By Paiman Arman*
In an all-encompassing, continuous manner, the Taliban continue to restrict free media and threaten and detain journalists, civil activists, political activists, and women protesters. In the past two years, the Taliban have severely restricted media activities and access to information in Afghanistan by issuing at least 13 guidelines regarding media activities and journalists. And they regularly close media outlets.
One of their latest measures occurred on September 27 when the Taliban closed Radio Nasim and detained its employees in Nili, the capital of Daikundi province. Later, it was reported that they had been released on bail. Also this month, they detained Julia Parsi and her eldest son in Kabul, as well as Neda Parwani, her husband, and young child, who were detained as of September 19. They join other journalists and civil activists in detention including Mortaza Behboudi, Matiullah Wesa, and Rasoul Parsi.
This is happening while the International Federation of Journalists states that access to information in Afghanistan has reached its lowest point, according to a survey in which 433 journalists provided their opinions regarding access to information.
The absence of the rule of law and the dissolution of regulatory institutions have turned the country into a giant prison for journalists, civil activists, and human rights advocates. Without access to reliable information, ordinary people remain in the dark. Access to information worsens daily.
The autocratic and regressive emirate is using oppression to create a monolithic, fearful, unquestioning, uncritical society—a dystopia where journalists as well as intellectual and cultural elites are suppressed. Freedom of expression is eliminated, access to information is restricted, and fundamental human and citizen rights are lost.
What is to be done?
The fundamental questions are: What can and should be done to counter this terrorist group that controls power in Afghanistan? What can be done to defend freedom of expression and media and also support journalists and civil, political, and human rights activists living under the Taliban’s rule?
Up to this point, women, through their courageous activities within the country and through their efforts abroad, have played an influential role in exposing the discriminatory ideology and misogynistic attitudes of the Taliban. Still, the primary audience for most of their activities has been international organizations, especially the United Nations, and foreign governments. These efforts have had two calculable results: First, drawing the world’s attention to Afghanistan and creating hope and self-confidence among a population facing psychological collapse, and second, increasing the cost of recognizing the Taliban, thus delaying their formal recognition as the legitimate government of Afghanistan in the eyes of the international community.
However, two issues have also become clear: First, men have been unable to stand alongside women effectively, and while one might be able to justify this passivity or conservatism given the costs one might endure within Afghanistan for such actions, this passivity cannot be reasonably explained outside the country. Second, these female-led movements have not been organized and structured. This means there have been no organized institutions and entities with a clear, strategic plan and program for these movements and street protests. In the meantime, while women have come together based on shared values, interests, and goals, men continue to show the socio-cultural characteristics of a fragmented society.
In my view, as time is passing since the initial days of the Taliban takeover, activists in the diaspora are increasingly burdened with the difficulties of their lives as refugees. As well, individualized and limited actions are not effective at a time when pressure is decreasing on countries that are considering changing their policies toward engaging with the Taliban. Even more than before, there is a need for collective and organized struggles of both men and women.
There is a great need for organized and institutionalized activities for both male and female joint efforts. We had transitioned from the time of the total collapse of the former government and society, to the recovery of capacities, talents, and organizational abilities, and now, to a time when the continuation of protest activities is possible. Our success lies in common democratic values, fundamental human rights, and organizational and goal-oriented activities. We also know that countries’ foreign policies constantly evolve based on their national interests. Of concern is that our ability to garner attention on the world stage may be waning as other crises are deemed more pressing. The international community will not wait for us forever.
Efficient and impactful civil professions, trades, and organizations should be created to act as an antidote to authoritarianism. They should have been undertaken earlier to prevent corruption in power and management and, ultimately, the collapse of the political system. However, it must be acknowledged that all of us have squandered irreversible golden opportunities and relied on foreign supporters. Now, we are also expected to learn lessons from our regrettable collective fate. We should demonstrate that we are a deserving nation of a secure and developed democratic country by shaping democratic trade organizations and institutions. We continue to pay human, material, and spiritual costs for our collective failure. Targeted killings, sexual apartheid, land seizures, forced displacement, suppression, torture, detention, and imprisonment of journalists, civil activists, political activists, and human rights advocates by the Taliban terrorist group will continue.
We can continue our campaign of moving toward a democratic political system and human rights-based government in Afghanistan by learning from our mistakes, and shifting from social immaturity to forming a professional, organized program. We must have a common goal: creating a better Afghanistan for everyone.
*Paiman Arman is the pseudonym of a writer and human rights activist.