Interview. Testimony from an Afghan student: ‘The Ministry for women was replaced with the Ministry for the propagation of virtue and prevention of vice.’

Without women’s voices, Kabul is dead

We spoke with a young Afghan woman, who is studying for her master’s degree in Italy, about the terrible situation in Afghanistan. For obvious security reasons, we cannot give her name. “The whole country is collapsing, both institutionally and economically,” she says.

“Banks, companies, government offices, local start-ups and even shops are closed, imports and exports are completely blocked – for Afghanistan, this means hunger and poverty. There is no money circulating, and even those who have deposits in banks can’t withdraw more than 200 dollars a month. Small businesses such as beauty centers, wedding halls, restaurants, cafes, gyms, tailor shops are shut down. Merchants selling second-hand Western clothes are suffering heavy losses, because men and women can no longer wear jeans and T-shirts.

“The unemployment rate is very high: government offices, schools and private companies have been closed. The judicial system is also in a disastrous state and people cannot obtain documents, marriage certificates, passports or land registry documents. The city is dead – you can no longer hear music, clamor or women’s voices. Few people are driving around, because gas is very expensive. Winter is approaching and the price of natural gas has almost doubled, and there is no money to buy firewood or food to store for the colder season.

“The streets of Kabul are full of second-hand goods being sold by people leaving the city or by those who need money to support their children,” she adds. “This situation is causing great desperation. The director of prisons announced that public executions and cutting off hands and feet will return, and said that ‘No one will tell us what our laws should be. We will follow Islam and we will make our laws on the Quran.’ The Ministry for women was replaced with the Ministry for the propagation of virtue and prevention of vice. This has caused fear and anxiety, because this ministry controls daily life: the way people dress, whether women can go out without a mahram (a male member of the family), the length of one’s beard, the way women are allowed to tie their hair, how they laugh, etc. The Taliban say they will follow Iran’s example. As far as women are concerned, the Taliban are saying that they will be able to work or study, but only within the framework of sharia (which is being interpreted in different ways). There are many divisions within the Taliban themselves: some have opened schools for girls up to high school, others only for elementary school, while in cities like Kabul, Herat and Mazar-i-Sharif they are closed.

“Women are not allowed to work in both the public and private sectors, and in some places reports are saying that they must be dressed in black from head to toe. Women can only work in the health sector, but health care is disintegrating due to lack of doctors and medicines. Most medicines are imported, but now the borders are closed, and people are dying from a lack of medicines. Food prices have doubled, and some foods have disappeared. There are also strong psychological pressures: people are very depressed, worried and anxious because of uncertainty about the future. The Taliban say they have brought security, but the people don’t want the kind of security in which you can starve to death.”

The Taliban are demanding international recognition and to attend the UN Assembly.

It is difficult to predict what they will get, but one thing is clear: Afghanistan will become a battleground between the U.S., China and Russia. There are already clashes within the Taliban—between the supporters of Haqqani and those of Mullah Baradar—caused by the interference of foreign powers fighting to divide up Afghanistan. The biggest fear for now is ISIS, which has claimed at least three attacks in the last month. This is only the beginning, and we are sure that the clashes will intensify and the bloodbath will get worse.

The Taliban are using the dramatic situation to get aid.

That’s serious blackmail. However, no circumstances justify a recognition of the Taliban. Now they are pretending to be modern and open in order to be accepted, but their recognition would be a serious betrayal of our people, and especially of women. There is a lot of international pressure to form an “inclusive” government, with the involvement of women and representatives of other ethnic groups (the Taliban are predominantly Pashtun). But even if they included some women in burqas, or some Hazara, Uzbek or Tajik criminals, the nature of the government will not change. They will always be fascists, terrorists, fundamentalists, misogynists. The UN assembly and allies are preparing the ground for official recognition. Most countries are seeking separate deals with the Taliban, such as the British government announcing compensation for civilian deaths, which of course will benefit the Taliban.

How can we help the women struggling in the country? Is it possible to compromise with the Taliban for individual projects? Or is clandestine work the only option?

You can help us by supporting our activities and projects, talking about them in schools, universities, meetings and conferences. We would like funding for NGOs to continue, but the policies and rules of the Taliban regarding these activities remain unknown. We don’t know whether they will be able to receive funding, who will be allowed to operate and under what conditions – we need to see how the situation will evolve. If there are possibilities to help Afghan women and children, we do not consider that a compromise, but a real opportunity. We need to identify who is most in need of help, and that cannot be done through clandestine work. Our political activity has value, but we believe that our people are on the brink of starvation and poverty and you cannot fight the Taliban on an empty stomach.

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