The images incoming from Afghanistan are dramatic: masses of people flocking to the airport trying to escape. The fear is great.
Women are among the first objectives of the dramatic talibans’ extremist regime: they have already been removed from their workplaces, some schools and universities have been closed to them and in some cases they have been asked to follow their classes in separate classrooms, all this while posters depicting female faces around town are being taken down. And again, according to various sources, it seems that the Taliban are already preparing lists of women who are not widowed.
The LGBTQ+ community is also affected: the US has been accused of spreading “depraved sexual mores such as homosexuality”. The situation remains confused for now, however, the Taliban themselves, during their first conference with the media, openly stated that women will be able to access education, including university, and that at the moment they do not want to prosecute those who they collaborated with Westerners.
Given the current situation, the European Commission has decided to stop the repatriation of Afghan refugees for the moment. However, this choice has already been contested by several European countries.
Silence is not an option in this situation.
The main concern now is the safety of those who collaborated with NGOs, as there are stories of targeted killings of people who collaborated with Westerners and of representatives of civil society from other cities previously occupied by the Talibans. These killings are not new, since violence against human rights defenders, journalists, politicians and public officials has been escalating since the end of 2020. Everyone is in danger, especially those who have exposed themselves in order to defend the rights of women and minorities, including the Hazara, and can only feel betrayed by the West. Zafira Ghafari, the youngest mayor of Afghanistan, recently told her story to the Open newspaper: she is only 27 years old and said she is in danger as the Taliban “will come for people like me and kill me. I’m sitting with my family (…), I can’t abandon them, and where would I go anyway?”. In this context, the only thing to do is to operate in silence and encourage the creation of humanitarian corridors as soon as possible. Many activists do not intend to become refugees as they could no longer return to Afghanistan and continue to fight for some level of security for their country, but temporary visas are very complicated to get and take time. Time that they don’t have .
Another concern is the potential return of old historical terrorist formations such as Al Qaeda and Isis. Afghanistan is in a strategic position as it borders Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Pakistan and China where the Uighurs, the persecuted Muslim Chinese, reside.
In addition to this, Afghanistan is one of the largest opium exporters in the world, and historically the Taliban and other terrorist groups have been financing themselves through the drug market.
But what has gone wrong in these 20 years?From a military point of view:
According to US intelligence, it would have taken at least a year and a half before the Taliban would be able to retake Afghanistan, which was an overly optimistic forecast.On paper the Afghan army had about 350.000 soldiers trained by Western armies and good aviation, drones, heavy vehicles and weapons supplied by the US, whereas the Taliban forces had between 50.000 and 100.000. However, these numbers are highly contested, as some estimates state that the number of Afghan soldiers actually was less than half than that what was stated in the first place . The numbers were inflated in order to take the wages of soldiers who had abandoned or deserted. The distribution of weapons was not well organized, as both weapons and ammunition were scarce in the suburbs, and various American media outlets have reported in recent months that the Afghan government had suspended the payments of the soldiers and had stopped sending ammunition and food. It seems that the corruption of the government and the commanders played a key role in the defeat. Furthermore, the decision of the US to withdraw its troops strongly demoralized the Afghan army and convinced it that it could not resist the advance of the Taliban. Let us not forget that in these twenty years of war there have been about 66.000 deaths among Afghan soldiers and policemen. The US decision to withdraw its troops was read by many not only as a withdrawal from Afghanistan but also as a withdrawal of political support for the Afghan government. The army, faced with a corrupt Afghan government unable to develop a strategy of resistance able to bring together the different ethnic and linguistic groups present in Afghanistan, has begun to give up fighting.
