Do You Hear the People Cry?

In 2001, the U.S. and its allies invaded Afghanistan and caused the Taliban regime there to fall. Under the Taliban, many human rights violations were being committed, especially against women, and a lot of people hoped that with the fall of the Taliban, and the involvement of Western powers, things would take a turn for the better. The rights of women and children and freedom of speech, among other things, would progress. Unfortunately, that was not to be the case.

The situation in Afghanistan today is not much better. While a lot of progress has been made in the human rights area, the situation is still unimaginable to Western minds. The Taliban has not been completely defeated and still holds power over territory in Afghanistan. In fact, now ISIS has begun making attempts to take parts of Afghanistan. But Afghanistan’s problems do not just come from terrorists and rogue groups; they come from the Afghan government’s military groups and from non-government backed Afghan groups as well. Both sides are responsible for crimes such as civilian deaths, targeting of schools/children, and abductions/holding hostage of civilians. The militant groups with ties to the government also fight among themselves, and not just the Taliban, and they have been accused of abusing civilians. One of the most common reasons these groups fight among each other is the poppy smuggling business, and with the reducing of U.S. troops, the Afghan security forces cannot control all of the militias and other groups working for the government, and the fighting increases.

Not only is the Afghan government trying to control its militias and militaries as it attempts to take down the Taliban once and for all, it also has to battle other issues that create rifts in the country and the government. One such tension is ethnic – to some groups in the country, it seems that the large minority of Pashtuns runs the entire government, and when the First Vice President General Rashid Dostum made some comments to this effect, President Ashraf Ghani (a Pashtun) responded in denial, and then proceeded to subtly threaten Dostum with an investigation into the accusations of human rights violations leveled against Dostum and others in the government. I don’t know about you, but when a government is using the promise of addressing concerns about possible human rights violations as a threat, I start to sincerely doubt their commitment to fixing the human rights situation in their country.

Which brings me to my next point. The government really hasn’t done much for a while now. It makes promises or talks about vague plans for the future, but never follows through on them to actually fix the situation. And the situation is pretty bad.

In addition to all of the military related human rights violations, journalists and freedom of speech are under attack, from both the government and the Taliban. There are areas in Afghanistan that will soon become ‘black holes’ of information, because of the difficulty to report from there. People are afraid to speak too negatively of either the Taliban, militants, or the government for fear of punishment. Government officials can and do make it difficult sometimes for journalists to investigate too closely into the affairs of the government. Women still suffer from being accused of moral crimes, even under areas controlled by the Afghan government. The government puts forward plans to try and fix this situation, but they are not followed through on, and laws trying to fix the situation are not enforced as well as they should be, or even at all. Torture,  carried out by the government and the Taliban, still occurs.

The chief problem is that improvement in human rights issues as well as the country’s overall situation relies heavily on foreign aid. At first, foreign aid was dependent on progress in the human rights area in Afghanistan, but more recently many countries have slacked off on making sure that Afghanistan follows through on its promises. The countries can’t stop giving Afghanistan aid – Afghanistan relies heavily on aid, and if it doesn’t get aid, it could become weaker and allow the Taliban to gain more and more strength, which is the exact opposite of what the U.S. and its allies have worked towards all these years. But since the situation for human rights is so bad in Afghanistan, requiring a tremendous amount of aid and effort, which most countries are not willing to put forward, at a time when nobody wants to remain in Afghanistan any longer than they have to, the focus on human rights as a requirement for aid from other countries has been lost. Nowhere is this more apparent than the October 5th, 2016 Afghanistan donor conference in Brussels, where the issues on the table had barely, if anything, anything to do with the major rights issues in Afghanistan, and the rights issues were relegated to side events (such as the Women’s Empowerment event).

However, not all is lost. Recently Canada announced that it would be investing $40M in Afghanistan over the next five years, and that $14.5M of that money would be given to War Child Canada, to be used to help women’s and girl’s rights, as well as protect children, in Afghanistan. War Child Canada hopes that this will set an example to the rest of the international community and inspire them to follow similar paths.

If the rest of the international community chooses to follow similar paths, the situation in Afghanistan could be dramatically improved, and the influence of the Taliban perhaps even extinguished. But if countries continue to give money, but not focus on human rights (or worse, pull out altogether), Afghanistan will weaken and splinter more and more as the Taliban gains more power. The goal of the U.S. and its allies for these long years, for which men and women gave their blood, sweat, and tears, as well as their lives, would have been in vain. And the countless people in Afghanistan who suffer day to day would have no outside help. A bleak future, indeed, but one perhaps we may change.