Gender Persecution in Afghanistan: Could it come under the ICC’s Afghanistan investigation?

Since their return to power in August 2021, the Taleban have enacted successive laws and orders which apply to women and girls, but not to men and boys. Earlier this month, United Nations experts reported their assessment that these measures violated women and girls’ rights to education, work, freedom of movement, health, bodily autonomy and decision-making, peaceful assembly and association, and access to justice and amounted to ‘gender persecution’. One of the experts has also asked the International Criminal Court to consider whether the crime against humanity of gender persecution was taking place in Afghanistan. In this Q&A, Ehsan Qaane* unpacks the term as it exists in international law, and in that light, analyses whether the court might consider Taleban restrictions on women as amounting to gender prosecution and whether an investigation could lie within its mandate.


Since the Taleban regained power in Afghanistan in August 2021, they have imposed multiple orders and regulations on Afghan women and girls that do not apply to men and boys. [1]Two United Nations independent experts, Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Afghanistan Richard Bennet and Chair of the Working Group on Discrimination against Women and Girls Dorothy Estrada-Tanck, have concluded that these restrictions, which they say are “violating girls’ and women’s rights to education, work, freedom of movement, health, bodily autonomy and decision-making, freedom of peaceful assembly and association, and access to justice,” amount to “gender persecution.” In a statement, published on 5 May 2023 at the end of an eight-day joint visit to Afghanistan, they also shared their concerns that these measures have:

…decimated the system of protection and support for those fleeing domestic violence, leaving women and girls with absolutely no recourse. They have imposed extreme modesty rules and detained women and girls for alleged “moral crimes”. These measures have reportedly contributed to a surge in the rates of child and forced marriage, as well as the proliferation of gender-based violence perpetrated with impunity. We are also particularly concerned by the fact that women who peacefully protest against these oppressive measures encounter threats, harassment, arbitrary detentions and torture…. We are alarmed about widespread mental health issues and accounts of escalating suicides among women and girls.

Earlier, Bennett asked the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), whose office has been looking into war crimes and crimes against humanity in Afghanistan since 2006, to consider whether the “crime of gender persecution” was taking place there (see Bennett’s report to the UN Human Rights Council, published on 6 February 2023, and AAN’s analysis of it.)

This report first unpacks the legal basis for the experts’ use of the term ‘gender persecution’, [2] before delving into whether and on what grounds the ICC could prosecute the Taleban for allegedly perpetrating it.

1. What is gender persecution?

‘Gender persecution’, as a crime against humanity, was first criminalised by the Rome Statute, the treaty that established the International Criminal Court (ICC) and which was adopted in 1998 and came into force in 2002. The term refers to “any crime within the jurisdiction” of the ICC perpetrated on the basis of the gender of the affected individual or individuals. The crimes falling under ICC jurisdiction are genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression (see articles 5 to 8 of the Rome Statute). Furthermore, article 7 outlaws the “persecution against any identifiable group or collectivity on political, racial, national, ethnic, cultural, religious, gender as defined in paragraph 3, [3] or other grounds that are universally recognized as impermissible under international law” (article 7(1)(h)) [4] and ‘persecution’ as the “intentional and severe deprivation of fundamental rights contrary to international law by reason of the identity of the group or collectivity” (article 7(2)(g)).

An act, considered a crime within ICC jurisdiction and which violated the fundamental rights of women and girls as a collectivity, could therefore amount to gender persecution if it reached ICC thresholds: the act or acts would need to be “systematic or widespread,” “intentional” and involve the “severe deprivation of fundamental rights contrary to international law.”

Some of the criminal acts under ICC jurisdiction and considered crimes against humanity when “committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack” are listed in paragraph (1) of article 7 of the Rome Statute:

[M]urder; extermination, enslavement; deportation or forcible transfer of population; imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty in violation of fundamental rules of international law; torture; rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilisation, or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity; enforced disappearance of persons; the crime of apartheid; other inhumane acts of similar character intentionally causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or to mental or physical health.

There is one ongoing case in front of the ICC, which includes some of the acts listed above. The Malian, Al-Hassan Ag Abdoul Aziz, is standing trial for various war crimes and the crimes against humanity of torture, rape, sexual slavery and other inhumane acts, including, inter alia, forced marriages and persecution. It is alleged he perpetrated these acts as a member of the armed group, Ansar Eddine, and the “de facto chief of Islamic police” at a time when the city of Timbuktu fell under the control of his group and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, in 2012 and 2013 (see ICC notes on the case here). The trial has been described as ‘ground-breaking’, for example by The Guardian when it was launched in 2018, because it was the first to go to ICC trial with charges that included “the crime of persecution on the grounds of gender.” The judges of the ICC are currently deliberating their verdict.

Any case against the Taleban would be somewhat different, centring on their alleged deprivation of fundamental rights of women and girls. This term is not defined in the Rome Statute, but examples of these rights have now been listed in a new policy on the crime of gender persecution published by the ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor in December 2022 (paragraph 24):

[T]he right: to life; to be free from torture or other inhumane or degrading treatment or punishments; to be free from slavery or the slave trade, servitude and retroactive application of penal law; to freedom of assembly, opinion, expression, movement and religion, including the right to be free from religion; rights to equality, dignity, bodily integrity, family, privacy, security, education, employment, property, political or cultural participation, to access to justice or health care. Human rights violations can constitute a severe deprivation of fundamental rights on their own or when considered cumulatively.

The phrase ‘fundamental rights’ and the Office of the Prosecutor’s explanation of what this term means has expanded the scope of gender persecution beyond the acts mentioned in articles 6, 7 and 8 of the Rome Statute to violations of social, political, economic and civil rights. These are preserved in international human rights documents like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and other human rights conventions. However, to be addressed by the ICC, the violations must pass the court’s high thresholds of being “systematic or widespread,” “intentional” and involving the “severe deprivation of fundamental rights contrary to international law by reason” of gender.

The Office of the Prosecutor’s policy says that gender persecution could be “enforced by means of violence or destruction, or occur via the imposition of regulations,” and significantly, that it cannot be “ignored, dismissed or justified on the basis of culture.” [5] Under international law, crimes against humanity are jus cogens, ie the principles which form the norms of international law that cannot be set aside or made ‘legal’ through domestic legislation. Another example would be torture, which is also illegal in all circumstances. [6]

Whether this new policy was brought in because of the Islamic Emirate’s restrictions on women and girls and the need to address them is not known. [7] However, it does represent a major development in the understanding of the law.

2. Is there a legal formula for analysing whether the Taleban’s policy on Afghan women and girls amounts to gender persecution?

To argue whether the Taleban’s discriminatory bans against Afghan women and girls amount to the crime against humanity of persecution on the basis of gender or not, Taleban policy must be assessed in accordance with article 7 of the Rome Statute and other relevant documents like the Office of the Prosecutor’s “Policy on the Crime of Gender Persecution” and the ICC’s “Elements of Crimes”. The formula these documents provide is that the crimes must be:

  • intentional (referred to as the ‘mental element’);
  • involve the severe deprivation of fundamental rights contrary to international law on the basis of gender (the ‘actual element’) and are;
  • carried out in a systematic or widespread manner (the ‘contextual element’).

This paper uses this formula to analyse whether the Taleban have intentionally, systematically and in a widespread manner deprived Afghan women and girls of their fundamental rights to employment and political participation because of their gender.

The choice to scrutinise these rights complements another recent report which examined the Taleban’s alleged deprivation of Afghan women and girls’ rights to education, freedom of movement and assembly. That analysis, by professor of law and special advisor on gender persecution to the Office of the Prosecutor, Lisa Davis, used a somewhat different method of legal argument and was published by the City University of New York (CUNY) School of Law in March 2023.

3. What does international law say about the right to work and to political participation?

Political participation as a fundamental right, including specifically for women, has been secured in several international human rights instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention on the Political Rights of Women, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and, more importantly, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) of which Afghanistan is a signatory. For example, article 7 of CEDAW declares:

States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the political and public life of the country and, in particular, shall ensure to women, on equal terms with men, the right: (a) To vote in all elections and public referenda and to be eligible for election to all publicly elected bodies; (b) To participate in the formulation of government policy and the implementation thereof and to hold public office and perform all public functions at all levels of government; (c) To participate in non-governmental organizations and associations concerned with the public and political life of the country.

Additionally, article 8 of CEDAW obliges states to ensure women have “the opportunity to represent their government at the international level and to participate in the work of international organisations,” like the UN. [8]

Article 11 of CEDAW defines the right to work as the ‘inalienable right of all human beings.” It obliges states to “eliminate discrimination against women in the field of employment” and to provide, among many other rights, equal opportunities and benefits for women and men. [9]

Violating rights mentioned in these paragraphs could amount to the crime against humanity of gender persecution if they fit the formula mentioned earlier.

Analysis of Taleban policy vis-à-vis Afghan women’s political participation and their access to work

a. The actual element: Have women been severely deprived of their fundamental rights to political participation and work, contrary to international law

The Taleban’s Islamic Emirate consists of one executive and one judicial body. It has no independent legislative branch (the Taleban formally dissolved Afghanistan parliament on 17 May 2022). The highest authority, policymaker and lawgiver in the land is the Emirate’s supreme leader, Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada, known by the title of Amir ul-Mu’minin (the leader of the believers). He sits in Kandahar and is advised by a 20-member ulema shura (council of Islamic scholars), but ultimately, all decisions are his. Under his supervision and at the top of the executive branch, an acting all-male cabinet is chaired by a prime minister and has a membership of around two dozen acting ministers (on the initial cabinet appointments, see this AAN report and this BBC report).

The highest judiciary body is a high council of six senior male judges, chaired by Sheikh Abdul Hakim Haqqani under the command of Hibatullah (on the Taleban’s judiciary structure, see this video on the Taleban Supreme Court’s website). All female judges were fired after the Taleban came to power.

No women have been appointed, nor allowed to remain in post, to any position involved in policymaking, administrative rule or judicial in any organ of the Taleban government or state institution.

Under the previous administration, the Islamic Republic, although representation was far from equal, women were appointed to policymaking positions as cabinet ministers, deputy ministers and ambassadors to other countries and international organisations like the United Nations. An Inter-Parliamentary Union report, published in January 2021 and quoted by CNN, noted that 6.5 per cent of ministerial positions were held by women in President Ashraf Ghani’s administration. Such positions were both political and administrative. Women had the right to vote and to nominate themselves for any elected position, including the presidency (there were female candidates for both president and deputy president). There were also no legal restrictions on their membership in the High Council of the Supreme Court, although no female judges were ever appointed.

The 2004 constitution, which the Taleban suspended during the first days of their return to power, guaranteed the vote for both men and women and a quarter of the seats of the lower house (wolesi jirga) of the parliament were reserved for women (see article 83) (on the suspension of the constitution, see this ToloNews report). According to CNN, women occupied 27 per cent of parliament seats. Female lawmakers were also members of the upper house (meshrano jirga) and provincial councils.

Since the Taleban takeover, women were also blocked from attending the only national-level jirga called. Such gatherings are forums for discussion and were attended by both men and women during the Republic. In June 2022, the Taleban organised an ulema jirga, attended by more than 3,500 ‘representatives’ from Afghanistan’s 400 plus districts. Most were ulema, although traders, businessmen and elders were also invited – but no women. At the end of the jirga, which discussed the most serious political affairs of the country, the participants pledged loyalty to the Taleban’s supreme leader, Hibatullah Akhundzada, and opposed armed resistance against the his government (see Etilaatroz reporting). When asked about the absence of women, Deputy Prime Minister Mawlawi Abdul Salam Hanafi said they were not necessary – they were “somehow involved” because “their sons will be part of the gathering” (see Radio Liberty’s report).

Under the Republic’s constitution, women and men were, in principle, equal (see article 22), albeit the personal status law, concerning marriage, guardianship of children and inheritance, was discriminatory. Discrimination against women in practice in government, civil service, the courts and other institutions was rife (the United States Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction’s 2020 ‘lessons learned’ report on US support for gender equality has lots of interesting detail and data on this). At the same time, there was a space for women to try to occupy. Struggle was a given, but they might also see success. Institutions were also established to support women’s political participation and promote gender equality, for example, the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission. There were also special courts, police and prosecutorial units, especially when it came to the Elimination of Violence against Women (EVAW) Law, adopted by presidential decree in 2009 by President Hamid Karzai (see HRW’s report on special courts and units, AAN’s reports on EVAW Law) and gender units in each ministry and independent directorates. The Taleban dissolved all these entities when they came to power (for detail, see the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Situation in Afghanistan’s first report to the UN Human Rights Council published in September 2022.)

Women used to work in all branches of the state (civil servants, military personnel, judges and prosecutors and also as defence lawyers), although forming a higher proportion in the middle and lower posts. With the exception of health workers and teachers of primary-aged girls, women who worked in the public sector have been asked to stay at home because they are women. Most are required to come in regularly to sign their hazeri (timesheet) and are still paid. However, in some sectors, all women were fired, for instance, judges and journalists working in state-own media outlets. (For more on this and salary payments in general since the Taleban returned to power, see AAN’s March 2023 report, What Do The Taleban Spend Afghanistan’s Money On? Government expenditure under the Islamic Emirate.)

Afghan women have also been banned from working in NGOs, UN agencies and embassies. Female defence lawyers are not allowed to practice law (see the International Law Assistance Consortium’s report on the justice sector). Women cannot be actresses.

The Taleban have not outlawed women working in the private sector, including private media outlets, but discriminatory conditions apply, for example, compulsory dress code (hijab), segregation of the workplace and the need for a mahram, a close male relative acting as a chaperone. A mahramis not required according to the Taleban’s own rules unless a woman travels more than 78 kilometres from her home, but women may be targeted by the Vice and Virtue police if outside and alone (see AAN reporting of a recent UN report on corporal punishment and the death penalty, available here).

Women who protested these discriminatory measures have been subjected to arbitrary threats, harassment, arrests and torture, according to this Human Rights Watch report and this report by the UN Special Rapporteur from September 2022. Male political opponents have also been subject to arbitrary arrest and torture (see this report by Amnesty International).

Mental element; perpetrating of the actual element by knowledge and intent

The ‘mental element’ means that the authorities issuing discriminatory orders and regulations know their content and intend to implement them. Furthermore, the authorities must know that these fundamental rights are persevered in international law and, therefore, that their decisions and/or actions violate international law and norms.

The Taleban’s intent, indeed their core belief that, women should be treated differently from men and, specifically, that it is against divine law for them to act as political or religious leaders, and that their place is in the home (by implication not in paid employment) can be drawn out from a book authored by their chief justice Abdul Hakim Haqqani. He is an influential figure who was a teacher to many Taleban’s senior members including their Supreme Leader, Hibatullah. He wrote a forward to the book, thereby endorsing its contents.

The book, written in Arabic with the title, “Al-Emarah al-Islamiah wa Nedhamuha” (the Islamic Emirate and its System), and published in April 2022, argues that under sharia: women should stay at home as their homes are their ‘cover’ (al-satr); they should stay with their children and parent them; women are weak and; their intellect and religion are deficient (naqes al-aql wa al-din). Thus, they cannot be imams (leaders) or judges. Haqqani further elaborated his argument as to why women cannot become leaders. First, they would have to go out in public and meet men other than close relatives, which he said was forbidden in sharia. Second, ruling is difficult, and women are weak: a weak person cannot rule over others. Third, women are not permitted to rule over men. Here, he cited a hadith (the words of the Prophet Muhammad) – “A people which has a woman as a leader will never prosper” [10] – and a text from the Quran, “Men are the guardians of women.” [11] A woman, he said, could neither be an imam al-kubra (big leader), managing both religious and worldly affairs, nor an imam al-suqra (small leader) leading congregational prayers.

It could be argued that when it comes to political participation, neither men nor women currently enjoy that right in today’s Afghanistan. Therefore, the question of gender persecution does not apply to this right. There are no elections, and senior appointments are skewed heavily on the basis, not only of gender, but also ethnicity (most senior figures are Pashtun) and background (most are clerics) (see AAN analysis of the cabinet from autumn 2021). Nevertheless, no man is barred from holding posts in the Emirate because he is a man. Women have no such opportunities, neither in principle nor practice, because of the Taleban’s belief that their place is in the home and they cannot have a leadership role.

Since before the Taleban’s return to power, the accusation that the Emirate violates women’s fundamental rights has been one of the primary sources of international criticism, including from Islamic countries, directed against it. That their intention to deal with women differently from men, knowing this is contrary to international law, can also be seen in the explicit distinction the Taleban draw between sharia and international law and norms. They argue that the latter are ‘human-made’ and where contrary to Islamic law, as they perceive it, are irrelevant and may even be harmful to human wellbeing. Their supreme leader Hibatullah, for example, has ordered his provincial governors to put aside human-made law and implement sharia (see this BBC Persian report from 28 June 2022). A similar argument was made in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ response to the May 2023 UNAMA report, “Corporal Punishment and the Death Penalty in Afghanistan” (published in an annex to the report):

[I]t should be stated that 99 per cent of the people of Afghanistan follow the holy religion of Islam and Islamic principle, therefore, the laws are determined in accordance with Islamic rules and guidelines, in the event of a conflict between international human rights law and Islamic law, the government is obliged to follow the Islamic law.

b. Contextual element: has the deprivation of the fundamental right to work and to political participation been systematic or widespread?

