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Six Months And An Eternity: Afghans Lose Hope Under Taliban Rule

People reach out to receive bread in Kabul.

Following a lightning military advance on Kabul, Taliban militants seized power on August 15. The hard-line Islamists celebrated their victory as the end of more than four decades of war in Afghanistan, and promised a new era of peace and prosperity.

But six months later, few in the country are content with their new rulers. More than a million Afghans have fled reprisals, persecution, and a worsening humanitarian and economic crisis. Some 23 million people, the majority of the country's population of 39 million, face starvation. More than 1 million children are in danger of dying by malnutrition. And despite an end to the fighting, 3.5 million Afghans remain internally displaced.

The situation has cast a pall on the idea that the freedoms and rights enshrined in Afghanistan's partially defunct constitution will ever be honored under the Taliban, whose government remains unrecognized worldwide. And with international aid and trade dwindling to a trickle, the aspirations of many Afghans have turned from hope of a better life to mere survival.

RFE/RL's Radio Azadi spoke to people around the country about their day-to-day lives with the Taliban in power.

Humanitarian Catastrophe

Mohammad Mansuri has been stranded in his village of Lolash for weeks because of heavy snowfall in the remote Kohistan district in the northern province of Faryab. The farmer says his family of six is starving, and he has no money to seek treatment for his two sick children.

He says that residents of Lolash and hundreds of other villages in Kohistan were already on the brink of starvation even before the Taliban takeover due to a drought that has lasted for three years.

"Without swift action to help us, we are very close to a humanitarian catastrophe," he told RFE/RL by telephone.

An Afghan woman wearing a burka begs in the snow in Kabul.
An Afghan woman wearing a burka begs in the snow in Kabul.

Abdul Ahad, a 30-year-old farmer in Lolash, says that many in his village will not make it through the winter without immediate emergency aid.

"It is like we are in prison with no way out," he told RFE/RL by phone. "The prices have simply skyrocketed."

Ahad says that a 10-liter container of cooking oil he used to buy for $5 now costs more than $20. Similarly, the prices of flour and sugar have soared.

Before the Taliban takeover, Afghanistan was already one of the world's most impoverished and aid-dependent countries. Ahead of the withdrawal of foreign forces, many foreign companies and aid agencies also pulled out, and foreign funding to the government ceased entirely after the Taliban restored its hard-line Islamic emirate.

International donors have since pledged billions in humanitarian aid designated to restore health care, education, and to provide food aid, but there are significant hurdles when it comes to delivering on those promises.

"The deserving people are not getting anything," says Abdullah Khan, a resident of Baraki Barak, a district in the southeastern province of Logar, which abuts the capital, Kabul.

Afghan men warm themselves around a bonfire during snowy weather at a popular market in Kabul.
Afghan men warm themselves around a bonfire during snowy weather at a popular market in Kabul.

He says that some $200 in cash aid distributed to some of the most vulnerable families across Afghanistan is being misappropriated. "People who do not merit receiving this money are getting it," he said.

These cash grants are part of international efforts to provide financial aid to the most vulnerable Afghans while bypassing the Taliban. Aid agencies are also paying the salaries of teachers and health-care workers to provide essential services. The World Food Program is providing food aid to vulnerable Afghans.

Nevertheless, the United Nations warns that more than 97 percent of Afghans will fall into poverty before summer, and the Afghan economy appears to be in free fall.

The country's trade has dramatically shrunk as international markets for Afghan produce have dried up. This week, hope for an injection of cash to keep the Afghan economy afloat suffered a major blow after U.S. President Joe Biden issued an executive order to split $7 billion of frozen Afghan national bank reserves into humanitarian aid and payments for the victims of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States.

A displaced woman holds her child as she waits with other women to receive aid outside a UN distribution center on the outskirts of Kabul in October.
A displaced woman holds her child as she waits with other women to receive aid outside a UN distribution center on the outskirts of Kabul in October.


The Taliban announced a general amnesty soon after seizing Kabul. "I would like to assure the international community, including the United States, that nobody will be harmed," Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told journalists on August 17. "We don't want any internal or external enemies."

But a half-year later, the United Nations and human rights watchdogs continue to report grave abuses. The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan "continued to receive credible allegations of killings, enforced disappearances, and other violations," UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a report to the Security Council late last month.

The experiences of Afghans echo the UN assessment.

"My brother has been missing for three months," an Afghan man said of his sibling, a senior former Afghan army officer. "We don't know whether he is alive or dead," he added, while requesting anonymity to avoid reprisals by the Taliban.

The man claimed this week that the Taliban detained his brother three months ago. "Where is the general amnesty they promised?"

Afghan women have endured the brunt of Taliban restrictions and discrimination. Most teenage Afghan girls are still waiting to return to school, while women have lost jobs, businesses, and the expanded societal roles they had gained over the past two decades.

"Women have been completely marginalized politically," Zahra Rahnavard, a resident of Kabul, told RFE/RL. "[The Taliban] had promised to preserve women's rights, but we see nothing.... Everyone is in a state of despair and hopelessness."

A Taliban fighter stands at a checkpoint near Qargha Lake, a popular weekend destination outside Kabul.
A Taliban fighter stands at a checkpoint near Qargha Lake, a popular weekend destination outside Kabul.

Women campaigners have endured excessive Taliban crackdowns, and many have been detained, questioned, or even forcefully disappeared. Earlier this week, the Taliban released four women activists. They disappeared last month soon after participating in an anti-Taliban rally.

Disappearing Freedoms

Afghanistan's once-vibrant media is rapidly declining since the Taliban takeover. Reporters Without Borders, a global media watchdog, estimates that more than 8,000 Afghan media workers have lost their jobs in the past six months. Hundreds of journalists have fled the country, and those who remained have faced intimidation, threats, and beatings.

Mina Habib, a freelance journalist in Kabul, says she was harassed and beaten while covering a women's anti-Taliban protest in September. "Several Taliban fighters hit me and threw me on the ground," she recalled. "They grabbed my camera and threw it on the ground to break it into pieces. They told me to go home and even questioned why a woman was reporting."

Khaleda Tahsin, 51, another Afghan journalist, is giving up on journalism after 22 years spent chasing her country's evolving story nonstop. She braved suicide attacks, threats, and intimidation from both the government and the insurgents.

But the sole breadwinner for the family is calling an end to her career. She resigned from her job as the editor in chief at Radio Killid, a private station, this month because the conditions for women's work had so rapidly deteriorated under the Taliban.

"Conditions for work, particularly for women, have become tough," she told RFE/RL. "I don't have any peace of mind because of all the security threats."

Tahsin says that while women journalists can still work in theory, they have no protections. "Our major challenge is that we do not have access to information while the authorities remain unaccountable," she said.

Survival is clearly on the minds of most Afghans.

Qasim, a taxi driver in Kabul, says he used to earn $10 a day. But some days now, he has no income.

"[The Taliban militants] promised that they will improve the lives of the people," he said. "But they have not fulfilled any of their promises."

  • 16x9 Image

    RFE/RL's Radio Azadi

    RFE/RL's Radio Azadi is one of the most popular and trusted media outlets in Afghanistan. Nearly half of the country's adult audience accesses Azadi's reporting on a weekly basis.

  • 16x9 Image

    Abubakar Siddique

    Abubakar Siddique, a journalist for RFE/RL's Radio Azadi, specializes in the coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is the author of The Pashtun Question: The Unresolved Key To The Future Of Pakistan And Afghanistan.