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What’s next for Afghanistan?



It has now been over a month since the Taliban seized Kabul. As attention inevitably shifts elsewhere, the painful question arises: What's next? Is this another 'back to the future' moment? The signs are grim. Over the last two weeks, the Taliban have issued a number of edicts which demonstrate that their attitudes to women have not changed.

It has now been over a month since the Taliban seized Kabul. As attention inevitably shifts elsewhere, the painful question arises: What next? Is this another back to the future moment? The signs are grim. Over the last two weeks, the Taliban have issued a number of edicts which demonstrate that their attitudes to women have not changed.

On 18 September, they banned girls from attending secondary school. Then on Sunday 19 September, the Taliban instructed female employees in Kabul’s city government to stay home. Men would replace them where possible.

These edicts, restricting the rights of women and girls to work and study, hark back to the last time the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, emanating from the group’s extreme interpretation of Sharia law.

When the Taliban last ruled Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001, the group forbade women to go to school or university, forbade women to work, and only allowed women to leave their homes if accompanied by a male family member. Breaking these rules incurred punishments such as public whipping or stoning, as they likely will now.

The plight of Afghanistan’s religious and ethnic minorities such as the Hazaras is equally precarious. Experts and close watchers of Afghanistan have been warning of ethnocide and politicide under Taliban rule since the day Kabul fell. These warnings are grounded a long history of persecution and pain for minorities.


'Under their last five-year reign, the Taliban carried out a systematic campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Hazaras. People of Hazara background could be picked up in public solely because of their background and never be seen again.'


Hazaras, who represent around a fifth of Afghanistan’s population, have been persecuted since the rule of Abdur Rahman Khan, Amir of Afghanistan during the 19th Century because of their Shi’a religious beliefs and practices, and their distinct features.

By the early 20th Century, about 60 per cent of the Hazara population had been subject to ethnic cleansing. Many were also enslaved or sent into exile. 

Under their last five-year reign, the Taliban carried out a systematic campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Hazaras. People of Hazara background could be picked up in public solely because of their background and never be seen again.

The Taliban also perpetrated mass atrocities against the Hazaras. For example, in August 1998, the Taliban massacred between 2,000 and 5,000 civilians in the city of Mazar-e Sharif in a two-day period, reportedly going from house to house searching for Hazara men in particular.

Reports of targeted killings and threats of similar massacres already abound. In July, the Taliban killed six Hazara men in the Malestan district of Ghazni province, and twelve Hazara men who were former army soldiers in Daikundi province.

Reports have also surfaced in Hazarajat of whole communities being given days or weeks to vacate their towns and villages or risk wholesale violence.

Although the Taliban has not changed, new realities have emerged around them.

For example, for two decades, women have stood on their feet and played a vital role in public office, in business, in the services sector, and even in the police, affirmed in their freedoms by a Constitutional provision from 2009, formalising equality between men and women, and declaring practices such as child marriage illegal.

Photos of young boys refusing to go to school in solidarity with their sisters, and of women dressed in traditional, colourful national attire have also emerged as novel forms of protest online, amplified in their reach by the powers of new social media.

Farther afield, leaders from Afghanistan in diaspora communities all over Australia have been active in gathering and sharing evidence of atrocities on the ground, in writing powerful op-eds, running petitions, in rallying against the treatment of kin in Afghanistan, and advocating for more welcoming policies towards refugees and other forcibly displaced people from Afghanistan.

As all of these actions demonstrate, women, minority groups, and diaspora communities will continue to stand for their fundamental rights in the face of repression.

In the aftermath of the West’s hurried departure from Kabul, the Australian Government can and should take a number of key practical steps to protect people from Afghanistan. Australia’s recent announcement of a $100 million in aid, including $65 million in urgent humanitarian assistance is a welcome development, which will save lives.

This money should be distributed to local civil society organisations and refugee-led organisations with close contacts on the ground.

Australia can do even more to protect people from Afghanistan.

More than 5,100 refugees and people seeking protection from Afghanistan have been separated from their family members for more than eight years and denied access to family reunion. In addition, they have been subject to prolonged immigration detention, denied access to formal education, and denied access to vital supports such as the NDIS.

These refugees have been living, working, volunteering and praying in our communities for years. They cannot ever live safely under a Taliban Government, and their family members stuck in Afghanistan are in grave danger.

Australia should grant permanent protection visas to these refugees and prioritise pathways to family reunification for them and so many other people from Afghanistan currently in Australia.

Australia can also accept more refugees from Afghanistan for resettlement.

Diaspora leaders have continuously called for a special intake of 20,000 people in addition to the annual humanitarian intake of 13,750, and large segments of Australia including churches, unions, and business groups support this call. Indeed, many Australians have already offered to lend practical support to those who arrive as part of such an intake.

Australia has shown leadership of this kind in the past, offering 42,000 visas to people fleeing the Vietnam War between 1975 and 1980; offering 42,000 visas to people from China in the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989; and offering 12,000 visas to people from Syria and Iraq in 2015.

Now is the time for the Australian Government for step up and do more to protect people from Afghanistan. 


