In what seemed like the blink of an eye, Afghanistan went back to 1996.
Last week, the Taliban held a press conference for the world, promising "no violence against women". Soon after this curious press conference championing "inclusion", images of members of the Taliban smiling and working out at a gym confused the world. Are the Taliban really "reformed"? Is this Taliban-lite? What is Taliban 2.0?
Historically, aside from their countless mass casualty attacks, the Taliban have a proven track record of years of horrific human rights violations, including public stonings, hangings, and floggings. Women have undergone barbaric punishments for "infractions" including wearing high-heeled shoes, nail polish, or leaving home without a male blood relative.
However, despite the Taliban's best efforts to appear more tolerant, they have proven yet again in the space of a week, that they are the same beast, with better PR.
Today, women are already keeping off the streets as compared to just last week. Female journalists have been banned from state television. Reports of beatings on the streets and shootings of civilians are widespread. While the world waits for the Taliban's allegedly more "tolerant" policies, and Afghan women hold their breath, one Taliban spokesperson has already confirmed that women will be required to wear the burqa.
Nearly 400,000 Afghans are now displaced, desperate to flee Taliban rule. Gutting images of Afghans clinging to the wings of planes and ultimately falling to their deaths are seared into the minds of the world. Why would someone cling to a plane, knowing it spells almost certain death? Because Afghans know life under the Taliban. The world should believe Afghans about Afghanistan.
The Taliban's recent remarks on its reformation might sound sincere, but already the world is seeing the PR mask slowly slip away. A legitimate government permits and, in fact, celebrates peaceful protest.
But this week the Taliban took a violent approach to tamper a growing crowd of peaceful protesters in Jalalabad, killing two civilians and wounding several others. The day before that, Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid vowed amnesty for Afghans who worked for the US and the Ghani government, including journalists and interpreters. The next day, Taliban militants recorded the execution of Badghis's Police Chief after he surrendered.
These should not be mistaken as isolated instances. Hundreds of images and hours of footage plague the web, sharing a glimpse of Afghans dealing with the threat of the Taliban. Some of the most notable are the stories coming of women; women who are being removed as anchors from state media, who are being told to cover their faces, who are asked about the whereabouts of their male guardians, and who are killed for not cooking for fighters.
None of this should come as a shock.
Since 1994, the Taliban have carried out similar threats and attacks. From the theocratic authoritarian rule that forced women into burqas and killed them in public execution rings, to the constant stream of bombings and acts of violence that we see in the news even now.
Amnesty International found that, as of 2020, "women and girls continued to face gender-based discrimination and violence throughout Afghanistan, especially in areas under Taliban control, where their rights were violated with impunity and violent 'punishments' were meted out for perceived transgressions of the armed group's interpretation of Islamic law." It was only early this year that a Human Rights Watch report indicated the existing threat of the Taliban to women in media and other high-profile sectors of Afghanistan's job market.
For anyone who is new to Afghanistan, it may be a disgusting shock that any ruling government could treat its people so poorly, especially women and children. For those who are more familiar, the shock is born from a place that wonders if western media is falling for the Taliban honey trap.
The Taliban's PR is greatly welcomed by those, like President Biden, who wish to absolve themselves of the Afghan "conflict". It is far easier - in terms of optics - to abandon a nation with a legitimate government than one that has been invaded by the same terrorists the US vowed to eradicate.
The same is true for Pakistan which has openly admitted it has funded, trained, and provided safe harbour for the Taliban.
We must hold the US, Pakistan and other nations accountable and immediately interrupt their attempts to validate the Taliban.
In fact, the entire world has a moral obligation to reject any attempts to legitimise the Taliban. The Afghan people stand strong and defiant against this occupation, as proven by countrywide protests with the country's national flag, resulting in dozens of casualties. Afghan women have come so far and refuse to be told that their achievements, aspirations, and lives do not matter. We must stand with them.
Nawa Lodin is an attorney based in New York City. She serves on the board of several NGOs based in Afghanistan specifically focused on women’s equity issues and Afghan women’s role in civil society.
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