by Zia Sarhadi (Main Stories, Crescent International Vol. 50, No. 8, Safar, 1443)
The US and its allies can no longer deny the fact that they were militarily defeated and driven out of Afghanistan after 20 years of blood-letting. With US-NATO combat troops fleeing Kabul airport on August 30, the shooting war has formally ended. Other forms of warfare against the Taliban, however, continue.
These include a vicious propaganda campaign as well as economic warfare. Both are designed to delegitimize and undermine Taliban rule.
The propaganda war has focused on several narratives: the impending ‘civil war’, alleged ‘execution’ of opponents and concern for ‘women’s rights’ including education. Concern for women’s rights is used as a hot button issue to appeal to Western feminists to draw them into the imperialists’ on-going war on Muslims, including Afghanistan.
On the economic front, the US has frozen nearly $9.5 billion of Afghanistan’s foreign exchange reserves in US banks. The World Bank and IMF have followed suit. They are withholding hundreds of millions of dollars of aid money that was earmarked to assist Afghan civilians, all because the Taliban are now in power.
While withholding funds, Western media outlets have carried reports of long line-ups outside banks in Kabul to withdraw cash. The. Taliban have imposed a $200 withdrawal limit. Hundreds of thousands of people including policemen, civil servants and other state employees have not been paid salaries. But the Taliban did not create this problem. Salaries have not been paid for the past six months when the US-installed puppet regime was in power.
At the UN-sponsored donors’ conference in Geneva on September 13, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in his opening remarks that after two decades of war and suffering, Afghans are facing “perhaps their most perilous hour.” While it was announced that donors had pledged $1 billion in aid, the UN chief said it was impossible to say how much of it was promised in response to an emergency UN appeal for $606 million to meet the most pressing needs of the Afghan people.
“The people of Afghanistan are facing the collapse of an entire country—all at once,” he said. Guterres also warned that food supplies could run out by the end of September. The World Food Programme, meanwhile said 14 million people were on the brink of starvation in Afghanistan.
Are the Taliban at fault for the looming humanitarian disaster? The country has faced a draught for more than a year and the pandemic has only exacerbated the problem. Western regimes are only adding to it. If they really care for the Afghan people, they should immediately unfreeze all the assets and let the Taliban deal with the crisis.
Instead, anti-Taliban propaganda has gone into high gear. Even the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, otherwise known for her fairness, has joined this campaign. In her address to the UN conference, she alleged that the Taliban were ordering women to stay at home, blocking teenage girls from school and holding house-to-house searches for former foes.
It is not clear what is the source of this information. The reality on the ground is different. Girls’ schools remain open in Afghanistan. And only a day earlier (September 12), the Minister of Higher Education in the Taliban interim government, Abdul Baqi Haqqani had announced at a press conference in Kabul that women can continue to study in universities. This included studies at the post-graduate level. He stipulated two conditions: classrooms will be gender-segregated and women must cover themelves properly.
True, the Taliban may not measure up to the West’s standards of liberalism but are such standards universal and must they be imposed on others, whether they like them or not? Is the purpose to ensure girls’ education or the imposition of Western norms?
As for Ms. Bachelet’s allegation that the Taliban were “holding house-to-house searches” for foes, it is only partly true. The Taliban have gone house-to-house, not searching for foes but to assure people that there will be no revenge against those who collaborated with the occupiers. They can return to work and if anyone faced problems, where to get help. This hardly sounds like seeking revenge.
Some commentators have pounced on what Taliban spokesman Syed Zekrullah Hashmi said on TOLO News. “Women should give birth and raise children,” he said. He clarified that the Taliban have not ruled out participation of women in government but added, “It’s not necessary that women be in the cabinet.”
This may be a very conservative view but the government has not instituted it as state policy. Even before the Taliban regained power, while universities were co-ed, the vast majority of female students wore headscarves in line with religious, personal and cultural preferences. In elementary and high schools, boys and girls were taught separately.
On September 11, a large group of women students in black robes that covered them completely, held a rally in Kabul in support of the rules on dress code and separate classrooms. They also said that Afghan women who have fled to Western countries have no right to speak on their behalf.
University classrooms are divided by curtains. These have been witnessed in many places in Kabul since the Taliban’s assumption of power.
While the defeated Western regimes are demonizing the Taliban, China, Pakistan and Iran have been sending aid. Pakistan has already sent supplies of cooking oil and medicine. PIA resumed commercial flights into Kabul on September 13. Thousands of Afghans have also used the land border to enter Pakistan.
Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi urged the UN conference: “Past mistakes must not be repeated. The Afghan people must not be abandoned,” he said. Before the UN conference was convened, China had announced it would send $31 million worth of food and health supplies to the war-wracked country. Afghanistan’s Western neighbour Iran dispatched an air cargo of humanitarian aid.