AFGHANISTAN is approaching a humanitarian crisis, after the Taliban took control of the country on Sunday in a rapid advance that took the governments of the United States and the UK by surprise.
The United Nations has said that 80 per cent of those forced to flee as the Taliban swept across the country have been women and girls. More women and children were killed in the country in the first six months of this year than in any other year since records began in 2009. The World Food programme said that the unfolding situation “has all the hallmarks of a humanitarian catastrophe”.
Aid agencies and MPs are warning of the catastrophic erosion of freedoms for women and girls and people from minority faiths under Taliban rule.
The MP for Slough, Tan Dhesi, described the withdrawal by US and UK troops, which precipitated the Taliban victory, as a “humiliation to our nation. . . It has left a sense of abandonment and betrayal for those Afghans who were counting on us to help build a better society, and will doubtless lead to an erosion of hard-won rights for women, education, and the freedom of faith.
“Priority now, for us, must be via aid, to avert a humanitarian crisis and to ensure refuge — for those who bravely assisted the rebuilding process, and for Sikhs, Hindus, and other religious minorities, who have already been victims of deadly targeted attacks.”
Release International, which supports persecuted Christians, warned that anyone identified as Christian was facing death. As for living conditions under the Taliban, one Christian Afghan told the charity: “Our brothers and sisters in Christ are telling us how afraid they are. In the areas that the Taliban now control, girls are not allowed to go to school, and women are not allowed to leave their homes without a male companion.”
Pope Francis called for prayer to “the God of peace so that the clamour of weapons might cease and solutions can be found at the table of dialogue”. He said that only this way can the “battered population of that country — men, women, elderly, and children” be able to “return to their own homes, and live in peace and security, in total mutual respect”.
The UK Defence Minister, Ben Wallace, has said that the UK will not be able to evacuate everyone it would like, as countries rushed to pull their nationals out of Afghanistan. “Some people won’t get back,” he said on LBC on Monday morning. It is feared that those Afghans who have worked with the UK in the country, and are left behind in the withdrawal, could be treated as traitors by the Taliban.
More than 60 countries published a statement calling for the Taliban to allow foreign nationals and Afghans to leave, and keep border crossings, roads, and airports open.
But there chaotic scenes continued at Kabul International Airport on Monday as people attempted to leave: shots were fired, and at least five people are believed to have died in the mayhem.
The humanitarian situation in Afghanistan was dire, even before the Taliban claimed victory at the weekend: half of all children under five are suffering from severe acute malnutrition. There are fears that it will now worsen dramatically.
Covid is also reported to be killing at least 100 people a day in the country. The World Food programme has been providing food for 4.1 million people in the past three months, but more than 18 million are in need of humanitarian assistance, it says.