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Violence, an ‘imploding’ economy and discrimination: Inside Afghanistan a year after the Taliban reclaimed power
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Violence, an ‘imploding’ economy and discrimination: Inside Afghanistan a year after the Taliban reclaimed power

It was a stunning rout.   A year ago Monday, a ragtag army of extremists swept into Kabul without firing a shot after having seized most of Afghanistan.

International

It was a stunning rout.

A year ago Monday, a ragtag army of extremists swept into Kabul without firing a shot after having seized most of Afghanistan. After spending trillions on military and humanitarian aid, the two-decade U.S.-led international campaign to remake the desperately poor and violence-ridden country was over.

Western nations raced to depart in a largely chaotic and embarrassing exit, and the victorious Taliban, whose previous government was toppled in the aftermath of 9/11 after refusing to hand over the author of the attack, Osama bin Laden, promised to form an “open, inclusive Islamic government.”

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Instead, after the collapse of the U.S.-backed administration of Ashraf Ghani, the Taliban introduced policies that “form a system of repression that discriminates against women and girls in almost every aspect of their lives,” according to a recent report from Amnesty International that said the “suffocating crackdown against Afghanistan’s female population is increasing day by day.”

The group had decimated protections for those suffering domestic violence, detained women and girls for minor violations, and contributed to a surge in child marriages, the report said, adding that it had reneged on promises to allow women to continue to work and girls to continue their education. Some of those protesting against the restrictions had been tortured and abused, it said.

Malika, 21, said she lived in daily fear for her life because her husband, Bashir, was being hunted by the Taliban because he used to be a government worker.

“If the Taliban finds us, they will immediately kill us,” she told NBC News from Kabul this year. “When the Taliban want someone, they will arrest their whole family until they get the person they want,” she added. “Then that person disappears and nobody knows if they are alive or not.”

As a result, she said they were living in a secret location in Kabul.

Bashir, 45, has heart problems and is unable to leave the house to work, so she was earning $3 a day by washing clothes, she said. This was not enough to cover their costs, but she said their landlord had allowed them to defer their rent.

Like all of the Afghan’s featured in this article, NBC News has chosen not to use Malika’s last name because of fears for the family’s safety. Taliban officials did not respond to requests for comment on allegations of abuse, torture and extrajudicial killings.

Jawed, a former prosecutor who tried corruption cases and worked to improve women’s rights, said he was also living in hiding because of his former job.

“I’m not often in my house, I’m mobile, staying with relatives,” he said, adding that he feared for his wife and children, the eldest of whom is 10.

“They will immediately kill me,” he said, adding that Taliban members had already been to his house and beaten a relative when they found he was not home.

If he is arrested, he said he had “set up a secret password with my wife so that she will know what is going on. Then the plan is for her to move into my father-in-law’s house and she will stay there until they decide what to do with me, whether that is jail or something else.”

Repression and economic hardship

With the collapse of Ghani’s corruption-riddled Western-backed government, nearly all of the country’s population was thrown into poverty. As the world halted financing in response to the takeover, millions were left unable to feed their families. The economy collapsed.

Even those not living in fear of arrest or death were struggling, with the crisis hitting people in all sectors of society.

With food prices on the rise because of the war in Ukraine and a shift in international focus toward eastern Europe, almost 20 million people, or half of the country’s population, are “experiencing high and critical levels of acute food insecurity,” the United Nations and other aid agencies warned in June.

According to the World Bank, per capita income fell by over a third in the last four months of 2021 as the economy, previously buoyed by huge inflows of foreign aid, reeled at the withdrawal of much of these funds.

And from September to December 2021, around 37 percent of Afghan households did not have enough money to cover food, while 33 percent could afford food but nothing more, the World Bank said.

Describing Afghanistan’s economic outlook as “stark” in its latest overview of the country, published in April, the World Bank said the Ukraine war, combined with sanctions on the country, “may have significant exacerbating impacts via increased prices for imported food and fuel.”

The imploding economy “really affected my business,” said Abdul, 30, a construction company owner from Takhar province. He added that he had been forced to lay off 75 of his 100 employees in recent months.