Intentionally perpetrating a criminal act is classed as a crime against humanity if the act is committed systematically or in a widespread manner. ‘Systematic’ here means the act must be pre-planned or be continued or repeated over an amount of time which leaves an organised nature of a pattern. In other words, it must not result from coincidence, randomness or human error.

‘Widespread’ here means the act and/or its consequence must be grave in scale. The measurement of gravity itself is complex: how many persons need to be affected, and how badly must these persons be affected to count a criminal act as ‘grave’? The interesting point about gender persecution is that article 7 of the Rome Statute acknowledges that there could be just one victim if they were severely deprived of their fundamental rights based on their gender. ‘Gravity’, here, is measured according to the quality or severity of the criminal act and/or its consequences rather than the number of victims.

The deprivation of Afghan women of their fundamental right to work and to political participation is systematic. It has been enforced by orders issued and executed, with rights increasingly restricted, creating a pattern of gender persecution since the Taleban’s return to power. A final point to make when considering the ‘mental element’, whether acts were perpetrated with knowledge and intent, is to look at how orders and regulations have successively and systemically chipped away at women’s rights to employment and political participation (see a detailed timeline in footnote [12]).

The Taleban’s policy of depriving women of political participation and work is widespread. Afghan women have lost any role in political-administrative public institutions (see this UN Women’s report from July 2022). The instruments and mechanisms supporting women’s political participation and employment had been dissolved. Afghan women are generally prohibited from working in government jobs and with NGOs and UN agencies outside the healthcare sector and girls primary education. Where women can work, they face additional discriminatory conditions imposed on them, like compulsory dress code, segregation from their male colleagues, restricted movements and censorship, as reports have detailed (for example, see this UN experts’ statement and this Crisis Group’s report).

How might the ICC act on the Taleban’s alleged gender discrimination?

It is a principle of criminal law that individuals, not institutions, have criminal liabilities. International criminal law is no exception. Perpetrators of crimes against humanity cannot enjoy impunity under international law, but should be brought to justice either in domestic or international courts. The ICC could be one of those courts with jurisdiction and an obligation to respond, if it considered the Taleban’s actions to amount to the crime of gender persecution.

This report has focused on two fundamental rights – the right to work and to political participation. However, Lisa Davis’s conclusion on whether the Taleban have deprived Afghan women and girls of their rights to education, freedom of movement and assembly is strong. According to her, “These and other acts likely amount to the crime against humanity on the basis of gender (gender persecution) under the Rome Statute.” She argues that gender persecution is “the only holistic charge that recognizes crimes committed on the basis of gender,” and that it is “a vital tool for holding perpetrators accountable.”

The Taleban orders restricting women and girls’ rights, including to work, education, and political participation, have been issued by specific individuals, including but not limited to the Supreme Leader, the Minister for the Propagation of Virtue and Prohibition of Vice, the Minister of Economy, Minister of Education and Minister of Higher Education. Although in the Emirate, the Supreme Leader has supreme power and bears ultimate responsibility for all law, policy and practice, when it comes to the execution of the bans, almost all senior members of the Taleban have been involved. Each of them, as an alleged perpetrator, could have criminal responsibility.

The ICC, as a permanent international criminal court, has a responsibility to end impunity for international crimes, including the crime against humanity of gender persecution if perpetrated on the territory of a member state or on the territory of any state which has accepted the court’s jurisdiction. Afghanistan has been a state member since May 2003 (see AAN’s dossier on the ICC-Afghanistan).

The Office of the Prosecutor of the ICC has been mandated to investigate any alleged crimes within the court’s jurisdiction perpetrated on Afghanistan soil since May 2003. The alleged gender persecution perpetrated by the Taleban could lie under the investigatory mandate of the Office of the Prosecutor. Gender persecution is within the ICC’s subject-matter jurisdiction as a crime against humanity. The alleged gender persecution by the Taleban has been perpetrated on Afghanistan’s territory, at least since August 2021.

The alleged ongoing gender persecution in Afghanistan could be a relatively easy and quick case for the Office of the Prosecutor to build. Evidence to prove the necessary elements (actual, mental and contextual) are publicly available. The alleged perpetrators are known and victims and eyewitnesses accessible. However, it would be one of just many crimes, some ongoing, dating back to May 2003, which the ICC has examined or is investigating. These include the use of torture by US military forces and the CIA, and by the forces of the Republic, and for the Taleban and the Islamic State in Khorasan Province (ISKP), among other allegations, intentionally directing attacks against the civilian population, humanitarian personnel and protected objects.

The ICC Prosecutor, Karim Khan, has already stirred up controversy over his desire to prioritise the investigation of the Taleban and ISKP and deprioritise US and Republic forces’ alleged crimes (see AAN’s October 2021 report, Creating a Hierarchy of Victims? ICC may drop investigations into US forces to focus on Taleban and ISKP for more on this). Given what Khan has said are the scarce resources at his disposal, choosing to focus on gender persecution, if it were at the expense of investigating other crimes, would need to be carefully backed up and argued.

* Ehsan Qaane worked for AAN from 2012 to 2022, including as Country Director, and is now a research fellow with the Raoul Wallenberg Institute for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law (RWI), based in Lund, Sweden.

Edited by Kate Clark and Roxanna Shapour


1 For example, the orders that ban women and/or girls from secondary schools, universities, gyms, parks and from working for NGOs and UN agencies.
2 The experts also spoke of “gender apartheid” and “femicide,” terms also used by advocacy groups and activists, including, most recently, the leading African humanitarian and women’s rights activist Graça Machel (media coverage here). ‘Apartheid’ has a legal definition, but relates to racial discrimination only: it is the implementation and maintenance of a system of legalised racial segregation in which one racial group is deprived of political and civil rights and is considered is a crime against humanity. ‘Gender apartheid’ has no legal definition. Nor does ‘femicide’, although the Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “the killing of a woman or girl, in particular by a man and on account of her gender.” There are no legal national or international institutions which could address any act which these terms might describe. 

Another term used by the experts was “systemic gender-based discrimination,” which they said was “unparalleled anywhere in the world.” ‘Gender discrimination’ is used in international human rights instruments like the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

This paper prefers to use the term ‘gender persecution’ for its legal analysis. It is the strongest existing term providing legal grounds for criminal accountability mechanisms to address severe systemic or widespread gender-based violence or discrimination. As it is in accordance with the ICC legal system, it is also a crime that the ICC has jurisdiction over and which it has an obligation to investigate.

3 The Rome Statute defines gender as “refer[ing] to the two sexes, male and female, within the context of society.”
4 Article 7(1)(h) of the ICC’s Elements of Crimes on the crime against humanity of persecution says: 

(1) The perpetrator severely deprived, contrary to international law, one or more person of fundamental rights. (2) The perpetrator targeted such persons by reason of the identity of a group or collectivity or targeted the group or collectivity as such. (3) Such targeting was based on political, racial, national, ethnic, cultural, religious, gender as defined in article 7, paragraph 3, of the Rome Statute, or other grounds that are universally recognised as impermissible under international law. (4) The conduct was committed in connection with any act referred to in article 7, paragraph 1, of the Rome Statute or any crime within the jurisdiction of the Court. (5) The conduct was committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directly against a civilian population. (6) The perpetrator knew that the conduct was part of or intended the conduct to be part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against civilian population.

5 See paragraphs 24 and 27 of the Policy on the Crime of Gender Persecution. Paragraph 27 says: “The Office recognises that human rights violations prohibited under international law are not culturally determinative. Breaches of fundamental rights cannot be ignored, dismissed or justified on the basis of culture.”
6 For more details on jus cogens see this document published on the UN’s website.
7 The author saw a draft copy of the policy in which measures taken by the Taleban and ISIS against women were named as examples of gender persecution as a crime against humanity. The author, in a side event with ICC prosecutor Karim Khan and his deputies, asked about these examples. Two days later, the final version of the policy was published on the court’s website giving only ISIS as an example.
8 Article 8 of CEDAW says; “State Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure to women, on equal terms with men and without any discrimination, the opportunity to represent their government at the international level and to participate in the work of international organisations.”
9 Article 11 of CEDAW states: 

1. States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the field of employment in order to ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women, the same rights, in particular: (a) The right to work as an inalienable right of all human beings; (b) The right to the same employment opportunities, including the application of the same criteria for selection in matters of employment; (c) The right to free choice of profession and employment, the right to promotion, job security and all benefits and conditions of service and the right to receive vocational training and retraining, including apprenticeships, advanced vocational training and recurrent training; (d) The right to equal remuneration, including benefits, and to equal treatment in respect of work of equal value, as well as equality of treatment in the evaluation of the quality of work; (e) The right to social security, particularly in cases of retirement, unemployment, sickness, invalidity and old age and other incapacity to work, as well as the right to paid leave; (f) The right to protection of health and to safety in working conditions, including the safeguarding of the function of reproduction. 2. In order to prevent discrimination against women on the grounds of marriage or maternity and to ensure their effective right to work, States Parties shall take appropriate measures: (a) To prohibit, subject to the imposition of sanctions, dismissal on the grounds of pregnancy or of maternity leave and discrimination in dismissals on the basis of marital status; (b) To introduce maternity leave with pay or with comparable social benefits without loss of former employment, seniority or social allowances; (c) To encourage the provision of the necessary supporting social services to enable parents to combine family obligations with work responsibilities and participation in public life, in particular through promoting the establishment and development of a network of child-care facilities; (d) To provide special protection to women during pregnancy in types of work proved to be harmful to them. 3. Protective legislation relating to matters covered in this article shall be reviewed periodically in the light of scientific and technological knowledge and shall be revised, repealed or extended as necessary.

10 لن یفلح قوم ولوا امرهم امرا (lan yufleha qawmun wa law amrahum amarahu)
11 الرجال قومون علی النساء (Al-rujala qawamuna ala al-nisa)
12 A detailed timeline of various orders and announcements is: 

  • On 17 August 2021, two days after capturing Kabul, Taleban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahed, in his first press conference, mentioned four times that women would have the right to work and study ‘within an Islamic framework’ and according to Taleban regulations. He gave the education, health and criminal justice prosecution sectors as examples of where women could work. He made no mention of politics or senior appointments. Nor did he explain what an Islamic framework or Taleban regulations might be, but when asked, he told reporters to wait for a future announcement about regulations and laws (for a full press conference transcript, see this Al-Jazeera report).
  • On 24 August 2021, Mujahed told working women to stay home, calling the order “a very temporary procedure.” Taleban security forces, he said, were “not trained (in) how to deal with women – how to speak to women. Until we have full security in place… we ask women to stay home” (see this BBC report).
  • On 27 August 2021, Mujahed announced that the Ministry of Public Health had told “all women employees in the centre and provinces that they should attend work regularly,” as this Reuters reported. Reuters also mentioned that “women have been discouraged from going to work and even turned away from their offices.”
  • This has remained the situation for most female government workers ever since. They have been blocked from returning to work, except for health workers, teachers in girls’ primary schools and a few other minor exceptions, such as women in the security services needed to deal with, guard or search other women.
  • On 23 August, the Taleban’s Education Commission announced to its “dear compatriots” that following the closure of schools because of coronavirus and the postponement of their reopening “due to the takeover of provincial capitals and Kabul,” all primary schools should reopen for lessons on 28 August. As to the start-back date for secondary schools, it said: “Instructions will be given later.” When the announcement came on 17 September 2021, the Ministry of Education asked schoolboys and male teachers only to return to school, but made no mention of girls or female teachers (see AAN reporting). After secondary schools for girls were briefly allowed to open in March 2022, they were shut again by order of Hibatullah. Female teachers who had taught boys in primary or secondary schools were also blocked from doing so. The only female teachers legally allowed to work are those in girls’ primary schools (grades 1 to 6).
  •  In September and early October 2021, Supreme Leader Hibatullah appointed an all-male acting cabinet (see AAN reporting).
  • On 21 November 2021, the Minister for the Promotion of Virtue and Prohibition of Vice issued guidelines for the media, which imposed compulsory ‘Islamic hijab’ on female journalists and media staff and banned the broadcasting of dramas and films with women appearing in them.
  • On 7 May 2022, the Virtue and Vice minister ordered women to wear ‘sharia hijab’, defined as loose clothing covering the body, head and face, except for the eyes, either a burqa (best) or black abaya and shawl (permitted) (see AAN’s report and BBC’s report). “Not venturing out without cause,” the order also said, was “the first and best type of adherence to Sharia hijab.”
  • On 21 May 2022, the Virtue and Vice minister banned female anchors and other women from any on-screen television presence unless they fully covered their faces, except for their eyes (see Human Rights Watch’s report).
  • On 29 June 2022, the Taleban organised a grand ulema jirga, a gathering of Muslim clerics from Afghanistan’s provinces and districts to discuss major political, economic and social concerns in Kabul. Politicians, traders and businessmen were also invited, but women were not invited.
  • On 24 December 2022, the Minister of Economy banned women from working for domestic and international NGOs (see BBC and AAN reporting). In an interview with BBC Pashto on 30 December, Mujahed said the Emirate wanted to preserve Afghan women’s “dignity and chastity” and that because NGOs were not under the control of the government, the risk to women was high (reported by BBC Persian). The ban has also hit some embassies (see AAN reporting).
  • On 4 April 2023, the Taleban banned Afghan women from working with UN agencies in Afghanistan.

Gender Persecution in Afghanistan: Could it come under the ICC’s Afghanistan investigation?
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The uncounted: how millions died unseen in America’s post-9/11 wars

Simon Tisdall

The Guardian

Sun 21 May 2023

A new report puts the loss of life from Afghanistan to Yemen at 4.5 million – the bulk of them poor women and children who are victims of economic collapse and continuing trauma

Abdoulaye is a lost child of the post-9/11 world – one among millions. Born into a village community displaced by Islamist violence, he and his family found refuge in an abandoned school near Ouagadougou, capital of Burkina Faso. Weakened by malnutrition and anaemia, Abdoulaye, 3, contracted malaria. Despite frantic efforts to save him, he died, unremarked and unknown to the world at large.

“Abdoulaye is doubly uncounted: as a displaced person and as a war death,” writes Stephanie Savell, a cultural anthropologist, recalling his brief life in a disturbing new report that reveals the vast, unacknowledged human costs of contemporary global warfare. “Though he is mourned by his family and his community, officially, he never existed. His story is emblematic of how this kind of death, and its omission in counts of the dead, happens in any number of conflicts.”

Savell’s report, How Death Outlives War: The Reverberating Impact of the Post-9/11 Wars on Human Health, published by the Costs of War project at Brown University’s Watson Institute, focuses on what she terms “indirect deaths” – caused not by outright violence but by consequent, ensuing economic collapse, loss of livelihoods, food insecurity, destruction of public health services, environmental contamination and continuing trauma, including mental health problems, domestic and sexual abuse and displacement.

Calculated this way, the total number of deaths that occurred as a result of post-9/11 warfare in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya and Somalia rises dramatically from an upper estimate of 937,000 to at least 4.5 million, of which up to 3.6 million were “indirect deaths”. Such deaths grow in scale over time. In Afghanistan, where the war ignited by the 2001 US-led invasion ended in 2021, the indirect death toll and related health problems are still rising.

Experts suggest “a reasonable, conservative average estimate for any contemporary conflict is a ratio of four indirect deaths for every one direct death”, Savell says. The poorer the population, the higher the resulting indirect mortality when conflict erupts. “Indirect deaths are devastating, not least because so many of them could be prevented, were it not for war,” she writes. Generally speaking, men are more likely to die in combat. Women and children are disproportionately affected indirectly.

Savell does not attempt to apportion blame between various actors, although the US, which launched the “global war on terror” in 2001, bears heavy responsibility. She concedes that establishing definitive figures for war deaths of any kind is problematic and politically contested. Using the best available sources and data, her aim, she says, is to expand awareness of the fuller human costs of these wars and support calls for governments to alleviate continuing harms.

“The mental health effects of war reverberate through generations, impacting parents and children, and then their children after that. Estimates [suggest] … anxiety and depression are two to four times greater among conflict-affected populations than the global average,” she writes. “Women tend to suffer [these effects] more acutely due to gender-based violence, which is heightened in wartime. In Iraq, rape and sexual violence increased sharply after 2003 [when the US and UK invaded] … Children are also particularly vulnerable. [Those] who experience high levels of collective violence are twice as likely to develop chronic diseases.”

Levels of child malnutrition are indicators of the scale of war-related damage. “More than 7.6 million children under five are suffering from acute malnutrition, or wasting, in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Somalia,” the report estimates. “‘Wasting’ means not getting enough food, literally wasting to skin and bones, putting these children at greater risk of death, including from … weakened immune systems.”

In Afghanistan specifically, where the economy has collapsed after the Taliban takeover, more than half the population now lives in extreme poverty. Tens of thousands of children under five are dying of preventable diseases such as cholera and measles, of acute malnutrition and neonatal complications. “As much as anyone killed by an airstrike or a gunshot wound, their deaths must be counted among the costs of war,” the report says.

