Afghanistan dispatch: ‘Taliban are afraid of Afghan women’

Law students and lawyers in Afghanistan are filing reports with JURIST on the situation there after the Taliban takeover. Here, a law student in Kabul reports on recent developments in the Taliban’s treatment of women in Afghanistan. For privacy and security reasons, we are withholding his name. The text has only been lightly edited to respect the author’s voice.

Taliban are afraid of Afghan women, or at least so it seems. In the past couple of weeks, two women activists, Tamana Zaryabi Paryani and Parwana Ibrahimkhel, were abducted from their homes by the Taliban for participating in protests. The UN directly addressed this development by urging the Taliban to release them immediately.

Another Afghan women’s rights activist, Hoda Khamosh, called the Taliban out at the Oslo Summit and confronted their atrocities against the Afghan people. Khamosh held up a picture of Paryani and Ibrahimkhel and in front of Taliban’s acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi at the summit and demanded that he “Pick up the phone right now, call Kabul and ask the girls to be released immediately.”

Curiously, the Taliban have allegedly been planning to recruit women and former lobbyists from their own ethnicity and linguistic background, even if they were not necessarily pro-Taliban, which raises questions about racial and ethnic discriminatory practices in addition to gender discrimination. These individuals have been cherry-picked with an aim to use them to soften the view of the world toward its regime or to humanize the enemy, so to speak. Khamosh confronting the Taliban at the summit may have well put a damper on these plans.

On the other hand, more activists went missing after the summit, including Dr. Zahra Mohammad and Mursal Ayar. Mursal was trapped in her own home and arrested by the Taliban after allegedly receiving a call from her coworker who asked for her address for payment of her salary. She was subsequently arrested together with her father. The Taliban leadership has denied involvement in these arrests and disappearances and stated that some of the group’s members may have taken this action on their own accord and that it was trying to locate and release them.

In another unfortunate development, a female employee at the Ministry of Technology and Information, Edi Mah, was shot and killed on Wednesday together with her two children aged nine and 13. Their deaths are likely to remain a mystery. The Taliban did arrest a man for their death but the motive is unclear and no other information has been forthcoming. However, under the Taliban regime, we can safely predict that a confession is going to be guaranteed. It is just a matter of time!

This was not the first such killing, of course. Last month, a Taliban fighter was arrested for shooting dead a young Hazara woman in the Dasht-e-Barchi neighborhood of Kabul. 25-year old Zainab Abdullahi was shot dead at a checkpoint as she returned from a wedding in Kabul. Taliban spokesman Mohammad Naeem tweeted about the incident that Abdullahi was “killed by mistake,” and added that the arrested fighter will be punished. According to Afghan Interior Ministry, Abdullahi’s family has been offered AFN 600,000 (approx. US $5,700) for her death.

I must confess my view that the Taliban is not necessarily strict and cruel to “all” women concerned. Rather, there is bias in favor of their own daughters who live and study in the best foreign universities. According to a report by Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN), a sizable number of high-ranking Taliban officials send their daughters to overseas schools and universities while depriving schooling to millions of girls within Afghanistan since seizing power. These officials have shamelessly acknowledged that the reason they have not resettled their children in Afghanistan is because of a desire not to disrupt their education at the foreign universities.

That acknowledgment comes amidst public universities in Afghanistan remaining closed for women and as they continue to be lashed in a gender-apartheid regime. In the Taliban’s view, women are nothing more than objects of pleasure and an assembly line for production of their offspring. That might seem like a rather extreme depiction, but there is an abundance of evidence to support it. Reports indicate that eight Taliban leaders allegedly have 20 wives between themselves. Looking collectively at the Taliban and its actions, any hope for equal rights and respect for Afghan women and minorities is improbable to materialize for the foreseeable future.

Education, and women’s education in particular, stands incontrovertibly against the Taliban’s strict fundamentalist ideals and shakes the very core of fanatic and oppressive regimes. As such, the Taliban are doing and will do everything in its power to reduce the influence of liberal thoughts, modernization and anything else that comes with education. A couple of ways to do that is by blocking universities and trying to fill the curriculum with strict fundamentalist Islamic teachings.

The women activists were likely taken hostage to apply pressure on the international community to urgently open dialogue with the Taliban, which inevitably would give it more voice—a disgusting and immoral trick no doubt, but a clever one that seems to be working. The only thing I can say about this is that it would have been nice if the Oslo Summit had been postponed until these activists and their relatives were returned home, never mind Norway’s assurance that their its invitation of the Taliban to the summit did not translate to “recognition” of the group or its regime in Afghanistan.