More than a year after the Taliban takeover that saw thousands of Afghans rushing to Kabul’s international airport amid the chaotic U.S. withdrawal, Afghans at risk who failed to get on evacuation flights say they are still struggling to find safe and legal ways out of the country. Among those left behind is a 49-year-old interpreter who worked for a NATO contractor in 2010 accompanying convoys in Kandahar. Only six days after the Taliban reached the capital last August, they came looking for him. “They come to my house and they threatened my son and my wife (when) I was not at home. They (then) destroy my office,” he told AP via WhatsApp referring to the place where he taught English. He asked that his name not be revealed for security reasons. This month, he was interrogated by the Taliban again for more than two hours. During the chaotic days of the U.S. pullout, he had tried several times to reach Kabul Airport but, like many, failed to get through massive crowds made even more dangerous by attacks around the airport that killed dozens. He then tried to leave Afghanistan by crossing the land border with Pakistan but was stopped by the Taliban who demanded $700 per person to cross — money he did not have. To make matters worse, his passport is no longer valid. Like millions of Afghans, he’s also been impacted by the country’s economic freefall, caused in part by international sanctions and vanishing foreign aid. “We eat once a day,” the interpreter said. Still, he continues hoping he and his family will leave Afghanistan at some point. “I never give up because of my future and my children future,” he said. Since their return to rule, the Taliban have been trying to transition from insurgency and war to governing, with the hard-liners increasingly at odds with the pragmatists on how to run a country in the midst of a humanitarian and economic crisis. But a year on they have so far failed to gain international recognition. Initial promises to allow girls to return to school and women to continue working have been broken. Those who have failed to evacuate include interpreters and drivers but also women journalists, activists and athletes who say they cannot live freely under a Taliban-led government. The U.S., together with other Western nations, hastily evacuated more than 120,000 people, both foreign nationals and Afghan citizens, in August last year. Some 46,000 Afghans who remained in the country after Aug. 31 have since applied for U.S. humanitarian parole, according to the Migration Policy Institute. But only 297 have been approved so far. Because there is no longer a U.S. consulate in Afghanistan, asylum-seekers must make their way to other countries with consular services for in-person interviews. The list of obstacles to getting out of Afghanistan is extensive, starting with the difficulty in obtaining passports as offices repeatedly close due to technical problems. “Today, the vast majority of Afghans don’t have access to legal identity, meaning if they need tomorrow to be able to get to safety legally, they can’t,” said Nassim Majidi, co-founder and executive director of Samuel Hall, an independent think tank that conducts research on migration and displacement. Majidi was speaking at a seminar organized by the Migration Policy Institute looking at the situation of Afghans in Afghanistan and abroad a year after the withdrawal. Read: Taliban: 2 civilians killed in a bomb blast in Afghanistan Around 2,000 Afghans and their families who worked with NATO, its agencies, and member countries were among those evacuated from Kabul according to the military alliance. But the evacuations were organized by individual member countries. NATO, as an organization, had no repatriation plan. Evacuations from third countries are still happening, although sporadically. Earlier this month a plane carrying nearly 300 Afghans who had collaborated with the Spanish government landed in Madrid. Germany and France also have continued to work on evacuation cases, Majidi said. But thousands of Afghans are still living in limbo in third countries including Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Kosovo and Albania while they wait for their applications to be processed for resettlement to the United States and Canada. Though life-saving for many, the evacuations also fractured families. Among them is that of an Afghan journalist who asked to remain anonymous, fearing for the safety of her relatives in Kabul. “It was really difficult to leave everything behind in an hour,” she told the Associated Press in a phone interview from her new home in Nijmegen, in the Netherlands, which she moved into after months of living in a temporary refugee shelter. The government of the Netherlands had called her on Aug. 26 offering a single spot on an evacuation flight. Her relatives told her she needed to save herself first if she wanted to help them. A year later, three of her family members have recently managed to get evacuated to France, she said. But despite repeated family reunification requests to the Netherlands and other European countries, the majority of her siblings remain in Kabul, living across the street from a police station now in Taliban hands. On June 17 one of her older brothers was allegedly beaten to death by Taliban forces on the street after he was found carrying a photo of Ahmad Shah Massoud, the leader of the Northern Alliance that fought the Taliban, she said. Days later, she said, the men showed up at the family’s home and forced them to sign a death certificate that stated he had died of “natural causes.” The AP was unable to independently verify her claims. With most of her family still in Afghanistan and many bureaucratic hurdles to face in the Netherlands, it has been difficult to start a new life, she said. “Until now it is just darkness.”
