Updated: Oct 18
Countless shootings, blood-curdling screams from people breathing their last, explosions that have claimed thousands of lives, innocent people being stoned in the name of a religious interpretation that they never understood and desperate attempts to go overseas and escape the brutal ordeals of the Islamic force that has surged the country. Over a span of four decades, Afghanistan has endured harangue-laced instability and an oppressive rule. Foreign invasions, civil wars and insurgency have intertwined themselves with the horrifying political history of the nation. Human rights have been buried alongside the ideals of a democracy or even a well-established government. So, when in the month of August 2021[i], the militant Taliban organization took over the nation and swept majority of the provinces under their catastrophic regime, it added to the shock of people globally. This particular article shall delve into the nature of the same, while exploring the various existing provisions for the basic human rights of the Afghan people and how they were exploited during the Taliban rule.
Initial Taliban Rule
Before delving into the current scenario, the gradual development of events must be acknowledged. The Taliban, or "students" in the Pashto language, emerged in the early 1990s in northern Pakistan following the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan.[ii] Though initially welcomed due to their commendable ability to drive out corruption, lawlessness and ensure efficient commerce – the Taliban rule soon translated to strict interpretation of the Sharia law and consequent abuse of human rights.
The 9/11 attacks on the Word Trade Centre in the country of the United States in 2001, for which the al-Qaeda militant group took responsibility, triggered the invasion of American troops in the nation of Afghanistan.[iii] The invasion was an attempt to extract Osama bin Laden[iv], the al-Qaeda leader, whom the Taliban had given protection. The intervention allayed the Taliban attacks and austere rule only temporarily, the Afghan student-warriors remained involved in civilian attacks and subjugation of the women and children in their country[v]. Education and jobs for females were forbidden and punishments included amputation and public executions. The horrors of their rule in the country can barely be encompassed in a mere article but needless to say, those were trying times for the citizens of the country. In the year of 2014[vi] when the US ended its combat mission, responsibility of Afghanistan’s security fell into the lap of Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF). However, given the Taliban’s relentless seizure of provinces and suicide bombings[vii] coupled with shootings led to several casualties in the ANDSF.
Development in the Recent Years
In February 2020[viii], the US chose to extract its troops from Afghanistan and signed a peace treaty that ensured uprooting of terrorist activities under the Taliban and agreements with their government. The organization though, simply shifted from complex attacks to a series of targeted assassinations[ix] that ranged from journalists to activists to women in powerful positions. Changed tactics, but the extremist ideology continued to persist. Despite this, President Joe Biden stated the complete withdrawal of Americans by September 2021[x]. The US completed about 95% of its departure[xi] by the end of July this year, leaving only 650 troops[xii] to protect the US embassy in Kabul. Recently however, the tables turned drastically. As the US shifted its focus to Iran and ensured that they would leave the country entirely, the Taliban took advantage of this situation and began their advancement through major cities of Afghanistan at a lightning pace. The collapse of both the ANDSF due to corruption (feigning of their number of soldiers to harbour extra resources) and the Afghan government with the fleeing of their President, Ashraf Ghani,[xiii] rendered the nation into absolute chaos yet again. A mass exodus of refugees from the country was observed to either Kabul or neighbouring countries and the cries of protest of the Afghani civilians have enveloped the globe once again.
On August 17[xiv], Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid promised an inclusive government, security for aid agencies and embassies and women's rights to work and go to school — within his group's interpretation of sharia law.[xv] The Taliban’s interpretation of Islamic law comes from “the Deobandi strand of Hanafi jurisprudence” – a branch found across several parts of southeast Asia, including Pakistan and India – and the group’s own “lived experience as a predominantly rural and tribal society”[xvi]. The scepticism regarding the same in the minds of Afghan citizens is justified given their previous regulations in the country. Many fear that their return will erode the progress that the country has made in the last two decades in terms of giving women an equal stance in society. Their reputation is highly affiliated with a way of conduct that people do not wish to be subjected to again.
