AFGHANISTAN: Afghanistan has undergone a dramatic transformation in half a year of Taliban rule.
The country feels safer, less violent than it has in decades, but the once aid-fuelled economy is barreling toward collapse.
Tens of thousands of Afghans have fled or have been evacuated, including large numbers of the educated elites.
They either fear for their economic future or lack of freedom under a group that ascribes to a strict interpretation of Islam and during its previous rule in the late 1990s barred girls from school and women from work.
Tuesday marked six months since the Afghan capital of Kabul was ceded to the Taliban with the sudden and secret departure of the country’s US-backed president. The takeover of Kabul had been preceded by a months-long Taliban military campaign to take control of provincial areas, many of which fell with hardly a fight. Today, the sight of armed Taliban fighters roaming the street still jars and frightens residents.
But women have returned to the streets, and many young men have put on Western clothes again after initially shedding them for the traditional shalwar kameez, the long shirt and baggy pants favoured by the Taliban.
Unlike in the 1990s, the Taliban are allowing some women to work. Women are back in their jobs in the health and education ministries, as well as at Kabul International airport, often next to men.
But women are still waiting to return to work in other ministries.
Thousands of jobs have been lost in the economic downward spiral, and women have been hit hardest.
The Taliban have cracked down on women’s protests and harassed journalists, including briefly detaining two foreign journalists working with the UN refugee agency last week.
The Taliban promised all girls will be in school after the Afghan new year at the end of March.
Universities are gradually reopening and private universities and schools never closed.
Poverty is deepening. Even those who have money have a hard time accessing it. At banks, lines are long as residents wait for hours, sometimes even days, to withdraw a limit of $200 a week. More than USD 9 billion in Afghanistan’s foreign assets were frozen after the Taliban takeover.
Graeme Smith, a senior consultant for the International Crisis Group’s Asia Program, warned against using sanctions, saying that would backfire.
He also noted that this round of Taliban rule probably ranks as the most peaceful six-month period that Afghanistan has enjoyed in four decades. The Taliban have re-opened the country’s passport office, which is clogged with thousands of people a day.
– THE NEW INDIAN EXPRESS