For most teenage girls in Afghanistan, it’s been a year since they set foot in a classroom. With no sign the ruling Taliban will allow them back to school, some are trying to find ways to keep education from stalling for a generation of young women. At a house in Kabul, dozens gathered on a recent day for classes in an informal school set up by Sodaba Nazhand. She and her sister teach English, science and math to girls who should be in secondary school. “When the Taliban wanted to take away the rights of education and the rights of work from women, I wanted to stand against their decision by teaching these girls,” Nazhand told The Associated Press. Hers is one of a number of underground schools in operation since the Taliban took over the country a year ago and banned girls from continuing their education past the sixth grade. While the Taliban have permitted women to continue attending universities, this exception will become irrelevant when there are no more girls graduating from high schools. “There is no way to fill this gap, and this situation is very sad and concerning,” Nazhand said. The relief agency Save the Children interviewed nearly 1,700 boys and girls between the ages of 9 and 17 in seven provinces to assess the impact of the education restrictions. The survey, conducted in May and June and released Wednesday, found that more than 45% of girls are not going to school, compared with 20% of boys. It also found that 26% of girls are showing signs of depression, compared with 16% of boys. Also read: Amnesty: Taliban crackdown on rights is 'suffocating' women Nearly the entire population of Afghanistan was thrown into poverty and millions were left unable to feed their families when the world cut off financing in response to the Taliban takeover. Teachers, parents and experts all warn that the country's multiple crises, including the devastating collapse of the economy, are proving especially damaging to girls. The Taliban have restricted women’s work, encouraged them to stay at home and issued dress codes requiring them to cover their faces, except for their eyes, though the codes are not always enforced. The international community is demanding that the Taliban open schools for all girls, and the U.S. and EU have created plans to pay salaries directly to Afghanistan’s teachers, keeping the sector going without putting the funds through the Taliban. But the question of girls’ education appears to have been tangled in behind-the-scenes differences among the Taliban. Some in the movement support returning girls to school — whether because they see no religious objection to it or because they want to improve ties with the world. Others, especially rural, tribal elders who make up the backbone of the movement, staunchly oppose it. During their first time ruling Afghanistan in the 1990s, the Taliban imposed much stricter restrictions on women, banning school for all girls, barring women from work and requiring them to wear an all-encompassing burka if they went outside. Also read: Afghan man charged in killing of 2 Muslims in Albuquerque In the 20 years after the Taliban were driven from power in 2001, an entire generation of women returned to school and work, particularly in urban areas. Seemingly acknowledging those changes, the Taliban reassured Afghans when they seized control again last year that they would not return to the heavy hand of the past. Officials have publicly insisted that they will allow teen girls back into school, but say time is needed to set up logistics for strict gender segregation to ensure an “Islamic framework.” Hopes were raised in March: Just before the new school year was to begin, the Taliban Education Ministry proclaimed everyone would be allowed back. But on March 23, the day of the reopening, the decision was suddenly reversed, surprising even ministry officials. It appeared that at the last minute, the Taliban's supreme leader, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, bowed to the opposition. Shekiba Qaderi, a 16-year-old, recalled how she showed up that day, ready to start the 10th grade. She and all her classmates were laughing and excited, until a teacher came in and told them to go home. The girls broke into tears, she said. “That was the worst moment in our lives.” Since then, she’s been trying to keep up with studies at home, reading her textbooks, novels and history books. She’s studying English through movies and YouTube videos. The unequal access to education cuts through families. Shekiba and a younger sister can’t go to her school, but her two brothers can. Her older sister is at a private university studying law. But that is little comfort, said their father, Mohammad Shah Qaderi. Most of the professors have left the country, bringing down the quality of the education. Even if the young woman gets a university degree, “what is the benefit?" asked Qaderi, a 58-year-old retired government employee. "She won’t have a job. The Taliban won’t allow her to work,” he