The Taliban measures to curb freedom of expression are also reminiscent of their 1990’s policies. They intimidated media persons and restricted press liberties compelling numerous organizations to close-down. The activists and campaigners were kept under observation and the incorrigibles were forcibly disappeared. According to a report issued by France-based organization ‘Reporters sans Frontiers’ (RSF), 40% of media outlets have been shut-up since the Taliban take-over leaving 6,400 journalists jobless. Feeling endangered, hundreds of media-workers have fled the country. Like other fields, females have suffered more in this sphere as well as now 80% of them are now out of work. The TV Channels, still operative, have been ordered to stop broadcasting music, pulling foreign content and sending female hosts on the air. Most of the time is allocated to religious content and hardly someone dares to present critical news or information. The largest TV service is TOLO, operated by MOBY Group, however even it is under pressure due to falling revenues, lack of staff and intimidation by authorities. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has stated that media is facing three major problems in Afghanistan: acute censorship, violence and economic hardship. Meanwhile, Media Monitoring Office (MMO) has been set-up that screens every program prior to its release for ensuring full compliance with religious and political preferences of the regime.
The Taliban’s ability to handle economy has proven to be disappointing as the standards of living achieved and maintained during the US control have nose-dived. The UN anticipates that all the Afghans could be living below the poverty-line within a short span of time. Apart from Taliban’s mismanagement, the stoppage of foreign aid is the major reason for this situation. Of course, the monitory support of the developed world and the IFI’s had been the life-line of the Afghan economy in general and of the social sector in particular, during the last two decades. The deterioration of the economy can be gauged by the fact that the fiscal year 2021’s proposed budget was of around $6 billion whereas for the current year it is of $2.6 billion. After strict ban on poppy cultivation, the Taliban revenue primarily comes from customs collection and increased coal exports to Pakistan. It will not be out of place to highlight that during the US occupation 75% of the government expenditure was furnished by Washington and its partners in the coalition. Even after the US withdrawal, the international donors have provided Kabul over $2 billion by July 2022. According to UN calculations $2 billion further will be required by the end of year to meet Afghanistan’s humanitarian need.
One of the most serious issues being faced by Afghanistan is non-availability of sufficient food. Nearly 20% of the people or half of the population are suffering from food insecurity due to Taliban’s mismanagement, the US-led economic sanctions and extreme drought triggered by climate change. The ‘Human Rights Watch’ has warned that the humanitarian crises of Afghanistan ‘cannot be effectively addressed unless the US and other governments ease sanctions on the country’s banking sector to facilitate legitimate economic activity and humanitarian aid’.
At present, Afghanistan stands totally isolated from the international community. Taliban’s alleged under-cover relations with ‘al-Qaeda’ have played important role in turning the world against it. The UN monitors had reported earlier that the ‘al-Qaida’ was close to the regime and the globally proscribed organization was being facilitated in all regards. The detection and later killing of Ayman al-Zawahiri in Kabul by the US on 31 July 2022 substantiated the claim. Taliban’s proclamation that ‘Afghanistan’s soil will not be used against the security of any other country’ has not been assigned any weightage by the concerned quarters. The US and most of the western countries have kept their diplomatic missions shut in Kabul since the Taliban take-over due to their alleged patronage of terrorist groups and human rights violation. The UN General Assembly has consistently avoided the vote that who can represent Afghanistan in the United Nations?
Sometimes the political scientists try to research that whether the Afghans support the Taliban or not? According to ‘Asia Foundation’, a US-sponsored NGO’s 2009 survey; the Pashtuns and rural Afghans had liking for the so-called ‘Jihadi’ groups particularly the Taliban due to grievances against public institutions. However, a 2019 survey revealed that Taliban’s support has declined to mere 13.4% . The target group indicated that they were concerned about protection of women rights, freedom of speech and the constitution. The above-mentioned NGO might not be above board being an interested party however its research provides some hint regarding the question.
While studying Afghanistan, it is not possible to ignore its ‘love and hate’ relationship with Pakistan. After the Taliban’s second take-over, Pakistan was confidant of peace on its western border and Afghan regime’s assistance in dealing with ‘Tehreeq-e- Taliban Pakistan’ (TTP), however what has transpired is totally opposite to it. The Afghanistan-created border dispute, lingering-on since 1947, has taken a serious turn. The border clashes have increased despite Pakistan’s repeated stress on diplomatic resolution of the problem. Pakistan’s efforts to downplay the intensity of situation have not succeeded and it is becoming difficult to push it under the carpet. The hooliganism in Pak-Afghan cricket match on 22 September; the ‘Dand Patton Incident’ dated 19 November; Taliban’s continuous provocations on Durand Line; end of TTP’s five-month-long cease-fire on 28 November leading to terrorist acts of various degrees aggravated inter-state tensions. Numerous bombings/attacks on LEAs in Baluchistan; TTP’s attack on CTF’s establishment in Bannu and suicidal assault in Islamabad during last few weeks has further marred the relations with Afghan Taliban. The unsuccessful visit of Minister of State for Foreign Affairs to Kabul has reduced the chances of normalization. The Taliban have out-rightly made it clear that Pakistan-perceived ‘patron-client relationship’ is not acceptable to them and they are not ready to come to terms despite Pakistan’s assurance that they have given-up the notion of ‘strategic depth’. After NATO’s withdrawal from Afghanistan under the leadership of the US, Pakistan has lost its previous status of a ‘front-line state’ therefore it has to depend on itself to face the impending crises. Hard days ahead.