As part of the National Week of Prayer and Action (NWPA) in solidarity with sisters and brothers from Afghanistan, the Catholic Alliance for People Seeking Asylum (CAPSA) is hosting ‘A Call to Prayer and Action for Afghanistan’ on Tuesday 28 September from 7 PM to 8 PM. Leaders from the diaspora will join Fr Frank Brennan SJ reflecting on the issues and the need for a compassionate response. Register here.

To learn more about how you stand in solidarity with the diaspora, visit the Action For Afghanistan website. The Diaspora Advocacy Network of Afghanistan website also has important resources.


Hava Rezaie is a refugee rights advocate; Hayat Akbari is a Chair of the Youth Working Group at the Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network (APRRN); Zaki Haidari is a refugee rights advocate and Leadership Coordinator at Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Australia.

Main image: Hazara children play on a hill top in a Hazara neighborhood. (Daniel Shah/Getty Images) 

Topic tags: Hava Rezaie, Hayat Akbari, Zaki Haidari, Afghanistan, Hazara, Taliban, refugee, women's rights



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Existing comments

What is happening in Afghanistan now seems to me to be a particularly violent and repressive expression of Pashtun (Pathan) identity. I think, at the back of many of the Taliban leaders minds is the reunification of all Pashtun lands across the Durand line. This would lead to the dismemberment of Pakistan, already pretty close to being a failed state. Islam, or Sunni Islam of the Deobandi variety with its historical links with Saudi Arabia, gives the Taliban and this aim a supposedly religious colour. Everything else and every other Afghan ethnicity is second to this 'glorious cause'. Ahmed Massoud, the leader of the most effective opposition to the Talibs, is a Tajik. Tajiks, albeit Sunni, are not the Talibs favourites. I am unsure at this stage whether Ahmed Massoud is alive, in captivity or dead. If Pakistan fails, the current refugee problem will be dwarfed. India and Iran, the latter the Shia nation par excellence, do not view the current situation in Afghanistan favourably. Their proactive intervention in Afghan affairs would be most beneficial at this time. However many Afghan refugees are given asylum, the majority of Hazaras will be left behind in Afghanistan. It is their fate which is a major concern. They must not be forgotten.

Edward Fido | 29 September 2021  

What next indeed? They all have a common belief in Allah, yet Mohammed Alizada, a former Hazara member of parliament, has said that the Hazaras’ “support for democracy and thirst for knowledge” have clashed with the strict religious and conservative values of the Taliban and Islamic State.
So its a question of control over hearts and minds.
Again the Taliban insist on living in the past and women who desire knowledge and show ambition are repressed and excluded.
Sounds a lot like the Catholic church to me.
Looking at that photo and arid featureless landscape what they could really do is plant some trees.

Francis Armstrong | 29 September 2021  

Much of Afghanistan is desert, Francis Armstrong, with some fertile valleys. I would say the Tajiks, all Sunni Muslim, would be amongst the strongest anti-Talib groups. Many of the educated women you saw in places like Kabul were Tajik. Ethnically and culturally they are close to the Iranians, although they are Sunni. The Talibs believe that anyone who does not follow their form of Islam is a Kaffir (unbeliever) and should be killed. This is not the Islam of the Prophet pbuh.

Edward Fido | 30 September 2021  

Thank you, Edward & Francis, for your strong support for the Hazara refugees. Wherever I've encountered them I've found them cheerful, hardworking and a welcome addition to the wider Australian family. There are people living overhere who have been waiting many years for their families to join them. Our government would enhance the global standing and reputation of Australia by advocating for them with the Taliban Government which, given the pressures it is under at this early stage of their victory, is more likely to release them for deportation than persecute them for their ethnic identity and Sh'i'ah religious affinities.

Michael Furtado | 03 October 2021  

Since 2008 I am working with the Dutch Committee for Afghanistan (DCA), USAID, Gruppo di Volontariato Civile, Bologana, Italy (CVG), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Animal health and Livestock office, National Horticulture and Livestock Project (NHLP) and animal health clinic but I do not remember the situation of Afghanistan as bad as today, hence considering this situation, no hope for the improvement of my children, and possible threat to me and my wife (she was a Teacher and legal officer in the school of Qaba Noor and Shahkar Services and Social Rehabilitation Organization (SRO) I decide to leave Afghanistan together with my family members hope you assist us part of your humanitarian plan.

Safiullah Habibi | 14 October 2021  

A horrifying piece of news I read a couple of days ago said the Taliban were evicting Hazaras and supporters of the former government from their homes and farms in three provinces just before the harvest and giving these homes and farms to their own (mainly Pashtun) supporters. As Afghanistan is a multiethnic state with no one ethnic majority, I see this not just as sectarian, the Hazara being mainly Shi'ite, but also racist, like the Myanmar government's treatment of their ethnic and religious minorities. The Taliban may, amongst other things, have been considering a potential food shortage. This action condemns many thousands to extreme hardship and potential starvation. I hope the Taliban's rule is short lived, otherwise we will have another Saudi Arabia. They treat their Shi'ite population there appalingly. The world doesn't need this.

Edward Fido | 25 October 2021