The Guardian’s view on Taliban victory: Afghanistan’s nightmare intensifies | Editorial

On Monday, it will be a year since the Taliban seized Kabul, marking “not the collapse of a regime, but the collapse of the dreams of a nation”, in the words of an Afghan interviewed by the BBC. Some hailed the departure of foreign troops and the prospect of peace after two decades of appalling civilian casualties and corruption. But despite the violence and suicide bombings, for many others those years were marked by rising life expectancies and literacy, as well as new opportunities and aspirations: women in rural as well as big cities wanted education and freedom of movement.

The nightmare is getting worse. Afghans now live with both Taliban repression and mass hunger. The claim was that, 20 years after their overthrow by the US-led coalition, the world was likely to see a more moderate “Taliban 2.0” when they took power. It is true that the mass executions that many feared did not materialize. But critics and opponents have been killed or arbitrarily detained and tortured, and the media has been silenced. A struggle between the pragmatists and the hardliners is ongoing: In March, eager girls arrived at secondary schools to resume their studies – only to be told that classrooms had remained closed to them after central management had canceled education officials. Women were barred from many jobs and prevented from traveling or going to work unless accompanied by a male guardian. Some were threatened or beaten for ignoring orders to cover their bodies or faces in accordance with the Taliban interpretation of Islamic dress codes.

Observers say that for now at least the Taliban appear less corrupt than their predecessors. But they seek to translate a rural insurgency into a national government and cannot meet the basic needs of 38 million Afghans amid economic collapse. Suppressing your citizens is easier than ensuring they have food. The UN calls this the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis; parents were forced to sell kidneys and children. The World Food Program feeds almost half the population. Although the United States has issued sanctions waivers for humanitarian assistance, Afghans need development assistance and a functioning economy. The brain drain comes not only from the drain of young professionals, but also from the waste of female talent.

Soaring global food prices and waning international sympathy could prove deadly as winter sets in. And the Taliban regime is not a guarantor of peace. Islamic State-Khorasan, a branch of IS, continued its attacks. An insurgency has resumed in the northeast of the country. The fact that al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri lived in Kabul, in flagrant violation of the Doha agreement on the US withdrawal, which stipulated that Afghanistan would not host terrorists, is likely to make progress on economic issues more difficult. Yet, strikingly, Joe Biden did not mention the Taliban when he announced this month that a US strike had killed the terrorist. The United States does not want to see them succeed, but cannot afford them to fail. An Afghanistan falling back into civil war would be much more dangerous for the West, which would like to put Afghanistan behind it.

Washington has no desire to dwell on its own role and responsibility. Public concern has been largely redirected to Ukraine. Yet the women and men who dared to protest against Taliban oppression; teenage girls who secretly attend school; and indeed the Afghans who have fled to the UK and elsewhere, but who remain unable to rebuild their lives – all hope for and deserve much better.

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