In addition to this, the Taliban’s strategy has been in the works for some time: last year they had already begun to offer money and amnesty to the tribal leaders in rural areas and then the provincial capitals in exchange for surrender. This strategy seems to have started immediately after the pact that was signed in February 2020 in Doha between the USA, under the Trump administration, and the Taliban. With this agreement the United States committed to withdraw from the country, (which was not a signatory, as it was a bilateral US-Taliban pact) to release 5,000 Taliban detainees in exchange for 1,000 government prisoners and the Taliban assured that the country would not become a base for international terrorism. The agreement included other points, such as the initiation of a dialogue between the Afghan government and the Taliban for a peaceful division of power and respect for the democratic principles of the Afghan constitution, including the rights of women and minorities. However, these points have never been addressed. In any case, there were Afghan soldiers who fought and resisted like those in Lashkar Gah and Kunduz, particularly thanks to the participation of special force groups. The special forces are the best-prepared body of the Afghan army, but they are made up of only a few units, and its forces have therefore not been sufficient.
From a military point of view, there is also another important point: the Afghan army was structured like the American one, which means it was relying heavily on aviation to ensure supplies, transport of the wounded and other operations. The US actually had more than 200 bases scattered throughout the country even in remote areas and the only possible support was from the air. When the US withdrew its troops, however, the 15,000 US pilot contractors also left the country, and the Afghan government was unable to replace them. The air force, which was The basis of the army gave way and so did the Afghan army itself. The first to fall were the most remote bases that were no longer supplied.
D. Petraeus, a retired American general who commanded the international forces in Afghanistan in 2010 and 2011, described the situation as follows: “we condemned them to failure”, the air support was lacking and the ground forces “fought for a few days, but then they realized that reinforcements would not arrive. The psychological impact was devastating “. Giorgio Battisti, first commander of the Italian contingent in Afghanistan, also remembers: “two years ago, the main American military leaders who had succeeded each other had announced that the Afghan security forces were not capable of supporting themselves in a potential Taliban offensive. This idea was repeated last year and then again a few months ago by those who were in charge of the mission “. In his interview with AGI, General Battisti also stressed that the withdrawal happened at the wrong time: “the period from April to October is a fighting season, as the snow melts on the passes that connect Afghanistan and Pakistan, the connections for the supply of ammunition and the movement of men resume “.
From the social point of view:
According to Gabriella Gagliardo from the Italian Coordination in Support of Afghan Women, numerous social and economic problems have cope up in Afghanistan in the last 20 years: “in Afghanistan, democratic organizations have never been supported by the occupying forces. These democratic realities, led mostly but not exclusively rby wome, are now the targets of the Taliban. They have to hide”. Gagliardo, in an interview for Altrigianato, stressed that, within the progress made in womens’ rights,there is a strong disparity between cities and rural areas, with new opportunities raising in cities and in the capital, but very little progress being witnessed in the countryside. Gagliardo said: “Schools were quickly closed, the attacks against students, even girls, became very frequent. It was very dangerous to go to school and the illiteracy rate is still very high: for women, it is between 84% and 87%, and 66% of girls between 12 and 15 years could not go to school “.
Gagliardo also talks about of the expansion of the opium crops that forcefully occupy the peasants’ lands that could be cultivated to feed the population. It’s important to keep in mind that the country is far from achieving food self-sufficiency. The main international economic aid that has arrived is military, whereas there hasn’t been much aid for social projects. More than 2.000 billion dollars arrived from the USA alone, divided as follows:
1,500 millions in war operations,
87 millions for training,
54 millions for economic aid and reconstruction,
10 millions for the fight against drugs.
From a health perspective, Afghanistan is not doing well: “over the years, there haven’t been many investments in the health sector, and therefore all the aid that has arrived to build hospitals or clinics has very often not been activated and therefore ended upin bribes or corruption “.
Concluding with the words of Gino Strada “on the Afghan question there has been a media curfew for years despite the situation”. Now that the conversation about Afghanistan has opened up, we hope that the international community won’t stop speaking about it again.
Written by Erica Soana, Giovani Europeisti Verdi (Italy) – Translated by Edoardo De Paola & Gabriella Waibel
I’m Erica, I’m 28 and I’m from Milan. I am part of the national executive of the Young Italian Green Europeanists and I was recently elected in Milan as a municipal councilor (Municipal 7 of Milan). My political figure of reference is Marielle Franco.
This article reflects the opinions of its individual writers, not necessarily those of the FYEG or its partners.