Two years ago this week the Americans took the ill-judged decision to withdraw from Afghanistan, amid empty rhetoric of preserving the status quo. Within hours the Taliban barrelled into town and swept all before them.
Bit by bit they demolished the freedoms painstakingly established, including any rights for women. Amongst the myriad of thing Taliban stamped on was music. They publicly beat and humiliated musicians.
Now the militant group is intensifying its clampdown on Afghans playing and listening to music, which it considers un-Islamic. In the western city of Herat, members of the Taliban’s notorious morality police last month created a huge bonfire of confiscated musical instruments reminiscent of the the Nazi book burnings, reports Radio Free Europe.
Residents who spoke to RFE/RL’s Radio Azadi said the morality police have also started searching vehicles and homes as they seek to enforce the ban, which has been widely condemned.
“When the Taliban stops us at security checkpoints, they first look at the car’s audio system to see what we are listening to,” said Khalil Ahmad, a resident of Herat, adding that the militants confiscate MP3 players and thumb drives containing music.
Taliban’s morality police patrol the streets and alleyways of the city at night in search of violators and Afghans caught contravening the ban can be beaten or jailed.
The morality police are responsible for enforcing the Taliban’s morality laws, including its strict dress code and gender segregation in society.
“I have a bitter memory of witnessing people being beaten for simply playing music in their cars,” said Ahmad Jawed, another Herat resident.
The 26-year-old said his friends played music inside their house during a birthday party earlier this month.
“We were very afraid and stressed that someone would report us to the authorities,” he told Radio Azadi. “The restrictions have become too much.”
But women are undoubtedly the worst off in Afghan society. In two decades under an American-backed government, many had grown accustomed to a degree of freedom. The female literacy rate more than doubled between 2000 and 2018, albeit to only 30%. A generation of women got jobs as doctors, journalists and lawyers. Now they are being forced out of public life once more. In March the Taliban backtracked on their promise to let girls back into secondary schools.
In spite of their initial promises to respect women’s rights within the framework of Sharia law, the Taliban issued numerous decrees that prevent women and girls from exercising their basic rights to freedom of expression, liberty, work and education.
Women and girls in particular are affected by multiple forms of discrimination and violence.
Afghans who do take to the streets to protest for their rights are being threatened, arrested and tortured. Women’s rights activists report there have been detentions, child marriages, forced marriages and rapes.
In 1919, Afghan women were granted the right to vote. In 1920 the first school for girls opened its doors. In the 1970s, the Afghan government raised the marriage age for women from 18 to 21, abolished polygamy and introduced compulsory education.
However, after their victory against the Soviet Union at the end of the 1980s, the Mujahideen – and later the Taliban – put in place severe restrictions on the rights of women. After the intervention of NATO forces in 2001, activists managed to fight for and achieve significant legislative progress.
More than one in three women is forced into child marriage, education is banned, sexualised violence is tacitly accepted, work opportunities have been all but abolished. Minorities such as the shiite Hazsara and the LBGTIQ+ are suffering horrendous abuse.
Many beatings and attacks have been deliberately targeted at women and girls of the Hazara ethnic minority. Activists are raising awareness of the ‘silent genocide’, and courageous Hazar women repeatedly hold demonstrations on the streets of various Afghan cities to protest against the injustice.
Life for LGBTIQ+ people has also deteriorated dramatically under the Taliban, whose openly anti-LGBTIQ+ attitude has manifested in a series of assaults on gays, lesbians and other people whose behaviour does not conform to traditional gender norms.