Afghanistan: what has changed a year after the return of the Taliban

By Shruti Menon
BBC reality check

source of images, AFP

Protests took place in the capital last spring, demanding the reopening of secondary schools for girls

A year ago, the Taliban invaded the Afghan capital Kabul, as foreign forces hastily completed their withdrawal.

Speaking on behalf of the Taliban at the time, Zabihullah Mujahid made a number of promises for the new government.

So, has the regime kept its promises?

“We are going to allow women to work and study…women are going to be very active, but within the framework of Islam.”

The former Taliban regime in the 1990s severely restricted women’s freedom – and since the Taliban took power last year, a series of restrictions have been reimposed on women in Afghanistan.

Clothing regulations and laws prohibiting access to public spaces without a male guardian were enforced.

In March, schools reopened for a new school year, but the Taliban reneged on an earlier promise and girls are currently not allowed to attend secondary school.

The Taliban accused the lack of female teachers and the need to organize the segregation of schools.

It affected about 1.1 million students, according to the UN and drew widespread international criticism.

Primary education for girls was allowed.

source of images, AFP

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid speaking to reporters last year in Kabul

Some public universities reopened for men and women in February.

But women’s participation in the labor force has fallen since the Taliban took over last summer, according to the World Bank.

Women’s participation in the labor force has increased from 15% to 22% in just over a decade, between 1998 and 2019.

However, with the Taliban imposing more restrictions on the movement of women outside the home since their return to power, the percentage of women working in Afghanistan decreased to 15% in 2021.

A Amnesty report in July said the Taliban had “decimated the rights of women and children” in Afghanistan. It highlighted the abuse and torture inflicted on some women who had taken part in protests against the new restrictions imposed on them.

“We will work…to revitalize our economy, for our reconstruction, for our prosperity.”

In June, the UN Security Council announced that the Afghan economy had shrunk by around 30-40% since the Taliban takeover in August last year.

An assessment by the official body overseeing US-funded reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan concluded that although some international aid continues to flow into the country, economic conditions remain “catastrophic”.

source of images, AFP

Taliban guards at the border post with Uzbekistan

The suspension of most international aid and the freezing of access to Afghanistan’s foreign exchange reserves have had serious economic consequences for the country.

To compensate, the Taliban have sought to increase tax revenue, as well as increasing coal exports to take advantage of rising world prices.

A three-month budget announced in January this year showed the Taliban raised nearly $400 million in domestic revenue between September and December 2021. But experts have raised concerns about a lack of transparency in how these figures have been collected.

Loss of international support, security concerns, climate-related issues and global food inflation are all contributing to a rapidly deteriorating economic situation.

“There will be no drug production in Afghanistan…we will bring opium production down to zero again.”

The Taliban’s promise to crack down on opium poppy cultivation reflects a policy they introduced with some success when they were last in power over two decades ago.

Opium is used to make heroin – and Afghanistan was, by far, the biggest source of opium in the world for many years.

In April this year, the Taliban announced a ban on poppy cultivation.

There are no hard data on the progress of the crackdown, although reports from some poppy-growing areas in southern Helmand province suggest the Taliban forced farmers to destroy poppy fields.

source of images, Getty Images

Opium production increased during the 2021 main harvest

An official US report in July noted that although the Taliban risked losing support from farmers and others involved in the drug trade, they “appear committed to their ban on narcotics”.

However, Dr David Mansfield, an expert on the drug economy in Afghanistan, points out that the main opium poppy crop would have already been harvested by the time the ban was imposed.

“The second [annual] in southwestern Afghanistan is usually a small crop…so destroying it…will not have had a significant impact,” says Dr Mansfield.

It should also be noted that the production and manufacture of other drugs, such as crystal meth, has increased, although the Taliban banned a wild plant (ephedra) used to make it.

‘We [the Taliban] are committed to ensuring safety.

Although the conflict that brought the Taliban to power is largely over, there were still more than 2,000 civilian casualties (700 dead and more than 1,400 injured) reported between August last year and mid-June of this year, according to UN data.

However, these figures are much lower than in previous years, when the conflict was at its height.

About 50% of the casualties since August 2021 have been attributed to the actions of the Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K) group, a branch of the Islamic State group still active in Afghanistan.

In recent months, several IS-K attacks have taken place targeting civilians, particularly in urban areas with Shia Muslims or other minority populations.

source of images, AFP

A man cries after the attack on a Shiite mosque in Kandahar last October

The presence of other anti-Taliban forces, such as the National Resistance Front (NRF) and the Afghanistan Freedom Front (AFF), has also increased.

“The global security environment is becoming increasingly unpredictable,” the UN said in June, citing the presence of at least a dozen separate militant groups opposed to the Taliban that are present in the country.

There has also been a significant increase in human rights violations, including extrajudicial executions, detentions and torture by the Taliban, according to the UN.

Between August 2021 and June 2022, it recorded at least 160 extrajudicial executions of former government and security force officials.