This scrupulously compiled examination of war’s unconsidered, long-term lethal impacts has great power to shock. In Pakistan, for example, between 2004 and 2010, the US conducted “double-tap” drone strikes, mostly on Pashtun villages in Waziristan, along the Afghan border, in which a second strike targeted people rushing to help victims of an initial bombing.

“Reports document that residents of these regions suffered from PTSD, chronic anxiety and constant fear,” Savell writes. “A local resident explained: ‘God knows whether they’ll strike us again or not. But they’re always surveying us, they’re always over us, and you never know when they’re going to strike.’” Untreated, such trauma is debilitating and unceasing.

In many conflict zones, deliberate attacks on healthcare facilities are a favoured tactic. Both direct and indirect deaths result. At one point in Syria’s civil war, according to a 2019 study quoted in the report, “each attack on a healthcare facility corresponded to an estimated 260 reported civilian casualties in the same month”, because of the resulting non-availability of medical assistance.

Displacement is another big driver of indirect deaths, caused by physical insecurity, heightened mental stress, and abuse, exploitation and indifference suffered during attempted flights to safety. An estimated 38 million people have been displaced since 2001. Britain fought in many of these wars. As it debates tougher anti-migrant regulations, the UK must acknowledge its part in causing this crisis.

The report details many additional, lingering deathtraps, including environmental contamination, unexploded ordnance, landmines, and damage to water, sanitation and aid and food distribution systems. More research data is badly needed, Savell writes, but it’s already evident governments must do more to mend what they broke – and that “reparations … are imperative”.

Those who have died are beyond help. But for millions of adults and children still suffering the consequences of the post-9/11 conflicts, the need is urgent. They are condemned to war without end.

The uncounted: how millions died unseen in America’s post-9/11 wars
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Afghanistan’s Crisis Requires a Coherent, Coordinated International Response

Over the past year, especially in recent months, the Taliban have made several missteps. The consequences are not a threat to their power in the short run but will damage their ability to govern as well as, potentially, their longer-term cohesion. Unfortunately, these missteps will harm the Afghan people much more, both directly and through their adverse impact on humanitarian aid.

Already expected to decline in the coming years, aid to Afghanistan is likely to drop more sharply in response to the Taliban’s actions against women and girls. So far, except for blanket condemnations and an important diplomatic consensus on nonrecognition of the Taliban regime, the international response has been reactive and disjointed.

Social Restrictions

The Taliban’s bans on female education and Afghan women working in nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and the United Nations are causing immediate suffering for immense numbers of Afghans, and if maintained over time will be extremely damaging to Afghanistan’s longer-term economic and social development. Female labor force participation has major economic benefits for growth and development, and countries cannot rise from deep poverty and low per capita incomes to higher-income status without it. (Women have not yet been banned from working in the private sector, but the overall environment is not conducive for that, and Afghan companies have lost female employees.) Worldwide experience also demonstrates that girls’ secondary education is key for improving a country’s health outcomes.

The Taliban bans have also inflicted harm on their regime. The girls’ secondary education ban exposed fissures within the Taliban, leading to further doubling down and a strong diktat from the Taliban emir, Sheikh Haibatullah Akhundzada. While there is no sign that the bans will threaten the Taliban’s overall cohesion and power, they undermine the regime’s projection of a picture of complete unity to the outside world and to Afghan society. If in other respects the Taliban’s image erodes and gets tarnished over time, for example by worsening corruption, the combined effect could become more serious.

The bans will also harm the Taliban government by reducing humanitarian aid. The ban on Afghan women working in NGOs inevitably will hinder delivery of some aid, even if most programs appear able to continue for now, albeit at somewhat lower levels of activity. Moreover, donors’ enthusiasm and ability to keep up a high level of humanitarian support (around $3 billion last year) is eroding fast, spurred by the bans. The response to this year’s U.N. humanitarian appeal has been very poor so far, and early indications are that aid may fall by 30-50 percent in 2023. World Bank projections suggest that declining aid will tip the economy into negative growth, meaning a significant drop in per capita incomes and worsening poverty and deprivation, potentially leading to famine-like conditions for many people.

The Taliban profess not to care about humanitarian aid and will put the blame for a sharp drop in assistance on the international community, but such a decline will hurt their regime in several ways.

First, as rulers of the country, the Taliban cannot escape some responsibility for economic deterioration and worsening poverty, deprivation and hunger, which will create headaches for the regime.

Second, lower aid will mean a reduction in U.N. cash shipments to Afghanistan (averaging $40 million per week in 2022). These inflows helped stabilize the economy, shoring up the exchange rate and controlling inflation. Loss of this money will complicate the Taliban’s task of macroeconomic management.

Third, humanitarian aid inevitably brings some concrete benefits to the Taliban and associated interests. These range from at least partial ability to direct the distribution of food aid and other relief goods to favored beneficiaries (who, even if deserving, get to the front of the line), to getting paid for providing security for U.N. traveling missions, to patronage (employment opportunities) and potentially corruption. A drop in aid will correspondingly reduce these benefits.

Economic Missteps

The Taliban’s economic missteps have not garnered as much public attention but also are damaging. Most striking, they are actually implementing the opium ban announced last year, albeit unevenly across the country and over time. This follows their implementation of a ban on ephedra and processed products (ultimately crystal meth). These bans and opium poppy eradication go against the regime’s economic interests and may to some extent undermine its cohesion. The effective Taliban opium ban in 2000-2001 was limited to poppy cultivation, whereas the current ban also encompasses trade and processing.

Widespread dissatisfaction with and varying degrees of bypassing or resisting the opium ban are evident. Moreover, the crackdown inevitably will give rise to corruption. And the opium ban will further damage the already weak Afghan economy, reducing rural incomes by as much as hundreds of millions of dollars yearly. Phasing out the drug economy will be essential over the longer term — not least to contain widespread addiction — but this ban lacking any development strategy is not the way to start on that path.

During its first year, the Taliban regime exploited the budget systems and taxes of the previous Islamic Republic government, arguably performing better in key areas like raising revenue. However, budget practices may be weakening under pressure from the emir and his circle. Beyond continuing high spending on the security sector — around the same as a share of total expenditure as under the Islamic Republic — there has been very high spending in the emir and prime minister’s offices and of funds allocated for unforeseen contingencies. There are, reportedly, examples of the leadership bypassing budget procedures and directing the Ministry of Finance to give funds directly to designated persons, sometimes in cash. According to some reports, such interference led to complaints by then acting Finance Minister Mullah Hidayatullah Badri, who the emir later shifted to the lower-ranking position of governor of Da Afghanistan Bank (the central bank). Whereas during the first Taliban regime in the 1990s there was little money in government coffers and then Taliban leader Mullah Omar reputedly made cash payments himself, that is no way to operate the $2 billion per year national budget the Taliban now control.

Finally, the positive revenue trends and the modest degree of macroeconomic stability seen during the past year may not be sustainable. Much of the impressive revenue collection reflects bringing more international trade into the tax net, collecting other taxes that the previous Ghani administration was unable to collect and imposing some new levies. These factors only provide a onetime boost, not sustained revenue growth. Moreover, the Taliban’s aggressive revenue collection efforts risk dampening business incentives in an already very weak economy. So, with the Afghan economy at best continuing to grow slowly in the future, revenue growth also will be low. This will put added pressure on the Taliban government, particularly if there is increasing diversion of budget funds by the leadership.

Triumph of Ideology over Pragmatism or Political Power Dynamics?

Both the opium ban and the Taliban’s actions against women and girls do not make sense from a practical governance perspective, nor at least superficially do they appear to be in the regime’s best interest. Ideological extremism, combined with a perception that female education and women working in NGOs and the U.N. further foreign-driven agendas, may be trumping pragmatic concerns. Another explanation could be that these actions reflect the emir’s efforts to centralize power under himself. A third factor might be that the Taliban “base” of fighters and lower-level commanders was so indoctrinated during the insurgency that it is wedded to the cultural hard line the emir is adopting. However, the idea that the Taliban base is pressuring the leadership in all the areas where they have made mistakes, including the economic sphere (e.g., the opium ban), seems far-fetched. Irrespective of the motivations, these actions arise from internal Taliban dynamics, not their response to external pressures and incentives. This contrasts with the previous Taliban regime’s ban on opium poppy cultivation in 2000, which was intended to facilitate international recognition of the regime.

Self-harming overreach by victorious new regimes is a common pattern in Afghan history. This happened after the “accidental” April 1978 coup, which unexpectedly brought Marxist-Leninist ideologues and pro-Soviet army officers into power. Hasty and ill-thought-out land reforms and social policies stirred up resistance, while executions and widespread imprisonment of political opponents started cycles of violence and revenge that continue to this day. It also happened after the surprisingly rapid defeat of the Taliban in late 2001, which precipitated revenge killings, ostracization, counterterrorism actions against them and — taking the victory for granted — failure to conclude an early peace agreement with the defeated Taliban. In past episodes the blowback was swift (1978) or the seeds were sown for setbacks a few years later (2001). The situation now is somewhat different: There is no substantial, organized armed opposition to the current regime, let alone one supported by other countries. So the adverse fallout for the government may be delayed and is likely to depend on how internal Taliban dynamics play out.

International Response

The international response to the Taliban’s actions against women and girls has included unanimous, strong condemnation by the U.N. Security Council and a diplomatic consensus that now is not the time to move toward official recognition of the Taliban regime. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, while echoing the condemnations, has not engaged in a more robust response. There appear to be no plans to stop any major aid programs, let alone for any U.N. agency to withdraw from the country. This follows a similar response by NGOs after the Taliban ban on Afghan women working in NGOs; it appears that ongoing programs are continuing generally at 70-80 percent levels of activity. And the international response has not addressed the Taliban’s economic mistakes or, more generally, their management of the Afghan economy.

What are the least-bad strategic options to pursue in this bleak situation for a more effective response? Here are some suggestions, mostly focused on aid and the economy.

First, the international response can be grounded in the consensus on nonrecognition of the Taliban regime, pending significant changes in the Taliban’s social policies — unlikely in the short run. But practical, results-oriented engagement can and should be pursued in a range of economic and other areas.

Second, responses must be strategic, not just reactive to Taliban actions. The international community faces a “humanitarian dilemma” dealing with a regime that does not care about the material welfare of its own people. Nevertheless, sensible principles and approaches can be pursued, for example:

  • “Do no harm” or, more realistically, limit the damage to Afghans from international actions.
  • Be aware of the benefits accruing to the Taliban from aid and take concrete actions to limit them.
  • Develop a holistic aid strategy instead of stovepiping similar programs (e.g., humanitarian versus “basic needs”).
  • Focus on economic stability and the Afghan private sector, which will benefit Afghans.

Third, the inevitable declining trend in aid to Afghanistan needs to be managed and mitigated to minimize further damage and avoid another shock like that precipitated by the abrupt stoppage of aid following the Taliban’s August 2021 takeover. Some options include:

  • Cushioning the aid decline with modest support from the World Bank/Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund and Asian Development Bank, focused on small-scale infrastructure, financial transfers to households and income generation projects (which lie in the fuzzy area between humanitarian and basic needs development activities); and
  • Utilizing some of the $3.5 billion of Afghan central bank reserves in the Swiss fund to support economic adjustment (not for humanitarian aid), including, inter alia, providing Afghan banks liquidity, supporting exchange rate stability, facilitating trade finance and servicing Afghanistan’s sovereign debts.

Fourth, aid effectiveness must be improved to minimize the harm to Afghans from falling international assistance. Programs should be prioritized according to their cost-effectiveness. This requires changes from humanitarian business as usual. For example, cash transfers are generally better than in-kind aid.

Fifth, urgently explore and implement innovative aid delivery modalities — for example, digital transfers to recipients’ mobile phone accounts — which will over time reduce the risky dependence on high-cost U.N. cash shipments that benefit the Taliban. Make greater use of the Afghan private sector for aid delivery.

Finally, better coordinate aid and pursue proactive nonfinancial engagement on the Afghan economy. These aspects are best led by a multilateral agency not hindered by sometimes inconsistent political and humanitarian mandates. If so authorized and appropriately reoriented and retooled, the World Bank could productively play such roles.

Afghanistan’s Crisis Requires a Coherent, Coordinated International Response
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I am finally reunited with my family after 13 years. But the threat for Hazaras in Afghanistan remains

Sajjad Askary

The Guardian

Tue 16 May 2023 22.28 EDT

Joy flooded my heart as I finally welcomed my mother, sister and niece in Melbourne last week after 13 years of family separation as a refugee in Australia.

But I feel deep pain when I remember the day Islamist extremists killed my father, who was working as a labourer on a construction site. He was killed because of his ethnic identity as a Hazara.

Despite her immense grief, my mother became our family’s anchor. She raised us with unwavering strength amid the constant struggles and pain that came our way. Her love and determination fuelled my passion, leading me to become an aspiring lawyer and advocate for human rights, refugees and minorities.

Arif Nabizada near his home in Guildford, Sydney, NSW, Australia.
‘Taliban sharpening their knives’: Hazara community in Australia terrified for relatives in Afghanistan

After arriving in Australia by boat, I spent 13 years separated from my family, facing travel restrictions and a life of limbo with little hope. However, we are finally reunited after enduring unbearable pain and countless tears. Stepping on to Australian soil, my family found hope and the promise of a new home, despite leaving everything behind.

My two brothers came as refugees and have lived in Australia for over a decade. They pay taxes, have built transport and restaurant businesses and have created jobs through their entrepreneurship.

Australia has become a beacon of hope for Hazaras, where we can rebuild our lives and make a new home. In our short history in Australia, the rising generation of Australian Hazaras – thriving professionals, doctors, figures in academia, construction workers, social workers, lawyers and advocates for human rights, democracy and social justice such as myself – have found creative ways to contribute and give back to our communities. With the freedom to live without fear of being killed, Hazaras can help to “rejuvenate and transform” Australia’s economy and communities.

However, the situation remains devastating for the Hazaras in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Hazaras started migrating to Australia in the late 1990s, fleeing decades of what some have called relentless and genocidal violence. Since the return of the Taliban to power in August 2021, Hazaras have been subjected to systematic violence while attacks continue unabated. Hazaras have been suppressed in all aspects of their lives in Afghanistan and further pushed into marginalisation.

It has become increasingly difficult for the Hazaras to mobilise due to heightened security threats and continuous attacks. They have therefore used cyberspace and social media to raise awareness through demonstrations and advocacy for their safety, justice and human rights.

While my mother and sister are lucky to now live safely in Melbourne, women in Afghanistan are more at risk, facing multiple layers of vulnerability due to their gender, ethnic identity, religion and liberal values and for their support for democracy, inclusivity and human rights, making them particularly susceptible to discrimination and violence.

As an Australian Hazara, I am indebted to Australia for its generosity to my family. From personal experience, I am familiar with the systematic violence Hazaras are facing. This is why we, the Australian Hazaras, through the Parliamentary Friendship Group for Hazaras (PFH), are urging parliament to pass a motion to recognise the ongoing escalating systemic violence, discrimination, dispossession and what we deem genocidal threats against the Hazara people and other highly vulnerable groups.

We ask our government to work with the Australian Hazara community to ensure aid is delivered equitably and non-discriminately, pressure the Taliban to protect the Hazaras and provide continued asylum places for Hazaras and other persecuted and marginalised groups. Doing so will uphold our Australian values.

In the meantime, my mum, sister and niece have found a welcoming home in Australia, settling in smoothly and already embracing their new life. They have been warmly received by the Australian Hazara community, who are showing immense support and offering to help them with integration.

With access to education and healthcare, my family will gradually adapt to their new surroundings. Through their resilience and our support, their new life in Australia is filled with hope, opportunity and the promise of a brighter future.

 Sajjad Askary is an Australian Hazara and a juris doctor student at Monash University. He writes on refugees, human rights, Hazara people and Afghanistan

I am finally reunited with my family after 13 years. But the threat for Hazaras in Afghanistan remains
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The Other ‘Peace Process’ on Afghanistan: Geneva Talks 1982-1988


In the past three years, the US government’s role in the Doha Talks (2010-2020) has attracted scrutiny and criticism within the United States and abroad.

Zalmay Khalilzad (USA) and Taliban representative Abdul Ghani Baradar sign the agreement in Doha, Qatar in 2020. State Department photo by Ron Przysucha/ Public Domain

Starting in November 2010, the Doha Talks was a process of intermittent negotiations between the United States and the Afghan Taliban. The culmination of this process was the Doha Agreement, signed in February 2020. The agreement facilitated the withdrawal of US and NATO troops from Afghanistan.

The Geneva talks

However, about three decades earlier, the US government had also played a pivotal role in another peace process on Afghanistan — Geneva Talks. The outcome of the latter talks was the Geneva Accords which facilitated the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan in February 1989.

The Geneva Talks took place in the background of a military occupation of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union. In late December 1979, tens of thousands of Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan to prop up a client regime in Kabul. The regime — also known as the Afghan Communist regime — had been established a year earlier following a military coup in April 1978. Ever since its establishment the Communist regime faced an armed resistance from anti-Communist resistance fighters — Mujahideen. At the time, the United States along with neighboring Pakistan supported the Mujahideen.

