Rest of Asia

Human rights activists, journalists fear for future of Afghanistan

Waqar Mustafa
Filed on August 15, 2021
Taliban fighters drive past on a street in Laghman province. Photo: AFP

The insurgents and Afghan officials are in negotiations for a peaceful transfer of power.

The Taliban are on the verge of seizing power in Afghanistan again after having been ejected by the United States in 2001.

Emerging in 1994 in the southeastern city of Kandahar out of the chaos that had followed a peace deal, the guerrilla fighters, who had driven out Soviet forces in the previous decade, had taken two years in 1996 to form a government in Kabul, the first time.

It sounds different this time in many ways. They have taken only two days to travel from Kandahar to Kabul.

Unlike their previous brutal campaign, this blitz to Kabul, overrunning one city after another, after the US withdrawal has largely remained uncontested.

The Taliban, who have promised not to attack, and Afghan government officials are in negotiations for a peaceful transfer of power.

Panic has dissipated. Diplomatic evacuation continues. Perhaps reckoning with the imminence of the return of the Taliban rule, people are staying at their homes and there is no heavy traffic on the road.

Police have left their posts at some places or say they won’t fight the Taliban. This is what transpires in several interviews with the residents of Kabul.

For media and human rights defenders, “the situation is critical. It’s tense. They, especially the journalists are worried about their future,” I am told in a jittery voice by a human rights activist from Kabul, seeking anonymity.

Pakistan-based Afghanistan watcher and journalist Rifatullah Orakzai does agree that journalists and human rights defenders may have reasons to be worried for. However, he sees some change.

“In the 90s, the Taliban were very harsh. But we have seen negotiated capitulation in most of the territories they captured. There has not been much chaos this time. Fear there is. Uncertainty there surely is. But not things like beating or killing civilians as witnessed in the 90s.”

Instead, they say, “negotiations are under way to ensure that the transition process is completed safely and securely, without compromising the lives, property and honour of anyone, and without compromising the lives of Kabulis.”

Orakzai cites reassurances to government employees, banks, merchants and other entrepreneurs by the Taliban, with the insurgents negotiating their way to the seat of power and them agreeing to some sort of a coalition setup, to make his point.

For veteran Pakistani journalist and commentator Muhammad Ziauddin there are two possibilities now. “One, the Taliban have learnt their lessons and will most probably turn out to be largely normal. But, of course, they will continue to insist to be guided by Sharia in matters of governance; or perhaps they have become more bitter, therefore, harsher in their approach to governance.”

If they try to behave normally then perhaps Russia, China, Iran and Pakistan would provide them the needed moral, material and political support, says Ziauddin. He, however, is fearful of them returning to the previous (repressive) ways

“But if they behave like they did under Mullah Omar’s rule (from 1996 to 2001), then Pakistan probably would face the spillover with (the banned) Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan or TTP enhancing its activities in Pakistan … with the help of a Talibanised Kabul. China, not the US, would probably come to our help — not sure in what way.”

Talking of the Taliban reassurances, Orakzai says: “True that fears have not come true. There has not been much bloodshed. But it’s only the beginning. How much they change their mindset or their ways while in power is to be seen yet. They may not change themselves drastically, however.”

Waqar Mustafa is a Pakistan-based journalist and commentator. He tweets @WaqarMu80252210

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