The Humanitarian Impacts of the Afghanistan Withdrawal

May 16, 2022 By Coby Jones

Since the withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan in August 2021, the humanitarian situation in the country has continued to deteriorate, leaving the Afghan citizens who couldn’t leave to battle poverty, hunger, and human rights abuses. In the past month, the humanitarian crisis has gotten much worse as aid from major international organizations and governments pauses while the world decides how to interact with and respond to the repressive Taliban government.

Reprisal Killings

Human rights abuses are on the rise in Afghanistan. Between August and December 2021, there were credible reports of over 100 extrajudicial killings, 72 of which were said to be carried out by the Taliban. The Taliban has slowly been eroding human rights in the country for the past twenty years, but, since its take-over in August 2021, these abuses have increased dramatically. Reprisal killings by the Taliban began immediately after the withdrawal and have continued to plague citizens since. These reprisal killings have been executed on former government employees as well as individuals who have spoken out against the “Islamic Emirate”.

Prohibition of Speech

Restrictions on free speech and the media are also on the rise following the Taliban take-over. Since August, nearly 70 percent of all Afghan media outlets have shut down and the ones that remain are forced to censor their material for fear of personal safety. Many women journalists fled the country early on, fearing for their lives, and very few of those who have stayed remain in their positions. In March 2022, after the arrest and release of several TV journalists, the Taliban announced it wouldn’t allow anyone to violate “Islamic principles” or threaten the “mental and psychological security” of the Afghan people, placing further restrictions on what media is allowed to be broadcast throughout the country. Citing national security risks, the Taliban has also cracked down on international broadcasts on local media stations.

Women’s Rights

Despite the statement the Taliban made in August of 2021 vowing to respect women’s rights, the landscape for women has continued to deteriorate. The right to an education for girls is under attack by the Taliban who briefly opened schools and quickly shut them down again. Under Taliban rule before 2001, almost no primary school students were girls, but between 2001 and 2021, that number rose to nearly 4 in 10. Many believe education for girls will fall again under the new regime. Education for girls has now become a pawn in international politics, creating a stalemate among the humanitarian aid community who hope to punish the Taliban for this cruel decision.

For young girls, the risk of child marriage is expected to increase, a worrying trend in a country where 17% of girls marry before their 15th birthday. The Taliban has denied engaging in child marriage but there are many stories and reports from provinces that detail the lengths to which the Taliban will go to encourage marriage to girls as young as 13. With near universal poverty and starvation on the horizon, families are being forced to make unthinkable decisions to feed their families. Some families have even sold daughters as young as 3 into marriage, sacrificing one child in the hope that they will be able to feed the others.

Global Response

Even though headlines have shifted from Afghanistan to Ukraine, the worsening humanitarian crisis continues. Human rights abuses have continued to get worse in the months since the U.S. withdrawal and the Taliban takeover, and it will take a major lift from the international humanitarian aid community to solve this problem. Several countries are stepping up. In a virtual conference in March 2021, the United States, Germany, the UK, and Qatar pledged funds to support the deteriorating crisis. Most funds are going to alleviate the catastrophic hunger crisis and medical needs of Afghanistan, but some of this humanitarian aid is going to alleviate the human rights abuses in the country. The United States recently put additional pressure on the Taliban to allow girls to go to school, just as new face covering requirements were announced.

Human rights in Afghanistan have a long history of turmoil. The U.S. withdrawal and the Taliban take-over have escalated a humanitarian crisis in a country that already struggled with protecting equal rights. Now is the time for the international community to step forward and aid the Afghan people and help protect them from the abuses of the Taliban regime.