"Millions of Afghans deserve to live in an orderly, just and humane society."
We have many things to weep about, especially given COVID-19’s continued attack on our homes, communities and hospital systems. Our own despair, however, does not preclude empathy. Case in point: Harrowing images of people in Kabul running toward the airport, and climbing on aircraft, desperate to flee.
This was a week ago, when the Taliban took the nation’s capital after taking all other cities and towns in Afghanistan. The president, Ashraf Ghani, had fled and men brandishing long firearms sat around what used to be the seat of government.
With the return of the Taliban, known for its brutal, repressive and misogynist ways, Afghans who had started contemplating a life different from what it was a generation ago find themselves plunged into darkness and uncertainty. The leaders who have seized power anew are strict enforcers of Sharia law and hold a worldview that consigns women to the home — nowhere else.
The retaking of Kabul comes at a time when United States troops are pulling out after 20 years of deep involvement with Afghanistan. United States President Joe Biden insists this is the right thing to do, because they have trained the Afghans to govern and protect themselves for two decades. Some denounce the hands-off policy and see it as a dereliction of a moral duty. Meanwhile, others say Afghanistan is a sovereign country and the Afghans must be left to sort their own affairs.
Where, indeed, does the international community draw the line between respecting a manner of governance even though we may not agree with it, and resisting a regime that has condoned—no, actively promoted—terror and denial of rights, even as they promised to be different from the Taliban of the past?
This week, the leaders of the world’s seven most powerful nations hold a virtual emergency meeting to discuss Afghanistan. Will they work with the current leaders, and how so, if yes? Will the basics of government—infrastructure, the most basic of social services including education—be given priority?
Everything hangs in the balance. Ultimately, this is not about the Taliban leaders or the leaders of the free world. This is also not about how Afghans are not strangers to conflict or danger. During this precarious time, all decisions should be made in favor of millions of Afghans who deserve to live in an orderly, humane and just society as much as the rest of us do.