ANYONE who thought that the Taliban regime in Afghanistan would tread with caution after being accused of human rights violations, must disabuse themselves of the ridiculous notion. Their latest move to make the burqa mandatory for Afghan women is yet another step backwards in their treatment of the country’s most vulnerable segment. While there can be little appreciation for America’s invasion of Afghanistan, and the years of violence and regional instability it spawned, it is only fair to say that, during the occupation, Afghan women experienced a vast improvement in their lives. Without discarding all cultural norms, many, especially those residing in urban areas, found themselves free to work, to learn, to play a sport, to participate in politics, to articulate their views. In short, they had opportunities and choices before them that the Taliban’s first stint did not allow. The previous Taliban regime had forced the burqa on them, denied them an education and banned them from working and even availing healthcare provided by males. Unfortunately, the past is never far away, and for Afghan women, it has returned with a vengeance.
From the very beginning of the Taliban’s return to power in Kabul last August, there had been doubts about whether the new rulers would allow Afghan women to retain their freedom, even though international aid to the country was linked to human rights delivery. Some like members of the women’s football team and the famed all-female orchestra managed to escape. But millions of women remain in the country, a number of them facing security threats as the Taliban clamp down, restrict their schooling and discourage them from stepping out of their homes. Bit by bit, they are losing their liberty, and with it their future. Vast swathes of the population are desperately poor and, as always, the women are the hardest hit. The Taliban could have allowed women to retain their rights — which, in turn, would have attracted international goodwill and aid. But their flawed approach makes them oblivious to reason and compassion.
Published in Dawn, May 8th, 2022