Editor’s note: To mark the one-year anniversary of the Taliban’s second takeover of Afghanistan, Just Security is publishing a series of essays on the developments of the last year and the prospects for the future of Afghanistan. The series will continue over the coming weeks, and feature voices from Afghan civil society, U.S. national security experts, international human rights experts, and others.
Almost 7 million Afghans have been driven out of their homes and Afghanistan by the interconnected challenges of imposed conflicts, ongoing violence, and growing poverty. This is a lingering legacy of the 43-year wars that confronts the country where external aggression from its predatory neighborhood has resulted in non-stop violence and oppressive rule by the Taliban. Since August 2021 when they captured Kabul, the Taliban have continued to displace Afghans at home and drive others out of their beautiful homeland into far-flung places in search of protection and basic human security.
Harboring a large number of regional and global terrorist networks across Afghanistan, the Taliban are joined by these terrorist groups to violate the basic human rights of Afghans and target them indiscriminately. In its July 15, 2022, the United Nations Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team warned the U.N. Security Council that the Taliban and al-Qaeda “remain close” with the latter both advising the Taliban leadership and expanding operationally across Afghanistan, “enjoying greater freedom under Taliban rule.”
This proved to be correct when the United States located al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in a Kabul safe house that had been provided to him by the Taliban’s minister of interior Sirajuddin Haqqani, and killed him by two drone strikes on July 31, 2022. The Taliban, al-Qaeda, the Islamic State-Khorasan Province (ISKP), and their other terrorist affiliates persecute, torture, disappear, and extrajudicially kill innocent Afghan citizens due to ethnic, religious, sectarian, political, and ideological differences. Hindus, Sikhs, Hazaras, Tajiks, Uzbeks, Turkmens, as well as nationalist and pro-democracy Pashtuns remain their primary targets. And in areas of growing anti-Taliban resistance in the northeast, east, and south of Afghanistan, terrorist groups continue committing war crimes, including forcible displacement of civilians, destruction of their properties and sources of livelihood, as well as other unspeakable scorch-earth measures.
In its July 20, 2022 report on “Human Rights in Afghanistan: 16 August 2021 – 15 June 2022,” however, the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) overlooked the direct ties between the Taliban and regional and global terrorist networks and how they rely on each other operationally to oppress, terrorize, and silence Afghan citizens. And while the report did cover widespread human rights violations in Afghanistan, it obfuscated the Taliban’s deep-seated ties with major terrorist networks and their shared involvement in violating Afghans’ basic human rights.
In effect, the report failed to provide accurate qualitative and quantitative analyses of how the Taliban have brought about and are perpetuating the worsening human rights and humanitarian situation across Afghanistan. A lack of this critical information can negatively impact status determination by foreign immigration officials of Afghan refugees under the provisions of the 1951 Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its related protocols. In accordance with this refugee law, any Afghans seeking asylum in countries which are party to the 1951 Geneva Convention immediately should be granted refugee status. Moreover, Afghan refugees should be provided with adequate resettlement support that tangibly helps integrate them into their new society.
Unfortunately, Afghans fleeing the country due to well-founded fears of widespread persecution, torture, and extrajudicial killing under the Taliban and their terrorist affiliates are often denied refugee status in the first, second, and even third countries of asylum. They are placed through arduous national immigration processes that can hinder the implementation of the receiving countries’ obligations under the 1951 Geneva Convention and its related protocols. And those who make it after months and sometimes years of waiting without any status at all often are not provided with the kind of basic social protection services that must be granted to any Convention-defined refugee.
This situation particularly impacts Afghan-refugee families with young children, delaying their local assimilation and thus preventing them from upward socioeconomic mobility in their country of new residence. When this happens, refugees are misperceived and discriminated against as backward, lazy, and dependent on welfare programs, which local politicians often oppose and politicize against win-win immigration policies that are consistent with the obligations of their countries under the 1951 Geneva Convention, as well as the provisions of the international human rights and humanitarian laws.
