Photo: Milad Hamadi for the Tasnim News Agency, Licensed under CC BY 4.0

Afghanistan Needs a Legitimate Government, Not the Taliban

by Hafizullah Saeedi

The Taliban’s restrictions on the fundamental rights and freedoms of the people of Afghanistan are harsh and unreasonable. Nevertheless, Afghan civil society and human rights defenders–especially women and youth–have been peacefully, bravely, and persistently protesting for their rights. They are not giving up and neither should the world. 

The international community can no longer afford to prolong this vicious cycle. Lives are at stake. We must act now to end the illegitimate and brutal rule of the Taliban.

The single most important thing that the United Nations and the international community can do to counter the Taliban is to genuinely listen to the people of Afghanistan including women, minorities, youth, civil society, and the diaspora.

Let the people of Afghanistan drive the conversation and international strategy for their own country.

Throughout Afghanistan’s modern history, little to no serious efforts have been made to investigate, collect, preserve, and analyze the ample evidence of human rights violations. National human rights mechanisms have never been sufficiently strengthened. Nor has there been an international accountability mechanism that can provide justice and accountability for violations and abuses routinely perpetrated by various actors.

It is not any different this time around when with the Taliban in power.

The Taliban’s persecution of women is institutionalized as a form of ‘gender apartheid.’  Since 2021, the Taliban have repeatedly targeted and detained women and girls who participate in protests. Since January 2024, many Hazara and Tajik girls in Kabul have been arrested and tortured due to a ‘lack of adherence to the Taliban’s veiling standards.’ These waves add to previous identity-based atrocities such as ‘genocidal’ persecution of Hazaras and collective punishment of Tajiks and Uzbeks.

Moreover, with the Taliban’s return to power, hundreds of criminals have been released with no charges at all. While those people run around freely, partly thanks to an unsuccessful bid for peace by the former government, the Taliban continues to unlawfully arrest, torture, and kill civilians and dissenting voices.

Helpless and hopeless, many have attempted to feel the country only to face closed borders, strict visa regimes, and the risks of deportation.

Similar to their immigration policies, many countries around the world have turned a blind eye to the suffering of people inside Afghanistan. They continue to engage with authorities in Kabul to secure their national security interests. Concerns about human rights and the legitimate aspirations of Afghanistan’s people often take a back seat in such deliberations.

The Taliban continues to benefit from asset releases, humanitarian aid, prisoner swaps, and the enforced expulsion of former diplomats and government officials. The people of Afghanistan on the other hand, especially women and girls, have been consistently suffering from systematic abuse including sexual and gender-based violence, discrimination, and other human rights violations.

But that has to change. The renewed global efforts chaperoned by the UN can offer an opportunity for the protection of human rights and accountability.

From February 18 to 19, the world’s special envoys for Afghanistan met in Doha, Qatar for an UN-led conference on Afghanistan.

This international high-level conference took place without the participation of any Taliban representative. Instead, members of Afghan civil society–including those in exile–actively participated. This was likely among the reasons why Taliban participation was denied as the UN Secretary General alluded to.  

The UN efforts should emphasize the need for the Taliban and all other perpetrators of crimes to be held accountable. Supporting the call to hold these human rights violators to account is the most crucial step in preserving human rights, ensuring justice, and bringing peace to Afghanistan.

The dire human rights and humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan urgently requires a transparent, participatory, and coherent international strategy to work towards the establishment of a government that is genuinely inclusive and legitimate. That cannot happen until and unless the fundamental rights of people, without regard for their identity, are respected.

Hafizullah Saeedi is a Program Associate at the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), a network of 85 member organizations across 23 countries, mainly in Asia.