The Soviet Union claimed that it had deployed its forces in Afghanistan at the request of the Afghan government to fend off the threat from the Mujahideen. The United States refuted the Soviet claim. According to American President Jimmy Carter, the Soviet Union had occupied Afghanistan as part of an expansionist policy to acquire warmwater ports on the Indian Ocean — which implied further expansion into neighboring Pakistan. Hence, the United States claimed that the rationale behind its support for the Afghan Mujahideen was to stop the claimed Soviet expansion into the Persian Gulf.

Indirect negotiations for six years

Brokered by the United Nations, the Geneva Talks was a series of twelve rounds of indirect negotiations that ran for six years starting from June 1982 to April 1988. The talks nominally took place between the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan, but the key actors behind the scenes were the Soviet Union and the United States. The outcome of this process was the Geneva Accords which was a set of four interrelated agreements signed on 14 April 1988 by the foreign ministers of Afghanistan and Pakistan and by the US Secretary of State and the Foreign Minister of the Soviet Union as the international guarantors.

At the heart of the Geneva talks was an effort by the United Nations to help the parties find a negotiated solution for the withdrawal of the Soviet troops from Afghanistan. The Soviet Union and the Afghan Communist regime reasoned that the Soviet troops would leave Afghanistan once the threat from the Mujahideen was removed. To remove the threat from the Mujahideen, they demanded the United States and Pakistan to halt their support for the Mujahideen first and then the Soviet forces would withdraw. However, the United States and Pakistan contended that the Mujahideen was not the cause but the consequence of the Soviet involvement in Afghanistan and therefore the Soviet troops must withdraw without any preconditions.

Seeking regime change

In addition to the issue of the Soviet troops, there was another issue at stake which was not overtly part of the negotiations in Geneva but important to both the Soviet Union and the United States. Besides a withdrawal of the Soviet troops, the United States and Pakistan sought a regime change in Kabul. The removal of the Communist regime in Kabul was one of the main objectives behind the US involvement in the Afghan conflict. For that reason the US government, under Jimmy Carter, had supplied covert financial assistance to the Mujahideen about six months prior to the Soviet invasion. However, for the Soviet Union the survival of the regime in Kabul was of paramount importance because according to the Soviet leader, Leonid Brezhnev, the primary reason for the presence of Soviet troops in Afghanistan was to prevent the fall of the regime.

Withdrawal and noninterference

Hence, the two main issues in the Geneva Talks were withdrawal of the Soviet troops and noninterference. Noninterference referred to a cessation of the US and Pakistan’s support for the Afghan Mujahideen. By implication it also meant that the United States and Pakistan would not pursue a regime change in Kabul.

Differences over who would rule Afghanistan after a withdrawal of the Soviet forces withheld progress in the Geneva Talks for several years. In June 1985, following the ascension of Mikhail Gorbachev as the leader of the Soviet Union, the US and Soviet governments launched bilateral negotiations over regional issues, including Afghanistan.

The new Soviet leader was determined to withdraw from Afghanistan — calling it a bleeding wound for the Soviet Union. However, the commencement of bilateral US-Soviet negotiations on Afghanistan meant that the Geneva Talks between Afghanistan and Pakistan was merely a proforma exercise. This meant that substantive negotiations took place between the governments of the United States and the Soviet Union, and their outcomes manifested in the Geneva format which was nominally taking place between the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In November 1985, Premier Gorbachev and President Reagan met in Geneva. Afghanistan was part of the agenda, and once again, a main point of contention between the two leaders was about the status of the Afghan government. Gorbachev proposed declaring Afghanistan a nonaligned state followed by a withdrawal of the Soviet troops. Reagan, however, demurred. He pointed out that the president of Afghanistan — Babrak Karmal — was a Soviet client and therefore implied that it was not feasible to establish Afghanistan’s nonalignment without a replacement of the Soviet-backed regime in Kabul.

The Soviet Union, however, aimed to preserve the regime in Kabul. In early 1987, the Afghan Communist regime launched a National Reconciliation Program. The program — funded by the Soviet Union — was designed, in addition to offering a share of power to Mujahideen leaders, to lure individual Mujahideen commanders to reconcile with the regime by offering them financial and economic incentives. In other words, the objective of the National Reconciliation Program was to integrate the Mujahideen within the existing political structure in Kabul. Nonetheless, the Mujahideen rejected the program, as they vowed to continue the fight until the destruction of the Communist regime. In Washington, President Reagan also dismissed the Soviet-funded reconciliation program as a “sham.”

Failed reconciliation and intensifying conflict

The failure of the National Reconciliation Program and an intensifying conflict in Afghanistan prompted the Soviet Union to shift its policy from seeking to preserve the Communist regime to preventing a government led by the Mujahideen. In early December 1987, Soviet officials informed their American counterparts that the Soviet Union had made a decision to withdraw from Afghanistan. They urged the Americans to consider mutual interests. A Mujahideen-led government, the Soviet officials said, would also complicate American interests in the region.

Around the same time, Gorbachev and Reagan held another meeting in Washington. On 9 and 10 December 1987, the two leaders discussed the issue of Afghanistan. Reflecting the change in the Soviet position, Gorbachev said that Afghanistan was not a socialist country but a “semi-feudal pluralistic” country. The Soviet Union, he added, was no more concerned about how the people of Afghanistan chose to live. He invited Reagan to “think together in a businesslike approach” to establish a neutral government in the context of a Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan.

The US position, however, was that a neutral government could not be established without the removal of the Soviet-backed regime in Kabul. Hence, Reagan proposed disbanding the military structures of the Afghan Communist regime in the context of a Soviet withdrawal. In other words, Reagan wanted to dismantle the ruling regime and then “start from scratch.”

Breaking the deadlock

Two months after the Washington Summit, Gorbachev announced on 9 February 1988 that the Soviet Union was ready to start the withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan on 15 May 1988 and to complete it within ten months. He added that the withdrawal from Afghanistan was no more conditional on an agreement about the future government of Afghanistan. That, he said, is “none of our business.”

The unilateral announcement by Gorbachev broke the insistent deadlock in the Geneva Talks which had been taking place between the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan but without substantial progress. However, two months after Gorbachev’s announcement, the Geneva Talks concluded in April 1988 with the signing of the Geneva Accords which, among other elements, set a nine-month timeframe for the withdrawal of the Soviet troops from Afghanistan.

Letting the conflict take its course

Following the withdrawal of the Soviet troops in February 1989, the two superpowers allowed the conflict between the Mujahideen and the Afghan Communist regime to take its course. The expression of this policy was best exemplified in a conversation between Gorbachev and the US Secretary of State, James Baker, in February 1990. Referring to the ongoing war in Afghanistan, Gorbachev said: “Let them boil in their own juices over there.” To which, Baker responded: “When you said, ‘Let them boil,’ I thought we have the same feeling.”


The Other ‘Peace Process’ on Afghanistan: Geneva Talks 1982-1988
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The New ISIS: How a Branch of the Terrorist Group Is Becoming a Top Threat

The Islamic State’s Khorasan Province, also known as ISIS-K, has rapidly become the new boogeyman in the Middle East — specifically in Afghanistan, where the overall ISIS apparatus has spread its influence.

The State Department has issued warnings about the group and has previously designated its leaders as top-priority terrorists. Over the last few years, top military generals have said that the group must be eradicated. And perhaps most recent in Americans’ minds is the group’s claim to the Abbey Gate suicide bombing, an explosion that killed 13 U.S. service members and at least 160 Afghans during the chaotic military withdrawal from Afghanistan almost two years ago.

Last month, the Taliban — the reigning draconian regime in Afghanistan that the U.S. fought over the last 20 years of conflict in the country — claimed that they had killed the ISIS-K leader behind the Abbey Gate plot.

The claim marks renewed attention in a new era of conflict for the region. Our guest, Andrew Mines, spent years as a researcher with the George Washington Program on Extremism warning of ISIS-K’s rise, as did other academics. And reporters like Dan Lamothe with The Washington Post have uncovered U.S. documents that indicate Afghanistan is once again a staging ground for global terrorism — this time, with ISIS-K.

Main Topics

  • Andrew F. Lawrence and Rebecca Kheel interview extremism researcher Andrew Mines and Washington Post military reporter Dan Lamothe.

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Rebecca Kheel, Dan Lamothe, Drew F. Lawrence, Andrew Mines

Drew F. Lawrence

The Islamic State’s Khorasan Province, also known as ISIS-K has been rapidly becoming the new boogeyman in the Middle East — specifically in Afghanistan where the overall ISIS apparatus has spread its influence. The State Department has issued warnings about the group and has previously designated their leaders as top priority terrorists. Over the last few years, top military generals have said that the group must be eradicated. And perhaps most recent in American’s minds is the group’s claim to the Abbey Gate suicide bombing, an explion that killed 13 U.S. service members and at least 160 Afghans during the chaotic military withdrawal from Afghanistan almost two years ago. Last month, the Taliban — the reigning draconian regime in Afghanistan which the U.S. fought over the last 20 years of conflict in the country — claimed that they killed the ISIS-K leader behind the Abbey Gate plot. The claim marks renewed attention in a new era of conflict for the region. Our guest, Andrew Mines, spent years as a researcher with the George Washington Program on Extremism warning of ISIS-K’s rise, as did other academics. And reporters like Dan Lamothe with the Washington Post have uncovered U.S. documents that indicate Afghanistan is once again a staging ground for global terrorism — this time, with ISIS-K. Join us for this special episode where we talk to Andrew, Dan and my co-host Rebecca Kheel about ISIS-K and the worldwide threat the group poses — a prescient conversation held just days before the Taliban claimed responsibility for killing the leader of the Abbe Gate plot.

Hey, thanks guys for being here and Andrew before we kind of get into Dan’s reporting here, I want to talk a little bit about ISIS and ISIS-K in general. I think I’d suggest that the US population probably knows a little bit about ISIS, but maybe not recently. So can you kind of put that group into perspective and tell us a little bit about what ISIS is now?

Andrew Mines

Sure. So ISIS-K really starts back in 2015. And even in the months prior in 2014. What happens after the announcement of the caliphate in 2014 in Iraq and Syria is, all these problems start to form around the globe. And at the start of 2015, the Islamic State announces the official formation of its province in Afghanistan and Pakistan IS Khorasan, also known as the Islamic State in Afghanistan in Pakistan. What happens over the course of a few years is the group forms based on membership from a number of local organizations. We’re talking Pakistani Taliban is the central node that really kicks things off alongside some al Qaeda defectors, Afghan Taliban, other regional militant groups like the Islamic movement of Uzbekistan and others and so over time they’re able to entrench themselves in the region, eventually administer territory somewhat similar to what we saw in Iraq and Syria, and engage in a campaign of violence that by 2018 leads them to be the fourth deadliest terrorist organization on the planet, according to some estimates. At the same time this is all happening, the US and its allied partners in Afghanistan engaged on a really intensive counterterrorism and at once, counterinsurgency operations that when they take out a number of top leadership. Leadership turnover in this organization has been quite tumultuous to say the least. Thousands of rank and file losses on top of that, and eventually the recapture of territory that IS-K or ISIS-K had started administering in the region and so by 2020 This is really an organization pretty much in decline, some calling it defeated. But what happens in 2020 is the formation of a new leadership council under a new leader was announced in about mid-2020. That kicks off this new kind of urban warfare campaign that takes the group through the period of the signing of the Doha deal in early 2020 takes us through 2020 and into 2021. And by this point IS-K has does most people bombings that folks might be familiar with. In 2020, there was a bombing of [a] maternity ward in Kabul. That’ll be familiar to some folks — it was pretty awful — but really leading up to the Kabul airport attack this is an organization that’s just starting to resurge and just starting to find its feet again in urban warfare operations. And that takes us into the Kabul bomb, which of course is very familiar to everybody, I’m sure.

Drew F. Lawrence

Right, Dan, I want to pivot to you too, because that I think, was probably one of the last large points that the US population had heard about ISIS-K was during the Abbey Gate bombing in the withdrawal. ISIS-K claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing. So Dan, I was wondering if you could kind of take us from that last point of recognition on ISIS-K and then bring us into your reporting and explaining what this group is doing in Afghanistan and how big their presence is?

Dan Lamothe

Sure. I mean, I think an important thing that that bombing highlighted, in addition to the immense human suffering that was caused by it in the moment is that the Taliban can’t control ISIS-K. They’re a separate entity. They don’t agree on a lot of things. They’re openly fighting with each other. You’re seeing Taliban raids on ISIS compounds. You know, they you know, while they both have overlapping views of the West and the United States and why they think, you know, kind of a western view is a problem. ISIS-K is even more extreme and has been targeting the Taliban and the Taliban has not been fully successful in stopping that. So you expand that, you know, extremist groups like this often with the ungoverned spaces. The Taliban is able to govern a portion of Afghanistan. They are obviously imposing their will on Afghan people every day. But you know, these documents would highlight that they are unsuccessful in fully stopping you know, ISIS in Afghanistan from planning, plotting, reaching out to the outside world, trying to inspire attacks in other places, and you know, as a result you know, we saw not only us reactions to my story, but actually the Taliban, putting out statements pushing.

Rebecca Kheel

You have a quote in your story from an official I want to read the quote, because it’s pretty crazy. The official says, quote, I would never want to say that we had mortgaged our counterterrorism to a group like the Taliban, but it’s a fact that operationally they put pressure on ISIS-K in a strange world, we have mutually beneficial objectives there. But what you’re suggesting is that the Taliban hasn’t actually really been successful at that. Right?

Dan Lamothe

I would say probably partially successful. You know, there is open source reporting of Taliban raids on ISIS compounds there is, you know, I think a sense that the Taliban is trying to keep pressure on ISIS. I think that probably has had a role in what ISIS is effectively able to do. The documents on one hand point out that there is a effort to expand influence, expand operations. There’s an increasing number of plots that the United States was tracking, as when these documents were put together in February. But the flipside is there was also a lot of ambitions that were highlighted that have not been able to kind of fully for, you know, ISIS seeking out a greater level of knowledge on drone warfare, on chemical warfare, things like that. They have not been able to expand. So I thinkconsequently, the most likely sorts of things that that they’re concerned about at this point are things like driving trucks through crowded, crowded areas, gun attacks, sort of the ISIS inspired stuff that could happen anywhere. And has happened in the past.

Drew F. Lawrence

And with Dan’s reporting, we’re talking about ISIS in Afghanistan, but as both of you in you know, Andrew, you’d mentioned in beginning and then Dan, your reporting you’d mentioned… his is ISIS has a global influence in terms of their their terror, and I’m wondering if you could kind of give us that scope right outside of Afghanistan, what ISIS is doing and Andrew, I’ll toss it over to you first, and then Dan, if you could kind of tell us a little bit about how your reporting fit into that scope.

Andrew Mines

Here’s the thing I think I think the most dangerous thing is that in that resurgence period I was describing really starts back in 2020. IS started is honestly in Afghanistan and Pakistan has already started pivoting to be more of this kind of regional hub. My and I’ve reported foreign fighters from over a dozen nationalities that have at some point get involved with IS-K killed in counterterrorism operations from France all the way over the Philippines on the other side, actually, an American tried to join them back in 2018. Some people might not be fully aware. But what happens during this resurgence period is that the group really starts to through its propaganda output, and also through its attacks in terms of who is attacking and who is highlighting this propaganda showing that it’s a regional force. So we see starting in 2020 2021 2022, Uzbek, Uighur, Indian Tajik and other fighters of different ethnicities and nationalities conducting attacks across the border into their countries, or at least trying to find embassies and other diplomatic presences in the country that still remain even after the withdrawal on the on the airport, of course, 2021. And in 2022 this is an organization that is a third deadliest terrorist organization on the planet. So I think that that point that Dan made about the Taliban trying having the objective of constraining IS-K there certainly they have been at odds since is key information. But this is this is really an environment in which IS-K can thrive. And I think that that last data point that comes out and Dan’s reporting about them really seeking this external operation model, that’s a model that benefited IS in the caliphate in Iraq and Syria. That’s something actively tried to do in setting up higher structures staffed by operatives that were their sole focus was external operations in countries like the United States, United Kingdom, Europe and elsewhere. So I think this is this is a really delicate period. And I’d be interested to see Dan your perspective on on the reporting and how that came out pf the leaks, but, you know, this is, from our perspective, there are a number of data points that should be really concerning.

Dan Lamothe

Yeah, I mean, I would say the documents highlight communication between ISIS operatives in places like Afghanistan, but then reaching out back to Britain, France, Turkey. And those are the things that are doing better to a degree trackable by the US government and others. But you never know what you’re missing until it’s too late. You know, and, you know, if they’re able to stop 98 attacks, the other two will still be a concern. So, you know, there you see in these documents, specific examples, some of which, you know, trying to be responsible, we were very vague with not wanting to you know, kind of cut off, you know, active US efforts to try and stay on top of this. So, we left things out deliberately trying to do that. So, you know, in the vague broad sense, you do see things like Tajikistan come up, you do see Turkey come up if you see the Britain come up, we alluded to an example where there was a discussion between you know, this ISIS facilitator and an individual in Britain, you know, and the discussion and the instructions that were passed. Those are the sorts of things that are, you know, they’re tracking it, they’re they’re you know, they have a number of narratives that they’re following and a number of plots that they’re following. But it would also raise the question, what do you not know about?