said. Qaderi said he has always wanted his children to get a higher education. Now that may be impossible, so he’s thinking of leaving Afghanistan for the first time after riding out years of war. “I can’t see them growing in front of my eyes with no education; it is just not acceptable to me,” he said. Underground schools present another alternative, though with limitations. A month after the Taliban takeover, Nazhand started teaching street children to read with informal outdoor classes in a park in her neighborhood. Women who couldn’t read or write joined them, she said. Some time later, a benefactor who saw her in the park rented a house for her to hold classes in, and bought tables and chairs. Once she was operating inside, Nazhand included teen girls who were no longer allowed to go to public school. Now there are about 250 students, including 50 or 60 schoolgirls above sixth grade. “I am not only teaching them school subjects, but also trying to teach them how to fight and stand for their rights,” Nazhand said. The Taliban haven’t changed from their first time in power in the late 1990s, she said. “These are the same Taliban, but we shouldn’t be the same women of those years. We must struggle: by writing, by raising our voice, by any way possible.” Nazhand's school, and others like it, are technically illegal under the Taliban’s current restrictions, but so far they haven’t shut hers down. At least one other person operating a school declined to speak to reporters, however, fearing possible repercussions. Despite her unwavering commitment, Nazhand worries about her school's future. Her benefactor paid for six months’ rent on the house, but he died recently, and she doesn’t have any way to keep paying for rent or supplies. For students, the underground schools are a lifeline. “It is so hard when you can’t go to school,” said one of them, Dunya Arbabzada. “Whenever I pass by my school and see the closed door ... it’s so upsetting for me.”
A bomb hidden in a cart went off on Friday near a mosque in a minority Shiite neighborhood of the Afghan capital, killing two civilians and wounding another three, a Taliban official said. According to Khalid Zadran, the Taliban-appointed spokesman for the Kabul police chief, the attack happened in western Kabul, in the Sar-e Karez area. There were fears the casualty numbers could rise after further reports come in. Read: Taliban under scrutiny as US kills al-Qaida leader in Kabul There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but blame is likely to fall on the Islamic State group, which has targeted Afghanistan’s minority Shiites in large-scale attacks in the past. The regional affiliate of IS, known as the Islamic State in Khorasan Province, has increased attacks on mosques and minorities across the country since the Taliban seized power last August. It has been operating in Afghanistan since 2014. IS is seen as the greatest security challenge facing the country’s Taliban rulers. Following their takeover of Afghanistan, the Taliban have launched a sweeping crackdown against the IS headquarters in the country's east. On Wednesday, in a gunbattle between the Taliban and IS gunmen killed five, including two Taliban fighters. The fighting erupted near the Sakhi shrine in the Karti Sakhi neighborhood as people were busy preparing for Ashoura, which commemorates the 7th century death in battle of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad.
The U.S. drone strike that killed al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahri on the balcony of a Kabul safe house intensified global scrutiny Tuesday of Afghanistan's Taliban rulers and further undermined their efforts to secure international recognition and desperately needed aid. The Taliban had promised in the 2020 Doha Agreement on the terms of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan that they would not harbor al-Qaida members. Nearly a year after the U.S. military’s chaotic pullout from Afghanistan, al-Zawahri’s killing raises questions about the involvement of Taliban leaders in sheltering a mastermind of the 9/11 terror attacks and one of America’s most-wanted fugitives. The safe house is in Kabul's upscale Shirpur neighborhood, home to several Taliban leaders who had moved into mansions of former top Afghan officials of the toppled Western-backed government. The Taliban initially sought to describe the strike as America violating the Doha deal, which also includes a Taliban pledge not to shelter those seeking to attack the U.S. — something al-Zawahri had done for years in internet videos and online screeds. The Taliban have yet to say who was killed in the strike. Meanwhile, rumors persist of unease in the Taliban ranks — particularly between the powerful group known as the Haqqani network, which apparently sheltered al-Zawahri, and other Taliban figures. “The killing of Ayman al-Zawahri has raised many questions," said one Pakistani intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to