What’s Happening In Afghanistan?

by Fatima Malik

The Taliban Advances in Afghanistan:

The Taliban is a Sunni Islamic military organization that refers to itself as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Multiple members of the Taliban are those who fought along the Mujahideen against the Soviets in the 90’s. The Mujahideen were supplied with money and weapons from the US, who was eager to defeat the Russians. Initially, the Taliban was seen as a positive change from the former commanders, since they managed to end some corruption and promised to end lawlessness. But the Taliban, even after taking over, did not ease on the restrictions placed to tackle war, and quickly began imposing more and more limitations, essentially telling people what to wear, where to go, and how to live their lives. They also began abusing ethnic and religious minorities.

In 2001, after the 9/11 attacks, the Taliban refused to immediately hand over Osama Bin Laden — the leader of Al-Qaeda and the mind behind the attacks on US soil. The US soon invaded and defeated the Taliban, swiftly re-establishing a new Afghan government under Hamid Karzai. After the Taliban was overthrown, it remained working in the shadows and recruiting soldiers.

In as little as a few weeks after the US announced the departure of their troops, the Taliban began taking over districts in the country. By August 13th, the Taliban had captured 18 provinces out of Afghanistan’s 34, including Kandahar and Herat, the second and third-largest cities in the country. On Sunday, 15th August, Taliban forces stormed the capital, Kabul, and succeeded in capturing it by the end of the day. This capture officially commenced the return of the Taliban rule in Afghanistan. 

The now-former Afghan president Ashraf Ghani has fled the country — relocating in the UAE. He has been denounced in his home country, especially as the Russian government has released reports announcing that Ghani escaped with four cars full of cash. Ghani denies these claims.

Although the Taliban claims to bring about Islam in Afghanistan, it is much more likely to enforce a severe, militant regime; using Islamic laws only when they align with the organization’s personal interests, and blatantly disregarding them in other areas, for example, in female education. As the US Department of State’s archive put it, ‘The Taliban is out of step with the Muslim world and with Islam.’

However, it is reported that schoolgirls in Herat have resumed going to school, a few days after the Taliban’s rapid-fire takeover. It is uncertain whether this is to continue, as is hoped, or whether this is just a ploy to improve the Taliban’s international image and current reassurances that they are ‘committed to letting women work in accordance with the principles of Islam’. Women have also been encouraged to join the government. But many remain disbelieving of this change in the Taliban’s ideology.

Another problem Afghanistan now faces is a severe drought, one leading to a ‘humanitarian catastrophe’, as the UN has warned. Many Afghans now have to add food shortages to the list of their current problems.

The US and its Decisions:

In April 2021, US president Biden released a plan for the departure of all US troops by September 11, 2021- ironically commemorating 9/11.

This marks the end of the two-decade war in Afghanistan, one initiated during the presidency of George Bush, which now is set to end during Biden’s rule.

 A war which, according to the Costs of War Project conducted by Brown University, the US has spent a total of 2.26 trillion dollars on. Yet, the situation in Afghanistan at the moment is almost no better than before all this money was spent — raising questions about the path of the cash. The training of the Afghan army sucked up a total of a little over 88 billion dollars, but the army succumbed to the Taliban astonishingly fast.

Critics question Biden’s seemingly comfort-lacking and indifferent speech and response to the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, as the President stated that it was never the US’ responsibility (or aim) to establish a liberal democracy in Afghanistan; rather, their goal was to ensure that all terrorist activities occurring in Afghanistan come to an end.

“Our mission in Afghanistan was never supposed to have been nation building. It was never supposed to be creating a unified, centralized democracy. Our only vital national interest in Afghanistan remains today what it has always been: preventing a terrorist attack on American homeland”, said Biden on Monday, adding that, “We gave them every chance to determine their own future. What we could not provide them was the will to fight for that future.”

The US is also allegedly hosting talks with various countries, for them to temporarily accommodate Afghanis that have worked with the US military.

Pakistan’s Stance:

The US retreat from Afghanistan also put a lot of strain on the US-Pakistan relationship, since the US wanted Pakistan to put more pressure on the Taliban. On the other hand, Pakistani PM Imran Khan stated that Pakistan is only found ‘useful’ to the US when it needs to settle the military mess it has left behind. Pakistan has already stated that it will not provide any of its military bases for use against the Taliban. 

