Following the announcement that almost all foreign troops would leave Afghanistan by September, the Taliban has made rapid territorial gains. Within a month they had taken Kabul and on Saturday 11th September (at the time of writing), had raised their flag over the presidential palace to mark the beginning of the newly formed Islamic emirate.
Tens of thousands of Afghans, who fear Taliban reprisals, have tried to flee the country and thousands have headed to the airport to get on flights out of the country. However, now, the borders are largely closed.
Workers’ Liberty has never supported the US and allied military presence in Afghanistan. Unlike many on the left, however, we do not ignore or downplay the threat that the Taliban poses to democracy and 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 shopkeepers 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 were some improvements.
Women’s participation in public life increased. Women made up 20% of civil servants. 3.5 million girls were enrolled in school. Thousands of women were working in education, and some women were able to go to university. Two million girls still had no access to education and violence against women was extremely high. However, the Taliban poses a threat even to the limited gains made since 2001.
Over the last month, despite initially saying women will still have some rights, they have begun to make it clear what their rule will mean for women. Women are no longer visible in most areas of public life. Most women have been told to stay home for "security reasons". Women no longer feel safe to leave their home while Taliban soldiers patrol the streets. The Taliban have now announced that traditional Islamic dress and the wearing of the hijab will be compulsory. Boys and girls will not be taught together, and female students will only be taught by women. They have said that they intend for some women to be able to return to work once workplaces can be segregated but already universities, for example, are saying that it won’t be financially possible for them to finance and staff a segregated system.
For many years we have argued that the longer the US stayed the worse would be the prospects for working-class and democratic forces when they inevitably withdrew. This seems to be confirmed by the rapidity with which the Taliban were able to take back power. 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 could be a working-class and democratic upheaval in Pakistan, cutting off the Taliban from its nurturing hinterland. Reactionary forces in the area will also be strengthened, however. Trade revenue and humanitarian aid will also fall leading to an increase in poverty that will undoubtedly hit women hardest.
Our hope for the future lies not with the ruling class in the US, Britain, China or Russia but in the international working class. We will look for opportunities to organise solidarity with any democratic, women’s, trade union or progressive organisations that are able to organise.