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Six Months Later: What’s Going on in Afghanistan

Niva Cohen

Executive Editor

Afghans cram into smugglers’ trucks in hopes of crossing the border illegally.

When the United States pulled troops out of Afghanistan in August, chaos ensued. The Taliban regained power, American allies feared retribution, and women faced oppressive policies that they thought had been relics of the past. Today, the news storm about Afghanistan and the Taliban takeover has subsided, but that is due more to the passage of time than it is to changing circumstances. Afghanistan faces an economic crisis under religiously extreme rulers who crave the world’s recognition.

Hundreds of thousands of refugees have fled Afghanistan since the U.S. withdrawal, some by hiring smugglers to take them into Iran and Pakistan. Those starving and cowering under Taliban rule deem these journeys worthwhile, even though they’re illegal and dangerous. The economic situation in Afghanistan, which was strained before American troops withdrew, has devolved into disaster. Incomes have plummeted, and food has become too expensive to afford. António Guterres, the UN secretary-general, reported that “for Afghans, daily life has become a frozen hell” – most of them face extreme hunger.

Usually, the international community would relieve some of the suffering within a crumbling economy, but the West has blocked aid to Afghanistan because it does not want to enable the Taliban. Without support from Western donors, there is no respite from the stifling American sanctions; and those paying the price are often the poor women for whom the U.S. fought in the first place. The U.S. pledged $308 million in January in an attempt to loosen its hold on the Afghan economy, but such a donation is meager and insignificant, considering the size of the crisis. The Taliban has made “peace offerings” to the West – by promising to educate girls, for example – in hopes of increasing aid. But these words are often shallow, and donors are wary that their money might land in the Taliban’s hands.

In these dire straits, thousands of Afghans have decided to make the trek to the border, despite the harrowing winter. Four times as many migrants flooded the borders with Pakistan and Iran this past January compared to January, 2021. As it gets warmer, the numbers will likely increase. European countries worry that this influx will lead to a refugee crisis similar to one they faced in 2015 as Syrians fled civil war, resulting in a strain on resources and a boom in xenophobia. As the numbers of Afghan asylum seekers soar, people ponder what the implications might be, but only time will tell.

Afghan women face non-economic problems, as well. The Taliban fired all women from the government when it seized control in August. Many still have to sign into their former jobs once a month so that the Taliban can feign an egalitarian workplace. While the U.S. was in Afghanistan, women had jobs – they made up a quarter of government employees, in fact – and their girls attended school. After the withdrawal, girls older than 12 were sent home and women fired. The Taliban turned the Ministry of Women’s Affairs into a religious morality police office, and women must now have male relatives with them to travel.

In response to new restrictions, women have begun to protest, facing loaded guns and pepper spray. Taliban officials call them demeaning names as they pass, sometimes beating up members of the crowd to scare the rest away. Activists report having received threatening phone calls, warning them to keep quiet. Some have even “disappeared” after being held at gunpoint. Eager for international recognition, Taliban officials tell the world a different story. They insist that protests are allowed with permission – the one catch is that they never grant it.

Americans are lucky that the daily plight of Afghans is simply a news story from past months. But no matter how long it lasts, suffering never gets old for the sufferer. Hopefully, the international community will find a creative way to fuel the Afghan economy, or use its resources as leverage to secure women’s rights under the Taliban.


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