The country has loosened up on previous visa requirements for certain Afghans. Pakistan has recently declared that all journalists working for foreign media outlets in Afghanistan can apply for Pakistani visas, a measure put into place for the welfare of journalists. 

By now; 13,000 Afghan refugees have crossed into Pakistan through the Chaman border crossing, adding to the 3 million already present in Pakistan. Only around a million of these refugees are registered. The refugees now entering are to be relocated near the Afghan border, as opposed to their accommodation during General Zia’s rule in the 1980’s, when they were readily allowed, usually undocumented, all over the country.

Pakistan has also said that this time around it will not make an ‘isolated decision’ regarding the acceptance of the Taliban government, contrary to the last time the Taliban took power, when Pakistan was one of the three countries to accept the Taliban’s government.

 Responses from all over the Globe:

India, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Sweden, Germany and Finland are among those evacuating staff from and/or shutting down embassies in Kabul. To add to this, the UK and US are rapidly evacuating their citizens from the warring country, as well as the former promising to resettle 20,000 refugees. The US is yet to announce and implement a strategy for the protection of refugees, although President Biden has often talked about such a policy.

The embassies of Russia, Iran, and China are the only exceptions to the closures.

Meanwhile, France has offered visas to Afghan “artists, journalists, human right activists who risk their lives because of their commitment to freedom of expression, freedom of opinion and human rights.” Canada has also pledged to resettle 20,000 Afghan refugees, with an emphasis on those who have worked with officials, such as interpreters; and minorities, female leaders, activists, and journalists. German Chancellor Merkel has also insisted that Germany is to evacuate up to 10,000 people from Afghanistan.

Contrastingly, Austria, Australia, and Switzerland are refusing to take in large numbers of refugees, keeping the influx to the minimum.

The US response to the situation is the most troubling, for it is one of the world’s most powerful nations, and had the ability to ensure the progress in Afghanistan would be permanent. It is true that when the time arrived, neither the Afghan military nor the Afghan government took responsibility, the former surrendering and the latter, instead of negotiating with the Taliban, taking off. It, however, should not mean that the Afghan people are to pay for the selfishness of their leaders.

Flood Donations for Pakistan

While we scroll through our Instagrams looking at the “Look it’s raining!” posts, please remember that as beautiful as it is, due to our weak urban infrastructure untouched by our corrupt government, colonies, neighbourhoods, and homes are at risk. Scroll down to see where you can donate in the event of flooding. Please also let us know of any other places to donate.

Aurat March 2021: Slogans

The momentum of the Aurat March has generated creativity like no other. Slogans are at the forefront of the March; they’re witty, they’re thought-provoking, and they perfectly encapsulate the spirit of the event. Every year, we see hundreds of new phrases painted on signs across the country, demanding justice for women in some form. But these aren’t just quips; slogans from the Aurat March manage to be incredibly powerful in so few words. “Mera Jism Meri Marzi” isn’t a complicated statement, but it rings so heavily and true that it is almost synonymous with the entire movement.

  • #JaggaDein
    • “Jagga Dein” translates to “Give Me Space.” Not only does this refer to the literal phrase that women must utter in physical spaces dominated by men, but it also refers to the need for more safe, public spaces for women to simply exist.
  • Paratha Rolls, Not Gender Roles
  • Mera Jism, Meri Marzi
    • “Mera Jism, Meri Marzi” translate to “My Body, My Choice.” This is the most controversial and recognisable slogans of the movement and has drawn the most attention.
  • Ghar Ka Kaam, Sab Ka Kaam
    • “Ghar Ka Kaam, Sab Ka Kaam” translates to “Housework is everybody’s work.” This is in reference to how in Pakistan, women are generally expected to be the sole caretakers of the home, which includes cooking and childcare.
  • Patriarchy’s Janaza
    • “Janaza” is the Urdu word for “funeral.”
  • Women Are Humans, Not Honour
    • This is in reference to the honour killings that still take place all over Pakistan.

