• Mayuri Chaudhuri

Caged in Despair: What Is Going On In Afghanistan Right Now?

Updated: Sep 1


Taliban militants in the Afghanistan Presidential Palace after capturing the capital city.
Taliban militants in the Afghanistan Presidential Palace after capturing the capital city. (Via: Zabi Karimi / AP Photo)

“Doonya ba omeed zenda ast / دنیا با امید زنده است”


This Afghanistani proverb reads as "The world is alive with hope"

India, together with Bahrain, Liechtenstein, the Republic of Congo, South Korea, and North Korea, commemorated their independence on August 15, 2021. On the same day, the Taliban took control of Afghanistan's capital, Kabul.


The dream for a life that most of us are accustomed to and naturally hold came to an end on this day for the people of Afghanistan. Independence day in these countries was celebrated in all its glory, but where was theirs?


The US and its allies have stopped their rescue missions and have left the Taliban to take full leadership of the country, from today.


Let's take a deep dive into the Taliban and how they have influenced Afghanistan's previous few decades.


Who are the Taliban?

The word Taliban means students in Pashto, and they eventually declared themselves the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA). It is a Deobandi Islamist religious-political movement that many governments throughout the world consider a terrorist organization.


Background and Emergence


Islamic mujahideen warriors were fighting in Afghanistan when the Soviet Union conquered it in 1979. The Taliban formed the majority of its leadership. They got financing from the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) and the Saudi Arabian General Intelligence Directorate (GID) through Pakistan's Inter-Service Intelligence Agency (ISI).

The photo was taken at a Taliban camp in 2009.
The photo was taken at a Taliban camp in 2009. (Via: mei.edu)

Mullah Mohammad Omar founded this group of 50 students in his hometown of Kandahar. After overcoming the Soviets, he was dissatisfied with the Islamic law establishment's failure. The US continued to subsidize the organization to keep Soviet advances at bay.

Where did it all begin?


Within a few months of formation, they became a group of 15,000 students. Their primary objective was to establish a monopoly of power in the Afghan state. As their first acting minister of foreign affairs, Mullah Ghaus quotes,


“The Taliban are facing opponents who want to increase their military advantage through war. There are too many arms in Afghanistan; the war would not end until they were disarmed.“

Smoke rising from the fighting between Taliban and Afghan personnel in South West Kabul, August 12, 2021.
Smoke rising from the fighting between Taliban and Afghan personnel in South West Kabul, August 12, 2021. (Via: indianexpress.com)


According to their core goal, the Islamic framework of government could not be contested and widely promoted while achieving paradoxically side by side the goals of justice, peace, and security.


In 1996, they captured Kabul. It had previously been the hub of expanding communist growth combined with modernism. According to the Taliban, the Islamic Brotherhood and Communist modernism were sprouting from Kabul as the epicenter and were degrading the entire country. The war was still raging at the time, thus all of the ministers were appointed on an "acting" basis until the hard-won jihad was achieved.

They soon came up with links to Osama Bin Laden and other lists of terrorist groups, which in turn concerned superpowers like the United States, who themselves had been fanning the movement earlier.

Afghanistan map portraying Taliban occupied region.
Afghanistan map portraying Taliban occupied region. (Via: en.wikipedia.org)

According to the United Nations assessments, they were committed to carrying out systematic massacres, accumulating up to 15 in total between 1966 and 2001. They justified the cleansing by referencing the international court killings in Bosnia.



Who are Hazaras, and why were they massacred?

The Hazaras are a minority community in Afghanistan who reside in the Hazarajat (central Afghanistan). They are believed to be the descendants of Genghis Khan. After the annexation, they were overrun by the Sunni Muslim rulership and pushed into the dry, mountainous regions.


They were targeted by Taliban soldiers because they are Shia Muslims with a specific dialect and physical appearance, in contrast to the majority of the Afghan population, which is Sunni. Intensive massacres and violence reduced their population to 10-12 % of the entire 38 million people.



People from the Hazara community watching the United States soldiers inspecting a site in Daykundi province.
People from the Hazara community watching the United States soldiers inspecting a site in Daykundi province. (Via: Wikipedia)


The Mazar-i-sharif, also known as the anti-Hazara massacre of 1997, took thousands of casualties. They allegedly entered the city and opened fire on everybody and everything, including store owners, women, children, shoppers, and others.


