From a pending humanitarian crisis to attacks on Afghan journalists, a myriad of ongoing developments in Afghanistan cannot be ignored.
As it approaches a month since the Taliban took control of Kabul on August 15, media coverage of Afghanistan has begun to wane from headlines after a dramatic few weeks following the Taliban’s victory, highlighting the chaos that engulfed the withdrawal of US troops from the country on August 31.
Apart from the rare occasions of investigative reporting from veteran journalists like Anand Gopal, or the New York Times’ report on a US drone strike, media coverage has tended to reproduce “disaster porn”, most evident in the evocative scenes of Afghans desperate to flee the conflict-stricken country in a stampede-like frenzy on the tarmac in Kabul airport.
Meanwhile, pundits often presented their sweeping analysis through the prism of geopolitics or wallowed over the optics of American withdrawal than centring on the tragic circumstances Afghans have endured and how their lives have been impacted.
Here are five reasons why Afghanistan still matters, each of which are issues that are not going away anytime soon:
Already one of the poorest countries in the world plagued by insecurity, corruption, mismanagement, diminished revenues, and the pandemic – the Afghan economy will now be facing several challenges in the aftermath of the Taliban’s triumph.
The UN Development Programme (UNDP) last week warned that about 97 percent of Afghanistan’s population may slip below the poverty line unless the country’s economic and political crises are firmly addressed.
As a new Afghan government takes shape, the Taliban’s actions could greatly exacerbate or remedy the current economic crisis.
The international community’s response also risks worsening an already abysmal situation.
The US Federal Reserve has frozen all of Afghanistan’s $7 billion in foreign exchange reserves, in an attempt to block abuse of funds by the Taliban. Both the IMF and World Bank have chosen to freeze access to resources that the Afghan government could have deployed to manage its development financing and balance of payments issues.
Meanwhile, China announced last week that it intends to send $31 million worth of grain, medicines and three million Covid-19 vaccines that could be a life raft for the government.
If the country’s cascading financial situation is not addressed quickly, catastrophe looms around the corner – with the UN warning that 18 million people are already facing a humanitarian disaster.
Last week, international aid agencies warned of an “impending humanitarian crisis”, with medical charity Doctors Without Borders saying the country’s battered healthcare system was on the verge of “potential collapse”.
Even before the Taliban’s takeover last month, Afghanistan was heavily aid dependent, with over a third of its GDP drawn from foreign funding.
While a refugee exodus has not yet begun, the country requires humanitarian aid to prevent major upheaval, the UN said on Friday.
With half a million people displaced in recent months, the UN said it’s a number which would grow if health services and the economy further disintegrate.
“In reality we have not seen at this point large movements of Afghan people towards the borders of the country,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said. “What we continue to see is a very dramatic phenomenon of internal displacement.”
According to a worst-case scenario laid out by the UNHCR, up to a half a million Afghans could leave the country by the end of the year.
On Sunday, higher education minister Abdul Baqi Haqqani laid out new policies at a news conference stating women in Afghanistan can continue to study in universities, but classrooms will be gender-segregated and include a compulsory dress code.
Haqqani emphasised the group does not want to turn the clock back 20 years. “We will start building on what exists today," he said.
The Taliban have been under scrutiny by the international community to see to what extent they act differently from their first time in power during the late 1990s, when they banned girls and women from education and excluded them from public life.
While the Taliban have suggested they have changed since that era, since their return to power women have been banned from sports and violence meted out against female protesters demanding equal rights.
Meanwhile, an all-male Pashtun-dominated government was formed despite initial statements that they would invite broader representation.
While the Taliban have promised to uphold press freedoms, countless journalists have reported being harassed, assaulted or prevented from covering protests to their rule.
In recent weeks, reports emerged that the Taliban have physically abused journalists, raided their homes, and forced female state TV anchors off the air. As they seek safety, Afghan journalists have gone into hiding and deleted their social media presences to avoid being targeted.
Last week, two Afghan journalists from Kabul-based media outlet Etilaatroz covering a protest were severely beaten by the Taliban, with evidence of their torture spreading on social media.
Since the Taliban took control, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has registered and vetted the cases of nearly 400 journalists in need of evacuation and is reviewing thousands of additional requests.
Despite the Taliban having seized control of Panjshir, the Resistance Front has vowed to declare a parallel government in the country, as sporadic clashes still take place in the restive valley that has been the last province holding out against the group.
Since then, there have been reports that the Taliban has carried out extrajudicial executions of civilians and food control.
Afghanistan’s former vice president Amrullah Saleh last week urged the UN to intervene in a large-scale humanitarian crisis that was brewing across the province, with three districts in Baghlan experiencing an economic blockade and telecommunications blackout by the Taliban.