The History of the Aurat March

The Aurat March is undoubtedly a monumental event for Pakistanis. It has started conversations, opened doors, and created a space where women can finally express themselves. Women in Pakistan face a plethora of institutional discrimination and physical violence – this movement is the face of the pushback.

What exactly is the Aurat March? Aurat is the Urdu word for ‘woman.’ The Aurat March is an annual social and political demonstration organized in various cities of Pakistan coinciding with International Women’s Day – March 8th.

The first Aurat March in Pakistan was held in 2018 in Karachi. The year later, it was held in cities all over the country. It was organized by different organizations in each city, but the goals were always similar.

The March in Pakistan wants more accountability for violence against women and support for women who experience violence and harassment at the hands of security forces, in public spaces, at home, and in the workplace.

International Women’s Day, which takes place on March 8th, is about voicing and eliminating discrimination against women, granting them economic, political, social, and cultural equality, and laws to protect women in their respected countries.

Against the backdrop of deep-rooted socio-religio-political patriarchal structures of Pakistan, women in the state face many social ills and systemic discrimination.

What does this mean? It means that women in Pakistan face things such as:

  • Forced and early childhood marriage
  • Lack of formal public education opportunities
  • Domestic violence
  • Sexual harassment / sexual violence at home and in public spaces
  • Significant wage gap
  • Appropriation of rights and abuse for purposes of revenge, including acid attacks and honor killings

In 2017, in the wake of the #MeToo movement across the world, a new generation of women began challenging the status quo, in an effort to take the movement for gender equality to women in South Asia.

Hence the Aurat March was born, with the first one taking place on March 8th, 2018 in Karachi.

Why has it taken so long for the Aurat March to become a regular occurrence? Something similar did almost happen before, back in 1983. This was during the peak of General Zia-ul-Haq’s military dictatorship. 400 female activists staged a public demonstration in Lahore.

Police descended upon the crowd, and pictures like those above still haunt the consciousnesses and memories of Pakistani women today.

The Women’s Action Forum (WAF), which organized that first protest back in 1983, remains an institution for women’s rights in Pakistan.

The Aurat March has seen some immense success. Previously restricted topics such as women’s rights to their own bodies and sexuality are being discussed openly for the first time.

This year, themes for the March include:

  • The Women’s Health Crisis (Lahore)
  • Anti-Patriarchal Violence (Karachi)
  • Economic Justice for Women (Islamabad)

Kashmir Day 2021

Artwork by Cieryl Sardool

Kashmir Day, or Kashmir Solidarity Day, is a national holiday in Pakistan falling on the 5th of February each year. The holiday is meant to observe and mourn the many Kashmiris that have died over nearly a century of conflict between India and Pakistan, who both claim rights to the territory.

It’s time to move past the conversation of who Kashmir belongs to, and instead focus on acknowledging the lives that have been lost in this fruitless conflict. If nearly a century of conflict has not resulted in any meaningful claim to the region, perhaps it is time to allow Kashmiris to carve out their own sovereignty, unhindered by the political motivations of larger players.

How Meesha Shafi Sparked the #MeToo Movement in Pakistan

For the last two years, Meesha Shafi’s case has been headlining the news. Shafi has fought character assassination, accusations, and fervently held her ground despite numerous attempts to silence her and her supporters.

What compelled us to create this post in collaboration with @auratcollective was the abundance of misinformation surrounding the ongoing cases and the lack of awareness surrounding the facts. Meesha Shafi came out publicly on social media in April 2018 to speak of her experience with Ali Zafar and being a target of sexual harassment. Alongside Shafi, multiple women took to social media speaking of their experiences of harassment by Zafar. The initial case filed by Shafi was dismissed on technical grounds and is not being adjudicated.

So, what has been happening since?

Ali Zafar has filed multiple suits and petitions utilising the law as arsenal in attempts to silence Shafi, and a number of women who have publicly spoken about their experience with Zafar and the harassment they endured. Zafar has weaponized his status, privilege, and failure of the law to protect survivors to his advantage. The Federal Investigation Agency has aided his cause by harassing witnesses to withdraw their support. Judiciary and High Courts continue to place an unrelenting burden of proof on survivors ingrained within cultural and religious interpretations.

