The stories and images coming out of Afghanistan are haunting. The helpless eyes of the long suffering men, women and children pierce through your heart and leave a wound in your memories. Children with sunken eyes and bloated stomachs gasping for life as their parents watch, desperately. I know how they must be feeling. I know the feeling too well. I know it because I watched my own baby brother die of malnutrition before my eyes.
And then, there are stories of kidnap, imprisonment, torture and death of many by the Taliban.
In the western city of Herat, I am sure elsewhere too, children as young as 12 are being held captive. Being 12 and held captive and tortured by the Taliban, that too is familiar, too fresh in my mind still. It will always be. As if it happened yesterday. I often have nightmares about it. Waking up in the middle of night, shivering in fear, only to realise I am safe. Home. I know what those children must be going through. I know too well.
Then, there are women, many of them, being kidnapped, tortured and you can only imagine what is happening to them. The Taliban refuse to give in to international pleas to release or give information about the whereabouts and fate of the kidnapped women. In some places, bodies of kidnapped women appear riddled with bullets. Education and work have become secondary to survival for the women of Afghanistan.
Sir David Richards, former Chief of Defence Staff who commanded NATO forces in Afghanistan, has said that the West should accept the Taliban’s rule and recognise its government. His call has been backed by the Tory MP Tobias Ellwood and chair of the House of Commons Defence Select Committee. They have called this the West being magnanimous in defeat.
Recognition, it is hoped, will make the Taliban engage more constructively with the West and others. Western officials and diplomats have made many visits to Kabul, as well as hosting Taliban delegates outside Afghanistan in the hope of cajoling the group to change their ways and stop the mass slaughter of the men and women who were employed by the previous government. But to no avail. The group have only added to their long list of crimes. Recognition will only legitimise these crimes.
Having betrayed the country and its people, and given the battering the West’s credibility has had and, and given the crisis in Ukraine, the West cannot afford to push its reputation any lower by recognising a death cult, members of whose government have multi million dollars bounty on their heads. Recognition of the Taliban, as a recent UN report states that under group’s rule, “terrorist groups enjoy greater freedom there [Afghanistan] than at any time in recent history” is giving legitimacy to international terrorism. The same UN report reports that Osama bin Laden’s son has held meetings with the Taliban leadership in Kabul.
The Taliban are holding millions of people hostage and use their plight to morally and emotionally blackmail the world. The Taliban are the culprit, not the solution.
The need for aid is critical and urgent. But aid can and should be delivered directly to the people across the country by international aid agencies. We cannot allow the Taliban, as they have been, to use aid as a weapon against people they persecute: the Hazaras, the Tajiks, the Uzbeks and some Pashtuns the group disapprove.
Recognition of the Taliban will not help ease the pain of the people of Afghanistan. It will prolong it. Afghanistan needs a political settlement, in which men and women from all ethnic groups are a part of. Anti Taliban resistance has never ceased. There have been ongoing battles throughout the winter in the valleys north of Kabul. As spring approaches, anti Taliban forces are beginning to re-organise and return to battlefields.
The only way out of the long running Afghan calamity is an inclusive political settlement. Without it, recognising the Taliban is greatest of all betrayals.
For more of Roh’s writing on Afghanistan and his personal experience fleeing the Taliban, see Britain Must Stop Betraying its Refugees