This editorial is part of an occasional series published by the Opinion section of the Dallas Morning News on human rights and human freedom. Find the full series here.
It’s a hot scene. Women, some dressed in blue burqas and others with nothing more than a ragged sheet over their battered faces, languish in the scorching September sun in Spin Boldak, a town on the border of Kandahar.
Many are sick and dying, and some are being pushed into wheelbarrows – the concept of a wheelchair unthinkable for the desperate and cash-strapped. And although these sick women, children and entire families are only a stone’s throw from Pakistan’s passage to Chaman and Quetta, they are denied the once-free entry.
Pakistan’s sudden border closure, citing its own national security concerns and the fact that it has absorbed far more Afghan refugees in decades of conflict than any other country has allowed entry, has exasperated the new Taliban border guards.
“We have an agreement with Pakistan to let the Afghans pass for humanitarian and medical reasons,” said angrily a Taliban official, Mohammad Sadiq Sabery, 28.
Perishable goods rot in the penetrating heat, with trucks stranded for weeks. The besieged merchants who survived the years of conflict by importing and exporting across the country now bitterly lament that they can no longer afford to put food on the table.
The border chaos, filled with people desperate to tell their stories of death and destruction, marks a small clip of a nation sliding into chaos and madness about six weeks after the Taliban takeover, followed by the frenzied departure of states -United last month.
Immediately after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled on August 15, allowing then-Taliban militia in the mountains to take the reins of a nation of 38 million people, Washington froze more than $ 9 billion of reserves at the country’s central bank. It is the American taxpayer who has supported Afghanistan’s struggling economy for nearly two decades. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have suspended lending, and the Financial Action Task Force, a Paris-based group that monitors global terrorism, has called on its member countries to cut Taliban money.
With each passing day, the crisis only gets worse.
Many public services, including those in the health sector, have ceased. Girls’ education has come to a halt as Taliban officials tell me that they do not have the financial resources to ensure full gender segregation in accordance with their strict interpretation of Islamic values.
But given the Taliban’s 20 years of experience waging war against the government and killing thousands of American soldiers in the process, coupled with strong concerns about their human rights policies, international recognition including the diet so desperately needed is not likely to come at any time. soon.
So while one war is technically over, it feels like another is just beginning. This one may be missing bombs and bullets from the past, but Afghanistan remains a bloody place. And it is always the civilians who suffer.
The cost of food and essentials is increasing day by day, exacerbated by rapid inflation. The value of the national currency, the Afghani, subsequently declines, and there is a severe shortage of hard cash.
Besieged Afghans wait more than three days in the scorching heat outside the banks, without food or water, while Taliban guards wield threatening sticks to keep people in order. Given the dire shortage of physical cash, each family can only withdraw the maximum equivalent of $ 200 per week.
Several people who have held government or military positions wearily tell me that they have not received their pay for months, including the last month of the previous government.
The United Nations has warned that 97% of the Afghan population could sink below the poverty line in the coming weeks, a dramatic increase from the 72% tabulated just before the Taliban triumph. Sadly, Afghans have become persistent victims of cold statistics. Behind these numbers hide the faces of fathers, mothers, sons and daughters. Each of them has a history of war, although almost all of them never chose to go to war.
“We Afghans are unlucky people,” said a driver with a sigh. “But look at this beautiful place. We would be the luckiest people if the wars ever really ended. “
Muhammad Suleiman Bin Shah, Deputy Minister of Commerce and Industry in the last Afghan government, assured me over tea one afternoon in Kabul that he and his team were preparing for a possible doomsday as the conflict escalated and the Taliban stormed towns and villages. Concerned about food security, he calculated that the country could endure for two months if the main roads or arteries were destroyed or blocked, preventing access to basic necessities.
Time is running out and that time is almost over.
“People need to work outside and not spend more than half of their week in line at the bank,” continued Bin Shah, frustrated.
But employment is difficult to find in almost all sectors. There aren’t any hard numbers, but almost everyone you meet is pleading either to leave or to find work. The millions of people who just a few weeks ago held government positions are mostly unemployed. And those in the private sector, from doctors and lawyers to artists, journalists and entrepreneurs, have also been immersed in an intimidating new world of the unknown.
