A year after the Taliban swept across Afghanistan, sparking a chaotic withdrawal of U.S. and allied forces, the country’s dire economic and human rights outlook has only worsened.
Teenage girls can no longer attend school, few women are allowed to hold jobs, journalists are under siege and the country’s economy has collapsed just as a surge in global food prices following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine made widespread starvation a serious risk.
After largely consolidating control following two decades of war, the Taliban initially promised to rule differently than they did in the late 1990s. They reached a deal with the U.S. to allow American troops to depart without a fight and sought international recognition that would help cushion the economy by keeping aid money flowing.
Little has gone to plan.
On the anniversary of the Taliban taking power, acting Prime Minister Mullah Mohammad Hassan said other nations need to foster positive political and economic ties with the country to ensure regional peace. In the past, the group has blamed U.S. sanctions and the freezing of central bank reserves for exacerbating the country’s crisis. Here’s how Afghanistan’s de facto leaders have fared in ruling the country of about 40 million.
Afghan women are — once again — the primary victims of Taliban rule. Not long after taking power, the group barred teenage girls from getting an education beyond the seventh grade, dismissed thousands of women from government jobs and prevented females from traveling alone unless accompanied by a male relative. Women are also again forced to wear head-to-toe burqas in public.
The resumption of those policies drew international condemnation, and the UN has said that those acts will only hamper Taliban efforts to gain a footing on the international stage. A report by Amnesty International says the Taliban’s “suffocating crackdown” on the rights of millions of girls and women is becoming more severe day by day.Depriving 3 million teenage girls of a secondary education has cost Afghanistan 2.5% of its GDP, or at least a $500 million loss over the last 12 months, an economic analysis by UNICEF showed.
“Look at what has happened to us, we’re deeply depressed, and we don’t know what the future holds for us,” said 19-year-old Amina, whose last name Bloomberg is withholding to protect her safety. She is one of hundreds of thousands of girls forced to drop out of school. After having her education halted in the 10th grade, she is now attempting to flee the country in the hopes of continuing her schooling abroad. The anniversary of the Taliban takeover prompted some women to protest the group’s restrictive policies in Kabul. Chanting “bread, work and freedom’’ and carrying a banner calling the Aug. 15 anniversary a “dark day,’’ some of the women were beaten by Taliban fighters, who also fired into the air to disperse them.
An abrupt cut in international aid, which accounted for 40% of GDP, after the Taliban takeover was a crushing blow, coming at the same time as the worst drought in three decades and the COVID-19 pandemic.
The UN Development Programme says Afghanistan’s economy will shrink 5% in 2022 after contracting 20% last year, while the country’s per capita income is projected to decline by 30% to $360 in 2022. At the same time, the cost of essential items such as food and fuel have climbed by about 40%, it says.
The Biden administration has blocked about $9 billion in Afghanistan central bank reserves and while there have been talks between the U.S. and the Taliban about freeing up some of those assets for humanitarian uses, negotiations have made little progress. The U.S. move has been criticized by some nations directly and indirectly by the UN, where Secretary-General Antonio Guterres pleaded with countries to help Afghanistan’s economy “breathe’’ again by bolstering aid flows and “finding ways to free-up frozen currency reserves and re-engage Afghanistan’s Central Bank.’’
For now the Taliban seem be to betting on China to invest in and mine the country’s vast mineral deposits, which include lithium and copper. But Afghanistan’s riches have eluded outsiders for centuries — even successful investments will take years to provide the broad impact the Taliban need now.
Nearly 23 million people, or more than half the country’s population, face acute hunger, a 65% increase since July 2021, just before the Taliban overran the country, according to reports by the World Food Programme and aid group Mercy Corps.
The situation is so desperate that some Afghans have resorted to selling personal belongings or even their young children into marriage in order to feed the rest of the family. Many others are trying to flee the country, adding to strains in neighboring nations including Pakistan.
Despite not officially recognizing Taliban rule, the U.S. and other nations are responding to the hunger crisis through UN agencies. The WFP says it has delivered food to 15 million people since last year but calls that just a lifeline. The organization said it urgently needs $220 million per month to help feed the hungry.
Terrorism and Violence
Islamic State continues to be one of the biggest threats to the Taliban, carrying out major strikes on crowded areas. Recent attacks include one targeting attendees of a cricket game and another aimed at Shias taking part in a religious ceremony in Kabul, killing and wounding tens of people.
There are also questions about whether the Taliban continues to host terrorist groups. Late last month a U.S. drone strike killed al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri in downtown Kabul. Zawahiri — the founder of Egyptian Islamic Jihad — was a key planner of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and took responsibility for a 2005 bombing on London’s transport system that killed 52 people. His death while living in Afghanistan’s capital suggested that the ruling Taliban — which said it wasn’t aware Zawahiri was living in the country — either can’t or won’t abandon its links to the same terror group that prompted the U.S. to invade 21 years ago, when the government sheltered Osama bin Laden. On the domestic security front, while the UN says there was a significant reduction in armed violence between mid-August 2021 and mid-June 2022, the toll is still high. In that time the UN recorded 2,106 casualties, including 700 killed, with most of the violence carried out by Islamic State. And despite the Taliban declaring a general amnesty after the U.S. left, the UN has reported 160 extrajudicial killings, 178 arbitrary detentions, 23 instances of incommunicado detentions and 56 instances of torture and ill-treatment of former government and military officials.
Freedom of Expression
After a blossoming of media outlets and free expression in the 20 years before the Taliban re-took power, the pendulum has swung back in the opposite direction, according to the UN.
More than 200 media outlets have ceased operations since last year, primarily due to financial difficulties, laying off over 7,000 media workers, according to Afghanistan’s Tolonews channel, citing the country’s federation of journalists.
Reporters and media staff are also increasingly the subject of human rights violations, the UN said in a July 20 report. That report highlighted 122 instances of journalists facing arbitrary arrest. In addition, six journalists were killed — five by Islamic State affiliates.
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