The Taliban in Afghanistan this week marked one year since they returned to power in the capital Kabul and took control of the country. The date August 15 was declared by them as a national holiday and Victory Day of the Islamic Emirate, as they call their country.
After exactly two decades of continuous conflict, the Taliban movement managed to wear down the world’s strongest military, the US, along with its NATO allies, to the point where in 2021 they agreed to withdraw from the country in an agreement with almost humiliating in nature. It culminated in images of panic around the crowded Kabul airport and helicopters evacuating people from the American embassy, similar to the retreat from Saigon in 1975.
And while NATO forces were completing their full withdrawal, the Taliban effortlessly crushed the resistance of the Afghan army, which they saw as supporting a foreign occupation.
A year has passed since then, the new government took over, and now, if nothing else, there is relative peace and no constant war.
However, the population of Afghanistan is currently in an even worse situation than at the beginning of August 2021.
The Taliban government is not officially recognized by any country because they themselves continue to maintain ties with terrorist organizations, including Al Qaeda. The US airstrike not far from Kabul, which killed its longtime leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, only shows that the Taliban are a long way from fulfilling their commitment not to turn Afghanistan into a safe haven for terrorist networks.
At the same time, the country’s economy is on the verge of complete collapse. A huge part of the population of nearly 40 million people has difficulty getting food, with half of them living below the poverty line, according to the United Nations World Food Program. In just one year, the number of people at risk of food insecurity has doubled to 6.6 million.
Data from local sources show that in some hard-hit areas, an old practice has returned where families are forced to sell their children for money.
In recent decades, the country has largely determined its state budget on the basis of international aid and donations. Until the arrival of the Taliban last August, about 75% of the economy was dependent on foreign funding.
Now these funds are gone.
After the Taliban entered Kabul, financial flows stopped, the central bank’s funds were frozen, and the government itself came under heavy international sanctions, which also limit the work of humanitarian organizations.
The new government has no experience in successfully managing a modern economy and does not have sufficient capacity to take advantage of the opportunities of the global financial markets, from which it is excluded anyway. On the other hand, the nature of the Taliban’s ideology largely excludes a significant portion of potential international investors.
It also excludes women from participating in the social and economic life of Afghanistan.
In most of the country, girls are barred from schools, and women are excluded from most employment opportunities, having to follow strict guidelines regarding every action in their daily lives. In less than a year, the Taliban erased the modest gains that had previously been achieved over two decades of hard work.
They continue to cling to their religious-conservative notions of gender inequality, which are not only unjust but also counterproductive for a country that needs to maximize the potential of its people in order to revive the economy and the performance of inefficient and corrupt state institutions .
There are few women who manage to raise their voice. Last weekend, several dozen of them protested in the capital shouting “Bread, work, freedom”, but within minutes Taliban security forces dispersed them with automatic weapons fire.
Institutionalized misogyny is one part of a much wider erosion of human rights that is taking place. Just a few weeks ago, the UN mission in Afghanistan published a report detailing many cases of extrajudicial killings, torture, arbitrary arrests and detentions, among countless other violations of basic human rights and freedoms, including against sexual and religious minorities.
Decades of experience in conducting military operations ultimately do not lead to security capabilities.
The country has always been highly decentralized and has depended on the power of local tribal-communal and military leaders, but there are challenges at the national level that the Taliban appear unable to address at present.
In any case, chief among them is the local branch of the Islamic State, which continues to strengthen in Afghanistan and has demonstrated the ability to carry out terrorist attacks in Kabul itself. In the last of them since the beginning of this month, 8 people died after a suicide attack against a Shiite temple.
Such attacks show the Taliban’s inability or unwillingness to protect the country’s various ethnic and religious minorities.
In addition, in the past year, elements of the Islamic State have also managed to carry out cross-border attacks in the territory of neighboring Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, and at the same time it has strengthened its relations with radical jihadists there, creating additional tension in the already unstable region.
So, one year later, today the new government in Kabul has to deal with a fragmented and divided, bankrupt country with a collapsed health system and millions of people at risk of starvation.