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Freedom (From The Arrogant Power)?

Kabul was like Dhaka – the Capital of Bangladesh or erstwhile East Pakistan – on the night before February 21. The Afghan capital was making preparations to celebrate Independence Day on August 18, 2002. All the main roads of Kabul were decorated with red and blue lights, images of Afghan Politician and Military Commander Ahmad Shah Massoud (September 2, 1953 – September 9, 2001) were getting hung everywhere in the city, and traffic islands were being decorated with flowers, as Afghanistan was all set to mark its Independence Day on August 19, 2002.

His local Afghan colleagues invited Indian journalist Deshkalyan Chowdhury to attend the main event at Kabul Sports Stadium. Chowdhury accepted the same, and arrived at the stadium on August 19 morning to have a look at the parade. Upon his arrival at the stadium, the Indian journalist witnessed an excitement among the spectators as the stadium was full. Earlier, he had come to know that the stadium was used by the Taliban fighters to punish poor Afghans by stoning or shooting them to death. Most importantly, the presence of women was noticeable, as if it was their Independence Day. Hundreds of girl-students and women of different ages, without wearing veils, took part in the parade on August 19, 2002. Later, then Afghan President Hamid Karzai announced that his country’s first female paratrooper would soon land in the stadium from the sky. Immediately after the announcement, the stadium exploded with applause!

Afghan schoolgirls at the Independence Day parade on August 19, 2002

On that historic day, local elderly people performed a dance with sticks and guns in the presence of the Afghan Army personnel, the president and their countrymen. Dance with guns is a part of traditional Afghan culture. The people of Afghanistan tasted Freedom that day, as the long Taliban Regime (1996-2001) had just come to an end. Perhaps, Freedom was very important for the Afghan women who had no voice for so many years. They had no other option, but to cover their faces with burqas, an enveloping outer garment that covers the body and the face of women in some Islamic traditions. By that time, almost all the schools in Kabul had reopened, and a huge number of girl-students started attending classes. The Afghan women also got an opportunity to visit internet booths and gyms. One could also find women alone on the streets of major Afghan cities. However, Chowdhury’s Afghan driver Selim repeatedly reminded him of the situation during the Taliban Regime, when the women were not allowed to get out of their residences without a male member of the family. The female patients had to find a male member first, before visiting a doctor!

The Taliban has taken control of Afghanistan, yet again, after 19 years! It is unfortunate that the Afghan people have to accept defeat to Guns and to Religious Fundamentalism. Two decades ago, an Indian journalist had experienced the joy of Liberation expressed by the people of a war-torn country. Marks of bullets were everywhere in the South Asian Nation, while shells by cannons had destroyed the theatres. The Afghan currency had almost no value after the Islamic Fundamentalist group ruled the country from 1996 until the US-led invasion in 2001. One could easily find thousands of child labourers on city streets, as they had lost their fathers during the Civil War. People had to wait long for rations outside the UN-run refugee centres. Still, they had smile on their faces!

Afghan women stand to collect wheat in Kabul, 2002

Since its ouster in 2001, the Taliban has maintained its insurgency against the US-led mission and the Afghan Government. As the US decided to withdraw troops from the war-ravaged country by August 2021, the Taliban has returned to power. Experts are of the opinion that the Taliban is stronger now than at any point since 2001. It launched an offensive amid the US troop withdrawal and, by summer 2021, took control of the country. It may be noted that the Taliban started its first direct peace negotiations with the Afghan Government in 2020 after signing an agreement with the US. However, little progress has been made since then.

One can readily imagine what is going to happen to the women in Afghanistan, in the coming days. They had returned to normal life after the overthrow of the Taliban Regime in 2001. They also had one-fourth presence in the Parliament. The primary education for girl children has reached 50% in the last 19 years. Everything has become uncertain now. UN Secretary General António Guterres has said: “I am extremely disturbed by reports from areas captured by the Taliban in Afghanistan. It is horrifying that hard-won rights are being ripped away from Afghan girls and women.

Taliban takes control of Kabul on August 15, 2021

The Taliban is not only targeting the women. The terror outfit has already asked men not to shave and listen to foreign music. The Taliban leaders are all set to close schools, and to re-introduce religious education only. Chowdhury’s driver Selim stressed: “People have no money to purchase oil. Earlier, people used to party on Friday nights, enjoy music and dance. Everything is strictly prohibited now.” Taliban leaders have claimed that they are not forcing anyone to do anything! It is heard that the extremists are backing the Taliban. In fact, everything is happening in the manner it happened during the last time.

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