requires a financial system, a central bank that is part of that international system,” he said.
Asked whether Afghans still have hope, Baheer says such a mindset is crucial for survival.
“We’ll have to keep demanding our rights and eventually the Taliban would have to give in, or they would collapse in on themselves as many tyrants in Afghanistan have done so before,” said Baheer.