The Death of Liberty

By: Shohini Ghosh

The most cherished gift that a country presents to its citizens is freedom – in life and death. Struggling for lost freedom is not a new chapter in history. In fact, some of the greatest leaders urged countrymen to wrestle for what is theirs and to wage battles in order to defend the spirit of freedom!

But there are only so many battles one can go on. In Taliban ruled Afghanistan, the minority communities are combating for dignity at two ends – the Taliban and the stigma attached for belonging to a minority community – but how long they sustain is a matter of chance.

Afghanistan has tasted the rule of Taliban before – in the 1990s when Taliban, which ironically means “students” in the Pashto language, took over the country. To establish their primacy, the group took authoritarian actions to cut back corruption, lawlessness, build roads, and aided commerce. Not unexpectedly, a large chunk of the Afghan population was amazed. On the flip side, however, many found their interpretation of Sharia insulting, dictatorial and grossly misguided. While public executions traumatized people outside, the lack of television and music inside the homes served as stark reminders of oppression. Many human rights were dishonored, for instance women were not allowed to work or study.

Once the Taliban captured Kabul (2021) – the capital city – in the absence of President Ashraf Ghani, the rule of Taliban solidified. However, there are some concessions that the group made this time, for instance, television is not banned and the internet remains uncensored. Yet, the minority communities seem to endure just the same.

Narrow Domestic Walls 

In situations such as these, women are the first and worst affected ones. Something as basic as education has been barricaded. The middle and high school have remained closed for girls while in universities students are made to attend classes on gender – segregated alternate days. Women aren’t allowed in government workplaces and in some parts of Kabul a male family member is expected to accompany them when they go out. Women are also expected to don the traditional hijab at all times.

Taliban just provided lip service when it mentioned the dignity of women because denying education, policing their clothes, banning job opportunities is anything but the promise of freedom.  Women in Afghanistan hardly have any means left for self-expression as their rights of liberty and dignity come dashing onto the floor.

Broken into Fragments 

Ethnic minorities are second in line that are affected the most in Afghanistan. Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara, Uzbek, Turkmen, Baluch, Pashai, Nuristani, Aymaq, Arab, Qirghiz, Qizilbash, Gujur, Manyur and Brahui form the major composition of the country. According to US data on Afghanistan from 2010, the Pashtun is the largest ethnic group in the country, making up 42 percent of Afghans. The Tajiks are the second largest at 27 percent while Hazaraz (9 per cent), Uzbeks (9 percent), Aimaq (4 percent), Turkmen (3 percent) and Baluch (2 percent) are the ethnic minorities.

Tajiks in Afghanistan

The ethnic minorities fear for their lives as Pashtuns and Sunni Muslims increasingly fill the posts in the military. It has been made very clear to other religious communities that Pashtuns are in majority and it is their rule that triumphs. The Hazara community has suffered the most in the hands of Taliban in the past and they apprehend the same might happen again as one of the Hazara leaders has already been vandalized.

Tajiks and Hazara Afghans have been threatened with dire consequences and as a result, many of them are planning to seek asylum in other countries. But the path for Afghan refugees and migrants is crammed with political tension and violence, as the UN Rights Chief Michelle Bachelet pointed out.

Lost Stream of Reason

One knows the country has hit rock bottom when its citizens are cowering in basements hiding their identity. This is what the situation looks like for members of the LGBTQ+ community in Afghanistan. While the Taliban is yet to release an official statement regarding the community, many worry the statement will break even the last pieces of their identity.

Earlier, under the Taliban law, homosexuality was punishable by death. On papers, Taliban is making concessions, but how far it will deviate from its initial austere laws is a matter of utter uncertainty. Not surprisingly many feel that public discussions will be banned and hiding their identity will become an everyday chore.

Certainly the Taliban holds a forbidding future for the minority communities. To rise above it, battles must be fought not just by the country but by international platforms and able countries that extend help instead of deserting Afghanistan. Normalizing relations with western nations, inclusive dialogue and aid from human right advocates internationally are some of the ways to address the problems at hand, for what is happening in Afghanistan is not merely a matter of politics and power but of human life and dignity.

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