ALMOST overnight, the focus of the world swapped from Covid to combat, with Afghanistan was once more back on our radar. The Taliban claims the country’s Civil War is now ‘over’ as images of their soldiers patrolling the streets of Kabul, in their traditional dress, brandishing often American-made weapons, filled our screens.
The visuals of men with dark beards, headscarves and long Cossack-type robes sent shivers up the spines of many who see the traditional garb as being a symbol of the ultra-conservative and largely misogynistic political or military organisations which seem to be experiencing something of a resurgence in recent years.
The speed at which the Taliban advanced through Afghanistan in the last few weeks was terrifying, leading any sane person to question why we so easily believed the Western governments who assured us their arrival in Kabul was some weeks off, just days before the city fell before our very eyes.
As The Washington Post commented, the Taliban had cut through the Afghan forces ‘like butter’.
Few believe the Taliban when they say their government will be more inclusive than before, will allow women to return to work, and will offer an amnesty to anyone who collaborated with the former US-backed administration.
There are already reports of women being taken into slavery and former security and government staff going into hiding – and the images of shops immediately taking down advertisements or posters showing women were shocking and heartbreaking in equal measure.
There was a macabre irony in seeing the horrific footage of men falling from planes in the sky over Kabul airport, recalling similar images of men and women jumping from the Twin Towers in 2001 in the terror attack which sparked the West’s most recent involvement in Afghanistan.
US president Joe Biden’s long-awaited response to the crisis on Monday night was hugely disappointing for anyone trying to understand why the superpower had made such a mess of its long-mooted withdrawal.
The airwaves were full of Afghanis trapped in Kabul and their relations in the West asking why their people had been so savagely abandoned by America after 20 years of attempting to solve one of the world’s longest-running political disaster zones.
Biden’s refusal to take any blame, throwing a good deal of condemnation on the well-equipped Afghan army, left a bitter taste in the mouths of many who had felt protected by the West – until now.
And the majority of those feeling most exposed are women and children, many seeing the clock of progress being rewound by several centuries in less than 24 hours.
They do not believe the promises of these vicious warlords that they will be allowed to continue with their education, their careers, their fleetingly ‘modern’ lives. And they have nowhere left to turn.
Who will forget the moment when CNN reporter Clarissa Ward, bravely remaining in Kabul when even their president had abandoned his own countryfolk, questioned Taliban soldiers on the streets of the fallen city – only to be told to “stand to the side, you are a woman”?
Or the fury of Mahbooba Seraj of the Afghan Women’s Network at RTÉ’s Philip Boucher Hayes regarding the use of the phrase ‘sooner than expected’ by the Americans in relation to the Taliban’s takeover. Why were they ever there, if they ‘expected’ the Taliban would one day return, she asked, almost in tears.
In the midst of all this chaos there were a few short moments of pride for the Irish nation when our UN envoy Geraldine Byrne Nason used her time at the UN Security Council meeting to address the women of Afghanistan. The women whose plight, just a few hours later, President Biden would appear to ignore. ‘Women of Afghanistan,’ she said, ‘we hear you, and we hear your pleas to the international community … the fear, indignation and sense of betrayal you feel is understood, it is righteous.’
It is such a pity that it is left to relative minnows in international politics, like Ireland, to speak up for the women of Afghanistan.
Let us hope that any voices supporting these women and children, no matter now small or seemingly insignificant, can rise above the self-important and self-serving din of the larger countries, and highlight the plight of those who feel forgotten and, literally now, left behind.