Taliban’s repressive rule in Afghanistan is driving its own demise

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, said the Taliban’s broken promises were a “betrayal of people’s trust”.

The movement is already systematically removing women from Afghan society despite early promises to respect their rights. This includes barring them from education and employment – most recently banning beauty parlours, denying women one of the few remaining avenues of work open to them – enforcing veiling and forbidding freedom of movement. The situation has got so bad that UN representatives have labelled the treatment of Afghan women as “gender apartheid”.


‘I’m not giving up’: Painting serves as therapy for Afghan women struggling with depression

‘I’m not giving up’: Painting serves as therapy for Afghan women struggling with depression

The Taliban has rejected the UN accusations as “not true and far from reality”, and insisted the killings and disappearances were based on “personal enmity” or “revenge”.

These abuses suggest one of two scenarios. Either the Taliban ruling elite are not in full control of the country, allowing their subordinates to target people at will, or the movement is conducting a planned, systematic attack on those it believes are not worth a place in their Afghanistan. Events on the ground suggest it’s likely to be both, and the Taliban isn’t stopping at members of the former regime.

The Shiite Hazara minority group were persecuted by the Taliban during its first stint in power between 1996 and 2001. This time, the Hazara community has reported forced evictions, persecution and even deadly attacks on their towns and places of worship.

Since 2021, Amnesty International has documented extrajudicial killings of Hazaras in several provinces. In a report last year, the group’s secretary general Agnes Callamard said that “these violent deaths are further shocking proof that the Taliban continue to persecute, torture and extrajudicially execute Hazara people”.

There are also accusations that the Taliban is allowing, or at least failing to prevent, attacks on Hazaras by Islamic extremist groups in Afghanistan.

Reports have also surfaced of the Taliban persecuting non-Muslim minority groups. Afghanistan’s small Sikh and Hindu communities have faced increasingly strict restrictions, including a ban on their religious holidays in public. Many have since left the country.


Taliban bans beard shaving for men in western Afghan province, sparking outcry

Taliban bans beard shaving for men in western Afghan province, sparking outcry

More broadly, the Taliban continues to implement punishments under the guise of sharia law. This includes public executions. More recently, in June, a man was executed in the eastern province of Laghman.
In November last year, the movement’s supreme leader, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, ordered the return of “qisas” and “hudud” punishments that include public floggings, stoning or the amputation of body parts for theft or adultery.

The targeting of different groups points to a systematic and sinister attempt to eliminate those who do not fit with the Taliban’s extreme interpretation of Islam. This, in effect, is the movement trying to turn Afghanistan into an ideological state, where it alone decides who is welcome.

This is dangerous and threatens to boil over into an environment of extreme violence where women, minority groups and former officials are targeted at will. At best, they will be denied their fundamental human rights; at worst, they will be tortured or killed.


How 2 years of Taliban rule have transformed Afghanistan back to the past

How 2 years of Taliban rule have transformed Afghanistan back to the past

But this could prove a step too far for the Taliban. Afghanistan’s neighbours have called on the movement to respect the rights of women and minority groups and form an inclusive government.

These countries are wary of the security and economic problems that come with the Taliban’s brutal rule. China, in particular, has significant political and economic clout with the Taliban and is unlikely to tolerate the situation in Afghanistan deteriorating further.

Afghanistan is also a different country to the one the Taliban first ruled in the 1990s, with many Afghans experiencing better living conditions and new-found freedoms before the movement returned. Afghans have seen bad rulers come and go over a 40-year period of invasions and civil strife and will not tolerate a bad regime prioritising ideological battles and brutality over rebuilding the country.

If the Taliban is serious about governing, it needs to act in a way that is acceptable to its neighbours. That means respecting the rights of all Afghans and not allowing the country to descend into a state of wanton violence.

Otherwise, the Taliban could quickly find itself without friends and out of power.

Chris Fitzgerald is a freelance journalist and project coordinator for the Platform for Peace and Humanity’s Central Asia Programme


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