The Associated Press as he wasn't authorized to speak publicly to reporters. Al-Zawahri took over as al-Qaida’s leader after Osama bin Laden was killed in Pakistan in 2011, in an operation by U.S. Navy SEALs. “The Taliban were aware of his presence in Kabul, and if they were not aware of it, they need to explain their position," the official said. The strike early Sunday shook awake Shirpur, once home to historic buildings bulldozed in 2003 to make way for luxury homes for officials in Afghanistan's Western-backed government and international aid organizations. After the U.S. withdrawal in August 2021, the Taliban elite began taking some of the abandoned homes there. The house where al-Zawahri stayed was the home to a top aide to senior Taliban leader Sirajuddin Haqqani, according to a senior U.S. intelligence official. Taliban officials blocked AP journalists in Kabul from reaching the damaged house on Tuesday. The Haqqani network is an Afghan Islamist insurgent group, built around the family of the same name. In the 1980s, it fought Soviet forces and over the past 20 years, it battled U.S.-led NATO troops and the former Afghanistan government. Read:Al-Zawahri's path went from Cairo clinic to top of al-Qaida Sirajuddin Haqqani has also served as the first deputy leader of the Taliban movement since 2016. Since last August, he also served the appointed interior ministry of the Taliban government. The U.S. government maintains a $10 million bounty on him for “numerous significant kidnappings and attacks against U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan, the Afghan government and civilian targets.” But the Haqqanis, from Afghanistan's eastern Khost province, have disagreed with others in the Taliban leadership, mostly from the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar. Some believe Sirajuddin Haqqani wants more power. Other Taliban figures have opposed the Haqqanis' violent attacks against civilians in Kabul and elsewhere. “It seems to me that the power struggle within the Taliban is general. It’s not necessarily about the U.S. or about the international community. It’s about the new regime, how to share power within the new regime, who gets what position, who gets to control what ministries, to decide the general policies and so on,” said Jerome Drevon, the International Crisis Group's senior analyst studying Islamist militant groups. “It’s not that surprising that the building would be owned by the Haqqani family. ... That creates a tension between what the Taliban movement is, especially in terms of how it’s trying to reach out to the international community, to normalize itself and so on,” he said. The timing of the strike also couldn't come at a worse time politically for the Taliban. The militants face international condemnation for refusing to reopen schools for girls above the sixth grade, despite earlier promises. The United Nations mission to Afghanistan also criticized the Taliban for human rights abuses under their rule. The U.S. and its allies have cut off billions in development funds that kept the government afloat in part over the abuses, as well as froze billions in Afghan national assets. This sent the already shattered economy into free fall, increasing poverty dramatically and creating one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. Millions, struggling to feed their families, are kept alive by a massive U.N.-led relief effort. The Taliban have been trying to reopen the taps to that aid and their reserves. However, al-Zawahri's killing already has been seized upon by the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken as a sign that the Taliban “grossly violated the Doha Agreement and repeated assurances ... that they would not allow Afghan territory to be used by terrorists to threaten the security of other countries.” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, however, alleged the U.S. violated the Doha Agreement by launching the strike. Afghanistan's state-run television channel — now under the Taliban — reported that President Joe Biden said al-Zawahri had been killed. “The killing of Ayman al-Zawahri closes a chapter of al-Qaida," said Imtiaz Gul, the executive director of the Islamabad-based Center for Research and Security Studies. In the Mideast, al-Zawahri's killing coincided with the 32nd anniversary of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait, which sparked U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia — the same presence that bin Laden pointed to in launching the 9/11 attacks. Anwar Gargash, a senior diplomat in the United Arab Emirates, noted the timing. It's "a chance for the region to contemplate and reflect on the absurdity of extremism, terrorism and reckless military adventures and how all of this frayed (the region’s) fabric," Gargash wrote on Twitter. The “lessons and teachings are present, and hope rests on the countries of the region uniting together to guarantee security and shared development.”