Rebecca Kheel

In my congressional hearings I’ve watched, it seems like military leaders often put the timeline for the threat of an external attack at six months. A year ago, they had you had a quote from general Kurilla a few months ago or a month ago, where he also used the six month timeline. Dan, in your reporting, what are military leaders saying about the threat of an external attack by ISIS-K?

Yeah, there seems to be broad acknowledgement and overlap speaking to senior defense officials in uniform and out that this is a concern and it is an increasing concern. I think there is probably differences of opinion on what what’s six months, what’s four months, what’s 12 months? You know, that can be kind of hard to peg. So, you know, I raised that comment from general Kurilla, which came up in open testimony in March before the House Armed Services Committee, and speaking with others you know, they they agree with him broadly, that there’s a rising concern, but you know, that they weren’t really willing to peg it or agree with the idea that six months is a thing.

Drew F. Lawrence

And Andrew before Dan’s report came out, you had done work about ISIS-K attacking humanitarian aid. And when we’re talking about Afghanistan, you know, after withdrawal that has been a huge, not just the attacks, but humanitarian aid to the country after the withdrawal has been an absolutely huge point coming out of the United States and for service members and for veterans. And ISIS-K has disrupted that. Can you talk about some of those disruptions and maybe how this fits into the broader Afghan diaspora and post withdrawal that’s happening and then that goes to you as well, since I know you’ve, you’ve covered a lot especially for servicemembers and veterans who are still kind of talking about and reckoning with that withdrawal.

Andrew Mines

So the campaign against humanitarians in Afghanistan, one of the number of campaigns that I escaped undertakes, we feature tax of course, but also propaganda and official invited senior senior ideologues. So what what’s happened the last couple of years now actually is that ISK senior officials and ideologues turn to humanitarians and said, accepting aid from any Western Affiliated Organization. Whatever, wherever that aid is coming from is not permissible and where possible, Afghans should actively target and push out humanitarian still servicing the country. So this is part of this broader campaign to destabilize the country. When you look at Islamic State doctrine. This is doctrine that IS-K ISIS K adopts but it’s really coming from Iraq and Syria where a lot of the movements core kind of strategists formulating an insurgency warfare strategy, but this is this is a campaign that’s meant to precede that period where you destabilize the current government discredit those who are attempting to serve as the population and create those gaps where is then seeks to fill down the road right that’s that’s that’s the whole model. It’s it’s an insurgency one on one. And so this is this is just one campaign that’s part of a broader effort to both discredit the Taliban broken window fallacy. You’re creating the problems that you then seek to solve at the end of the day, and then painting them as puppets of the West no better than the previous Rudy, right or previous government. And so this is this is all part of IS-K broader, broader insurgency warfare strategy. So I think that just coming back to the you know, what we mean when we talk about IS-K attacks on the west, you know, there’s a humanitarian still servicing the country. Is it on regional diplomatic residence? Is it on homeland on the homeland right to targets here in the US and using some kind of model whether it’s virtual planning, or sending operatives overseas? What have you. So we really need some clarity, I think about what it is that senior officials mean, when they see an Islamic state threat coming from Afghanistan, on Western interests that can be quite vague and it can be quite confusing to the public. I think, to some clarity there. It’s really important.

Dan Lamothe

I would add on on the other side, you know, the Taliban has accepted a large amount of money at this point from the western United States in particular, they are allowing NGOs to continue their work. And there is a great deal of suffering and starvation and drought and other things that the Taliban does not seem to have been able to get their arms around and take care of their own citizens at this point if they’re going to be the governing party. So you look at that and you end up with in these weird, awkward situations where a story like this highlights that ISIS still just in Afghanistan, still concerned that politically is a problem for a lot of people in Washington. But it’s also a problem for the Taliban. Because you know, they’re having to kind of sit on the fence to a degree. They’re accepting the money from the West, but trying to make it clear to Afghan people that they are not of the West. You know, and they are trying to kind of push back this ISIS threat, but at the same time, make the case in the United theater to the United States and others that they’ve got it there’s no problem here. Consequently, one of the things we saw from my story is kind of a weird situation we see unfold, and we had some uncomfortable conversations prior to the story being published, about you know, you know, what can be reported what should be reported? Obviously, these are leaks that makes it extra sensitive as well. But then on the flip side, after publication, you see the Taliban come out, pushing back against the reporting saying, “Hey, this is Western propaganda. You know, these are military documents that were released to the Washington Post.” I can assure you, these are not handed to us under any circumstances that the Pentagon was thrilled with. So you know, like, even in Taliban, the characterization of this is, you know, it kind of flips it on a ear again, in a weird way.

Rebecca Kheel

Now,you just alluded to this, but we should probably take a step back and talk about where this information came from, because that in of itself is a big story. What are the discord leaks?

Dan Lamothe

Yeah. So there’s there’s this ongoing case in which the allegation at least, is that a relatively junior member of 21 years old of the Massachusetts Air National Guard, was basically pulling in documents through you know, illicit means and sharing them within a discord chat app with his online friends, some of which were teenagers. You know, some of these documents lead to other chat rooms, and, you know, that’s kind of how it ended up in employment, public realm. But but it’s to, to this point, still unclear exactly how many documents are kind of out in the wild? How broadly they are out there, you know, and who has access to them? You know, some of these I think they’d be access has been limited now that this case is out in public, you know, you’ve seen servers that are deleted and things of that sort. We, as the Washington Post had sorted through several 100 pages. This this is an example of a story in a doc a set of documents that hadn’t really service widely, hadn’t been reported on elsewhere. But I’m not sure what the full universe of those documents is, at this point. I just know we’re combing through them. You know, we’re doing what we can to report on them to verify them, you know, and it puts the government in an awkward position of, you know, having to address some of this stuff. And generally, it seems like at this point, they’ve reached a place where they’re not going to verify or, you know, confirm that a given slide is accurate, but they are starting to talk more broadly about the issue. You know, if you’re going to be writing on, you know, of the rise of ISIS in Afghanistan, what the threat is of ISIS at this moment, you know, they wouldn’t confirm the documents exist, but they were willing to engage more broadly on the subject.

Drew F. Lawrence

And Dan is the Washington Post military reporter, you’re obviously in tune with service members and veterans. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask about how this fits into the broader conversation about Afghanistan. The reason why I want to ask that is because we are 20 months out of the withdrawal at this point. And now, you know, we’re learning that Afghanistan, despite, you know, efforts over the last 20 years, is still very much a hotbed for terrorism, the very thing that United States and servicemembers and veterans were they’re fighting to combat or where they’re combating. So I’m wondering if you could kind of give us a lay of the land or give us some scope about, you know, maybe how veterans or service members might be perceiving the news that you know, even after all this time, there’s still a lot of terrorism and, frankly, new terrorism going on in Afghanistan.

Dan Lamothe

Yeah, I’m wrestling with that myself just haveing spent so much time there. You know, I think as we look at this, you know, kind of looking at the possible counterfactuals if you know, what the other big fork in the road might have what might have led us to obviously the recommendation from General Miller, General McKenzie, Defense Secretary Esper and on up I mean, including that, you know, the current leadership at the Pentagon, they recommended leaving a 2500 or 1000, depending on you know, what the recommendation was on a given month, a reasonably small force there. That would have been very much focused on this issue that was not palatable to the Taliban. That does not appear to have been palatable to President Trump. It does not appear to have been palatable to President Biden. So you are left where you are now with zero US troops on the ground. Them trying to keep a track of this as in as many ways as they can, which I assume includes signals intercepts, you know, satellite monitoring, trying to make sure you’re not seeing training camps pop up from the air, all of those sorts of things. You know, and at the end of the day, I think that discussion will probably end up landing on you know, if you see one of these attacks, it’s seven people get killed in an ISIS inspired ISIS enabled you know, ISIS facilitated sort of attack you know, that like They run the gamut. Some of these are very much like, ISIS did this. Some of these are more like well, ISIS talk somebody into doing different, different different discussion there. But let’s say one of those happens next year, not on unforeseeable, something like that could pop up. You’re gonna end up seeing probably a pretty hot political conversation of whether we are doing enough as a nation at that point. And I think the discussion will end up being you know, does it make sense to put people back on the ground with all of the other things that come with it? deployments, larger budgets, at least focused on this issue? American casualties on the ground would not be unforeseeable? Or do you kind of just take it on the chin with these occasional tacks to to slip through, and you catch 95-98% of them? And occasionally one of them’s going to happen and, you know, that, that, you know, that sort of a worse bad option and I don’t know what the ultimate right answer is. on that. I just know we need to talk about it.

Andrew Mines

I think it’s really important to highlight that the Taliban have been battling ISIS-K since 2015. And they’ve had the benefit of a US led coalition that’s been hammering this group the entire time too. And even then, it took several years to really do great and push this group into some kind of position where people felt comfortable saying they were defeated. Obviously, that was premature. But to I think, to say that, again, I did this too earlier, but to say that the current Taliban regime is an effective counterterrorism force I think is quite a bit of a stretch it’s easy to take their propaganda and they’re quite good at pushing it out to Western audiences, and we’ve got this under control. Everything that you’re seeing is over employed. And what you’re seeing in the news is is Western directed us by propaganda efforts against us, but, you know, historically, they’ve been clashing since 2015. IS-K poses an existential threat to the Taliban as a movement if it’s able to move from a position where it’s a few 1000 or so fighters to a larger insurgency that’s capable of undermining the regime. period we’re seeing now to, you know, something that more resembles the caliphate from Iraq and Syria in 2014. That’s the goal. That’s the vision. And I think what we ended the book with is this quote, I’ll paraphrase it we say when, when IS it over when the Islamic State took over Iraq and Syria in 2014, they’re they’re kind of these two things that kept coming up in America, that we as public and American public’s repeat over and over again, that it was unprecedented. And then it happened rapidly. Right? That is the way that the as long as they swept across Iraq and Iraq and Syria was just just unimaginably fast. And that looks like it, right, that’s what it appears to be. But that is a several years long campaign that really starts since the US withdrawal in 2011 that the Islamic State core group is really seeking to push through and then slowly rebuild. And then build this insurgency and take on all these campaigns, the same ones that we’re seeing IS-K take on today, itt was taking on Iraq and Syria. And so I I would just echo Dan, you know, the question we should be asking is, worst case scenario. Are we comfortable with a caliphate in Afghanistan run by ISIS-K? Is an unacceptable outcome and what are the real things that we should be doing to counteract that? Because I’m not sure that over the horizon is an effective way to do that, to conduct that that campaign.

Dan Lamothe

I would add, I mean, the other the other side of the coin, here is al Qaeda. You know, and we haven’t talked about that yesterday, but that often comes up in the discussion and it is quick discussion when you talk to current US officials, because they point to drone strike that killed SWAT hearing the al Qaeda leader in Afghanistan, a stone’s throw from a former US military headquarter, just by the way, I mean, like right next to downtown Chicago as an example of how this current model can work in you know, there’s I think there’s there’s there’s a couple threads worth discussing. One is that, you know, these documents don’t have much about al Qaeda in there. The sense is from a number of experts that al Qaeda at least, has been diminished to a degree that they you know, are not a major concern at the moment. You know ISIS is, but these individuals often jump one group to another based on which one seems more effective, which one, you know, you know, they protrude from one another. And we’ve seen that with, you know, ISIS in Afghanistan as well. I mean, they have members that were former Taliban you know, they had members that were former tapping involved in Pakistani groups. So where this goes and how this evolves, I think is unpredictable. But you know, the discussion at least of what is the best model probably needs to evolve with it. In an I think everybody is weary of doing anything that includes another 20 year commitment on the ground in Afghanistan. But I think people need to keep their eyes open and you know this will continue to ebb and flow and evolve based on how good the Taliban is at going after ISIS. Based on how well the United States is able to kind of monitor this remotely, you know, through signals intelligence to satellite intelligence, whatever else, whatever other means they can without actually having troops on the ground. And, you know, ISIS will evolve with it, they’ll probably get smarter over time as well. So you know, it’s going to be a complex issue for a long time.

The New ISIS: How a Branch of the Terrorist Group Is Becoming a Top Threat
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What Do the Taleban Spend Afghanistan’s Money On? Government expenditure under the Islamic Emirate

 Kate Clark • Roxanna Shapour

Afghanistan Analysts Network

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When our readers told us about some errors in our report: ‘What Do The Taleban Spend Afghanistan’s Money On? Government expenditure under the Islamic Emirate,” we started checking and cross-checking our sources and the report. We found that several budget lines in the operational budget for the security sector in the 1400 (2021) Q4 mini-budget (Table 2 of Annex 2) had been mislabelled in the English translation we used. We quickly revised the report and uploaded the new, corrected version to our website, but thought it prudent to highlight these mistakes for any reader who had downloaded the original version of the report.

The errors which appeared in the original report related to the mislabelling of several budget lines in the operational budget for the security sector in the Islamic Emirate’s 1400 (2021) Q4 mini-budget, which in turn affected the text of the report. We have corrected these errors and revised the report and our analysis to reflect the correct figures – see What Do The Taleban Spend Afghanistan’s Money On? Government expenditure under the Islamic Emirate.”

We also provide a list of the amendments below to ensure our readers are fully aware of the changes.

We have revised Annex 2 to reflect these corrections, as below:

  1. Table 2 of Annex 2, Security:
  • Budget line 64 General Directorate of Intelligence was mislabelled as National Security Council
  • Budget line 15 General Directorate of Security for the Prime Minister General Directorate of Intelligence
  • Budget line 22 Ministry of Defence was mislabelled as General Directorate of Security for the Prime Minister
  • Budget line 17 Ministry of Defence was mislabelled as National Security Council
  • Table 2 of Annex 2, Economic Affairs and Agriculture:
  • Budget line 58 National Standards Agency was mislabelled as Housing and Community Amenities.

Once we made these corrections, we also found that this mislabelling had led to errors in our report, which we have corrected as below:

  1. In the section titled ‘The Q4 1400 Mini-Budget and Accountability Sessions’, Figure 2 on page 11 has been revised to reflect the correct state entities and their budgets:
  • The text on the same page has been revised to reflect these corrections:

Figure 2 above shows all the ministries, other state bodies or contingency budget lines which were allocated at least 750 million Afs (8.8 million USD) in the mini-budget. Almost half of the planned spending was to go to three entities: the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Education.

  • On Page 12, in the ‘Security spending: defence, intelligence, policing, vice and virtue’ section, we corrected the ranking of the various security ministries and agencies according to the size of their budgets:
  • Ministry of Interior (MoI): 8.9 billion Afs (105 million USD), 16.6 per cent of total budget
  • Ministry of Defence (MoD): 8.5 billion Afs (101 million USD), 15.9 per cent of total budget
  • General Directorate of Intelligence (GDI): 3.6 billion Afs (42.3 million USD), 6.7 per cent of total budget
  • National Security Council (NSC): 3.8 million Afs (4.5 million USD), 0.7 per cent of total budget
  • Ministry for Promoting Virtue and Preventing Vice: 245 million Afs (2.9 million USD), 0.5 per cent of total budget
  • General Directorate for the Security of the Prime Minister: 240 million Afs (2.8 million USD), 0.4 per cent of total budget
  • In the same section, we revised Figure 3 on page 13 to reflect these corrections:
  • The narrative on pages 13-14 has been amended as below:

Ruling over a country no longer embroiled in war and facing only relatively minor insurgencies and threats from the National Resistance Front and Islamic State in Khorasan Province (ISKP), the Emirate allocated a disproportionate amount of public money on security, with much going on internal security: the Ministry of Interior, in charge of policing, was to get the largest allocation of any ministry (16.6 per cent of the total budget), with the Ministry of Defence close behind (15.9 per cent), and a sizeable amount also allocated to the Taleban’s intelligence agency, the GDI (6.7 per cent).

The Ministry of Interior and Defence both reported very high staff numbers at their accountability sessions held on 28 August 2022 – 200,000 and 150,000 respectively (the Ministry of Defence also said that number might increase in the future, and that the ministry had been restructured, with 113 new general-ranked positions proposed and 87 approved). Those staffing numbers are vast. Despite their large budget allocations, the reported force strength looks inflated. If correct, the Emirate’s armed forces would be larger than the Republic’s, which, in 2021, had a reported 300,000 personnel under arms, 119,000 in the Afghan National Police (ANP) and 182,000 in the Afghan National Army (ANA)10. It was fighting an active nationwide insurgency and enjoyed a budget underpinned by huge sums of foreign funding, publicly earmarked for the police and army, as well as unknown sums for the NDS.

Whatever the correct strength of the Emirate’s forces or the overall budget planned for them, one breakdown in the 1400 Q4 seems accurate. Most of the outlay in this, as in every other sector, was to be on operating costs, largely salaries (varying between 63 per cent of the total allocation for salaries at the National Security council to 80 per cent at the General Directorate for the Security of the Prime Minister).

