The Taliban continues to make rapid territorial gains in Afghanistan following the announcement that almost all foreign troops will leave by September.
The Taliban has captured half of the territory of Afghanistan, particularly the rural areas, and several provincial capitals. Fighting has increased around the major cities of Herat, Lashkar Gah and Kandahar. Tens of thousands of Afghans have applied for visas to leave the country, fearing Taliban reprisals. The US and Afghan government have responded by airstrikes and bombing of Taliban positions.
Workers’ Liberty has never supported the US and allied military presence in Aghanistan; however, unlike many on the left, we do not ignore or downplay the threat that the Taliban poses to democracyand workers’ rights, and particularly the threat it poses to women.
When the Taliban were in power from 1996-2001 there were many restrictions, but the treatment of women was particularly brutal, and especially in the cities.
• Women were forced to wear the burqa when in public
• Women were not allowed to work except for some minor exemptions
• Girls could not be educated after the age of 8
• Women were not allowed to drive
• Women couldn’t be treated by a male doctor unless accompanied by a male chaperone
• The wearing of nail varnish or make-up was prohibited
• Forced marriages of under-age girls increased
• Women were not allowed to appear on TV or radio or at public gatherings of any kind.
The punishments received for violation of rules varied in severity. Women had the tips of their fingers cut off for wearing nail varnish. Other mutilations reported included a young woman having nose and ears cut off for fleeing a family she was “promised” to.
Public lashings for not wearing the correct dress, and public stonings, were frequent. There were public executions at the former football stadium in Kabul.
As well as official punishments, taxi drivers and shop keepers were used to apply pressure on families to conform to rules. Husbands and fathers would be punished if women in the household didn’t obey rules.
In addition to the physical punishments, the forced confinement and fear of attack resulted in increased stress, anxiety and depression.
Amnesty reports that since 2001, despite women’s rights in Afghanistan still being the sixth worse in the world, there have been some improvements.
Women’s participation in public life has increased. Women now make up 20% of civil servants. 3.5 million girls are enrolled in school. Thousands of women work in education, and some women are able to go to university.
Two million girls still have no access to education and violence against women is extremely high. However, the growing influence of the Taliban poses a threat even to the limited gains made since 2001.
For many years we have argued that the longer the US stayed the worse, the worse would be the prospects for working-class and democratic forces when inevitably they inevitably withdrew. That seems to be confirmed. But opposing the US is not enough.
This is not a victory for “anti-imperialism”, as some on the left would have us believe. A left which thinks that we should just oppose the US government and its allies, and not oppose the Taliban too, is of no use to those who are fighting to build a movement that can replace both.
We hope that the young population of Afghanistan are able to resist the Taliban in the cities, that the limited improvements in living standards and women’s rights have given some room for opposition to build. The big factor that can change the balance of forces will be a working-class and democratic upheaval in Pakistan, cutting off the Taliban from its nurturing hinterland.
We will look for opportunities to organise solidarity with any democratic, women’s, trade union or progressive organisations that are able to organise.