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What’s happening in Afghanistan?

Sharing resources that break down the key issues, including the future of Afghan women in the region


Introductory Note from the Desk: 

There’s a lot going on in the Middle East at the moment, especially as the world watches the aftermath of the Taliban’s rise to power in Afghanistan. Sheville compiled some of the most informative news sources to explain the actors, the issue, and the uncertainty of the future. 

While we did our best to provide a variety of sources, it would be remiss not to mention the lens with which we are approaching this story. The Middle East encompasses an extremely diverse region that does not share a set of norms such as religion and language. Middle Eastern history is rooted in colonial and imperial expansion and control, which still has profound effects in the region today, and Afghanistan is no exception. This information and note should not detract from the human rights violations and other unacceptable actions of the Taliban, but we felt it was important to provide a moment and a space to reflect on the language used to speak about the region and our own entrenchment in an oppressive history. 


Who are the Taliban? 

The Taliban formed in the 1990s when Soviet troops left Russia. According to the BBC, “The promise made by the Taliban – in Pashtun areas straddling Pakistan and Afghanistan – was to restore peace and security and enforce their own austere version of Sharia, or Islamic law, once in power.” The Taliban rose to power quickly and gained public support for their anti-corruption and economic initiatives.  


What happened?

BBC breaks this down for us. After 20 years of being at war, the Taliban captured Kabul on August 15, 2021. The war in the region has killed thousands of people over the last two decades. US intervention began following 9/11, when the Taliban refused to hand over al-Qaeda’s now-deceased leader, Osama Bin Laden, after the terrorist organization was deemed responsible for the attack. In 2004, this intervention, coupled with NATO’s involvement led to the adoption of a new Afghan government. The Taliban persisted, despite Obama’s 2009 troop surge, and NATO pulled out of the region in 2014. In 2020, the US made an agreement with the Taliban that resulted in the removal of American troops, and the Taliban focused their attacks on Afghan civilians and military personnel instead of foreign forces. 

In August, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled Afghanistan. In response, US President Biden sent more troops to the area to facilitate an evacuation of US personnel before September 11, 2021. By mid-August, there were a total of 6000 US troops in the region. While there were efforts to evacuate everyone, the President has been criticized for the sizable sum of people – especially translators that have aided the US – that were left behind. The New York Times interviewed Jennifer Quigley, senior director for government affairs at Human Rights First. She says, “The Biden administration has taken too long to create a process that ensures safety for Afghans who served with American military and civil society actors…As Afghanistan’s military and political leaders abandon their posts, the United States risks abandoning allies who stood with us, who translated for and protected our troops…Unless there is a swift and meaningful effort to evacuate the thousands of allies and their families to the United States or a U.S. territory, we will have broken our promise to leave no one behind.”

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Afghan Women:

Several weeks after the Taliban have regained power, Afghan women in secondary school are being barred from returning to class. This comes amidst speculation over the uncertainty of women’s future because of the Taliban’s practice of an incredibly strict form of Islam law. According to Al Jazeera, other countries such as Qatar that also have Islamic systems of governance have been able to successfully incorporate women’s education and job initiatives. Foreign Minister of Qatar, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani notes, “our system is an Islamic system [but] we have women outnumbering men in workforces, in government and in higher education.”

Additionally, female Afghan government employees in Kabul have been told not to come to work until a decision has been reached by the Taliban on their job status. One exception includes if their jobs are unable to be replaced by men. These decisions have serious repercussions for the independence of women in society and their ability to support their families and communities. To CBS, one woman says, “I may as well be dead.” Her sentiment echoes the worries of many Afghan women out of a job for the foreseeable future who are confused as to how they can support their families and have a meaningful career going forwards. 


What next? 

On September 12, 2021, NPR’s Lulu Garcia-Navarro spoke with the Kathy Gannon of the Associated Press on what the future might look like with the Taliban in charge. Gannon emphasizes the government differs significantly now from the last time they held power. There is still resistance, but a lot of the initial protests have died down, and the current moment doesn’t provide much certainty for the future. 

Gannon cites the current economic turmoil: “You know, I think for most people, there’s a great deal of uncertainty but also a sense of desperation. The banks have just opened, but they’re not able to distribute money freely. They have – a lot of it has been frozen, so the funds are not easily available. People are only allowed to take out $200 every week. Foodstuff is becoming increasingly expensive. The Taliban have asked people to return to work, but they don’t have money to pay them”

Additionally, the BBC notes that the role of women, as described above, and the potential for a rise in terrorism are other issues being watched as the state develops under Taliban rule. 


Why is it important? 

There are many implications of the events of last August, and they will continue to unfold in the months and years to come. NPR answers this important question: Why does it matter? In doing so, they break down four reasons we should care about this takeover and its global significance. The first reason they highlight is the likelihood of human rights abuses. In the areas that the Taliban already have control over, there have been assassinations and limitations on women’s rights and education. Furthermore, Afghanistan could again become a place where extremists can reside safely. This summer’s seizure of power by the Taliban could also result in the destabilization of Pakistan, which has been thought to have been trying to maintain a positive rapport with both the Taliban and the United States. Finally, this could be an opportunity for the Chinese to provide alliance and aid, who have reportedly already been considering infrastructure projects in the region. 


Resources and Further Reading: 

We’ve broken down the issues, but what can you do? Consider checking out these relief and mutual aid resources: 

Human Rights First

Afghan Aid 

International Rescue Committee 

Mutual Aid Document, compiled by poet Aria Aber 

Lucid.Studio breaks down more reliable sources to learn more

Al Jazeera has an entire section on their website dedicated to news from Afghanistan


Written By

Victoria Andrews is a student and Environmental Policy major at Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont. Originally from Westford, Massachusetts she discovered her passion for environmental causes through her engagement in local composting initiatives. At Middlebury, she participates in activism as a member of the Sunrise Movement. Her hope is to share stories and experiences of the environmental movement and draw attention to the importance of activism when faced with both climate change and other social justice issues.


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