Let Afghans lead the way out of their own political impasse

The Taliban's latest addition to the rising number of restrictions they have been imposing on women was the ban on women's entry to parks and recreation centres announced on Nov 12, 2022.

The retrogressive trail of Taliban decrees began on day one of their takeover of the Kabul government on Aug 15, 2021 when they banned secondary schooling for girls who were forced to stay at home ever since.

The public plea within Afghanistan and internationally to reopen the schools has fallen on deaf ears. Instead, the Taliban Supreme Leader Mulla Hibatullah Akhundzada added further restrictions that limit women employment opportunities and exclude them from taking leadership positions in government.

Women who appeared on tv screens and the media were compelled to wear black attire and cover their bodies except for their face and hands. On Nov 14, Hibatullah issued another decree on the implementation of hudud and qisas (prescribed penalties and retaliation), adding that his new decree applied to all existing incomplete cases that qualify for these punishments.

He further declared that obeying him was an obligation of all citizens. The Afghan women have resisted all this and continued their protest demonstrations on the streets of Kabul and other cities, notwithstanding the Taliban authorities persistent intimidation and risk of arrest.

All this in the midst of over 90 per cent unemployment, crushing poverty, food shortages and the impending winter. The Taliban are ill at ease with governance due to lack of experience and a skilled workforce. Banking and finance have nose-dived under them. Major banks were closed for weeks.

Domestic trade and international finance collapsed for extended periods. Following the Taliban's recent decrees, the leader of the Islamic Party, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, commented in a Friday sermon that most professionals and skilled workers had left the country and those still remaining were now leaving in droves.

He added that many also leave for fear of their safety as media workers and news correspondents were being killed and tortured, including for instance, Ilyas Daa'i who was blown up in his car.

Afghanistan's short-lived freedom of expression is under attack. Publication licences of 24 periodicals have hitherto been cancelled or not renewed.

United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan's (UNAMA) special representative in Kabul, Roza Otunbayeva, said in an interview with a ranking Taliban official, Shihabuddin Dilawar, that Afghans who were returning to Afghanistan in response to the Taliban invitation should be given a role in the country's affairs and government.

She said this knowing that the Taliban were not likely to do that. They have kept all government positions to themselves, notwithstanding the promise they made 15 months ago to form an inclusive government.

UNAMA's deputy representative in Kabul, Markus Potzel, observed, in turn, that Afghanistan needs to engage in an all-inclusive socio-political process to create a meaningful context for government to people relations. No country has officially recognised the Taliban government even after 15 months in office.

For this to happen, it was rightly said at a recent United Nations meeting on Afghanistan that the government should engage with the people first. They have not done that. The Foreign Minister of Norway hit the nail on the head when he said on Nov 14 that instead of improving the conditions of their people, Afghanistan's government leaders were prioritising other matters.

The other matters mostly included imposing more and more restrictions on women and implementation of the Shariah. This latter move was mentioned many times before but singling out hudud and qisas will most likely bring back death by hanging, mutilation of the hand for theft and lashing.

Hudud and qisas provisions exist in the Afghan Criminal Code 1976 but were to be converted to long prison sentences.

Serving the people, attending to poverty and hunger issues and unemployment have evidently not engaged the focus of the Taliban government. After 15 months and a persistent refusal to reopen the schools for girls and form an inclusive government, it is almost certain that the Taliban will not change.

Taliban representatives were able so far to participate in the numerous international events and conferences that Afghanistan's neighbouring countries and the international community have held on Afghanistan.

That was not the case, however, in the mid-November international conference of Afghanistan's neighbouring countries in Moscow. Russia did not invite the Taliban.

The Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov indicated that the Afghan leaders had not listened to the international community's demand to change its negative stance on human rights and form an inclusive government. The Taliban have continued to deny their girls their right to go to school.

The Afghan public, the United Nations and the international community are not repeating their demands. A state of political impasse now seems certain.

The United States that used to be an active participant in Afghanistan affairs has left and disengaged itself, while China and Russia that are thought to be filling the gap are in a wait-and-see situation without taking any important initiative, and the Taliban seem to be internally paralysed by their dogmatic Supreme Leader and his courtiers in Kandahar.

International conferences are being held but seem to pass and go most likely still looking up to the United States for any headway.

Hekmatyar's suggestion, also essentially voiced by UNAMA'S Potzel, is that the Afghan people and civil society should suggest solutions. That may be the way forward.

The writer is a professor and Very Distinguished Fellow at the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies (IAIS) Malaysia

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the New Straits Times

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