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Trashcanistan: "Meet the new boss...

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Oct 17, 2021, 1:21:16 PM10/17/21
...same as the old boss." -- The Who, "Won't Get Fooled Again" (1971)
The Taliban Is Just as Bad as It Always Was

As international attention subsides, the group is reverting to its old

By Yasmeen Serhan
OCTOBER 16, 2021

From the moment when scores of Afghans were filmed clinging to an American
aircraft in a desperate bid to escape Taliban rule to the day of the
departure of the last American soldier, international attention was trained
almost exclusively on Afghanistan—until it wasn’t. By mid-September, just
weeks after the Taliban took control of Kabul, the sense of crisis that had
galvanized the world’s focus began to wane. Today, Afghanistan has all but
disappeared from daily headlines.

This is the opportunity that the Taliban has likely been waiting for. In the
initial days and weeks that followed the group’s recapture of Kabul, it
reaffirmed its commitment, set out in a 2020 peace deal with the United
States, to leave its old way of doing things in the past. The Taliban
pledged that under new leadership, women, who were once subject to some of
the group’s most hard-line restrictions, would have their rights respected
(albeit within a strict interpretation of Islamic law). The press would not
be inhibited from doing its work so long as it didn’t go against “national
values.” Those who had worked with the former Afghan government, or
alongside the U.S. and other NATO forces, would not be subject to reprisals.

Such promises were expedient then, when foreign militaries were in the
process of leaving Afghanistan—a departure that the Taliban was keen to see
happen without delay. They were also welcomed by the U.S. and others, who
seemed to believe that the group could be pressured into keeping its word.

But now that the Taliban is back in charge, and now that international
attention has largely diverted elsewhere, the group has been free to show
its true, all-too-familiar, colors. Women have been discouraged from
returning to work and school, seemingly indefinitely. Ethnic minorities have
faced persecution and violence. Public hangings have returned to Afghanistan’s
central squares.

Zarifa Ghafari has seen this all play out before. Though she was only 7 when
the Taliban fell from power following the 2001 American invasion, the former
Afghan politician and women’s-rights activist still remembers certain
aspects of life under the group’s rule: the Taliban patrolling in large
vehicles, her underground English classes (the education of women and girls
was strictly prohibited at the time), and food being scarce at home. Like
many other Afghan women of her generation, Ghafari has spent the past 20
years pursuing opportunities that would have been unthinkable during the
five years that the Taliban controlled Afghanistan, such as attending
university and attaining public office. In 2018, she became the youngest
mayor in the country—a position that earned her international plaudits and
death threats.

Ghafari was never under any illusions about what the return of the Taliban
would mean for her country, or for people like her. “They never changed,”
she told me from her new home in Germany, where she and her family fled
shortly after the fall of Kabul.

“If anybody believes that the Taliban have changed,” she added dryly,
“please have a small amount of them as a guest for your countries. We Afghan
people would love to give them as a gift. We don’t mind at all.”

Of course the Taliban hasn’t changed. Despite its savvy public-relations
operation, few believed that it actually would. But leaders in the U.S. and
elsewhere had expressed hope, perhaps naively, that maybe the group’s
priorities had. If the Taliban of 2021 was so intent on seeking
international legitimacy, the logic went, then the West could feasibly
retain a degree of leverage over it, which in turn could be used to ensure
that certain basic rights—particularly those of women, members of ethnic
minorities, and other vulnerable populations—would be maintained.

Graeme Wood: This is not the Taliban 2.0

This theory hasn’t come to pass. In the months since the Taliban retook
control of Afghanistan, it has overseen a steady return to the pre-2001
status quo. Women, who previously made up a little more than a quarter of
the country’s Parliament and 6.5 percent of its ministerial posts, have been
excluded from the Taliban’s interim government. And despite assurances that
women would still be allowed to work and study, many have yet to be invited
back to their offices and classrooms, as their male peers have. In perhaps
the most ominous sign of things to come for Afghan women, the building that
was once the Ministry of Women’s Affairs has been repurposed to house the
reestablished Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice,
the Taliban’s morality police.

The Taliban hasn’t just reneged on its promises relating to women’s rights.
According to a recent report by Amnesty International, the Taliban has gone
back on virtually every reassurance it has made since its return to power.
Among Amnesty’s findings is that the group is threatening and intimidating
human-rights defenders and journalists, as well as their families. While the
majority of the country’s journalists have stopped working, those who
continue to do so run the risk of being arrested or beaten. Reports of
revenge attacks against those who worked for the former Afghan government
have also become commonplace.

“The Taliban ideological framework, the hyper-conservative standpoint—that
does not seem to have shifted over the last 20 years,” Agnès Callamard, the
secretary general of Amnesty International, told me. “The pretense is gone
and the reality is settling in, and it’s a very tough reality.”

This isn’t to say that the U.S. and its allies have lost sway over the
Taliban. Their hold over the group’s central-bank reserves and international
aid remain powerful leverage. But as Callamard sees it, that leverage hasn’t
necessarily been used to prioritize human-rights concerns. “I am fearful
that the international community’s political capital is being spent on
demanding that the Taliban do not return to supporting terrorist groups such
as al-Qaeda and trying to prevent massive migration,” she said, noting that
though the humanitarian situation is on the agenda, it’s “only on position
three.” (Indeed, in a readout of this week’s emergency G20 summit on
Afghanistan, the White House noted that President Joe Biden and his fellow
leaders discussed the crucial need to focus on counterrorism efforts and
ensuring safe passage for foreign nationals and Afghan partners seeking to
leave Afghanistan. Humanitarian assistance, and the promotion of human
rights for all Afghans, was listed third.)

Even this limited leverage could wane, especially if Russia and China come
to the Taliban’s assistance. Both countries have been willing to engage with
the Taliban—so much so that a spokesperson for the group told the Italian
newspaper La Repubblica last month that Beijing would be the Taliban’s “main
partner” for investment (though not much beyond China’s pledge of $31
million in emergency aid seems to be forthcoming). Moscow has also committed
to supplying aid, though details have been scarce.

To avert a large-scale humanitarian crisis, the G20 (excluding Russia and
China, whose leaders did not dial in) acknowledged this week that
cooperating with the Taliban might be inevitable—though, as Mario Draghi,
the Italian prime minister and current rotating chair of the G20, clarified,
“that does not mean recognizing them.”

Read: The Taliban’s return is catastrophic for women

When I asked Ghafari what she thought the international community could do
to help Afghanistan, she urged world leaders to “please not recognize [the
Taliban] without the guarantee of human, and in particular women’s, basic

“I don’t want the world to forget us the same way they did in the ’90s.”

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