The awakened Taliban who never existed

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(Photo by Wakil Kohsar/AFP via Getty Images)

In just a few months, the Taliban’s violent sweep of Afghan provincial capitals reversed a two-decade struggle by Afghan women to match their male counterparts in educational achievement, political influence and basic freedoms. . For Pashtana Zalmai Khan Dorani, an Afghan activist and educator now exiled in Massachusetts, this reversal meant a sudden halt in her efforts to close the education gap that existed even before the US withdrawal.

“It’s not a reality, it’s a nightmare,” Dorani recalled as he reflected on the moment of his country’s collapse last summer. “Then it happened and we woke up to reality.”

After narrowly escaping Afghanistan amid death threats from the Taliban, Dorani adapted his approach to women’s schooling. The 24-year-old’s non-profit organization, LEARNnow provides clandestine education to approximately 400 girls in four different regions of Afghanistan at undisclosed locations.

But along with targeting militants like Dorani, the Taliban spent its early days as Afghanistan’s de facto ruler trying to persuade the West that its Islamic emirate was up to the task of governance. At the heart of this enterprise: pretending to defend the rights of Afghan women.

“Our sisters, our men have the same rights; they will be able to enjoy their rights,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said. said on August 17, as the last American troops evacuated Kabul. “They can have activities in different sectors and different areas based on our rules and regulations: education, health and other areas. They will work with us, side by side with us.

Few Afghans or pundits have bought into the act, and for good reason. At the end of the day, the Taliban leaders announced the “indefinite suspension” female journalists working for public television channels. The directive was just the beginning of the Taliban’s systematic dismantling of women’s rights across the country.

The latest restriction imposed by the Taliban on Afghan women goes to the heart of this debate. Earlier this month, the group issued a decree requiring women in public to wear either a full-coverage burka or a niqab, a black veil with only a thin slit through which the eyes can be seen. And on May 21, the Ministry of Vice and Virtue required all remaining female presenters on news stations to wear masks during broadcasts.

“It was very difficult for me to run my programs while wearing a mask”, Yalda Ali, a presenter, Told TOLOnews from Afghanistan. “I was very uncomfortable”

Male and female journalists around the world, including in Afghanistan, have since donned masks in solidarity with the women of the viral campaign on Twitter #FreeHerFace.

Last week, the United Nations Security Council released a statement calling on the Taliban to “quickly reverse policies and practices that currently restrict the human rights and fundamental freedoms of Afghan women and girls” and to “fulfil their commitments to reopen schools for all female students without further delay.” But according to Afghan activists, the world’s leading countries have taken little or no concrete action to ensure that the policies they publicly support are implemented in Afghanistan.

The actions of the Taliban should surprise no one.

“We always had the example of what was happening in the areas controlled by the Taliban, which have developed in recent years, and we know that what was happening is pretty much what is happening all over the country now. “, Heather Barr, associate director of the Women’s Rights Division of Human Rights Watch, said the dispatch. “The situation for women in Afghanistan on August 14 was really difficult… But it was night and day compared to the current situation.”

The new reality now facing women inside occupied Afghanistan stands in stark contrast to the promises of tolerance made by the Taliban and tacitly accepted by the United States and its allies last summer. In the final days of the US military evacuation from Afghanistan in August, the State Department publicly viewed the extremist group as its “partner” as it encouraged the formation of a diverse and tolerant Afghan government. In the state’s disposal to continue shaping Afghan civil society after the withdrawal, according to US officials, was the Taliban’s desire to be recognized and assisted by the international community.

“An Afghanistan, as I have said before, which does not respect the fundamental rights of its people, which does not have a representative and inclusive government, which does not respect the main achievements of the last 20 years is an Afghanistan which a pariah state, certainly for the United States, and I believe for the international community,” said Secretary of State Antony Blinken. told reporters in August.

Several United Nations officials and World Leaders also urged the Taliban to reform policies at the heart of their religious and ideological beliefs, but to no avail. Even in Afghanistan look down One of the world’s most serious humanitarian crises – preventable only with outside help – the restrictions imposed on women by the Taliban have only widened as they consolidate their power and impose their societal vision.

“There was a lot of wishful thinking going on and a lot of pretending to believe things that people didn’t really believe. I don’t think any of this was surprising, and I think anyone who listened to Afghan women knew better,” Barr said. “It was a face-saving way for the United States and others to act as if the Taliban had changed.”

“What we have seen from the international community is a response that has lacked leadership. I think the United States really disengaged on September 1…And no one else stood up to take on a leadership role,” Barr added. “Everyone seems to agree that denying girls access to secondary education is completely unacceptable, but somehow it hasn’t turned into a coordinated set of responses.”

And indeed, the Taliban’s stance on women’s issues was transparent even as they sought to convince the West of their good intentions. Shortly after taking power in August, the Taliban published an op-ed on their government’s official website titled “Liberalism is not necessary for women’s rights.” While the religious doctrine of the Taliban defends the dignity and autonomy of women, according to the author, it does so “within the Islamic framework”.

“Liberals need to explain more than they question. They must explain and prove the liberal assumptions underlying their interrogations and accusations,” the article states. “In addition to asking, for example, why a Muslim woman should be legally required to wear the hijab in an Islamic state, she should also explain why she should have the freedom not to.”

As the Taliban tightened their grip on districts in Afghanistan last summer, their leaders ordered women to stay at home unless they are accompanied by a male escort for the alleged fear that his fighters have not been trained to respect women. In September, the group resurrected the infamous “Ministry of Propagating Virtue and Preventing Vice” from her previous reign, replacing the fallen government’s Ministry of Women’s Affairs. By mid-September, the Taliban had actually forbidden girls to attend secondary school, a restriction now on its 255th day and counting.

But Afghan women remain committed to their 20-year fight for equality, even as international attention on their plight fades. Despite the risk of Stop, removalor even extrajudicial execution in the face of female militants in Afghanistan, protests persist.

And for Dorani, the founder of LEARN, pursuing an education is his own form of resistance.

“There is a huge fight ahead of us and everyone is trying to fight it in their own way,” she said in an interview with the dispatch. “Everyone has a collective and individual battle against the Taliban, and we are all trying to fight it.”

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