The lives of Afghan women and girls are being destroyed by a “suffocating” crackdown by the Taliban since they took power nearly a year ago, Amnesty International said in a report released Wednesday. After they captured the capital, Kabul, in August 2021 and ousted the internationally backed government, the Taliban presented themselves as having moderated since their first time in power, in the 1990s. Initially, Taliban officials spoke of allowing women to continue to work and girls to continue their education. Instead, they formed an all-male government stacked with veterans of their hard-line rule that has banned girls from attending school from seventh grade, imposed all-covering dress that leaves only the eyes visible and restricted women's access to work. Amnesty said the Taliban have also decimated protections for those facing domestic violence, detained women and girls for minor violations and contributed to a surge in child marriages. The report also documented the torture and abuse of women arrested by the Taliban for protesting against restrictions. “Taken together, these policies form a system of repression that discriminates against women and girls in almost every aspect of their lives,” the report said. “This suffocating crackdown against Afghanistan’s female population is increasing day by day.” The group's researchers visited Afghanistan in March as part of a nine-month-long investigation conducted from September 2021 to June 2022. They interviewed 90 women and 11 girls, between 14 and 74 years-old, across Afghanistan. Among them were women detained for protesting who described torture at the hands of Taliban guards, including beatings and threats of death. Read: Hope and despair: Kathy Gannon on 35 years in Afghanistan One woman told Amnesty that guards beat her and other women on the breasts and between the legs, “so that we couldn’t show the world.” She said one told her, “I can kill you right now, and no one would say anything.” A university student who was detained said she was electrically shocked on her shoulder, face, neck and elsewhere, while the Taliban shouted insults at her. One held a gun at her and told her, “I will kill you, and no one will be able to find your body.” The report said rates of child, early and forced marriage in Afghanistan are surging under Taliban rule. The increase, Amnesty said, is fueled by Afghanistan’s economic and humanitarian crisis and the lack of education and job prospects for women and girls. The report documented cases of forced marriages of women and girls to Taliban members — under pressure by the Taliban member or by the women’s families. One woman from a central province of Afghanistan told Amnesty that she was compelled her to marry off her 13-year-old daughter to a 30-year-old neighbor in exchange for 60,000 Afghanis (around US$670). She said she felt relieved because her daughter “won’t be hungry anymore.” She said she was also considering the same for her 10-year-old daughter but was holding off in hopes the girl could get an education and eventually secure a job to support the family. “Of course, if they don’t open the school, I will have to marry her off,” she added. “You have a patriarchal government, war, poverty, drought, girls out of school. With all of these factors combined … we knew child marriage was going to go through the roof,” said Stephanie Sinclair, director of Too Young to Wed, who was quoted in the report. The Taliban seized Kabul as U.S. and NATO forces were withdrawing from Afghanistan, ending a nearly 20-year war against the Taliban’s insurgency. The world has refused to recognize the Taliban's rule, demanding it respect human rights and show tolerance for other groups. The U.S. and its allies have cut off billions in development funds that kept the government afloat, as well as froze billions in Afghan national assets. This sent the already shattered economy into freefall, increasing poverty dramatically and creating one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. Millions, struggling to feed their families, are kept alive by a massive U.N.-led relief effort. Amnesty called on the international community to take action to protect Afghan women and girls. “Less than one year after the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, their draconian policies are depriving millions of women and girls of their right to lead safe, free and fulfilling lives,” said Agnès Callamard, Amnesty secretary general. “If the international community fails to act, it will be abandoning women and girls in Afghanistan, and undermining human rights everywhere,” she said.