  • In the section titled, ‘Contingencies and Emirate bureaucracy’, the second paragraph on page 19 has been amended as below:

The mini-budget also allocated large sums to the Offices of the Highest Official of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan14 and the Prime Minister (962 million Afs/11.3 million USD), and to the General Directorate of IEA Affairs, the renamed Administrative Affairs Office of the President (AOP) (441 million Afs/5.2 million USD). Together with the contingency codes and the sums provided for the Prime Minister’s security, they add up to over 4.4 billion Afs (51.7 million USD) or 4.9 per cent of the Emirate’s budget for the quarter, far more than the entire allocation for healthcare, or higher education, or any of the ‘economic’ ministries and agencies listed above. 

AAN is grateful for the care and attention with which you read our reports and appreciate your comments and feedback, which helps us ensure our reporting is accurate, impartial and of high quality. While to err is human, it is important to us to correct any errors to ensure the accuracy of our reports. With our apologises for any inconvenience these errors may have caused, please find the corrected version of this report here: What Do The Taleban Spend Afghanistan’s Money On? Government expenditure under the Islamic Emirate

This is the second part of reporting on Emirate finances. Part 1, Taxing the Afghan Nation: What the Taleban’s pursuit of domestic revenues means for citizens, the economy and the state, was published in September 2022.

What Do the Taleban Spend Afghanistan’s Money On? Government expenditure under the Islamic Emirate
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Lashing, Beating, Stoning: UNAMA tracks corporal punishment and the death penalty in Afghanistan

A new United Nations report on capital and corporal punishment has detailed the widespread use of corporal punishment delivered ad hoc by non-judicial authorities, such as the police and ‘Vice and Virtue’ officials. It also documents a rise in corporal punishment ordered by judges since November 2022 when the Taleban’s Supreme Leader encouraged the use of such measures where they are considered divinely mandated. Judicially-ordered death sentences have so far been few in number. However, there may soon be a sharp rise in the number of Afghans given the death penalty: in recent days, the Deputy Chief Justice has announced that the courts have delivered hundreds of such verdicts. AAN’s Kate Clark says the UNAMA report is significant not only for documenting the use of corporal and capital punishment under the Emirate but also setting this in the context of International Human Rights Law and the practice of the Islamic Republic. The report also details who is receiving corporal punishments – generally, those committing ‘moral crimes’ and with high numbers of women offenders. 

UNAMA’s new report, “Corporal Punishment and the Death Penalty in Afghanistan”, can be read here.

UNAMA has recorded just two instances of capital punishment ordered by judges or officials since the Taleban took over Afghanistan in August 2021. One was an old case of murder from 2017 in Farah province, which was revived following the complaint of the victim’s family, and passed through all three judicial levels before being signed off by Amir ul-Mu’minin, Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada; the accused was reportedly shot dead by the victim’s father in December 2022. The second was the stoning to death on 14 February 2023 of two people accused of adultery in Nusay district of Badakhshan province as ordered by the district governor. UNAMA has detailed many more cases of corporal punishment, defined as when “physical force is used and intended to cause some degree of pain or discomfort, however light.” Some were issued by the courts or by non-judicial authorities such as governors, and others were carried out without any formal procedure, ad hoc, by police, officials from the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice and the General Directorate of Intelligence (GDI) and others.

All those numbers may, however, be set to rise sharply if sentences announced by Deputy Chief Justice Abdul Malek Haqqani are implemented. Haqqani detailed hundreds of verdicts involving capital and corporal punishments in a video posted on the Emirate’s Supreme Court YouTube channel on 4 May. He categorised the offences and sentences according to Islamic law’s three-way classification (also used in the Republic’s body of law).

First are hudud offences, whose punishments are viewed as fixed by the Qur’an or Hadith and are classed as offences against God; they include zina (sex outside marriage, including adultery, which the UNAMA report tends to mention separately), accusing someone falsely of zina, drinking alcohol and some types of theft.

Second are qisas punishments, which are retributive penalties, and allow equal retaliation in cases of intentional bodily harm, including most types of murder; these crimes may also be forgiven by the victim or their family or resolved between the families with blood money.

A third class of punishments in Islamic law, tazir, are for all other offences and are decided according to the discretion of a judge or ruler

Different offences within these three categories may receive corporal, capital or other types of punishment.

The Deputy Chief Justice listed the following verdicts as having been ordered since the Taleban’s takeover and the establishment of their courts and procedures.

  • 175 verdicts of murder; those convicted have been sentenced to death
  • 79 verdicts of monetary compensation to the victim or their family (di’et)
  • 37 sentences of stoning to death (rajam) (crime not mentioned)
  • 4 sentences of having a wall collapsed onto the perpetrator (crime not mentioned)
  • 103 cases of hudud punishments (not specified)
  • 1,562 taziri punishments (neither crimes nor sentences specified).

Some of the taziri punishments have already been carried out. However, with regard to qisas and hudud offences, the Deputy Chief Justice said that because they are so serious, the High Council (Aali Shura) and cabinet have to scrutinise each case and concur with the court’s verdict. The sentences will only be carried out, he said, after the Amir ul-Mu’mimin has confirmed them.

If these sentences are implemented, it would represent a massive increase in the use of corporal punishment and judicially ordered death sentences. UNAMA has already reported a rise in judicially ordered sentences of corporal punishment since November 2022 when Mullah Hibatullah encouraged the implementation of hudud and qisas punishments, as referred to in this tweet by Emirate spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed:

His Excellency the Amir-ul-Momineen in a meeting with Qazis [judges]: ‘You should examine well the dossiers [case files] of thieves, kidnappers, and those causing fitna [strife/sedition/conflict etc]. You are obligated to apply Hudud and Qisās [punishments] in those cases where all Shariah conditions for Hudud and Qisās are met because this is the order. [Translation from Pashto by UNAMA].

However, in Afghanistan today, the courts are not the only state body ordering punishments, as UNAMA’s report has documented.

Who orders the punishments?

In its analysis, UNAMA breaks down punishments according to who ordered them and gives these details when it comes to corporal punishment.

1. Judicial corporal punishment: punishments carried out in accordance with a court decision 

In the fourteen months between the Taleban takeover on 15 August 2021 and the tweet announcing Hibatullah’s meeting with the judges on 13 November 2022, UNAMA says it documented at least 18 instances of judicially ordered corporal punishment, with Ghor province recording the highest number (six). Of those 18 documented instances, 33 men, 22 women and two under-age girls were punished. “The vast majority of punishments, for both men and women,” it reported, “related to zina, adultery or ‘running away from home’.” All the women and girls who were punished were reportedly convicted of such offences. Punishments typically consisted of 30-39 lashes for each convicted person. In some cases, as many as 80 to 100 lashes were given.

In the almost six months since the tweet about the Amir’s meeting with the judges (up to 30 April 2023, the cut-off point for this report), UNAMA documented at least 435 instances of judicial corporal punishment. Of those, 58 women, 274 men and one boy were lashed for various offences, including zina, running away from home, theft, homosexuality, consuming alcohol, fraud and drug trafficking. As before, the majority of punishments administered related to convictions of zina, adultery and running away from home. Again, the punishments were typically 30 to 39 lashes, but as many as 100 lashes were also reported.

After 13 November 2022, UNAMA also said there was:

[A]n observable increase in the number of people punished in a single gathering and in the public nature of punishments, with the de facto authorities favouring large capacity sports stadiums and drawing in significant crowds of local residents as spectators for punishments. For example: 14 people lashed in a football stadium [in] Logar province on 23 November; 21 people lashed in a courtroom of the de facto Primary Court in Kabul on 1 December; 27 people lashed in the sports stadium in Parwan on 8 December.

2. Corporal punishment handed down by non-judicial entities: punishments carried out following a formal decision announced by a non-judicial official, eg a Provincial Governor

UNAMA recorded several instances where state authorities issued formal decisions about punishments, largely for moral crimes.

  • A 16-year-old female and 18-year-old male, arrested for zina, were lashed 50 times each, based on a decision by religious elders and de facto police in Moradi village, Freng district, Baghlan province. (27 December 2021)
  • The Wama district governor in Nuristan province ‘convicted’ a 17-year-old male of stealing cooking oil and publicly lashed him 60 times. The decision was made following an interrogation of the boy, conducted in the presence of some ulema. (19 November 2022)

3. Ad hoc corporal punishment: punishments carried out by a non-judicial official in the absence of any formally announced decision

UNAMA has recorded ad hoc corporal punishments used by Vice and Virtue personnel, the police, GDI and others. Those carried out by Vice and Virtue against women, it said, were most often meted out for not wearing the style of hijab mandated by the Emirate and leaving the house without a mahram (a close male relative), even though according to the Emirate’s own rules, this is allowed up to 78 km from a woman’s home. For men, punishments were typically meted out, reported UNAMA, to barbers for trimming men’s beards, to men with trimmed beards, to shopkeepers for allowing women into their stores without a mahram and to men for failing to attend congregational prayers in a mosque. UNAMA gave a number of examples of such ad hoc punishments, including:

• Military personnel lashed and beat two men with the butt of a gun, accusing them of gambling and using drugs in Burka district, Baghlan province. (16 December 2022)

• Vice and Virtue officials slapped and kicked a group of shopkeepers for allowing women to shop in their stores unaccompanied by a mahram in Lashkargah, Helmand province. (12 April 2022)

• Vice and Virtue inspectors lashed two girls and one woman because they were not wearing burqas in Bamyan city. (13 August 2022)

• Vice and Virtue officials detained a group of six young women and beat them with sticks and cables on their legs, because their ankles were visible under their clothes in Kabul city. (6 November 2022)

• Police stopped two adult men and beat them because they were playing music inside their car in Lashkargah. (14 November 2022)

UNAMA reports that one person was killed as a result of such punishment. Police in Aybak city, Samangan province, beat two people, a man and a woman, on charges of adultery and running away on 30 November 2022. They beat the woman so badly that she died of her injuries. UNAMA said the woman’s body was handed to her family the following day.

Human Rights Watch has pointed out that many ‘ad hoc punishments’ are also carried out by the Taleban to silence critics or perceived critics, for example, beating protesters and journalists. Musicians as a group have also been subject to ad hoc violence from the state, as a recent AAN report detailed. Human Rights Watch also stresses that when it comes to killing by the state, the number of judicially-ordered death sentences are “eclipsed by the Taliban’s extrajudicial executions, mostly of members of the former government’s security forces, whose number is estimated in the hundreds.”

The legal frameworks and the experience of the Republic

Under the Republic, both corporal punishment and the death penalty were lawful. Article 3 of the Penal Code stated that its purpose was to regulate “principles, rules and provisions related to Taziri crimes and penalties,” and that perpetrators of hudud and qisas would be “punished in accordance with the provisions of Hanafi jurisprudence of Islamic Sharia.” Hudud and qisas punishments, noted UNAMA, were “therefore allowed under the Penal Code, but not codified or defined therein.”

In 2010, the Republic confirmed that corporal punishment could be imposed for zina, under the Penal Code.[1] In 2013, a Ministry of Justice working group proposed amendments to the Penal Code which would have established stoning or lashing as punishment for the offence of adultery. The amendments were not passed. The 2004 Constitution and the Penal Code both allowed for the imposition of the death penalty: tazir punishments for murder were only to be applied where the conditions for the application of a qisas punishment were not available. Article 170 of the Penal Code listed the crimes for which the death penalty should be applied “unless otherwise stipulated in law.” They included: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, crimes of aggression against the state, assassination and explosion, kidnapping and taking hostages or highway robbery resulting in the death of person(s); murder in conditions anticipated in the Penal Code; crimes causing the territory of Afghanistan partly or entirely to fall under the sovereignty of a foreign country or which harm the national sovereignty, territorial integrity, or independence of the country; gang rape of a female; gang rape of male that results in death.

In the years of the Republic, between 2001 and 15 August 2021, says UNAMA, the state reportedly executed at least 72 people by hanging or shooting.[2] The Republic of Afghanistan stopped executing people by shooting after a public outcry following a botched mass execution in October 2007.

UNAMA says there is a lack of good data on instances of corporal punishment ordered by the judiciary or government entities during those years. It cites two examples from what it says are isolated public reports of judicially ordered corporal punishment: a man publicly whipped by a judge inside the courtroom as a punishment for drinking alcohol in Jalalabad, Nangrahar province in May 2011 and; a woman and man publicly lashed 100 times each by a primary court judge, who had convicted them of adultery on 30 August 2015

The United Nations Commission on Human Rights (predecessor to the Human Rights Council), along with human rights treaty bodies and special procedures, “have all stated that corporal punishment constitutes a form of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, in contravention of international human rights standards, and have called for its abolition,” writes UNAMA.

As to the death penalty, while not prohibited under international human rights law, UNAMA says the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights strictly limits its application by State parties which have not abolished its use; it should only be imposed for the “most serious crimes,” interpreted by the Human Rights Committee, as crimes of extreme gravity involving intentional killing and any person sentenced to death should have the right to seek a pardon or commutation.

During the Republic, UNAMA Human Rights and other bodies called on the government to abolish corporal punishment and establish a moratorium on executions. They do so again today. UNAMA Human Rights, Fiona Fraser, said in a tweet:

Corporal punishment is a violation of the Convention against Torture & must cease. The UN is strongly opposed to the death penalty & encourages the DFA [de facto authorities] to establish an immediate moratorium on executions.

She also tweeted:

UNAMA welcomes the de facto authorities’ engagement with and response to the report. We call for more to be done to respect international human rights standards.

How fair is the system, especially to women?

International standards, writes UNAMA, make it clear that all accused persons must receive a fair trial. It lists some of the violations of fair trial guarantees seen in Afghan courts: the use of forced confessions, lack of effective legal representation, general lack of fairness in the criminal justice process and lack of independence or impartiality of the court. UNAMA argues:

The legal system in Afghanistan is currently failing to safeguard minimum fair trial and due process guarantees, with defence lawyers reporting difficulties in meeting with clients, accessing places of detention and being sidelined in judicial processes. 

If offenders do get to court, women are at a particular disadvantage there. The legal system in Afghanistan was always heavily skewed towards male staffing, but that has worsened sharply since the Taleban took power, as UNAMA describes:

The de facto authorities’ refusal to grant licences to women defence lawyers and exclusion of women judges from the judicial system has a specific impact on women and girls’ ability to obtain legal representation, their equality before the law and access to justice.

UNAMA also points out that women who are publicly punished for zina and other moral crimes are at increased risk of violence from their families and communities after the punishment, due to the “extreme levels of stigma towards women accused of extramarital relationships.” Those punished for homosexuality, it says, are in similar danger of additional punishments.

Typically, women feature little in courts and prisons in Afghanistan, as elsewhere in the world; most criminals are men. Yet, the proportion of men to women accused and punished of the types of moral crimes that receive corporal punishments is far more even. Many, if not most, women in prison in Afghanistan are also there having been accused of moral crimes; according to a 2012 Human Rights Watch report, I Had To Run Away”: The Imprisonment of Women and Girls for “Moral Crimes” in Afghanistan”, 95 per cent of girls and 50 per cent of women then imprisoned in Afghanistan had been incarcerated for such crimes.

One offence can only be carried out by women and girls – running away from home – but is it even a crime? After being challenged that it is not recognised as such in Afghan law, the Supreme Court issued a statement in 2010 that it could be a criminal act if a woman ran away to a stranger’s house (rather than to relatives or government institutions) as this act could result in zina. (See the just-quoted Human Rights Watch for more on this.) When women and girls run away from home, even if it is because of violence, abuse or forced marriage, they have always been in grave danger of further punishment and being returned to the abusive situation. Perpetrators, meanwhile, have always been unlikely to be punished.

Indeed, another way of looking at the use of corporal punishment against women and girls, as outlined in the UNAMA report, is how it has always been part of the constellation of types of male violence. When AAN has reported on this issue in the past, it has been clear that the punishment of ‘wayward’ girls and women may be from their own families, from other families who feel wronged in some way, by the courts, or other authorities – police, district and provincial governors – or commanders, both Taleban and others. See, for example, our reporting from Ghor in 2016, “Reality Check: No justice for women in Ghor province”. It is a hard read, detailing heartbreaking cases of suffering, as it delves into how “conservative attitudes and customary practices, combined with insecurity and a failing justice system, result in an environment of near-constant violence against Afghan girls and women, where perpetrators literally get away with murder.”

With the advent of the Taleban’s second Islamic Emirate, the chances for women and girls to get justice have surely worsened, given the absence of female court officials, policewomen and female prosecutors, and the lack of women in government and parliament who might be more likely to speak up for victims than their male counterparts. The use of corporal punishment against women, as outlined in this report, would appear to be one other element in how Afghan women are now more tightly controlled and restricted. As to the death sentences detailed by Deputy Chief Justice Haqqani, he gave no breakdown according to gender. However, during the first Emirate, women were among those killed by the state for ‘moral crimes’. Little suggests that their treatment by the courts of the second Emirate will be any different.

Edited by Roxanna Shapour


1 UNAMA says that: 

Article 427 of the Penal Code makes sexual intercourse outside the marriage (zina) or adultery punishable by ‘long term’ imprisonment…Article 426, however, provides that zina shall be punished under article 427 only if it is not punished as hudud [sic]. Hudud, not defined in the Penal Code, thereby refers to another source of law (Sharia Law) for the harshest punishment of zina (including whipping and stoning).”