Sexual harassment occurs at epidemic rates in Pakistan with the majority of women unable to take legal action or speak out due to stigmatisation and lack of legislation protecting women’s rights. Pakistan has fostered a culture of victim-blaming reinforced by our legal system, government, and law enforcement. The actions of these institutions deter women from reporting harassment, violence and abuse.

If a woman speaking out against her harasser is defamation in Pakistan, the country has made it clear they want us to remain silent. We will continue to be vocal until the culture that enables harassment is changed.

Patriarchy in Pakistan is unfortunately both authoritative and influential, making it difficult to speak out without feeling threatened or iced out. A tweet from Meesha Shafi, a Pakistani singer, sparked a wave of the #MeToo movement in Pakistan when she spoke out about Ali Zafar.

Shafi wrote, “… I will break the culture of silence that permeates through our society. It is not easy to speak out… but it is harder to stay silent. My conscience will not allow it anymore #metoo.”

Her post went on to say that Zafar, who is also a well-known Pakistani singer, had harassed her on more than one occasion. Multiple women came out in solidarity with Meesha, speaking of their own experiences with Ali Zafar. His reaction to all this was orchestrated and theatrical, topping it off with a lawsuit suing Meesha for defamation.

April 2018: Meesha Shafi speaks out about her experience with Ali Zafar in a Tweet, sparking a wave of other women claiming similar experiences with Zafar. Shafi files a case against Zafar that is dismissed on technical grounds, and she was told that it didn’t classify as ‘workplace harassment.’

June 2018: Ali Zafar files a defamation suit against Meesha Shafi, in accordance with the Defamation Ordinance 2002, for false allegations. Zafar’s defamation suit asked Shafi to issue a public apology on social media, or pay him PKR 1 billion in damages.

August 2018: Shafi’s appeal regarding the dismissal of her sexual harassment complaint is dismissed, as she and Zafar didn’t have an ’employee-employer relationship.’

January 2019: A sessions court in Lahore gives Shafi a cease and deist – Shafi is now under a gag order and cannot make negative remarks about Ali Zafar in the press or on social media.

April 2019: Zafar demands the case to conclude in 30 days. Shafi argues that 30 days isn’t enough time to produce witnesses. The Lahore High Court sets an order for the case to be resolved in 90 days.

September 2019: Leena Ghani, another woman who came out with a similar personal encounter with Zafar, and a witness in Shafi’s case, Tweets about her harassment from the FIA. Ghani files a petition against Arif Javed, a Deputy Officer in the FIA, for harassment and coercion. Meesha Shafi files a damages suit against Ali Zafar worth PKR 2 billion in sessions court for false claims, on the grounds of injury to reputation and mental anguish.

December 2019: Shafi appears in court for the FIA defamation suit filed against her, but fails to produce witnesses.

February 2020: An Additional Sessions Court states that until Zafar’s defamation petition against Shafi is decided, a verdict will not be announced.

September 2020: Meesha Shafi and 8 other women are booked under Section 20 (1) of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 and R/W 109-PPC, by the FIA, for a smear campaign against Ali Zafar. The FIA’s decision was made in accordance with a claim filed by Ali Zafar in 2018, alleging that many social media accounts were posting “defamatory material” against him.

October 2018: A sessions court denies Meesha Shafi’s plea to halt proceedings on the defamation suit. She states that witnesses were afraid to come forward due to possible legal ramifications.

October 2020: Imran Khan makes Ali Zafar ambassador for Pakistan’s first knowledge city.

The tweet above has now been deleted.

Here’s the summation of what we know about the Meesha Shafi case.

  • Meesha Shafi is one of the many women that came forward with allegations against Ali Zafar.
  • Hers is the only case that was filed for legal action.
  • Zafar filed a defamation suit against Shafi for PKR 1 billion.
  • Shafi filed a defamation suit against Zafar for PKR 2 billion.
  • Her initial suit regarding sexual harassment is unable to be adjudicated because there is no legal jurisdiction/precedent in the country.
  • Meesha Shafi files an appeal which is dismissed due to technicalities in legal statues existing for workplace harassment.