Retreat Of Freedom

The women of Afghanistan stand to lose the most if the Taliban return to power

As the Americans leave Afghanistan after two decades of non-victory, the Taliban have made clear that they will not accept the interim truce of “talks” with the Afghan government. Why should they talk to a government that is doomed? The endgame is obvious to all those sitting on the fence in Kabul, like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who has recently announced his decision to leave his “agreed” coexistence with the government of two clashing leaders — Pakhtun President Ashraf Ghani and Tajik ex-Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah — and be ready to talk power-sharing with the emerging alternative of the Taliban.

The Taliban ruled Afghanistan with religious hubris that only an illiterate society can stomach. After the Soviets left, they imposed Islam on Afghanistan and brutalised the population, especially women, and balefully influenced the Islamic state-in-chrysalis, Pakistan, into an imitative misdemeanour. Under the Taliban, women could not come out unless accompanied by a male guardian and there was no question of getting any kind of education. The Taliban prohibited women from holding jobs. Except, of course, when they helped in poppy cultivation and opium harvesting.

The post-Taliban constitution in 2004 gave Afghan women all kinds of rights that significantly improved their socio-economic condition. The regime constructed 3,135 functional health facilities by 2018, giving 87 per cent of Afghan people access to a medical facility within two hours distance — at least in theory. The Taliban attacked the facilities, making road travel increasingly unsafe. In 2003, fewer than 10 per cent of girls were enrolled in primary schools; by 2017, that number had grown to 33 per cent. Female enrolment in secondary education grew from six per cent in 2003 to 39 per cent in 2017. Thus, 3.5 million Afghan girls were in school with 1,00,000 studying in universities.

Male sadism directed at women is exemplified in the Afghan Pakhtun male. It is being imitated these days in Pakistan. What chance is there that women will be spared punishment for having accepted “freedom” under the “slavery” imposed by the Americans? Seventy-five per cent of them live in villages where the war has not ceased even as the Taliban negotiate with the Americans in Doha.

Next door, Pakistan is going to revamp its education and create something the Taliban will love, and banish the evil of English-medium schools “run for the rich”. What is more, Pakistan has signalled the end of the false truce against the Shia, with Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) Chaudhry Shujaat Husain and Parvez Elahi introducing a bill in the Punjab Assembly mandating reverence of the Sunni saintly personalities traditionally traduced by the Shia. In Karachi, the campaign for the “correction” of the Shias has actually started. This will inspire the Taliban when they rule in Afghanistan once again, with an eye cocked at the Shia community of Central Afghanistan, the Hazara.

Amnesty International had once counted the number of Afghans who had to leave Afghanistan during 40 years of war — and women suffered most of what was coming: “More than 4,00,000 Afghans fled the violence of the Communist-led Tarakai and Amin government, crossing over into Pakistan. The numbers progressively swelled after the Soviet invasion on Christmas Eve in 1979. By the end of 1980, there were more than four million Afghan refugees in Pakistan.”

Pakistan may be preparing itself for the next Afghan deluge by “Islamising” itself through an anti-Shia orgy. This is more likely than the Afghan refugees, mostly women and children, going to Europe through Turkey. Europe has already alerted its borders against an Afghan deluge when the Americans leave and the Ashraf Ghani government is kicked in the butt by the Taliban — to say nothing about Islamic State (normal) and Islamic State (Khorasan) and numerous other militias from Central Asia dreaming of Afghanistan as a utopia in which women have to be tamed further according to sharia.

Pakistan is putting up a wire-fence on the Durand Line while the Taliban — Afghan and Pakistani — take potshots at the soldiers assigned to erect the fence. Yet, when the deluge of refugees comes, fleeing the exemplary bravery of the Islamic soldiers, it will be the children and women who will suffer most. The women of Pakistan are already suffering assaults in the cities where the muezzin dutifully calls out from the minarets.

The writer is consulting editor, Newsweek Pakistan

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