Talking sense with the Taliban?
published : 2 Feb 2023 at 06:05
newspaper section: Oped
writer: John J Metzler
It seems like a profound contradiction; trying to convince Afghanistan's Taliban authorities to accept foreign humanitarian help for their own starving population. Thus as beleaguered Afghan civilians endure a brutal winter, the sanctimonious Islamic fundamentalist regime in Kabul has largely restricted international aid agencies because they employ women.
The appalling collapse of Afghanistan in August 2021 to the Taliban militants due to the shameful and shambolic pullout by the Biden administration, opened the floodgates for a wider tragedy in this long-suffering South Asian state and, moreover whet the political appetite for authoritarian regimes worldwide to probe new aggressions.
Into the fray came the UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed and her delegation for a four-day fact-finding mission to try to talk sense and try to find some common ground with the "de facto authorities", aka the Taliban, so that fewer Afghans will be at the mercy of medievalist mullahs. Currently, up to 25 million people depend on foreign humanitarian assistance.
This aid was threatened recently when the Taliban ordered that women would be barred from working in these aid agencies. The visiting UN team stated, "the delegation directly conveyed the alarm over the recent decree banning women from working for national and international non-governmental organisations, a move that undermines the work of numerous organisations helping millions of vulnerable Afghans".
Prior to arriving in Kabul, the UN delegation visited Muslim countries in the Middle East as well as Indonesia, Pakistan and Turkey to assess attitudes towards the extremist Taliban measures.
The UN team added that this latest "clampdown on working women followed edicts from the fundamentalist Taliban to close universities to female students, until further notice, and preventing girls from attending secondary school". Equally, women and girls have been ordered to stop using parks and gyms, and banned from most areas of the workforce.
Separately the UN Security Council was "deeply alarmed by reports that the Taliban have suspended access to universities for women and girls", and suspended girls from schools beyond the sixth grade.
Is this 1223 or 2023??
Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed stated, "these restrictions present Afghan women and girls with a future that confines them in their own homes, violating their rights and depriving the communities of their services". She lamented "Afghanistan is isolating itself".
The Taliban regime in Afghanistan has not been recognised by any member of the international community.
UN Women's chief executive Sima Bahous warned, "What is happening in Afghanistan is a grave women's rights crisis and a wakeup call for the international community.
"It shows how quickly decades of progress on women's rights can be reversed in a matter of days," she conceded.
This remains a key point. During the military commitment, the US, Britain, Canada and a score of other allies shed blood and massive financial commitments to help this land. More than 2,456 Americans were killed in action and thousands more wounded. Adding insult to injury, during the hasty US pullout from strategic Bagram Airbase, billions of dollars in military equipment and weapons fell into the hands of the Taliban.
But beyond the 20 years of the American and allied military presence in Afghanistan, the society was slowly and largely changed for the better. Women and girls were enfranchised with political rights and, as importantly, educational opportunities. An entire generation of female Afghans was afforded unknown freedoms under which many of them flourished in business, medicine and in governance. Since the return of the so-called reformed Taliban, many, if not all, of these rights were cynically abolished or curtailed.
Nonetheless, the Taliban are confronted by the determined resilience of Afghan women both inside the country and abroad. There's a tough and educated population, admittedly a vocal minority, who knows that this regime of darkness and dystopia is a passing plague upon the country. But how long must they wait for the dawn?
John J Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defence issues. He is the author of 'Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations; Germany, Korea, China'.