As Taliban stands at the doors of the Arg for a final takeover, the last glimmer of hope for a better future withers away. The ultraconservative regime is believed to strangulate whatever little was achieved to build a peaceful and stable nation. As the dramatic turn of events unfold, the question arises: who failed Afghanistan?
The 2020 US-Taliban Peace Deal, formally known as the “Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan” essentially focuses on the promise that “Afghan soil would not be used for any activity against the US and its allies”. The terms of the Deal too have remained questionable. It binds the Taliban to “reduce violence” and does not mention a ceasefire. Even if a civil war broke out, as recently witnessed, the deal shrugs off all responsibility on part of the US if it did not affect its allies. The long drawn “Intra Afghan Talks” convened in Doha, Qatar (September to December 2020) ended with a mere agreement on the guiding principle for negotiation with no concrete plan for peace to be seen. Even after much protest from human rights organisations, participation of women remained meagre in the Afghan government delegation while there were no women in the Taliban delegation. Moreover, there was no representation of conflict victims. The forum largely became a platform for negotiating bilateral issues between the other participants instead of focusing on Afghanistan.
Though all participants at the 9th Ministerial meet of the Heart of Asia Conference-Istanbul Process at Dushanbe, Tajikistan held in March 2021 reaffirmed their support for a peaceful, prosperous, secure and stable Afghanistan, little attempts were made to commit to any real transition to a full fledged democracy, the consequences of which are seen today.
The weakness of the Afghan government further intensified the country’s fall to the Taliban, marked by some crucial reshuffles in the top rungs of the military and the government. While President Ashraf Ghani faced charges of corruption and use of unfair means to win elections, the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) has been marred by factional strife laden with ethnic conflicts. Furthermore, despite years of training and billions of dollars of aid and investment, the ANDSF remains corrupt, incompetent, poorly equipped and poorly trained. They were never prepared to defend against a power hungry, better equipped and trained Taliban. The fall of the government, lacking external support and weakened by internal strife, was inevitable.
With Ghani fleeing the country and the diplomatic corps of other nations leaving one by one, the innocent Afghan civilians are left to deal with a much stronger Taliban on their own.
The land torn by several decades of war bears deep scars of humanitarian crises.
During the decade following the Soviet invasion in 1979 to ensure the establishment of a Communist government, over 1.8 million lives were lost and 1.5 million were disabled, which included 300,000 children. Over 7.5 million Afghans were rendered homeless. Since the beginning of the War led by the United States against its former protégé- turned-rival Taliban in 2001, 241,000 lives have been lost out of which 71,000 were recorded as civilian deaths. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) reports that Taliban was responsible for 45% of the 2,177 civilian casualties caused between January 1 and September 30, 2020.
In 2011, Amnesty International ranked Afghanistan as the worst place to live as a woman. As many as 87% of Afghanistan’s 15 million women reported to have faced some sort of physical, emotional and sexual assault which comes not just from Taliban and pro government forces but also from the international troops stationed in Kabul to ‘protect’ the civilians. Though the overall literacy rate has increased to 43%, only 29.8% women are literate.
With restricted movement under a conservation regime and recurring violence, women’s access to medical facilities has suffered badly. As per UNICEF data, one in three adolescent girls in Afghanistan suffers from anemia.
While women remained virtually invisible from public life under Taliban rule (1996-2001), little has been achieved since the Taliban was ousted in 2001. Women do not enjoy equal opportunities as men and are restricted from holding public offices. Men continue to control absolute power all but in name.
As per the UN Women Global Database on Violence Against Women, 51% of women in Afghanistan face Intimate Partner Violence. The 2009 law against domestic violence lacks implementation and is often flouted by judicial and administrative authorities.
While globally suicide rates among men are higher than women, in Afghanistan, 80% of the suicide attempts are made by women. While accurate figures are not available, the World Health Organisation reports that over half a million people in Afghanistan suffer from depressive disorders while 1.2 million suffer from anxiety disorders. Actual figures might be much higher.
UNAMA further labels Afghanistan as ” one of the deadliest countries for children”. with more than 700 children being killed by both Taliban and pro government militia. Children have been subjected to physical, emotional and sexual harassment. The practice of ‘bacha bazi’ (sexual assault of young boys by older men), which was outlawed in 2018, continues to prevail.
In 2019, as per the Asian Development Bank data, of the 1000 babies born, 60 died before attaining the age of 5. As per government records, more than 7000 schools had no building or physical infrastructure. Children have been robbed of their right to quality education and a safe environment. According to UNICEF, 2 million girls remain out of school. Air raids and attacks on schools are common. UNICEF states that only 12% of children aged 6-24 months receive the right variety of food in the quantity required for their age. Moreover, Afghanistan has the highest stunting rate among children younger than 5 in the world ( 41%). Rate of stunting among children, a sign of chronic malnutrition, at 9.5% is “extremely high”.
More than 4 million people in Afghanistan, majority being women and children, are internally displaced. This figure is more than the entire population of Mongolia. Refugees who escape the country and seek asylum abroad continue to be forcibly returned. With tightening immigration policies across the globe, the chances of seeking refuge as a way of survival have further waned. The Coronavirus pandemic has added to the precarious situation. Overcrowded refugee camps, paucity of medical facilities and basic amenities, inadequate food resources, etc. have worsened the condition. As of August 17,2020, 37,600 Covid positive cases and 1375 deaths were reported. With paucity of testing, the figures might be much higher.
Poverty rates also remain exponentially high with 47.3% of the population living below the nationally determined poverty line. The proportion of the population employed below US $1.90 purchasing power parity a day was 34.3% in 2019.
Unemployment rate remains high at 11.7% (2020), further worsened by the pandemic.
Furthermore, Afghanistan faces a “serious” level of hunger with a score of 30.3, ranking 99 out of 107 countries in the Global Hunger Index 2020.
The recent developments show that all attempts at securing a better future for Afghanistan were built on sand and were mere empty promises. A reckless plan to withdraw troops without considering the outcome has not only displayed the apathy on part of the international community to the plight of innocent Afghan civilians but has further scratched the wounds they have been bearing for over forty years of constant turmoil.
The international forces who styled themselves as the ‘torchbearers’ of justice are as much to blame for the disastrous consequences as the Ghani government. While it is too late to stop Taliban which is all set to sit au sommet d’état des choses in Kabul, what can be done is not to repeat the mistakes of the past and adopt active measures to push Taliban regime through diplomatic channels, employing both soft measures such as dialogue and harsh measures such as sanctions, if need be, to make it abide by human rights and ensure that it works in a way that grants women a greater latitude to develop their potential. However, hopes for a better future seem flimsy. To expect an ultraconservative regime like the Taliban to be easily swayed by mere diplomatic pressure would be naive. However, a solution will only come from negotiation at the high tables and not through the barrel of the gun. Any attempt at forcing the Taliban out, which in any case does not seem plausible considering the recent chain of events, will only add to the precarity of the innocent population. We have already failed Afghanistan, what can be done is to stand as one to demand a better future for our fellow humans and display the political will to do so which has been lacking till now.