In the recent special session of the Human Rights Council[xvii], a resolution was adopted. In the resolution, adopted without a vote, the Council expressed grave concern[xviii] at all violations and abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law in Afghanistan and called for full respect for the human rights of all individuals, including women, children and persons belonging to ethnic, religious and other minority groups.[xix]
Fundamental Rights of the Afghani Citizens
The Constitution of the Republic of Afghanistan has made various provisions to ensure an effective functioning of their democracy along with substantive rights and liberties for its citizens. Article 6[xx] states that - The state shall be obligated to create a prosperous and progressive society based on social justice, preservation of human dignity, protection of human rights, realization of democracy, attainment of national unity as well as equality between all peoples and tribes and balance development of all areas of the country. Additionally, Article 24[xxi] focuses on how liberty is the natural right of human beings. It elaborates further that this right has no limits unless affecting others freedoms as well as the public interest, which shall be regulated by law. Liberty and human dignity are inviolable. The state shall respect and protect liberty as well as human dignity. Next comes in the pivotal pillar of a democracy, Article 34[xxii] that grants the freedom of expression that shall be inviolable. Every Afghan shall have the right to express thoughts through speech, writing, illustrations as well as other means in accordance with provisions of this constitution. Lastly, since education is an institution that requires universal access and contributes to the well-rounded growth of an individual - as per Article 44[xxiii] of the Afghan Constitution, the state has the duty to design and implement effective programs in order to create educational balance and develop education for women, improve the education of the kuchis, and eliminate illiteracy. All of these were violated beyond measure under the Taliban regime. The Kabul football stadium was turned to a public execution ground[xxiv]. Music, TV, cinema, photography, painting and even kite-flying were banned.[xxv] The sixth century monuments of the Bamiyan Buddhas were also destroyed.[xxvi] For the enforcement of the law, a department of religious police had been established with the name of Amr Bil-Maroof Wa-Nahi Anil Munkir[xxvii] (Department for promotion of virtue and the Suppression of Vice), which was one of the best departments in Taliban administration. Multiple extremist Taliban policies were introduced to curb poor security and allow flourish of opium trade to ensure stable revenue.[xxviii] An anarchy by definition, they still managed to put up a justice system as orthodox scholars, if you may.
In recent times however, it was stated by the senior commander Waheedullah Hashimi that the none of the democratic principles would be followed, since the newly named Islamic Emirates of Afghanistan has only one political system and that is of the Sharia law.[xxix] Women would get the basic rights to work and receive education under the same. And despite their assurance that Afghanis who sided with the American troops will not be harmed, a confidential report from the Norwegian analysis centre Rhipto, which provides intelligence to the UN, indicates that the Taliban continues to maintain a blacklist of persons who collaborated with the US or other foreign forces.[xxx]So, the apparent transformation in this Islamic organization currently seems to be an attempt to solicit trust from the Afghan people. Their road that has been marred with violence can hardly be excused over what appears to be empty promises. Only time will shed light on the rule of law that is about to prevail in the country.
However, the Taliban are definitely getting international recognition. From various countries. China is ready to establish “friendly relations” with them[xxxi], Russian ambassador in Kabul held constructive talks with the same[xxxii]. Turkey has also welcomed the Taliban with an unhostile attitude[xxxiii]. The future of the country of Afghanistan remains ambiguous and the path ahead lacks clarity. Either way, the rights of the Afghani citizens must not be compromised in the name of a version of the religion they are coerced to practice. Afghanistan is their home, and no one should have a deep settled fear regarding residing in their own household.
[i] https://www.nytimes.com/news-event/taliban-afghanistan [ii] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-south-asia-11451718 [iii] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-49192495 [iv] https://www.npr.org/series/135908383/osama-bin-laden-dead [v] BBC, supra note at 3. [vi] https://www.globaltimes.cn/page/202105/1223720.shtml [vii] https://www.cfr.org/global-conflict-tracker/conflict/war-afghanistan [viii] https://www.wsj.com/articles/inside-the-biden-administrations-push-to-exit-afghanistan-11630855499 [ix] BBC, supra note at 2. [x] https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/biden-us-troop-withdrawal-afghanistan/2021/04/13/918c3cae-9beb-11eb-8a83-3bc1fa69c2e8_story.html [xi] CFR, supra note at 7. [xii] Ibid. [xiii] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-09-08/ghani-apologizes-for-leaving-afghans-without-stability [xiv] https://www.npr.org/2021/08/19/1028472005/afghanistan-conflict-timeline [xv] Ibid. [xvi] https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/8/23/hold-the-taliban-and-sharia-law-in-afghanistan [xvii] https://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/Pages/NewsDetail.aspx?NewsID=27407&LangID=E [xviii] Ibid. [xix] Ibid. [xx] https://www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/IMG/pdf/The_Constitution_of_the_Islamic_Republic_of_Afghanistan.pdf [xxi] Ibid. [xxii] Ibid. [xxiii] Ibid. [xxiv] https://www.britannica.com/place/Afghanistan/Daily-life-and-social-customs [xxv] Ibid. [xxvi] https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/explainer-whats-next-for-afghanistan/article35977836.ece [xxvii] https://www.grrjournal.com/jadmin/Auther/31rvIolA2LALJouq9hkR/9arnhiiFbU.pdf [xxviii] Ibid. [xxix] Ibid. [xxx] https://icct.nl/publication/the-fall-of-afghanistan-a-blow-to-counter-terrorism-and-rule-of-law-efforts/ [xxxi] Ibid. [xxxii] Ibid. [xxxiii] Ibid.
Title Image: Human Rights Watch
This article has been written by Acharaj Tuteja. She is a second year law student at Gujarat National Law University, Gandhinagar.