Afghanistan, a year after the US retreat ... and after the return of the Taliban

In August 2021, the Americans fled and Kabul fell into the hands of the militiamen of Haibatullah Akhundzada. Since then, despite the promises, everything has changed. Worse. And women paid the highest price

  afghanistan-women-today-33 The dramatic photos of Afghan women and children Photo Video

Only one makeshift tombstone remains from the short life of Fatima M., planted in the ground of the Shiite cemetery in Kabul. The day before her death, which occurred on June 1, the 21-year-old girl was stopped on the street by a Taliban patrol. Worried about her, her uncle went to look for her at the police station, where they told him that it was not clear why Fatima was walking around alone. The law is clear: women must stay at home. A decree issued a month earlier, together with the obligation to wear the burqa. Fatima did not tell her parents anything about what happened during the detention. She was summoned again for a second interrogation scheduled for the next day, she did not sleep at night. Her mother heard her pray. Early in the morning, she found her hanged in the kitchen, hanging from her veil - Photo 1 | photo 2 | video

Heart broken, Fatima's mother cries clinging to her daughter's tombstone. She touches the ground, trying to convince herself that she is now resting there. Her 'joyful and courageous' eldest daughter, who would have liked to work to help her sick father and who preferred death to a life of seclusion. Arrested a few days later with an excuse, Fatima's father was released in exchange for a written promise not to mention what happened to her daughter.

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FATIMA AND MANY MORE: DISAPPEARED OR KILLED - Since the Taliban returned to power in August a year ago, Afghan women have been victims of silent carnage. Alia Azizi, former director of the Herat Women's Prison, disappeared in October after being summoned to the police station. Fariha, a teacher, was beheaded on June 17 in the province of Kondoz. Frozan, 11, was found dead on a street in Kabul. Nafisa, a midwife, was killed in the province of Balkh. Banu Negar, a policewoman, was killed in Ghor. Each time, the authorities point the finger at mysterious criminal gangs or the families of the victims. In their previous domination, swept away in 2001 by the arrival of US troops, public executions and punishments were part of the strategy of terror. Today, however, the Taliban silence witnesses of their violence, hide, disguise. A matter of interest: bad publicity removes the possibility of international recognition by the Islamic government, which is necessary for the release of the Afghan financial reserves (7 billion dollars in the hands of American institutions) and humanitarian aid.

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AID IN CHANGE OF HUMAN RIGHTS - Western countries, leading the US, were clear: the precondition for recognition is respect for human rights. But we must also deal with a collapsing country: 23 million people (including 14 million minors) are starving, poverty only worsens the living conditions of the weakest, women and children every day. Sanction the Taliban or help the population? For the West it is a deadly puzzle. Which the Taliban are taking advantage of, convinced that the very serious food emergency will sooner or later silence matters of principle. Meanwhile, the leaders of Kandahar, the center of Taliban power, think women can continue to be segregated, abused, killed.
In a cafe in Kabul, we meet a frightened man. Originally from Badakchan province, he has a voice that he trembles as he recounts a day in March that he has stuck in his memory. Early in the morning, the police gathered the villagers around a hole dug in the snow. A couple had been found guilty of adultery, the religious judge thundered. The man was immediately executed. Then the police dragged Karima, a mother of four children, the burqa covered by a balaclava into the square, and threw her into the grave. The judge threw the first stone, imitated by the police chief. Urged by the Taliban, spectators joined the stoning for long minutes. Until Karima's screams, screaming her innocence and screaming that she was pregnant, went quiet forever.
Jalaluddin Shinwari, Attorney General at the time of the first Taliban emirate, is convinced that this is all right. 'It is certainly not the disapproval of the international community that we must fear, but God's anger,' he says. Having the sharia law observed, cutting off the hands of thieves and stoning adulterers, he says, is 'essential to preserve order, otherwise people will do justice for themselves'.

THE ONLY CENTER FOR WOMEN - When they regained power, the Taliban closed the shelters that sheltered abused women. Only one survived, in Kabul, a fragile corner of protection preserved at the cost of tough daily negotiations. The house is surrounded by barbed wire and protected by guards. Nervous, the manager tells us that women are terrified of the idea that family members can join them to take revenge for the 'dishonor' of having left the marital home. Last month, two girls were forcibly returned to their families by moral police officers. One of the guests of the center, in order not to be sent home, told the police that she was a widow. She fled when she realized that her husband 'loved too much' their seven-year-old daughter, she says demure. The psychologist of the center explains that the victims arrive devastated by violence and deprivation, some do not speak for weeks. The serious economic difficulties, explains the specialist, direct anger even more on women. If that wasn't enough, the regime has given orders to punish husbands who fail to observe the rules. There are civil servants who have been threatened with dismissal for a 'too free' daughter or wife. Others were put in jail.

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THERE Ò WHAT IS ONLY HONOR - 'For the authorities, what matters is the honor of families, women count for nothing'. And they are guilty, on principle. One might think that the Taliban government has other things to think about: the banking system has collapsed, the Isis of Khorassan - an enemy of the Taliban, linked to AlQaeda - has resumed its bloody attacks. Instead, the first interest is to demolish every crumb of female freedom. Bringing women back to the Middle Ages, to subjection, taking away any identity from them. The decrees arrive one after the other, and seem like nails driven into a coffin: the prohibition on studying, working, traveling, taking a taxi without being accompanied, visiting public gardens even on the assigned days and also, recently, to pray at the mosque. Even the wife of former president Hamid Karzai, a gynecologist, has stopped practicing in the hospital ('It was she who decided, she preferred to dedicate herself to children,' he assures us). Not all Taliban officials are such a hard line. Over the span of two decades, away from power, many of the 'Koranic students' went to live in Doha, Qatar, bought television, experienced the modern world firsthand. Behaviors judged haram , prohibited, by senior leaders. It is these internal dissensions - in addition to the simulated intention to please the West - that give birth to the many contradictory announcements, such as the closure of secondary schools for girls last March, only a few hours after their long-awaited reopening. For the Taliban hawks it is unthinkable to have fought for so many years only to see the growth of new generations of girls capable of claiming their rights. The debate within power, of course, never touches an inconceivable equality between men and women, but the margin of freedom granted to the latter: reduced to a minimum or completely non-existent? Haibatullah Akhundzada, the Taliban supreme leader, is for absolute rigor. He wants an Orwellian country, where everything is forbidden.

NEI TAXI DI KANDAHAR - In the bustling streets of Kandahar, in taxis the women travel curled up in the trunk, at 40 ° C, buried in their burqas. The seats are reserved for men. Here, in the twenty years between the two Taliban kingdoms, nothing has changed. 'Except for rediscovered security, unity and dignity,' the head of the office of the Ministry of Information, the body responsible for supervising the work of foreign journalists, corrects us with a smile. Safety. In the women's section of the local prison, 21-year-old Samira says she was arrested with her boyfriend just because they were trying to travel to Kabul to get married. Her sentence is over, she should be out, 'but if I go out my family will kill me,' she says, wiping her tears with her burqa. The prison officer snorts, says we have to leave. Behind us, no one closes the door. What good would it do? For these women and many others, Afghanistan is a vast open-air prison.
Manon Querouil-Bruneel
(edited by Fiamma Tinelli)