The list goes on, with mass murders at Robatak Pass (31 people), Yakawlang (170 men), Bamyan (3 mass graves), Khas Uruzgan attack (9), Zabul beheadings (men abducted and throats cut, women and children massacred from various ethnicities), and so on.


What is the state of women under the Taliban?

Misogyny, gender apartheid, and violence against women in public areas are a far more common occurrence in Afghanistan than anywhere else on the planet.

A member of Taliban religious police lashing women, 2001.
A member of Taliban religious police lashing women, 2001. (via Wikipedia)

Wearing a burqa was not common in Afghanistan with communist modernity, and not being able to afford one after their arrival was met with severe punishments. They had to be accompanied by a mahram ( a male member of the family, wearing a burqa) when they came out in public or else were lashed with the cane.


They refused to allow them to work in a mixed-gender environment or even employ them since it was against sharia or purdah legislation.


Women were also forbidden from acquiring education, forcing them to enroll in underground schools where the Taliban can’t find them.


When the Taliban took over Kabul in early July of 2021, religious leaders asked the population to give a list of women above the age of 15 or widows so that they could be married off to Taliban soldiers.


Right after the Taliban took control of Kabul, a University student (woman) told,

‘Now I have to burn everything I achieved.’

9/11 and the Aftermath

The devastating hijacking and crash of 4 United States jetliners awakened the US government to the developing relations between Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. President George W. Bush implemented a strategy to dismantle their alliance and asked Afghanistan to hand over Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar.

US special forces working with the Afghan alliance, 2001.
US special forces working with the Afghan alliance, 2001. (Via: britannica.com)

When Omar refused, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) named Jawbreaker to initiate the strategy with the Afghan alliance. They were soon joined by the United States and British special forces, which led to the Taliban retreating from Kabul on November 13, 2001, without fighting back.



Why has Afghanistan earned the moniker "Graveyard of Empires"?



History has it that Afghanistan could not be conquered by any superpower since ancient times. Every empire failed to pacify differently populated ethnicities.


When Taliban troops took over Kabul on August 15, 2021, the freedom enjoyed by Afghanistan under the US military came to an end. They positioned themselves at Kabul airport, preparing to attack, fading away from the US and Afghan army's authority.

Members of Afghan security forces in Panjshir province, August 15.
Members of Afghan security forces in Panjshir province, August 15. (Via wbur.org)

It took 20 years for the United States to rebuild the nation and everything came to an end that day. President Ashraf Ghani fled with millions of dollars and left the country in a mess. The US started its foreign evacuation right away and airlifted their soldiers and families in planes while the Afghans flooded the airport to hop on the aircraft. Unfortunately, many died in the process.


Chaos and panic at Kabul airport.
Chaos and panic at Kabul airport. (Via: NYT)

As thousands of people managed to escape to different nations that took them in, many were also left reeling without a passage out of the country.



Suicide Bombings



On the 26th of August, 2021, two suicide bombers and gunmen attacked the crowds at the airport. Even though it was heavily guarded by the United States military, the attacks would not stop. The Islamic State group admitted to the killings on a news channel. This deadly incident killed at least 160 Afghans and 13 US service personnel.


The first explosion was near the airport entrance, and another was a little far away, near a hotel. The US embassy told the citizens waiting at Abbey Gate, East Gate, and North Gate to get out immediately as further attacks were expected to follow up shortly. The US president Joe Biden affirmed that the evacuation process will continue, and they will plan attacks against the IS group systematically.

A wounded person being rushed to the hospital outside Kabul airport.
A wounded person being rushed to the hospital outside Kabul airport. (Via: CNN)

Visualizing the Taliban through the words of Khaled Hosseini



Khaled Hosseini is an Aghan-American writer, born in Kabul and moved to the United States in 1980. He is also a U.S. Goodwill Envoy to the UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency, and founder of Khaled Hosseini Foundation, which aims to provide humanitarian assistance to the people in Afghanistan.


His books Kite Runner and Thousand Splendid Suns have beautifully displayed the serene landscapes of Afghanistan along with Taliban occupation and its dreadful scenarios.

 The Kite Runner book cover.
The Kite Runner. (Via: khaledhossieni.com)

The story portrays a beautiful friendship between a boy named Amir, from an aristocrat Afghan family, and Hassan, the son of their servant from the Hazara community.