2 See also this AAN report about capital punishment from 2016

Lashing, Beating, Stoning: UNAMA tracks corporal punishment and the death penalty in Afghanistan
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U.N. Conference Highlights Global Unity but Limited Leverage Over the Taliban

Over a year and a half since the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, not a single country has recognized its government. Yet, it has resulted in no change in Taliban behavior. The worst predictions of what Taliban rule could be like have come true, as the regime has implemented unprecedented restrictions on women amid a brutal humanitarian crisis. The situation is so bad that U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres convened a special conference in Doha, Qatar this week — with no Taliban representation — to discuss Afghanistan’s international isolation. While there were no tangible outcomes — evidence of how limited the international community’s leverage really is — it did demonstrate remarkable consensus on the imperative to help the Afghan people.
USIP’s Scott Worden, Kate Bateman, Belquis Ahmadi and Andrew Watkins assess whether the U.N. can really do anything about the situation in Afghanistan, what this means for U.S. policy, if Afghan women can glean any hope from the Doha conference and how the Taliban have responded.

What is the significance of the U.N. secretary-general calling a meeting of international envoys to discuss Afghanistan now? Can the U.N. really do anything about the situation?

Worden: The Doha meeting this week was extraordinary in several dimensions. The secretary-general rarely calls a meeting outside of the U.N.’s headquarters in New York to deal with a particular national crisis, and even more rarely convenes such a diverse group of international and regional diplomats without inviting representatives of the country concerned. The fact that two dozen special envoys from across the world met in Doha to talk about the problems of Taliban rule without the Taliban is a sign of just how bad the regime has become.

The Taliban’s unprecedented ban on Afghan women working for the U.N. in Afghanistan was the proximate cause of the discussion. But really this was the final straw on top of waves of human rights abuses and security breaches that violate core principles of the U.N. charter. When U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed rushed to Afghanistan in January after the Taliban banned women from working for NGOs and universities, she could not even get a meeting with the Taliban supreme leader Haibatullah Akhundzada. Provoked by the Taliban’s enforcement of the ban on women working for the U.N. and vexed by the Taliban’s refusal to abide by the most basic diplomatic norms, the U.N. called for this week’s meeting.

Another rare feature of the U.N. gathering is the universality of member states’ condemnation of the Taliban’s policies and actions. Just before the meeting, the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously to condemn the Taliban’s women’s rights restrictions, calling for “full, equal, meaningful and safe participation of women and girls in Afghanistan” and for “the Taliban to swiftly reverse the policies and practices that restrict the enjoyment by women and girls of their human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

It is amazing to think that the United States, Russia and China can agree on anything these days, but the Taliban have managed to unite them with their offensive conduct. At the Doha meeting, an even larger group of national envoys to Afghanistan — which included Iran, Pakistan, India, Turkey, as well as Central Asian and Gulf states — maintained their non-recognition of the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan and Guterres called on the Taliban to improve their performance on the “inter-connected” issues of human rights, inclusive governance, counterterrorism and anti-drug trafficking efforts. Amid so many conflicts that the U.N. is divided on, the Doha meeting shows the body can demonstrate unity and international resolve.

Despite the solidarity, not much new leverage was found to move the Taliban off their extreme positions. No one is contemplating the use of force in a country that has seen far too much death and destruction over the past many decades. The Taliban are already the subject of multiple U.N. sanctions regimes and are not a recognized government. Humanitarian aid is declining but that tends to hurt most the Afghan people U.N. members are trying to help.

What else is to be done?

Guterres called for another meeting in several months and in that time it will be important to translate international resolve into a set of clear minimum steps the Taliban must take to even begin a conversation about international legitimacy and communicate those through detailed engagements with the Taliban. At the same time, the international community needs to develop more ways to directly support Afghan civil society that opposes Taliban excesses so they can push for reforms from within the Taliban. Guterres pointed to another recent U.N. Security Council Resolution 2679, which calls for an independent assessment to “provide recommendations for an integrated and coherent approach by the international community to the current challenges facing Afghanistan.” This presents a new opportunity to translate international resolve into more concrete actions to induce the Taliban to uphold their international obligations.

What are the implications for U.S. policy?

Bateman: The United States’ policy goals vis-à-vis Afghanistan center on mitigating the country’s severe humanitarian and economic crises; opposing and mitigating the effects of the Taliban’s oppression of women, girls and minorities; and addressing the threat of terrorist attacks emanating from the country. On all these priorities, the United States is well served by acting in concert with other countries, which to a remarkable extent share these goals.

To stabilize the Afghan economy and prevent another tailspin like that seen in the fall of 2021, sustained cashflows for humanitarian services are needed. Particularly amid donor fatigue and many other global crises, donors need to coordinate to better monitor assistance and ensure humanitarian aid does not suddenly fall off. The United States and international community also need to speak with one voice and exert as much pressure as possible on the Taliban government to restore basic freedoms and to end its gross violations of human rights and women’s rights. It is particularly important that Muslim countries and organizations and regional actors deliver similar messages. Finally, given the United States’ and others’ dramatically reduced visibility on the ground in Afghanistan, it is critical that Washington discusses with other countries developments in the security situation and activities of terrorist groups.

The meeting in Doha, despite lacking any substantive statement on outcomes, was an important opportunity for closed-door, frank conversations among key players and aid organizations on all the above issues. It was announced that a similar meeting will be held in three to six months. If between now and then, the international consensus on non-recognition of the Taliban government holds, we can assess that this week’s meetings might have reinforced that consensus — which preserves some of the very limited leverage that exists for outsiders seeking to improve the situation in Afghanistan.

Can Afghan women derive any hope from statements in Doha?

Ahmadi: Afghan women’s rights advocates have been consistent and vocal about the need for the international community to maintain pressure on the Taliban to reverse their draconian restrictions on women’s rights and to keep discussion about recognizing the Taliban government off the table as long as a system of gender apartheid remains. Afghan women were therefore given new hope by the U.N. Security Council Resolution 2681 calling for a reversal of the Taliban’s ban on women working for the U.N. and for the Taliban to “swiftly reverse the policies and practices that restrict the enjoyment by women and girls of their human rights and fundamental freedoms including related to their access to education, employment, freedom of movement, and women’s full, equal and meaningful participation in public life.” The resolution further “urges all States and organizations to use their influence … to promote an urgent reversal of these policies and practices.” The U.N.’s refusal to invite the Taliban to join the discussion in Doha was a good step in this direction.

Guterres’ statement that now is not the right time to meet with the Taliban sends a strong signal to the Taliban that the international community cannot separate the regime’s request for political legitimacy from international demands for rights reforms. Indeed, Guterres said after the meeting that it is essential for the international community to maintain unity behind their collective concerns about human rights, terrorism, political inclusion and narcotics trafficking, and recognize that the issues are intertwined. Guterres underscored that “we will never be silent in the face of unprecedented, systemic attacks on women and girls’ rights” and that “when millions of women and girls are being silenced and erased from sight … [it] is a grave violation of fundamental human rights.”

A coalition of Afghan women, including many currently living in Afghanistan, submitted written recommendations to the international envoys on ways they can deliver on their commitments to pressure the Taliban on women’s rights. These include expanding travel bans on Taliban officials to include political representatives in Doha and better monitoring humanitarian assistance within Afghanistan to ensure the Taliban are not siphoning aid for their own benefit. Another request is that future meetings of international envoys include side meetings with Afghan women — particularly important considering that Afghan women are not otherwise represented by any Afghan officials and are being intentionally erased from the political conversation by the Taliban. It will be important for the special assessment of international engagement with the Taliban, led by Turkish diplomat Feridun Sinirlioglu, to meet directly with Afghan women to understand their priorities and fully account for the Taliban’s violations of women’s and human rights.

How do the Taliban read the signals from the Doha meeting?

Watkins: In the days leading up to the gathering, there were conflicting reports that the Taliban’s acting foreign minister, Amir Khan Muttaqi, might attend. U.N. officials insisted the Taliban was not invited, but there may have been some planning for the Taliban to arrange meetings on the sidelines. In the end, influential member states, including the United States, appear to have enforced the U.N.’s travel ban on senior Taliban officials (including Muttaqi) and there was no trip. Beyond any of the speeches or statements issued from the gathering, this may have been the strongest signal sent to the Taliban.

The Taliban have not put out an official statement on the summit in Doha, but at least one of their diplomatic officials offered comments to the press. Suhail Shaheen, head of their political office based in Doha, “expressed regret” that the group was not invited to participate, and said such exclusion was “one-sided and ineffective.” That their chief spokesman, ministry of foreign affairs and other senior officials declined to comment on the summit is a statement of itself.

The Taliban have, however, commented on other recent U.N. actions and statements. The latest was a U.N. Security Council resolution, adopted just days before the summit, that strongly condemned the Taliban for having applied a ban on female Afghan staff working in U.N. offices across the country. The Taliban’s official response was Orwellian: They praised the resolution for reaffirming the Security Council’s “strong commitment to the sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity and national unity of Afghanistan,” as well as “support for the Afghan people” and the principle of self-determination. Only further into the statement did the Taliban reject the resolution’s condemnation, insisting that restrictions on women are an “internal social matter … that does not impact outside states.”

The U.N.’s position on the women’s ban, its prominent place in this Doha gathering and the remarkable global consensus it demonstrated are unlikely to pressure a reversal in the Taliban’s gender policies in the foreseeable future. If anything, in the near term the gathering may heighten Taliban suspicions toward the United Nations as a vehicle for Western interests and agendas, which many in their leadership seem to believe are meant to harm or weaken them. It may also further confirm, among their leadership, that the only diplomatic approach offering any open doors is one that anchors itself in the region, especially in engagement with adversaries of the United States, such as Russia, Iran and China. In spite of those countries’ attendance and agreement with the U.N. summit’s position, they and other neighboring states have increasingly offered de facto normalization of relations, a consolation prize that does not require the Taliban to bend to outside pressure.

U.N. Conference Highlights Global Unity but Limited Leverage Over the Taliban
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A Ban, a Resolution and a Meeting: A look at the May 2023 meeting in Doha and the reactions to it

The 1-2 May 2023 gathering in Doha, hosted by United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, brought together the representatives of 21 countries – the five permanent members of the Security Council, major donors and regional players, plus the European Union and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. They spent two days talking about how to engage with the Taleban, who have now been in power for 20 months, but are still unrecognised as Afghanistan’s government. The gathering took place in the shadow of the extension of an Islamic Emirate ban on women working from NGOs to the UN and a chaotic few weeks for the UN. AAN’s Roxanna Shapour and Kate Clark have been sifting through Guterres’ press statement and the various reactions to the gathering. They ask some questions about the gathering in Doha – and try to answer them.
What were the aims of the gathering, and did it fulfil them?

The key objective of this meeting was for the diverse countries and organisations invited [1] to find common ground on how to engage with the Taleban and develop what Guterres called in his press conference afterwards, “a common international approach” [2] (see video and text here). Guterres stressed the spirit of unity among the delegates, which he said followed on from “the unanimous Security Council resolution 2681 of 27 April calling for full, equal, meaningful and safe participation of women and girls in Afghanistan.”

Guterres said the participants had agreed on the “need for a strategy of engagement that allows for the stabilization of Afghanistan but also allows for addressing important concerns.” They had also agreed, he said, on what those concerns were:

The persistent presence of terrorist organizations — a risk for the country, the region, and further afield.

The lack of inclusivity, which importantly includes human rights, in particular those of women and girls, severely undermined by recent Taliban decisions.

And the spread of drug trafficking with all its dramatic consequences.

He said that different countries prioritised different concerns, but all recognised that the issues are intertwined, and none can be prioritised.

Guterres said to “achieve our objectives, we cannot disengage,” but that engagement had to be “more effective and based on [unspecified] lessons which we have learned from the past.” In that light, Guterres said he would be using the UN’s convening power to “advance a forward leaning approach, which puts the Afghan people first, and in a manner that is complementary to existing regional platforms and initiatives.” He said several initiatives were ‘going on’ and there were plans for another meeting as a platform for them to ‘come together’.

Guterres was strong on the unity of the delegates and vague about what engagement with the Taleban might look like. Possibly helping to flesh out the nature of that engagement is a newly-appointed Special Coordinator for the Assessment. Under Security Council Resolution 2679, passed on 16 March, the appointee, Permanent Representative of Turkey to the UN and previously Turkey’s Foreign Minister, Feridun Sinirlioglu, is charged with coordinating an “integrated, independent assessment” – of what exactly the resolution does not say. However, he should consult “all relevant Afghan political actors and stakeholders, including relevant authorities, Afghan women, and civil society, as well as the region and the wider international community” and make “forward looking recommendations for an integrated and coherent approach by the international community to the current challenges facing Afghanistan.” [3] Guterres introduced Sinirlioglu to the Doha gathering, saying he had already “begun his work in earnest.”

Guterres’ messaging was something of a relief after a couple of weeks in which senior UN officials appeared at loggerheads with each other and caused chaos and confusion both over the aims of the Doha gathering and UN policy over the working women ban (see our curtain raiser published on 30 April for details). In that light, Guterres’ statement to the press appeared designed to convey a sense of unity, purpose and coherence. Whether that holds and is useful in practice will become clearer as future meetings are held, as any engagement progresses, what senior officials say, and what the UN does on the ground.

What did Guterres say about the ban on women working for the UN and NGOs?

The extension of the ban from NGOs to UN agencies had threatened to eclipse the original aim of the Doha meeting, which was to discuss how to engage the Taleban. However, the idea for the gathering, as AAN has reported, emerged in relation to the NGO ban, when Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed visited Kabul in January to try and get the ban lifted. She came away with the sense that a more political approach was needed in dealing with the Emirate. What to do in the face of the ban was then complicated further by remarks by the global head of UNDP, Achim Steiner, that the UN might have to pull out of Afghanistan and then by Deputy Special Representative and Humanitarian Coordinator Ramiz Alakbarov that it must “stay the course” and now was “not the time to turn our backs on the people of Afghanistan.”

In his press conference on 2 May, Guterres addressed the ban directly. He called it “unacceptable” and said it put lives “in jeopardy.” He said the UN would “never be silent in the face of unprecedented, systemic attacks on women and girls’ rights.” While the ban violated international law, including the UN Charter and undermined the aid effort and Afghanistan’s development, “throughout the past decades, we stayed, and we delivered. And we are determined to seek the necessary conditions to keep delivering,” he said, stressing that UN’s “commitment to support the people of Afghanistan” would not waver.

What do Guterres’ remarks add up to? It sounds like negotiations with the Emirate about the ban will continue, with no sense given of plans to pull back, let alone pull out. The UN is not happy about the ban and will keep speaking up about women’s rights, but other than that, it looks as if Guterres hopes the matter can be resolved. He gives no idea of a Plan B if it continues.

Meanwhile, word of discontent among some UN staff in Afghanistan has emerged in the form of a letter addressed to heads of agencies and sent in late April. The letter was endorsed, wrote The New Humanitarian, which broke the story on 3 May, by about 125 staff working for 15 agencies in Afghanistan (out of about 4,000 staff in the country). The letter largely relates to how different agencies obeyed or ignored, to varying degrees, an order issued for all national staff, men and women, to stay at home while an operational review was carried out (it is due to end on 5 May). It also accuses agencies of directing “NGO partners and third-party contractors… to restart operations with significantly fewer female field workers and no female staff in offices. [4] The letter writers describe the UN approach as sending “the message to all its staff that female staff do not matter.”

The difficulties of dealing with the Taleban over female employees are not to be underestimated, nor the strains the ban has put on staff and heads of UN agencies and NGOs – see our recent report, Bans on Women Working, Then and Now: The dilemmas of delivering humanitarian aid during the first and second Islamic Emirates for a wider discussion of the ethical and practical dilemmas. The Emirate has insisted that the employment of Afghan women is an internal affair and no one else’s business. Government spokesman Zabiullah Mujahed told BBC Pashto on 31 December 2022 that the Emirate wanted to “preserve the dignity and chastity” of Afghan women and that “because these institutions are not under the control of the Emirate, the risk for women is high and we have received dangerous reports” (reported by BBC Persian). It may be that the leadership is unhappy about Afghan women mixing with foreigners and working for foreign organisations or in a sector it sees as ‘foreign’. Yet, there is also the suspicion, whether justified or not, that the Emirate is deploying women’s issues to put pressure on international actors to engage on sanctions, frozen assets and recognition. The Emirate’s spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahed, in a brief statement issued on 12 April, as well as saying it was an internal matter, also linked the issue to those wider concerns:

[I]t is necessary that the member countries of the United Nations resolve the problem of freezing Afghan assets, banking, travel bans and other restrictions so that Afghanistan can progress in the economic, political and security areas. Afghans have the capacity to stand on their own feet.

