As we mark the second anniversary of the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan on Aug. 15, many Afghans are reflecting on our lost hopes and dreams for a better future. Some of us are living in hiding in Afghanistan, while others are scattered around the world.
Afghanistan has one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, with two-thirds of its population facing hunger and at least three million children suffering acute malnutrition. The country also has one of the world’s highest infant mortality rates, and thousands of women die from pregnancy-related causes, the majority of them preventable. “Afghanistan has turned into a hell on earth,” a doctor in Samangan province told me recently.
The Taliban leadership is responsible for violating the basic rights of Afghan people, and for misogynist policies and rules that have almost erased women from public life, barred them from school and jobs, and limited their freedom of movement. The Taliban’s restrictions on women also limit aid organizations’ work. As the Taliban have shown they don’t respect human rights, it’s vitally important for countries engaging with them to press them to reverse their abusive policies.
As a human-rights advocate, I have been meeting with diplomats and donor communities around the world to help them understand our concerns. I believe countries that had been involved with Afghanistan over the past two decades also have a responsibility to make sure they don’t punish the people of Afghanistan for the Taliban’s actions.
The people of Ukraine are also facing tremendous hardship, and there have been extensive global discussions about how to ensure the perpetrators of the war there are held to account. People are discussing the possibility of national and international investigations, the UN Human Rights Council’s Independent International Commission of Inquiry, and the International Criminal Court’s arrest warrant for Vladimir Putin. It remains to be seen, of course, whether the result will be meaningful justice, but the attention to accountability in Ukraine has been unprecedented.
The Afghan people also deserve accountability. The ICC does have a mandate in Afghanistan, and its prosecutor began preliminary inquiries as far back as 2006. After many stops and starts, and threats by the U.S. to the ICC over plans to investigate torture by American personnel, the prosecutor’s office has resumed its investigation. But it has yet to yield public results, and unfortunately, the prosecutor has maintained he will deprioritize investigating abuses in the country by the former U.S.-backed Afghan government and U.S. forces, even though the culture of impunity around these abuses fuels cycles of violence.
As a refugee myself, I know how it feels to see your country overtaken by violence and to feel that home is no longer safe for you. I was amazed by the way the world opened its arms to Ukrainian refugees – that’s how it should be, and I wish that we could do the same for Afghans and for all refugees around the world. There’s a beautiful poem by the 13th-century Persian poet Saadi Shirazi, who said: “Human beings are members of a whole, in the creation of one essence and one soul, if one member is afflicted with pain, other members’ unease will remain.”
Ukraine and Afghanistan face different problems, but both have seen war and repression that forced people to flee. The world’s response to Ukrainian refugees shows that countries and international institutions can act quickly and collectively when they want to. I wish there was that will for Afghanistan, too. Afghans have seen decades of war. We deserve a safe haven. We deserve to live in dignity with our basic human rights respected.
In the first few months of the Taliban’s takeover, many countries, including the U.S., Canada and Germany, promised to relocate at-risk Afghans, but they have been very slow to follow through. Afghans remain stuck in limbo in third countries, or are in hiding in Afghanistan trying to evade the Taliban.
The way the world, and especially the European Union, responded to help refugees from Ukraine set a good example. Resettlement programs should be quick and efficient, and include legal and safe pathways out of Afghanistan, to make sure that those who need to reach safety can do so. I wish we could see a day when there’s no war and no one has to leave their homes and countries. As the poet and teacher Warsan Shire said, “No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark.”