Afghans left behind to pick up the pieces of their unpredictable lives face a high level of fear.
In the weeks following their sudden storm at the throne, the Taliban reestablished the Department for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, which was disbanded following the US invasion. This sowed fear in the hearts of Afghans, who have painful memories of his draconian and violent practice of Islamic law.
“We are going to punish according to Islamic rules,” Mohammad Yousuf, who believes he is around 32 and is responsible for the “core area” of Afghanistan, tells me after reluctantly agreeing to interview a woman. “Whatever Islam guides us, we will punish accordingly.”
Most important, he continues, will be the punishments inflicted on those found guilty of “major sins of Islam”.
Pre-planned murder will be punished by public execution; a thief will have a hand or a foot – or both – cut off, and an adulterer will be killed by stoning. Usually, a close relative is assigned to commit the fatal act in order to rid the family of the “dishonor” inflicted on them.
Yousuf swears that offenders, both men and women, would be subjected to such a death, although stoning is inflicted disproportionately on girls and women. The ministry is also expected to once again deploy a “morality police” to the streets of Afghanistan, although Yousuf insists there will be less of this type of police. And he says they won’t be as tough as 20 years ago when it comes to punishing minor incursions such as a woman exposing an ankle or a man who does not trim his beard properly.
But trusting the Taliban to obey their own word is still a hard sell for many locals who have spent years in a state of terror as the former insurgency deployed suicide bombers and detonated buildings – and civilians alike. inside – in pieces.
However, those foot fighters once relegated to remote villages and damp basements waiting to strike are now a familiar sight across every inch of Afghanistan’s bloodied terrain.
They move through markets and speed down crumpled highways. They invade checkpoints and guard most mosques and certainly all ministries, their white and black flags flying high over every government building and armored vehicle.
Some wear camouflage recovered from the defeated Afghan army, and others wear traditional tribal clothing. Nonetheless, they’re still easy to spot among the thick crowds of those just trying to get out; they almost always have a high-powered, American-made rifle strapped in their backs or in their arms.
On the flip side, some Afghans point out that there is also a strange sense of security that stems from their heavy footprint lurking in almost every crevice and crevice in the country.
“From a safety point of view, it was perfect. There was no theft, no kidnapping, nothing. Before, we couldn’t walk around. Armed criminals would take our cell phones, our money and everything, ”says Fazal Mohammed, 55, who has owned his hair salon for 35 years. “Now there is none of that.”
Homayon, 49, who has worked in his family’s famous carpet store near Chicken Street in Kabul since he was little, agrees that “security is 100% better” under the dreaded regime than under the previous administration.
His greatest misfortune now is being able to provide for those he loves most in the world.
“There are 75% fewer sales now,” Homayon continues quietly, looking at me with wet eyes. “No one is visiting the store anymore.”
Afghans – namely those who have lived through decades of relentless conflict from the Soviet invasion of the 1980s through the spiraling civil war of the 1990s to the US occupation of the 2000s and the rise of terrorist groups like ISIS after 2010 – know full well that financial instability has the power to devastate and destroy.
There are already internal power play rumbles and eruptions among the top Taliban officials. The movement itself was founded in 1994 when Mullah Mohammad Omar, who valiantly fought the Russians in the US-backed mujahedin, split from his fellow combatants and galvanized his base to bears the arms of a small dilapidated mosque stuck in the sleepy village of Kandahar. of Sangsar.
Likewise, ISIS-K, the Afghan affiliate of the international terrorist group that has indiscriminately slaughtered hundreds of people over the years, including 13 U.S. servicemen in a suicide bombing on the outskirts of Hamid Karzai International Airport in the middle during the last days of the US evacuation, is led by disgruntled members of al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
There is an undeniable feeling that Afghanistan is constantly wavering, still waiting for one war to end and another to break out.
And although America’s “Eternal War” is seen as over and dusted off, from where I sit, the conflict is still killing people.
Hollie McKay is an international freelance writer. She wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.
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