As the countdown for the withdrawal of NATO forces from Afghanistan has begun, scores of Afghans in Delhi maintain that the forces should stay put in their war-torn country “to stop the resurgence of the Taliban”.
Ara Aziz, 24, a young teacher from Afghanistan’s Mazar-i-Sharif is in Delhi for her ailing mother’s medical treatment. She believes NATO forces need to stay back in her country for a while longer. “I guess no sensible person in Afghanistan would want the Taliban to swing back into action after NATO’s departure,” says Aziz. “And yes, there are growing fears that women rights might be trampled once again after NATO’s exit.”
Having lunch at Kabul Restaurant in Delhi’s Lajpat Nagar with her husband and two children, Behrukh Hamid, a 45-year-old homemaker from Afghanistan’s Jalalabad, recalls with rapt clarity how her youthful days became confined to the four walls of her home under the Taliban regime. “It was a miserable, frustrating period of my life, and for other women in Afghanistan,” she says. “But once the NATO troops arrived, things started changing. But now, when they are departing from our country, it feels women would be immediately hit.”
The Taliban is an Islamic fundamentalist political movement in Afghanistan. The majority of the Taliban comprises Afghan Pashtun tribesmen who are influenced by Deobandi fundamentalism (of all of the ethnic groups in Afghanistan, the Pashtuns are the largest, followed by the Tajiks, the Hazaras, the Uzbeks and others). The movement spread throughout Afghanistan and formed the government, ruling as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan from September 1996 until December 2001, with Kandahar as the capital. While in power, it enforced its strict interpretation of Sharia law.
Under Taliban rule in the later part of the 20th century, violence against women in Afghanistan reportedly peaked. In fact, the Taliban were condemned internationally for their violent treatment of women. Things began gradually improving only in the last ten years after President Hamid Karzai’s administration took over the country.
After the attacks of September 11, 2001 in the United States, the Taliban was overthrown by the American-led invasion of Afghanistan. Later, it regrouped as an insurgent movement to fight the American-backed Karzai administration and the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
The Taliban have been accused of using terrorism as a specific tactic to further their ideological and political goals. According to the United Nations, the Taliban and their allies were responsible for 75% of civilian casualties in Afghanistan in 2010, 80% in 2011, and 80% again in 2012.
Early in 2014, President Barack Obama told the Pentagon that the US will not leave behind any troops in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of forces by the end of 2014. As the deadline approaches fast, scores of Afghans believe their country will once again face deprivation, discrimination and destruction.
Mohammad Fahran, 29, who is pursuing post-graduation in political science in Delhi, fears that withdrawal of NATO forces would kick the geo-politics of his country back to square one. “I think the departure of NATO forces will undo all the peace-keeping work in Afghanistan,” says Fahran, who hails from Afghanistan’s Herat area. “And also, the territory would be again thrown open for a Taliban comeback. They have already re-emerged in southern Afghanistan.”
This fear is shared by some American policymakers, who are afraid the NATO exit from Afghanistan could not only ease the way for a Taliban resurgence, but also a regrouping of the al-Qaeda, whose presence in Afghanistan the 12-year NATO-led war was intended to eliminate.
Many Afghans are disappointed with the civilian government headed by President Hamid Karzai, who had long supported the scheduled withdrawal of NATO combat troops, saying Afghan forces were capable of taking responsibility for the fight against Taliban insurgents.
“But the Taliban have already made it quite clear that peace was made a casualty by the Afghan government itself,” says Farzad Jamal, 35, a regular visitor to Kabul Restaurant. “I have my fingers crossed over the future course of action in my country under Karzai’s government.”
Karzai, who is stepping down after 12 years in power, is now likely to pave way for Abdullah Abdullah, who is his long time opponent. Abdullah has emerged the clear front-runner in the recently held presidential election in Afghanistan.
Many Afghans have pinned their hopes on Abdullah – an ardent supporter of the United States, to stop the resurgence of the Taliban in their country by making some space available for NATO. “I hope he does that,” says Jamal.