In that sense, the ban and what to do about it feeds back into the wider discussion of engagement with the Taleban. However, Guterres refers to another issue that may actually be a greater threat to the UN’s programme of humanitarian assistance, and that is funding. In the absence of any on-budget support, humanitarian funding represents the vast majority of aid given to the country. Afghanistan’s humanitarian crisis, he said, is the largest in the world, and it is “difficult to overestimate the gravity of the situation.” Yet the 2023 Humanitarian Response Plan, the detailing of Afghanistan’s needs for the year, which had asked donors for USD 4.6 billion, has, as yet, he said, received “a mere USD 294 million – 6.4 per cent of the total funding required.”

It is still early days. The launch of the Plan was delayed from January to 9 March, and in 2022, it took time and an international pledging conference before most pledges came in (see AAN reporting here). Still, for donors, the unconscionable restrictions put on female aid workers by the Taleban have made giving aid to Afghanistan less attractive at the very same time as other countries present equally pressing needs for support. (For more on this, see OCHA’s Global Humanitarian Overview 2023, published on 1 December 2022.) Most people have been expecting funding to diminish this year; see for example, USIP’s William Byrd’s recent report for Lawfare.

What was the Taleban’s response to the gathering?

The first response of the Taleban came ahead of the Doha meeting, in reaction to UNSC Resolution 2681 of 27 April, which unequivocally condemned the Emirate’s ban on women working for the UN. An official statement, which was echoed by several Taleban officials in media interviews, called the ban “an internal social matter,” which did not affect outside states and should be respected as one of Afghanistan’s “sovereign choices” (see the foreign ministry’s statement and media reporting by ToloNews and BBC Persian). The Emirate, the statement said, remained committed to ensuring all the rights of Afghan women, but stressed that “diversity” must be respected and not politicised. The statement did welcome certain parts of the resolution, including the acknowledgement that “Afghanistan faces multifaceted challenges” and that “engagement is the only realistic path,” but stressed:

The path to a post-conflict recovery requires the unconditional removal of UN, multilateral, and unilateral sanctions and restrictions on the country, in addition to the provision of humanitarian and development assistance to the country…. While humanitarian assistance is appreciated, the reality is that this ongoing crisis can only be resolved by the removal of restrictions on the country and helping Afghanistan to address core climate change, economic, infrastructural, and development needs of its people.

After the meeting ended, the most comprehensive response came in an exclusive interview with BBC Persian by the Emirate’s ambassador to Qatar and spokesperson for its political office, Muhammad Naim Wardak. He said the Taleban were not “pessimistic and that the media often portrays issues in a way that doesn’t reflect the reality.” He was unimpressed that the Taleban were not invited to the gathering:

Logic and international norms demand that a meeting about a particular country should include representatives from the country.… There is also a practical consideration, how can you solve a problem you have with a person if you don’t sit down with that person.… Consensus can only happen when all sides sit together.

He was clear that the Taleban viewed the issues raised at the gathering as internal matters. “Let me put it clearly: others cannot determine Afghanistan’s national interests,” he said. Nevertheless, he said the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan welcomed any and all steps taken to solve Afghanistan’s problems, provided they were in line with the country’s values and national interests.

Asked about the protests in Afghanistan and abroad ahead of the meeting, which called on the UN not to recognise the Emirate, Naim said he thought the protesters were in the minority. The majority of Afghans, he said, believed there should be engagement with a view to solving any problems. “The system that exists in Afghanistan,” he said, “is unprecedented in the past 50 years. We can see that what the [current] system has achieved is what 50 countries [in the US-led intervention] were unable to accomplish.”

As to the issue of women studying or working, Naim said that the Emirate was not opposed to this in principle, but the issue required “interpretation in line with the mindset and sensibilities of Afghanistan’s traditional Islamic society,” which was in its substance different to that of other countries, particularly those in the West. He restated the Emirate’s commitment to addressing the access of Afghan women and girls to education and to reversing the ban on them working for NGOs and UN agencies, but his refusal to commit to a timeline would have discouraged anyone hoping for the speed readmission of Afghan girls to secondary and university education and the return of women employees to NGOs and the UN.

As to how we will resolve [these issues], we need time. If you look at the advancements of other countries … they did not come about in one day, two days, two years or five years. It took them 20-30 years to get anywhere.

Were there any responses from Afghan women?

Afghan women activists, both inside the country and abroad, and their supporters were prominent among those questioning the intentions behind the Doha meeting. Their suspicions had been sparked by remarks made by Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed on 18 April which appeared to suggest that recognition of the Emirate might be on the table at the Doha meeting (detailed in this AAN report). While the UN immediately and categorically denied that recognition was on the agenda, her words sparked a media and social media storm, prompting tens of thousands of tweets with the hashtags #NoToTaliban and # Don’tRecogniseTaliban, video messages and op-ed pieces. One small group of demonstrators, risking violent reprisal by the Taleban, took to the Kabul streets to tell the UN, “The Taleban is a terrorist and fascist group and do not represent the people of Afghanistan” (see this video tweeted by Zan TV and reporting in Hasht-e Subh). They said any engagement with the Taleban that denies women a seat at the table is unacceptable and stressed that the Afghan people, including women, had to be involved in decision-making.

An open letter sent from women activists inside and outside the country to Secretary-General Guterres called on him to ensure:

  • The UN is consistent in messaging on human rights, including women’s rights and gender equality…. [and] to immediately suspend all of Amina Mohammad’s engagement with the Taliban;
  • The UN does not comply with the Taliban’s ban on women working for the UN;
  • Diverse Afghan women are meaningfully consulted…. including at the upcoming meeting of Special Envoys in May 2023;
  • We also urge all parties not to grant the Taliban a seat at the UN.

Former Afghan diplomat Asila Wardak in an op-ed published by PassBlue, an independent, women-led news site that closely covers the work of the UN, also said that while she appreciated that the actions of the Taleban were “beyond the control of the international community,” she questioned why Afghan women were excluded from the Doha meeting:

The global envoys — almost all men — will be talking about us without us. Why? We always ask for a seat at the table, and we have asked for just one hour of this two-day meeting. But we have been told it is not possible. What message does this exclusion send to the Taliban, to Afghan women and to the rest of the world about where the UN actually stands?

Women activists noted that even though the Taleban were not invited to the gathering, officials were in Doha and would take the opportunity to have meetings with officials. Several were tweeted about by the Taleban or reported by the media, although whether or not they were actually on the ‘sidelines’ of Doha, as portrayed by the Emirate or just normal routine meetings is questionable. Those were: a meeting with Norway’s Special Envoy for Afghanistan Kjell-Gunnar Eriksen and Paul Koloman Bkar, its Chargé d’Affaires (tweet here); the Director for Afghanistan and Pakistan in the UK’s foreign ministry, Andrew McCoubrey (tweet here, report here); China’s Special Envoy for Afghanistan, Yue Xiaoyong (tweet from TOLOnews here); Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, Pakistan and Russia (reported by Ariana).

In the end, there was a virtual meeting, organised at the request of US Special Envoy for Afghan Women, Girls and Human Rights Rina Amiri on 1 May between some of the envoys and officials, including from the US and EU, and dozens of women’s rights activists, more than sixty, according to Mary Karimi, from the Together Stronger and other groups (see tweet). The women updated the special envoys about the dire economic situation of Afghan families, especially women, and restated their demand that the Taleban should not be recognised, Asila Wardak told the London-based Independent Farsi. While they gave assurances that the issue of recognition was not on the table at Doha, the envoys had nothing “new to say to the women, except for ‘compassion and empty promises,’” said Wardak (see Independent Farsi reporting here).

Did any Afghans from the media, aid or civil society support greater engagement?

Not all Afghans have been arguing against engagement. Other groups, particularly made up of those working on the ground inside the country, suggested practical approaches to engagement, which they believe would provide useful paths to resolving the impasse between the Emirate and international actors. They also sent two open letters to the UN Secretary-General, one from individuals working in the media and civil society inside Afghanistan and another signed by dozens of Afghan NGOs, calling itself the Nexus Group.

The letter from the individuals living in Afghanistan and working across peace, civil society, humanitarian aid, human rights, media and business sectors called for a “principled, pragmatic, and phased approach to engagement,” which would help remove what they said were the “roadblocks” to social and economic development against the backdrop of “the worst humanitarian crisis on the planet worsened by a weakened economy and a lack of a framework for political dialogue.” The letter offered a number of recommendations on political, aid, economic and diplomatic tracks, including a call for the international community to engage directly with the Afghan people to “develop Afghan solutions to Afghan problems,” expand support to local organisations, which it said had a proven track record of successfully negotiating access, and invest in women-led and owned organisations and areas where women and girls could still be active such as “local media, certain types of vocational institutes, cultural heritage preservation and arts programming.”

The second letter, from the Nexus Group, was signed by dozens of Afghan civil society organisations, argued against isolating Afghanistan and said: “A heavily sanctioned Afghanistan will not be conducive to regional security or human security inside the country.” Afghanistan’s civil society, the letter said, has shown “immense resilience” and has proven that meaningful working was possible in the current challenging environment: “Our potential to hold the de-facto authorities accountable is vast and can be leveraged by the international community to strengthen international pressure on the de-facto authorities.” Finally, the letter urged donors to target their support to critical areas such as the health sector, which “are collapsing in the absence of development aid, creating current and future needs which fuel more costly humanitarian interventions later on.”

Both letters stressed that they were from Afghans on the ground and working to improve people’s lives. They did not feature any open criticism of the Taleban, but couched them as the de facto authorities who needed to be engaged with. As the signatories to the first letter said: “The current approach to Afghanistan has only increased the suffering in this country. Our people are innovative, determined, pioneering and resilient – let’s work towards lifting the barriers to our progress.”

What did the opposition say about the gathering?

There were few reactions from opposition groups or leaders outside Afghanistan. The only group that seems to have issued a statement is the National Resistance Council for the Salvation of Afghanistan. This group was established in the Turkish capital Ankara in March 2022 on the initiative of former vice-president and Jombesh-e Melli leader Abdul Rashid Dostum at a launch attended by several northern mujahedin heavyweights, including: two leaders from Jamiat-e Islami, Atta Muhammad Nur, former governor of Balkh, and Ahmad Wali Massud, Ahmad Shah Massud’s son and National Resistance Front (NRF); Ittihad-e Islami leader and former MP Abdul Rabb Rasul Sayyaf, and; Hizb-e Wahdat Mardom leader and former Deputy Chief Executive Muhammad Mohaqeq. [5]

A 1 May declaration issued by the National Resistance Council welcomed efforts to end the current crisis in Afghanistan, but expressed strong opposition to any move to recognise the Taleban; rather, it called for the Doha Agreement to be abandoned and urged the international community to find a “new and acceptable road map” and “the formation of a comprehensive transition mechanism and the return of sovereignty to the Afghan people through national elections.”

Former first vice president Amrullah Saleh tweeted his thanks to the UN for excluding “the Talibs from the UN led Doha conference,” calling it “a meaningful & constructive decision,” on 2 May. He called for the people of Afghanistan to be “given a chance to express their will & have a say in who should lead them and how.”

Why does this all feel vaguely familiar?

The authors did feel a sense of déjà vu over Guterres’ statement. The participants’ three ‘concerns’ that he cited appeared to come straight from the 1990s playbook of relations between the ‘international community’ and the Taleban’s first Emirate. Then also, the Taleban’s harbouring of terrorist groups, primarily al-Qaeda and its leader Osama bin Laden, their treatment of women and girls and their failure to control narcotics were all regularly cited by foreign powers and in Security Council resolutions (see resolutions 1267 (text here) and 1333 (text here) adopted on 15 October 1999 and 19 December 2000 respectively).

In those days, the terrorist issue was most pressing, as it probably is also today, but the issue of women’s rights and narcotics were also regularly cited. The issue of women’s rights is far more of a stumbling block to the aid programme than it was in the 1990s, given the Taleban are now trying to restrict freedoms which women and girls had (not universally, but in many places) been enjoying, rather than clamping down on a population cowed by a brutal civil war. (For more on this, see this recent AAN report comparing the two eras.)

Since 1999 Afghanistan’s production of narcotics – as the world’s leading supplier of illegal opiates– could be said to be the one single issue which harms the rest of the world the most. For the Taleban, both during their first rule and now, it was also the easiest international concern to deal with. In July 2000, they successfully banned opium poppy resulting in negligible cultivation in the 2000/2001 growing season – less than 10,000 hectares were planted with poppy, and that was in opposition-held areas, mainly in Badakhshan (see this report from the UN International Drug Control Programme (whether the eradication of poppy would have continued is moot as the Emirate was overthrown the following year).

Last year, on 3 April 2022, the Emirate again banned opium poppy cultivation and opiate production and trade (see AAN reporting here) and on 9 March 2023, it also banned cannabis cultivation[6] The Taleban issued the opium ban in the midst of the harvest season and granted a two-month grace period, which left the 2022 harvest largely unaffected by the ban, according to the UN’s Office on Drugs and Crime in a report issued in November 2022. [7] However, available media reports suggest that the ban has been strictly enforced on the new crop that was planted in the autumn of 2022 (see for example here).

In the 1990s, the poppy ban garnered the Taleban virtually no benefits in terms of relief from sanctions or steps towards recognition. There is no sense today, either, that these bans will help the Emirate’s case. This is even though their action appears to be in stark contrast to the failure of the US-supported Republic to make inroads in poppy production.

What is different this time is that the Taleban, with a cadre of diplomats honed by years spent talking to foreigners in Doha, are much more eloquent and on the front foot than in the 1990s, even though their message is virtually the same: the outside world has no right to meddle in domestic issues and should recognise the Emirate as the rightful rulers of Afghanistan. There is also a greater diversity of Afghan voices speaking in opposition to or critical or at least independently of the Taleban. Despite the Taleban’s clampdown on free speech, [8] some of those voices are from inside the country, named and identifiable people. This feels like a new phenomenon.

Edited by Jelena Bjelica


1 The delegates were from: China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Iran, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Norway, Pakistan, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States, Uzbekistan, plus the European Union and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.
2 The aim of the two-day gathering, according to the Secretary-General’s spokesperson, speaking at his daily briefing in New York on the 1 May, was to:

[T]o reach points of commonality on key issues, such as human rights, especially for women and girls, inclusive governance, countering terrorism and drug trafficking… [and] achieve a common understanding within the international community on how to engage with the Taliban on these issues.

3 The resolution lists those challenges as “including, but not limited to, humanitarian, human rights and especially the rights of women and girls, religious and ethnic minorities, security and terrorism, narcotics, development, economic and social challenges, dialogue, governance and the rule of law; and to advance the objective of a secure, stable, prosperous and inclusive Afghanistan in line with the elements set out by the Security Council in previous resolutions.”
4 On 5 April, the UN said it had instructed “all national staff – men and women – not to report to the office until further notice” and again on 11 April, announced that “national personnel – women and men – have been instructed not to report to UN offices, with only limited and calibrated exceptions made for critical tasks.” The letter describes a wide variety of interpretations of this order, ranging from one agency deeming “all male staff ‘critical’ and offering female staff to return to work without any assurances for their safety, against the recommendation of the UN Country Team,” while multiple others “have not ensured the equal administration of this decision to all of its employees, with UN contract holders and 3rd party implementers held to different standards.” Only a few heads of agencies had framed the work-from-home mandate as a response to an “attack on women’s rights and the neutrality of the UN,” instead casting it as “purely a security measure.”

Perhaps more significantly, it says that following the December ban on NGOs employing women, instead of following UN operational guidelines issued by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (the highest-level humanitarian coordination body within the UN) to ensure the “non-discriminatory delivery of aid,” in practice, “NGO partners and third-party contractors were directed to restart operations with significantly fewer female field workers and no female staff in offices.” This point was also raised in January by former AREU director, Orzala Nemat.

5 Whether those who attended the launch are members of the National Resistance Council for the Salvation of Afghanistan is not clear.
6 The ban on cannabis was announced at the beginning of the planting season. Typically, the planting season for cannabis in Afghanistan is between March and May, depending on the region. It is possible that the farmers in the western, northeastern and southern regions, who would typically sow cannabis seed in March, may have already done so. It remains to be seen how this ban will be implemented.
7 In 2022, Afghan farmers planted 56,000 hectares more land with opium poppy than in 2021, an increase of 32 per cent. That area, 233,000 hectares, was the third largest area under opium cultivation since UNODC monitoring began, UNODC reported in its 2022 Opium Cultivation in Afghanistan report. It also said that:

Opium prices have soared following the announcement of the cultivation ban in April 2022. The income made by farmers from opium sales tripled from USD 425 million in 2021 to USD 1.4 billion 2022 – the equivalent of 29 percent of the 2021 agricultural sector value. The sum still represents only a fraction of the income made from production and trafficking within the country.… Following drought conditions in early 2022, opium yields declined from an average of 38.5kg/ha in 2021, to an estimated 26.7 kg/ha in 2022, yielding an opium harvest of 6,200 tons (10 percent less than the 6,800 tons in 2021). The 2022 opium harvest can be converted into 350 – 580 tons of heroin of export quality (50 – 70 percent purity).

8 For more on the Emirate’s repression of media, protests and other ‘fundamental freedoms’, see the UN Special Rapporteur’s first two reports, published in September 2022 and 9 February 2023 (AAN analysis here and here).


A Ban, a Resolution and a Meeting: A look at the May 2023 meeting in Doha and the reactions to it
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