Former US President George W. Bush, who had launched the US-led war against the Taliban in 2001 following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, is a sad man today that American and other NATO forces are about to withdraw their troops from Afghanistan.
And many, including German Chancellor Angela Dorothea Merkel, seem to share his agony with the Deutsche Welle (DW) broadcaster in Germany that the withdrawal would be followed by tragedies and atrocities.
“I’m afraid Afghan women and girls are going to suffer unspeakable harm,” Bush said. He also mentioned interpreters who worked with Americans and allied forces who could now be in dire straits. “They’re just going to be left behind to be slaughtered by these very brutal people, and it breaks my heart.”
The Taliban may have convinced the American and other international interlocutors in Doha that they would share the power with others in Kabul and that they would not allow the Afghan territory to be used by the “foreign terrorists”.
But President Bush, like millions in the rest of the world, does not know what socio-economic policies that a Taliban-dominated Afghan government will pursue for the Afghan people, including women and children. Have they changed their views on the policies that they had cruelly pursued when they were in power in Kabul between 1994 and 2001?
Their past policies generate fears that the likes of President Bush are concerned about.
It is well-known that the Taliban’s overall ideology combines an “innovative” form of “Sharia” Islamic law based on “Deobandi fundamentalism” and the militant Islamism combined with Pashtun social and cultural norms known as “Pashtunwali” (most Taliban are Pashtun tribesmen”.
During their rule over Kabul, they had introduced or supported Islamic punishments – such as public executions of convicted murderers and adulterers, and amputations for those found guilty of theft. Men were required to grow beards and women had to wear the all-covering burka.
The #Taliban are the enemies of Afghans and #Afghanistan.
They have destroyed schools, bridges, hospitals and dams and turned Afghanistan into ruins.#TalibanRegionalSecurityRisk pic.twitter.com/aouhK88FjN
— Dawood Khan Achakzai ( Pashteen ) (@DawoodKhanAch12) July 15, 2021
They had banned television, music, and cinema, and disapproved of girls 9 (nine) years and above going to school. They abused various human rights and demolished cultural symbols, including the famous Bamiyan Buddha statues in central Afghanistan, international outrage notwithstanding.
The Taliban had a “Department for Enforcement of Right Islamic Way and Prevention of Evils,” which was manned by the religious police to punish violations of Taliban decrees and Islamic rules.
Abusive & Misogynist Policies
A study published in Indiana University’s Open-access journal, titled ‘Women’s Rights Unveiled: Taliban’s Treatment of Women in Afghanistan’ has revealed the following policies and decrees under the Taliban rule, among others:
“The face of a woman is a source of corruption for men who are not related to them. A woman’s veil must cover her whole body, that perfumed women are regarded as adulteresses, that a woman must not leave her house without her husband’s permission, and that a woman must not look at strangers. Women may not have clothes made by a tailor and cannot wear white socks.”
“Women are not allowed to go outdoors without a male relative as an escort. Even then, women must walk quietly and refrain from laughing or talking loudly in the streets. Women are not allowed to go to hotels, even for weddings.”
“Windows of a woman’s house must be painted black. When a woman rides in a car, all windows except the front must be painted black. Women may not ride in buses with men. Taxi drivers may only pick up women who are escorted by a man. If caught not following this rule, the taxi driver, the woman, and her husband may suffer punishment.”
“Women are not allowed in public during certain times of the year, such as the holy month of Ramadan unless they have a legal excuse.”
The Taliban also imposed rules pertaining to how women receive medical attention. In 1997, hospitals were closed to women. Women could only go to a clinic without running water. In 1997, due to international disapproval, the Taliban withdrew this policy but ensured that men and women remained segregated in hospitals.
Originally, women could only receive medical treatment from female doctors. But this posed a problem since most women were forbidden from working. After 1998, women were allowed to see male doctors if accompanied by a male relative.
As an Afghan and as a woman, I fear this will set the stage for the triumph of violent extremists. All we have fought for over the past 20 years — equality between men and women, human rights, independent media… https://t.co/nNQeZlMPeq via @FT @FawziaKoofi77
— A Reader (@A_Reader_FT) July 12, 2021
When the Taliban came to power in 1994, women could not work in any areas other than education or health care. But subsequently, the Taliban banned women from working, even in healthcare.
The Taliban rules forbade girls from attending school. The Taliban asserted that schools licensed by them will be allowed to function.
In order to obtain a license, the school must not allow girls over eight years of age to attend and must teach only the Qur’an. The age restriction for girls stems from the Taliban’s belief that girls and boys should not commingle in schools after age nine.
There was no scope for women to receive higher education. The Taliban closed Kabul University and then reopened it with only males in attendance. However, after 2000, the Taliban allowed 40 medical students to continue their medical education at Kabul University.
A nursing school in Herat reopened and the Taliban made plans to start a nursing school in Kandahar.
Due to an inability to work or a lack of available jobs, many women resorted to begging and selling their possessions to provide for their families. Others resorted to prostitution. Widows are especially hit hard by the restrictions on employment.
Is the Taliban prepared to forgo the above social policies that it had pursued last time when in power?
Post-2001 Women’s Empowerment
This question is all the more relevant given the fact that despite all their failures, the post-2001 Afghan governments have, with abundant foreign aids and assistance, promoted the rights and causes of women and allowed freedom of thoughts and expressions in the Afghan society.
According to a respectable study that came this January, female enrolment in public schools rose from zero in 2001 to over 3 million in 2010. As of 2019, millions of women had voted, and 89 of parliament’s 352 members were women.
Women held 13 seats as ministers and deputy ministers and 4 served as ambassadors. Eight women served as deputy governors, mayors, deputy mayors, and district governors.
Schools and universities employed nearly 80,000 women instructors, including over 2,000 university professors. More than 6,000 women served as judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and police and army personnel.
Government data counted over 8,500 women among the country’s health professionals. Female journalists numbered more than 1,000, and nearly 1,500 women entrepreneurs had invested a total of $77.5 million in their businesses. Life expectancy for women rose from 45.5 years in 2001 to 54.4 years in 2019.
The literacy rate climbed from 13 percent in 2000 to 30 percent in 2018. In 2003, Afghanistan had only 30,000 university students; in 2018, the country had 386,778, of whom 100,468 were women.
It is also notable that today the Afghan media is among among the most open in the region. Afghanistan now has several independent television stations, numerous radio stations, and many newspapers.
Afghans have also become avid users of social media with the proliferation of cell phones and the introduction of 3G internet services. Afghan youth are active on blogs, Facebook, WhatsApp, and Twitter.
It is but natural that the future of these rights and freedoms is of major concern as one does not know whether the Taliban have evolved in their views. It is all the more so in the wake of an alarming spike in targeted assassinations at the end of 2020 against young Afghan journalists, civil servants, and activists.
The latters’ work is necessarily not in tune with the Taliban’s known agenda. According to the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, 15 journalists, 14 tribal elders, 20 religious scholars, 31 civilian government staff (including prosecutors and judges), 10 civil society activists, and 7 teachers were killed in targeted attacks in 2020.
All this suggests that the Taliban has not changed their extremist ideology, only their strategy. But is the world prepared to live with it, a concern that President Bush has shared?
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