Indeed, the failure by UNAMA to cite in its latest report the United Nation’s own recent analysis concerning the mutually reinforcing ties between the Taliban and al-Qaeda since the former regained control of Afghanistan stems from UNAMA’s deliberate prioritization of “a strategy of continued engagement” with the Taliban in order to facilitate humanitarian access. But it is the Taliban, led by some of the most notorious U.N.-sanctioned terrorists, who exploit the provision of “humanitarian access” as an effective and easy way to engage with the international community. They do so not only for gaining legitimacy and international recognition but they also need international aid resources to supplement operational budgets that finance their recurrent atrocities against suffering Afghans as a nation of diverse ethno-sectarian groups.
Tragically, these heinous crimes are aimed at erasing Afghanistan’s very identity, which historically has been grounded in its rich diversity. This identity stems from the country’s geography at the heart of Asia where peoples of different civilizations used to meet through commerce and cultural exchange. The Taliban’s misrule once again intends to wipe out this Afghanistan, as the world recalls from the destruction by the Taliban of the statues of Buddha in Bamiyan Province a few months before 9/11 in 2001.
Moreover, these atrocities are further compounded by the Taliban’s draconian policies that directly target and deprive Afghans of their most fundamental human rights. Today, Afghanistan is the only country in the world where education for girls and work for women are banned. This effectively condemns the country to an ever-widening humanitarian crisis and chronic poverty, which fuel conflict. And this worsening vicious cycle of human rights violations, conflict, impoverishment, and depleting resources drive the non-stop patterns of internal displacement and flight of Afghans in search of protection elsewhere.
Consequently, some 4.3 million Afghans have been internally displaced so far. This is the world’s largest internally displaced population, which includes about 1 million Afghans, who were displaced by the deadly offensives and attacks, which the Taliban and their regional and global terrorist affiliates jointly carried out throughout 2021 before the fall of Kabul. Besides this, some 2.7 million Afghans have been driven across Afghanistan’s borders and live as refugees in 98 different countries. Afghan refugees are the third largest displaced population in the world after Syrian refugees and displaced Venezuelans.
The Afghan people immensely appreciate the humanitarian assistance which various host countries have provided to refugees and asylum seekers over the past four decades. But “pull” factors such as the formation of an inclusive government acceptable to all Afghans, improved security, enhanced protection, reintegration assistance, and increased employment opportunities in Afghanistan should determine “push” factors in host states. In this light, countries hosting large numbers of Afghan refugees and asylum seekers should honor the principle of non-refoulement rooted in international and Islamic law to refrain from the forcible deportation of Afghan refugees and asylum seekers.
The United States can and should do more to help its Afghan allies, some 80,000 of whom have applied for the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) since August 2021. But of these, only 10,096 have been approved. And those who have made it to the United States on humanitarian parole run the risk of losing access to work, health-care, and their legal right to reside in America once their two-year humanitarian parole expires. Congress owes it to Afghans and their families, who risked their lives working with the U.S. military and civilian institutions during their 20-year deployment to the country, to pass the Afghan Adjustment Act, allowing Afghan refugees to adjust their status from temporary to permanent in two years.
This support shouldn’t be withheld in a nation of immigrants with the promise of “the American dream,” which gave Afghans hope in the first place to endanger their lives to support U.S. military and civilian programs across Afghanistan under daily threats of violence emanating from the Taliban, al-Qaeda, ISKP, and other groups that continue to destabilize Afghanistan and undermine international security. Indeed, passing the Adjustment Act would honor the memories of 2,448 fallen American forces, alongside whom the Afghan SIV applicants worked between 2001 and August 2021.
Almost 2,500 years ago, the Greek dramatist Euripides wrote, “There is no greater sorrow on Earth than the loss of one’s native land.” For Afghans, too, the tragedy of losing their beautiful homeland to the medieval forces of terrorism and extremism is no less tolerable. Any short- and long-term measures—such as the Afghan Adjustment Act—to welcome and make Afghan refugees at home should give them a much-needed respite, one year since their unforgettably traumatic flight from Afghanistan.