The announcement that the United States will withdraw its troops from Afghanistan on September 11 has confirmed the worst omens for many Afghans. The population, especially women and young people, fear a civil war and the return of the Taliban who ruled from 1996 until the US intervention against Al Qaeda at the end of 2001. Even those who admit that this guerrilla group and those who support them are also part of the future. of the country, they are suspicious of their intentions and that they fulfill the commitments they reached with Washington to cut their relations with terrorist groups and respect the rights of women and minorities.
Lotfullah Najafizada, director of the news channel ToloNews, sums up EL PAÍS: “The risk that the country will sink into a civil war is high because there are no prospects for peace. It is very important that all parties seize the opportunity and reach a peace agreement before the departure of US troops. If not, there is a good chance of a collapse and a repeat of what happened in the 1990s ”.
On video, Anthony Blinken, the US Secretary of State, announced on Wednesday that it is time for US troops to withdraw from Afghanistan.
What happened in the 1990s was that, in the midst of a brutal civil war, a militia more disciplined than the rest and with the help of neighboring Pakistan, seized power in Kabul and imposed an ideology radical Islamist. His puritanical and patriarchal vision of society affected the urban population above all. The Taliban confined women to their homes, with no right to work or education, but neither did men have many freedoms: schools hardly taught them the Quran, jobs were scarce, and at any time they could be forcibly recruited.
The US intervention in 2001 to punish Al Qaeda, the group responsible for the 9/11 attacks to which the Taliban had given refuge in Afghanistan, opened the country to the world. Suddenly, the women were able to go out into the street (although not all dared to remove their burqa), men shave their beards (until then compulsory) and children fly kites again, something that, like music, film or television, the fundamentalists had banned. Today, 62% of the 38 million Afghans are under the age of 25 and have no direct memory of those dark years.
Advances in human rights, especially in the situation of women and freedom of expression, is, together with traffic jams, the most visible sign of that change. There are many activists who, like Fatima Gailani, fear a setback in the face of the US withdrawal. "It has to be done with extreme care," asked Gailani, one of the four women on the government team that negotiates with the Taliban, during a telematic debate with US congressmen last week, in which she recalled that the Afghans "have achieved improvements. unprecedented ”and insisted that they not be ignored.
At the same forum, Shaharzad Akbar, president of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, warned that "a hasty departure (of US forces) could lead the country to all-out war." "Any arrangement that excludes the population is doomed to failure and will hardly lead to lasting peace," he stressed.
Thomas Ruttig, founder and co-director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network think tank, considers the fear that the Taliban will go back to their old ways as legitimate given their “intolerance of political dissent and oppression, especially of girls and women, in the areas they control ”. However, in a recent analysis, he also writes that the insurgents seem to understand that, "given the current balance of power in Afghanistan (with a government that still has the support of the international community), a political settlement requires compromises."
However, the understanding resists. US President Joe Biden inherited the agreement that the Administration of his predecessor, Donald Trump, signed with the Taliban in Qatar at the end of February 2020 to withdraw from Afghanistan before next May 1. In return, the insurgents gave their word to break with al Qaeda and negotiate a political solution with the Kabul government. A year later, the guerrillas have achieved the release of 5,000 of their imprisoned militiamen, but they drag their feet before any commitment to stop the violence or participate in a shared transitional government.
In fact, the Taliban have been intransigent in the face of the four-month delay in the withdrawal date announced by Biden. “The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan awaits the departure of all foreign forces from our homeland on the date set in the Doha Agreement. (…) If the agreement is breached (…), the problems will worsen and it will be the responsibility of those who breach it, ”insurgent spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid warned on his Twitter account on Wednesday.
There is a general consensus that, without US protection, the Afghan security forces will succumb to the Taliban push. Andrew Watkins, International Crisis Group Senior Analyst for Afghanistan, echoes that concern. "The war is not over just because the US leaves. Many doubt the Afghan government's ability to confront the Taliban on the battlefield and fear their return to power, or at least the possibility of a state collapse. and a broader civil war, "he said in an exchange of messages. Consequently, "the potential for the displaced population to seek refuge outside Afghanistan will increase, which should concern the entire region, and Europe," he warns.