By Hawa Jawadi
The pressure on girls and women living in Afghanistan under the de facto Taliban government is inversely proportional to the pressure on the Taliban. Two years since Afghanistan’s democracy collapsed, international government and institutions appear to have relaxed their pressure on the religious fundamentalists, even as they intensify their crackdown on girls and women living any semblance of a normal life.
Each day the rule of the Taliban continues, the conditions for girls and women become more inhumane. Commentary on Afghanistan has talked of life returning to normal and the situation becoming more settled, even as the experience of women and girls in the country grows only more unbearable.
It’s understandable that after decades of conflict many are keen to highlight any sense of calm in Afghanistan. But a relative calm of the Taliban in charge should not be measured against the days when the Taliban terrorized Afghans as an anti-government force.
There are dangers to normalizing the new societal structure being forced on all Afghans of women being absent from schools, universities, parks and public spaces. The sight of enforcers roaming city streets with plain clothes, unruly hair and ready-to-fire weapons also seems to be widely accepted. However, these are not normal conditions to live in and they’re deeply damaging to girls and women deprived of education, work choice, recreation, and, indeed, life.
Every day that passes with girls deprived of education above grade six is a lost opportunity that will not return. Every day that women are denied freedom to build their professional experience or where they earn an income is another day of women and their families getting hungrier by the day. Every day that girls are denied the opportunity to socialize and build connections is a step further into the abyss of depression and hopelessness. The Taliban has ensured at least half of Afghanistan faces a deeply erosive experience of life that will serve to keep undermining girls and women, and in the longer term will also undermine its boys and men.
Why are we moving towards normalization of the Taliban?
There are voices both inside and outside Afghanistan who seem eager to normalize Taliban rule with the argument that it’s needed in order to “stabilize” the country. A variety of factors are at play here. But two in particular have a decisive role:
- No hope for change borne from frustration and disappointment
While there is no qualitative data on this, anecdotal evidence points to a widespread loss of hope among Afghans. They have noticed the lack of appetite at a global level to discuss Afghanistan, the lack of media attention, the lack of any serious pressure placed on the Taliban to change its policies, the lack of a cohesive alternative leadership, the differences and multiplicity of political groups, and the thin-on-the-ground resistance fighters. This has fed into a sense of resignation among a war-weary population that could almost be confused with acceptance.
- Reducing people’s demands in terms of political issues
Another factor is the widespread reduction of human rights around the world. While human rights are talked about and inherently understood by most people and groups, they are often put second to the state’s view of security and order. It’s a type of reductionist view that reduces society with all its complexities and dimensions to the aim of “security”. Throughout history and in the present, we can find societies that have forgone political rights in exchange for security, and have ended up ruled under a form of dictatorship and tyranny.
Many of Afghanistan’s neighbors have political systems where citizens do not have a serious role in decision-making. They are ruled by various types of authoritarian governments. It is understandable why Afghan people, tired of chaos and crises, would not accept a similar approach given what they’ve lived through. Authoritarianism has existed in Afghanistan’s historical past, and there are many grounds and platforms for it now.
The situation in Afghanistan is more radical than a political crisis
If normalization is based on two presuppositions – that there’s no hope for change and a sort of political reductionism to the overarching goal of security, it is possible to prevent the normalization of the situation by doing away with these two presuppositions. Neither are rooted in reality and both are fed by propaganda that works in some way to serve the status quo.
- Reject the myth of Taliban inevitability
There is a persistent message in which Western diplomacy and media have participated since losing the war that aims to induce a kind of fatalism around the myth of “no change”. It’s an idea that suggests the Taliban is inherently Afghan and was always going to end up back in control of Afghanistan. This fatalism reduces the efforts of millions of Afghans who opposed Taliban ideals to nothing. These commentators would like Afghan citizens to forget their power and history and view the existing order as an immutable destiny.
This type of outlook tries to cast the current system of governance as a kind of natural order to Afghanistan’s affairs. It does not seek to unveil the existing situation, but rather highlights some of the benefits, keeping its weaknesses at bay. It favors a narrative that suggests the relative calm on Afghanistan’s surface is preferable, compared to the blatant violence perpetuated by the Taliban in the past.
But accepting this fatalistic view only complicates Afghanistan’s crisis and drives it deeper. It hides the sickness of Taliban rule that is permitted and even supported by international efforts under the guise of saving Afghan lives.
As the Taliban eliminates the moral sensitivity of Afghan society and leads it to an anaemic indifference to human values, they will ultimately lead it into full-scale collapse. As its citizens are forced to ignore their inherent sense of right and wrong and act against their internal compass of human values, Afghanistan risks becoming a moral wasteland where people are incapable of understanding their own responsibility to the moral values the human race has evolved to uphold. In this scenario, not only will Afghanistan suffer, but the world will also ultimately pay a price.
There are young Afghans with the motivation, ability, and will to change the current status quo, but so far they have faced the lack of leadership or platform for it to be harnessed. It has taken time for this desire for change to emerge as many were recovering from the shock and upset caused by Afghanistan’s collapse. But now as the reality of the situation settles, it is possible to consult on creating such a platform and spend time carving the way forward.
Lasting change is not sudden or swift. Rather, true societal change that takes into account the socio-cultural diversity of Afghan people, their historical experiences, the objective and concrete needs of all the people – not only half of the country – can all be fuel for change.
It is time to reject the fatalist fallacy of the inevitable Taliban rule and harness instead the evidence that many Afghans are opposed to it.
- It’s not just a political crisis
Reducing Afghanistan’s instability to a political crisis that is resolved with the stabilization and acceptance of the Taliban in charge is another sort of propaganda. While the political situation is part of the existing crisis, what is really at stake is an humanitarian disaster that is gradually slaughtering its members. People are being tortured and dying under all sorts of methods that cannot be reduced to a simply political reason.
One of the key problems with this crisis is there is no respect for human life and no single understanding of a human being that can be applied to everyone. Women and religious minorities have lost their human status and are not treated as equal human beings. Crimes against humanity are being committed and no one argues.
Women have been forced into an inferior status who no longer have even basic human rights. The Taliban has ensured millions of girls and women are subjected to sexual slavery and violence with no path for recourse or defense. They have legalized a system where women have no choices, no autonomy, and no voice, and in a generation, the Taliban hopes they will not even have enough education to understand it. The experience of women in Afghanistan is not unlike the experience of black people in South Africa’s state-sanctioned apartheid years or the oppression of Jews in Nazi Germany.
These cases are all rooted in the same type of thinking where one group of people is superior, and the inferior group is condemned to, at best, a form of slavery, and at worst, annihilation. It is not a situation that should be normalized, no matter how much security comes from maintaining the status quo.
Afghanistan has become a personal hell for millions of women subjected to the Taliban’s rule. Reducing Afghanistan’s plight to a political issue that can be resolved with the acceptance of the Taliban as a legitimate government is an argument that fundamentally ignores this deep abuse of women and human rights.
As the dust settles on the rupture 2021 in Afghanistan’s governance, the time has come for true change. This will not happen by normalizing the Taliban and working with them, but rather by rejecting the Taliban agenda hidden in the propaganda of fatalism and hopelessness, and instead slowly gathering the momentum of the majority of Afghans who reject the Taliban rule. This situation must enter another stage. One that is led by coherent, planned and coordinated action.