Arooza was furious and afraid, keeping her eyes open for Taliban on patrol as she and a friend shopped Sunday in Kabul's Macroyan neighborhood. The math teacher was fearful her large shawl, wrapped tight around her head, and sweeping pale brown coat would not satisfy the latest decree by the country's religiously driven Taliban government. After all, more than just her eyes were showing. Her face was visible. Arooza, who asked to be identified by just one name to avoid attracting attention, wasn't wearing the all-encompassing burqa preferred by the Taliban, who on Saturday issued a new dress code for women appearing in public. The edict said only a woman's eyes should be visible. The decree by the Taliban's hardline leader Hibaitullah Akhunzada even suggested women shouldn't leave their homes unless necessary and outlines a series of punishments for male relatives of women violating the code. Also read: Afghanistan's Taliban order women to cover up head to toe It was a major blow to the rights of women in Afghanistan, who for two decades had been living with relative freedom before the Taliban takeover last August — when U.S. and other foreign forces withdrew in the chaotic end to a 20-year war. A reclusive leader, Akhunzada rarely travels outside southern Kandahar, the traditional Taliban heartland. He favors the harsh elements of the group's previous time in power, in the 1990s, when girls and women were largely barred from school, work and public life. Like Taliban founder Mullah Mohammad Omar, Akhunzada imposes a strict brand of Islam that marries religion with ancient tribal traditions, often blurring the two. Akhunzada has taken tribal village traditions where girls often marry at puberty, and rarely leave their homes, and called it a religious demand, analysts say. The Taliban have been divided between pragmatists and hardliners, as they struggle to transition from an insurgency to a governing body. Meanwhile, their government has been dealing with a worsening economic crisis. And Taliban efforts to win recognition and aid from Western nations have floundered, largely because they have not formed a more representative government, and restricted the rights of girls and women. Also read: Taliban blocked unaccompanied women from flights Until now, hardliners and pragmatists in the movement have avoided open confrontation. Yet divisions were deepened in March, on the eve of the new school year, when Akhunzada issued a last-minute decision that girls should not be allowed to go to school after completing the sixth grade. In the weeks ahead of the start of the school year, senior Taliban officials had told journalists all girls would be allowed back in school. Akhunzada asserted that allowing the older girls back to school violated Islamic principles. A prominent Afghan who meets the leadership and is familiar with their internal squabbles said that a senior Cabinet minister expressed his outrage over Akhunzada's views at a recent leadership meeting. He spoke on condition of anonymity to speak freely. Torek Farhadi, a former government adviser, said he believes Taliban leaders have opted not to spar in public because they fear any perception of divisions could undermine their rule. “The leadership does not see eye to eye on a number of matters but they all know that if they don’t keep it together, everything might fall apart," Farhadi said. “In that case, they might start clashes with each other.” “For that reason, the elders have decided to put up with each other, including when it comes to non-agreeable decisions which are costing them a lot of uproar inside Afghanistan and internationally,” Farhadi added. Some of the more pragmatic leaders appear to be looking for quiet workarounds that will soften the hard-line decrees. Since March, there has been a growing chorus, even among the most powerful Taliban leaders, to return older girls to school while quietly ignoring other repressive edicts. Earlier this month, Anas Haqqani, the younger brother of Sirajuddin, who heads the powerful Haqqani network, told a conference in the eastern city of Khost that girls are entitled to education and that they would soon return to school — though he didn't say when. He also said that women had a role in building the nation. “You will receive very good news that will make everyone very happy... this problem will be resolved in the following days,” Haqqani said at the time. In the Afghan capital of Kabul on Sunday, women wore the customary conservative Muslim dress. Most wore a traditional hijab, consisting of a headscarf and long robe or coat, but few covered their faces, as directed by the Taliban leader a day earlier. Those wearing a burqa, a head-to-toe garment that covers the face and hides the eyes behind netting were in the minority. “Women in Afghanistan wear the hijab, and many wear the burqa, but this isn't about hijab, this is about the Taliban wanting to make all women disappear," said Shabana, who wore bright gold bangles beneath her flowing black coat, her hair hidden behind a black head scarf with sequins. “This is about the Taliban wanting to make us invisible." Arooza said the Taliban rulers are driving Afghans to leave their country. “Why should I stay here if they don't want to give us our human rights? We are human," she said. Several women stopped to talk. They all challenged the latest edict. “We don't want to live in a prison,” said Parveen, who like the other women wanted only to give one name. “These edicts attempt to erase a whole gender and generation of Afghans who grew up dreaming of a better world,” said Obaidullah Baheer, a visiting scholar at New York’s New School and former lecturer at the American University in Afghanistan. “It pushes families to leave the country by any means necessary. It also fuels grievances that would eventually spill over into large-scale mobilization against the Taliban," he said. After decades of war, Baheer said it wouldn’t have taken much on the Taliban’s part to make Afghans content with their rule “an opportunity that the Taliban are wasting fast.”
Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers on Saturday ordered all Afghan women to wear head-to-toe clothing in public — a sharp, hard-line pivot that confirmed the worst fears of rights activists and was bound to further complicate Taliban dealings with an already distrustful international community. The decree says that women should leave the home only when necessary, and that male relatives would face punishment — starting with a summons and escalating up to court hearings and jail time — for women's dress code violations. It was the latest in a series of repressive edicts issued by the Taliban leadership, not all of which have been implemented. Last month, for example, the Taliban forbade women to travel alone, but after a day of opposition, that has since been silently ignored. On Sunday in the capital, Kabul, many women on the street were wearing the same large shawls as before. Women also arrived unaccompanied at Kabul International Airport, while in the city women boarded small buses alone. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said it was deeply concerned with what appeared to be a formal directive that would be implemented and enforced, adding that it would seek clarifications from the Taliban about the decision. READ: Afghanistan's Taliban order women to wear burqa in public “This decision contradicts numerous assurances regarding respect for and protection of all Afghans’ human rights, including those of women and girls, that had been provided to the international community by Taliban representatives during discussions and negotiations over the past decade,” it said in a statement. The decree, which calls for women to only show their eyes and recommends they wear the head-to-toe burqa, evoked similar restrictions on women during the Taliban's previous rule between 1996 and 2001. “We want our sisters to live with dignity and safety,” said Khalid Hanafi, acting minister for the Taliban’s vice and virtue ministry. The Taliban previously decided against reopening schools to girls above grade 6, reneging on an earlier promise and opting to appease their hard-line base at the expense of further alienating the international community. But this decree does not have widespread support among a leadership that's divided between pragmatists and the hard-liners. That decision disrupted efforts by the Taliban to win recognition from potential international donors at a time when the country is mired in a worsening humanitarian crisis. “For all dignified Afghan women wearing Hijab is necessary and the best Hijab is chadori (the head-to-toe burqa) which is part of our tradition and is respectful,” said Shir Mohammad, an official from the vice and virtue ministry in a statement. “Those women who are not too old or young must cover their face, except the eyes,” he said. “Islamic principles and Islamic ideology are more important to us than anything else." Senior Afghanistan researcher Heather Barr of Human Rights Watch urged the international community to put coordinated pressure on the Taliban. “(It is) far past time for a serious and strategic response to the Taliban’s escalating assault on women’s rights," she wrote on Twitter. The Taliban were ousted in 2001 by a U.S.-led coalition for harboring al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and returned to power in the waning days of America’s chaotic departure last year. The White House National Security Council condemned the Taliban's Saturday decree and urged them to reverse it. "We are discussing this with other countries and partners. The legitimacy and support that the Taliban seeks from the international community depend entirely on their conduct, specifically their ability to back stated commitments with actions,” it said in a statement. Since taking power last August, the Taliban leadership has been squabbling among themselves as they struggle to transition from war to governing. It has pit hard-liners against the more pragmatic among them. A spokeswoman from Pangea, an Italian non-governmental organization that has assisted women for years in Afghanistan, said the new decree would be particularly difficult for them to swallow since they had lived in relative freedom until the Taliban takeover. “In the last 20 years, they have had the awareness of human rights, and in the span of a few months have lost them," Silvia Redigolo said by telephone. “It’s dramatic to (now) have a life that doesn’t exist.” Infuriating many Afghans is the knowledge that many of the Taliban of the younger generation, like Sirajuddin Haqqani, are educating their girls in Pakistan, while in Afghanistan women and girls have been targeted by their repressive edicts since taking power. Haqqani is a U.N.-designated terrorist and head of the Haqqani network, which has been blamed for some of the deadliest attacks during the 20-year U.S.-led invasion. Girls have been banned from school beyond grade 6 in most of the country since the Taliban’s return. Universities opened earlier this year in much of the country, but since taking power the Taliban edicts have been erratic. While a handful of provinces continued to provide education to all, most provinces closed educational institutions for girls and women. The religiously driven Taliban administration fears that going forward with enrolling girls beyond the the sixth grade could alienate their rural base, Hashmi said. In Kabul, private schools and universities have operated uninterrupted.
Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers on Saturday ordered all Afghan women to wear the all-covering burqa in public, a sharp hard-line pivot that confirmed the worst fears of rights activists and was bound to further complicate Taliban dealings with an already distrustful international community. The decree evoked similar restrictions on women during the Taliban's previous hard-line rule between 1996 and 2001. “We want our sisters to live with dignity and safety,” said Khalid Hanafi, acting minister for the Taliban’s vice and virtue ministry. The Taliban previously decided against reopening schools to girls above grade 6, reneging on an earlier promise and opting to appease their hard-line base at the expense of further alienating the international community. READ: Militants in Afghanistan strike Pakistan army post, kill 3 That decision disrupted efforts by the Taliban to win recognition from potential international donors at a time when the country is mired in a worsening humanitarian crisis. “For all dignified Afghan women wearing Hajib is necessary and the best Hajib is chadori (the head-to-toe burqa) which is part of our tradition and is respectful,” said Shir Mohammad, an official from the vice and virtue ministry in a statement. The decree added if women had no important work outside it is better for them to stay at home. “Islamic principles and Islamic ideology are more important to us than anything else,” Hanafi said.