It journeys through Afghanistan during the communist rule modernity with motor cars to the rule by Taliban and how it affected the protagonist, Amir’s life as he escaped to the United States with his Baba (father).


Some excerpts show how Hassan and his family were discriminated against and at last, got killed in the street with his wife later by the Taliban.



Thousand Splendid Suns book cover.
Thousand Splendid Suns. (Via: khaledhossieni.com)

The story revolves around two women named Mariam and Laila residing in Afghanistan. Mariam is born after an extramarital affair with an aristocrat, who married her off to a thirty older man named Rasheed, a shoemaker in Kabul.


Laila grew up around their home and was in complete contrast to Mariam, open and cheerful. Their lives intersect after the Taliban killings left Laila an orphan, and she was left with no choice but to marry Rasheed.


The plot displays the contrast of how women were free and educated before the Taliban, displaying Laila’s character and then were subdued and tortured afterward.


Both the stories portray just the contrast between Afghanistan before the Taliban and a helpless Afghanistan during their rule. Women being lashed in public for roaming around without male members of the family, Hazara killings, sexual harassment and rapes of men and women, and other excerpts would bring chills to the reader.



Polaroids of Hope



This heartwarming picture of an afghan girl skipping through the airport after being evacuated to Belgium became viral on the internet.
This heartwarming picture of an afghan girl skipping through the airport after being evacuated to Belgium became viral on the internet. (Via: Zee News)


Hundreds of Afghanis are being evacuated in US Air Force C-17.
Hundreds of Afghanis are being evacuated in US Air Force's C-17 aircraft. (Via: scmp.com)

Afghanistan refugees in Delhi, India who escaped war extremism.
Afghanistan refugees in Delhi, India, who escaped war extremism. (Via: borgenproject.org)

People evacuated from Kabul arrive at Delhi air force base.
People evacuated from Kabul arrive at Delhi air force base. (Via: The Hindu)

An afghan girl kisses her brother cheerfully after they are saved from Kabul to Ghaziabad in an Indian Air Force's C-17 aircraft.
An afghan girl kisses her brother cheerfully after they are saved from Kabul to Ghaziabad in an Indian Air Force's C-17 aircraft. (Via: ANI)

There are probably very few happy photographs of Afghanistan and its people on the internet, but one thing that pervades all of them is the desire for a better tomorrow. Taliban is learning to establish a systematized government and asking women to participate in, according to some headlines, but their violence and the fear that is forcing Afghans out of their ancestral homes is uncanny.

A photograph of Afghani children.
A photograph of Afghani children. (Via: Relief Web)

We can pray for a day when we wake up and encounter a piece of news that reads of hope. Until then, may Afghanistan get the strength it needs to face and overcome all adversity.

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References

Taliban history of war and peace in Afghanistan: Felix Kuehn


The Afghan War - Creating the economic conditions and civil-military aid efforts needed for transition: Anthony H. Cordesman, Burke Chair in Strategy with the Assistance of Bryan Gold and Sean T. Mann

Lessons from Afghanistan’s History for the Current Transition and Beyond: William Byrd


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taliban


https://www.nationalgeographic.com/history/article/as-the-taliban-rise-again-afghanistans-past-threatens-its-present


https://www.bbc.com/news/world-south-asia-11451718


https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/who-are-the-taliban-afghanistan-history-ideology-7456032/

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-49192495

https://www.pbs.org/newshour/politics/asia-jan-june11-timeline-afghanistan

https://apnews.com/article/afghanistan-us-withdrawal-biden-military-analysis-e6aea337670314041ce5a8837799bc73


https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/analysis-how-kabul-fell/article35935507.ece


https://www.hrw.org/report/2020/06/30/you-have-no-right-complain/education-social-restrictions-and-justice-taliban-held


https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2021/08/afghanistan-taliban-responsible-for-brutal-massacre-of-hazara-men-new-investigation/


https://www.britannica.com/event/Afghanistan-War#ref292842


https://apnews.com/article/europe-france-evacuations-kabul-9e457201e5bbe75a4eb1901fedeee7a1



Mayuri Chaudhuri is an Indian-based History Honors Graduate and a Content Writer at the International Youths Organization for Peace and Sustainability, who is seeking cognizance to varied issues in the world through the power of a pen.


Inputs and Edits by Aswin Raghav R.