Two years on, Afghanistan’s nightmare continues
Two years since the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan, tens of thousands of Afghans promised resettlement are either trapped in legal limbo in third countries or awaiting visas processing by western nations that promised to rescue their former allies.
In Afghanistan itself, the re-emergence of the Taliban has created a humanitarian crisis and a human rights disaster.
For those left under its rule, and particularly women and girls, life has become a nightmare.
The Taliban has denied women and girls the right to education, work, movement, and assembly, and imposed censorship on the media and access to information. Many women have been dismissed from jobs, and authorities have banned women from working for humanitarian organisations
They have detained journalists and other critics and Taliban fighters have carried out torture and executions, human rights groups report.
More than 124,000 civilians were evacuated from Afghanistan in August and September 2021, but many find themselves struggling with short-term visa arrangements in the US and Europe.
Others are stuck in Pakistan, Iran, the Gulf states and in African countries, desperate for visas fearing deportation, and considering risky journeys to Europe and the United States to try to claim asylum if all else fails.
Meanwhile, the Afghan economy is struggling, having shrunk by 20 per cent. Ongoing banking restrictions and foreign aid reductions have shattered investor confidence, resulting in the loss of more than 700,000 jobs since the summer of 2021.
More than 28 million people, or two-thirds of the population, is in need of humanitarian assistance with the United Nations reporting that four million people are acutely malnourished.
At the same time, a string of natural disasters has exacerbated what the UN has described as the “world’s largest humanitarian crisis”.
The UN says only 23 per cent of funds needed for this year’s humanitarian response plan have so far been received.
Afghans continue to leave the country in large numbers but often face immigration crackdowns in Pakistan and Iran that force people to take perilous migration routes toward Europe.
These routes have become deadlier as borders close and people smugglers are increasingly taking advantage of the situation to make a profit.
Some Afghans have even flown to South America and trekked through the dangerous Darien Gap to try to claim asylum in the US.
Australia has accepted around 8,000 Afghan refugees since the fall of Kabul. The Australian Government has allocated 26,500 dedicated visa places for Afghans to migrate to Australia under the offshore Humanitarian Program through to 2026.
But the government is scrapping a crucial visa program for Afghans who worked for Australia, including interpreters who supported Australian soldiers.
Last September, the United States announced an end to temporary visa for Afghans awaiting resettlement decisions.
Reports say that that just 18 per cent of the 90,000 Afghans who have arrived in the United States over the last two years have been granted asylum.
The rest have been given two-year temporary “humanitarian parole” visas, which do not entitle them to a pathway to citizenship or permanent residency – despite the fact that Washington still doesn’t recognise the Islamic Emirate as the official government of Afghanistan.
In March, after just eight months and zero resettlements, Germany suspended a program intended to resettle a thousand Afghans a month.
In the UK, Afghans who did manage to make it in, including those who had assisted British Forces, are now facing potential homelessness as they’re being ordered to leave state-funded hotel accommodation.
Afghan evacuee Jalal Ahmadzai said that marking two years since the fall of Kabul would be difficult for the Afghan diaspora.
He said the fall of the previous government marked the end of the hopes and dreams of a whole generation of young Afghans.
“When the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan came to power in 2004 after the 2001 intervention of the United States in Afghanistan, the temporary state of stability was once again established,” said Mr Ahmadzai, now living in Melbourne.
“After that, the younger generation of Afghan girls and boys born amidst the war were once again attending schools and universities where they received an education and the anticipation for a brighter future for themselves and their war-torn nation.
“The swift collapse of the Afghan government put an end to those dreams, anticipations and plans.
“We, the younger generation of Afghanistan, were constantly defying the odds and getting an education amidst the unrest in the country and hoping that one day we would be able to serve our country with the skills we had learned and secure a promising future for ourselves.
“Despite the continuous conflict that raged in different parts of the country, our parents and elders did their best to give us everything they never had.
“Our generation was raised with dreams and visions of rebuilding our country and bringing a positive change. In the past 20 years, many were able to contribute to this cause and we believed we were going towards a better future.
“That came to an end two years ago. But somewhere deep in the unknown corners of my heart, a rebellious spark of hope lurks, a thing that cannot be quite obliterated. I will always dream of the day I can go back to my home and wander through the streets of Kabul,”
“The caretaker government of the Taliban needs to realise that it is impossible to rule with fear. The immediate formation of an inclusive government where the rights of all Afghan men and women are recognised is the only way out of this dilemma. It is vital that we free ourselves from the influences of the foreigners who exploit us for their interests and think deeply about how we can allow our children to live a life in Afghanistan that we, our parents or grandparents could not live,” Mr Ahmadzai said.
Two years on, the Taliban regime remains an enigma and world is still uncertain about its agenda.
Despite food shortages and child malnourishment, the Taliban leadership seems more focused on applying its interpretation of sharia law to social behaviour.
This has meant the international community has hesitated helping Afghanistan recover from war.
Pakistan, China, Russia, Iran and Qatar have kept their embassies running in Kabul, and India rejoined them in August last year.
But none of those countries has formally recognised the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate, and nor has any other Muslim-majority country.
Australia and other Western countries maintain cautious communication with the Taliban through diplomatic posts in Qatar, and in the United States’ case through occasional fly-ins or third-country meetings.
About US$9 billion of the former regime’s foreign funds have been frozen by the United States, several European countries and the United Arab Emirates.
The seeds of Afghanistan’s latest catastrophe were sewn when the Taliban persuaded the Americans to agree on a complete pull-out in return for a promise that Afghanistan would not become a base for terrorist attacks on the United States or its allies.
The Taliban also promised to enter a power-sharing dialogue with previous Ashraf Ghani regime, and to look after Shia and Hazara minorities and allow female education.
This deal was created by President Trump through a series of talks in Doha but was seen through by President Biden.
The Taliban purported to have changed since the 1990s, when women were forced into the all-enveloping burqa, and public executions were commonplace.
But with current increased levels repression, especially of women, it is becoming obvious that the Taliban has changed very little.