Afghanistan’s women’s soccer team has played its first match since its evacuation from the Taliban-led country last year, helped by A-League team the Melbourne Victory. The Melbourne Victory Afghan Women's Team played a 0-0 draw in its opening game Sunday in Victoria's senior women's competition, only months after 30 players and coaches were rescued as part of an evacuation operation by the Australian government as the Taliban took back control of the country after 20 years and again placed women’s sports in jeopardy. Also read: Optimistic female Afghan students attend university classes The Victory are providing their support to the members of the team who relocated to Melbourne. The team held its first training session in February and will play under Victory’s banner this year. But instead of sporting Victory's traditional navy blue with a white ‘V’, the team will wear a kit which pays homage to their homeland, a red home shirt and white away shirt with the Afghanistan flag on the back The shirts do not have the player's family names on the back which the players say is to protect family members still in Afghanistan and potentially under threat from the Taliban. Instead the players have their first names or nicknames on their shirts. The Afghan team was created in 2007, played its first official international in 2010 against Nepal and won its first match 2-0 over Qatar in 2012. Also read: Afghanistan's Taliban announce ban on poppy production The rise of the Taliban and the subsequent escape of the players also led to the team withdrawing from qualifying matches for Women’s Asian Cup in India in February, which doubled as a qualifier for next year’s Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.
Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban announced a ban Sunday on poppy production, even as farmers across the country began harvesting the bright red flower that produces the opium used to make heroin. The order warns farmers that their crops will be burned and they can be jailed if they proceed with the harvest. The ban is reminiscent of the Taliban's previous rule in the late 1990s when the religion-driven movement outlawed poppy production. At that time, the ban was staggered and implemented countrywide within two years. The U.N. verified that production had been eradicated in most of the country. However, after their ouster in 2001 farmers in many parts of the country reportedly plowed over their wheat fields — which had been almost impossible to bring to market because of the lack of roads and infrastructure — and returned to poppy production. During the last years of the Taliban rule, wheat was rotting in fields because the farmers were unable to bring it to market to be sold and ground into flour. Poppies are the main source of income for millions of small farmers and day laborers who can earn upwards of $300 a month harvesting them and extracting the opium. Today, Afghanistan is the world's largest producer of opium and in 2021, before the Taliban takeover, produced more than 6,000 tons of opium, which a report from the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime said could potentially yield 320 tons of pure heroin. Also read: With eye to China investment, Taliban now preserve Buddhas Afghanistan produces more opium than all opium-producing countries combined and last year was the sixth straight year of record opium harvests. That's the case even as the U.S. and international community was spending billions of dollars to eradicate poppy production. The Taliban reportedly made millions of dollars charging taxes on farmers and middle men to move their drugs outside Afghanistan and senior officials of the U.S.-backed government were implicated in the flourishing drug trade. Washington spent more than $8 billion trying to eradicate poppy production in Afghanistan during its nearly 20-year war, which ended with the return of the Taliban in August. Nearly 80% of heroin produced from Afghan opium production reaches Europe through Central Asia and Pakistan. In desperately poor Afghanistan the ban on poppy production will further impoverish its poorest citizens. According to a U.N. report in 2021, income from opiates in Afghanistan was a whopping $1.8 to $2.7 billion, more than 7% of the country's GDP. The same report said “illicit drug supply chains outside Afghanistan” make much more. The Taliban's ban comes as the country faces a humanitarian crisis that spurred the U.N. to ask for $4.4 billion last month as 95% of Afghans do not have enough to eat. The ban, while hitting drug production houses hard, will likely devastate the small farmer who relies on his opium production to survive. It's difficult to know how the Taliban rulers will be able to create substitute crops and financing for Afghanistan's farmers as their economy is in free fall and international development money has stopped. Poppy production and income are often used as a form of banking among Afghanistan's poorest who use the promise of the next year's harvest to buy staples such as flour, sugar, cooking oil and heating oil. Also read: Taliban blocked unaccompanied women from flights The decree also outlawed the “transportation, trade, export and import of all types of narcotics such as alcohol, heroin, tablet K, hashish ... drug manufacturing factories in Afghanistan. are strictly banned.” When the Taliban last ruled, they employed village elders and mosque clerics to enforce the ban and in villages that ignored the ban, the Taliban arrested the elders and clerics, as well as the offending farmer. As a result the elders and clerics were incentivized to prevent poppy production in their areas. Taliban’s spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid announced the ban at a news conference in the capital.