The anxiety and fear in Afghanistan stem from the Taliban’s earlier regime from 1996 to 2001
By Aaloc Srivastav
A cursory glance at Afghanistan, and the various regimes that ruled over this ancient territory of Khorasan, reveals two clear patterns. First, the religious faith or inclination which is evident now is not a natural one. It is a reflection of the belief patterns of chieftains or kings who serially invaded this beautiful and cold opium (80 percent of world production), carpets, rugs, and dry fruit producing country.
Famous among them are Ghengis Khan, the firebrand Mongol supremo, and Ahmed Shah Durrani, the ablest of all the rulers.
At one point of time, there were seven major religions in a country with a population of just 38.92 million (2020). Dari and Pashto are the two spoken languages.
The Pakhtoons or the Pathans, who mainly followed the Jewish, Buddhist and Hindu religions till the eighth or ninth century, slowly began converting to Islam, till as late as 1700. It could be considered one of the largest conversion movements ever.
The Pakhtoons or the Pathans, who mainly followed the Jewish, Buddhist and Hindu religions until the 8th or 9th century, slowly began to convert to Islam, till as late as 1700.
In no time, Islam became the religion of 99.7 percent of the population, with 88.9 percent of them being Sunnis, as in Pakistan.
Second, women have invariably been at the receiving end subsequent to the change of guard in Kabul now, or in the core of regions like Balkh, Herat, Ghazni and old Kabul.
These developments may not appear new. It may happen again if the greed of humanity, but not the need, per se, continues to get precedence. The latter may also be no longer a voice of unexpressed, suppressed and often tarnished collectivity. The emerging developments are rightly or wrongly taking place, ironically, when the apex court of India, in a landmark interim order, has directed that young women be allowed to take the next examination at the National Defence Academy (NDA), a male preserve until now.
This has come after three decades of permitting young women to serve in selected branches of the three services as SSC officers and 18 months after the Supreme Court order that they are also entitled to permanent commission and command.
Whether it is the Orient or the Occident, the attitude of male-dominated society towards women never changes. Women necessarily have to be deprived of nutritious food, ashamed of menstruation, conceive and deliver babies and struggle for their existence, rights and lives. They end up sacrificing more for the sustenance of the family and society.
In the present fluid situation in Afghanistan, the anxiety and fear stem from the Taliban’s earlier regime from 1996 to 2001. Tribal and non-tribal groups invaded and departed but women had hardly any say.
The Soviet Union protected puppet regimes between 1979 and 1986 but also never cared for making a distinction between traditions and the need for modernity, when it came to young and adult females.
It appears that the attitudes of the recent past are not going to be tolerated even in the light of the Taliban’s announcing a general amnesty as also an appeal to women to return to their schools, offices, banks and business establishments as long as they observe the Shariat.
Women, yet again, are not allowed to appear in public if their faces are not covered or without male relatives as escorts.
It is mind-boggling to learn from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees that from May 2021 almost a quarter of a million Afghans have been forced to flee and that 80 percent of them have been women and children. But the fact that female literacy has shot up, as per the World Bank, to 30 percent in 2018 from a mere 17 percent in 2000, affords a glimmer of hope.
As is clear from the ‘supposedly changing’ attitude of the neo-Taliban in the post-Osama bin Laden era, their carefully crafted statements are being issued with a view to winning international legitimacy.
Are Greta Thunberg, Mia Khalifa, Malala Yousufzai and other young Western women activists, who were drawn to the ongoing farmer agitation in India, going to speak in unison for the minimal rights of the long-suffering women of Afghanistan?
As is clear from the “supposedly changing” attitude of the neo-Taliban in the post-Osama bin Laden era, their carefully crafted statements are being issued with a view to winning international legitimacy. Russia, China and Pakistan, whose embassies in Kabul are functioning and who were the first to accord informal recognition to the new regime, are already reviewing their hurriedly taken decisions in view of the confusion and the fast-changing situation.
China has made it clear that it is waiting for the Taliban to establish an open, inclusive and broadly representative government prior to a decision by Beijing on the issue of formal recognition. It is believed that the Taliban may crack down on the East Turkestan Islamic Movement in Xinjiang province of China. One would not be surprised if Russia follows suit soon after.
Pakistan, however, will continue to support any Taliban move as it would prefer to keep the Kashmir issue alive. In the meanwhile, former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who left the country when the Taliban takeover was imminent, after being pushed out from US-controlled but fully Islamic Turkmenistan, has got temporary refuge in the UAE. He seems to have “vowed” to return and has reportedly welcomed the talks between Hamid Karzai, his predecessor, and the Taliban.
For India, before the uncertain situation goes out of control, it is the right time to evacuate all government employees, ITBP personnel and the less than 600 Indians from Kabul and Jalalabad. Simultaneously, it must beef up defence on its borders with Pakistan and divert its focus from the Galwan valley to other strategic locations in the Aksai Chin which are under the unauthorised occupation of China.
(The author is former chief secretary, Government of Sikkim.)