By Latheef Farook*
COLOMBO. 30 August 2023 (IDN) — After more than four decades of foreign occupation, death and destruction, the landlocked mountainous country of Afghanistan, bordering Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan to the north, Iran to the West, Pakistan to the east and south, liberated itself from United States occupation two years ago in August 2021.
Afghanistan is a unique country. Throughout history, Afghans have been fiercely independent people. More than a thousand years ago, Alexander the Great said, “Afghanistan is a country easy to enter but almost impossible to get out”.
This was proved when invaders both former Soviet Union followed by the United States, were kicked out by Afghans, though at a very high cost. For example, the former Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan on 24 December 1979, only to be kicked out ten years later on 15 February 1989. The number of Afghans killed is not known yet. However, millions of Afghans uprooted from their homes suffered in refugee camps in neighbouring countries.
Not learning any lesson from history, in the wake of the 9/11 bombings and killings at the World Trade Centre in New York and other places, President George Bush Junior falsely accused, within 24 hours, Taliban of committing this crime, blackmailed, mobilized a coalition and invaded Afghanistan within 27 days.
US invasion, bombings, destruction, and killings continued. However, the United States faced the same fate as the Soviet Union when it was forced to withdraw on 30 August 2021, marking the end of the 2001–2021 war.
After being humiliated, the world’s sole superpower, the United States and its Western partners in wars and war crimes, ostracized the Taliban regime and imposed severe sanctions and restrictions—besides blocking around ten billion dollars of Afghan money in US banks, causing immense hardships to Afghan people and made the task of rebuilding the country challenging.
Amid these developments, a prolonged severe drought deepened Afghanistan’s humanitarian crisis, taking its heavy toll on farmers, its economy—a third of which is generated by agriculture—and food security. With little functioning irrigation, Afghanistan relies on snow melting in the mountains to keep its rivers flowing and fields watered during the summer.
The UN World Food Programme says 15.3 million people are facing acute food insecurity in the country of nearly 42 million people.
Meanwhile, the Taliban administration is building a 280 km-long (174 miles) canal, which, once completed, could divert water for irrigation throughout the northern provinces. But it is still years from completion, and neighbouring countries have raised concerns that it will unfairly divert their waters.
According to the Red Cross and Red Crescent, two-thirds of Afghans urgently need humanitarian aid to survive. The country faces a drug abuse crisis; children often suffer under their families’ financial woes, arriving hungry at distant schools and smuggling goods like tea, sugar, metal parts, and electronics illegally across the Pakistani border, risking injury.
Un-Islamic restrictions on women
Meanwhile, the Taliban’s senseless and un-Islamic restrictions on women have further complicated the ongoing sufferings. For example, “girls and women have been banned from attending secondary school and university. They cannot work for nongovernmental organizations, the government, or the judiciary. They are subject to strict rules on what they can wear and where they can go.”
Most recently, reports said girls were being banned from school beyond the third grade in some provinces, down from the sixth grade, a policy that could set back already lagging female literacy for generations.
Meanwhile, in a ridiculous development providing fodder for the West, in its drive to demonize the Taliban, the regime prevented 100 women from flying to Dubai for university scholarships sponsored by a billionaire businessman. Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor, founding Chairman of Dubai-based Al Habtoor Group, said that he had sponsored 100 female students to attend university and sent a plane to fly them to the UAE on 23 August 23 morning.
“However, the Taliban government refused them to board the plane for which he had already paid and had organized everything, including accommodation, education, transportation and security,” stated Khalaf Al Habtoor. Afghan students said they were accompanied by male members but airport authorities in Kabul stopped them from boarding the flight.
The Taliban administration has closed universities and high schools to female students in Afghanistan. This is in complete violation of Islamic teachings, which emphasize the great importance of knowledge for both men and women alike.
Two years after the US withdrew from Afghanistan, countries around the world have begun normalizing ties with the Taliban. This includes Central Asian states, amid fears that the Afghan rulers could destabilize the region or create a water crisis, and with China and Russia heavily influencing regional security, Central Asian countries are proceeding cautiously.
This is because even though US troops are no longer on the ground in Afghanistan, Central Asian countries act as Washington’s partners in their approach to the Taliban government.
In the West, some argue for pressure, not engagement, while others argue that “whatever the world thinks, the Taliban now run a country, with aims and urgent needs. Afghanistan’s region cannot wait in a holding pattern for the world to strike a grand bargain with the Taliban on diplomatic recognition”. Either way, analysts agree there are no easy choices.
Kudos for the Taliban
Meanwhile, British Conservative MP, Tobias Ellwood, has praised the Taliban government in Afghanistan for “totally transforming” the country, calling for the United Kingdom to establish relations with and recognize the new Afghan authorities.
In an article published by The Telegraph newspaper, Ellwood—MP for Bournemouth East and current chair of the Defence Select Committee—stated that “Two years after the Taliban forced the West to scuttle from Kabul, I’ve just returned from an Afghanistan which is totally transformed,” referring to his recent visit to the country which the mine-clearing charity, The Halo Trust, sponsored.
Ellwood acknowledged that war-torn Afghanistan “has not experienced relative peace like this since the 1970s. And it shows. The congested streets are bustling with life as everyone goes about their business—free from the infinite checkpoints and perpetual fear of violence. The Taliban authorities are no more visible than our own police are in London.”
The Taliban won legitimacy through armed struggle, now it must earn it through diplomacy.
*Latheef Farook began his journalistic career in 1966 with now-defunct Independent Newspapers Ltd. He later worked at Ceylon Daily News and the evening daily, the Ceylon Observer, covering local politics and foreign affairs besides financial and economic sectors.
In 1979, he relaunched the Dubai-based English-language daily Gulf News. He worked in Gulf News and Khaleej Times for 25 years before returning to Sri Lanka in 2002, where he writes feature articles on local and international affairs, especially in the Muslim world. He is the author of 11 books on Sri Lanka and international affairs. [IDN-InDepthNews]
Photo: Afghan women participate in a women’s rights protest march in Kabul, Afghanistan, on 16 January 2022. AFP file photo
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