Three days ago, the world watched in shock the images of the Taliban having taken the Afghan Parliament, followed by scenes of desperation – emptied streets in Kabul contrasting with the scenes of panic from the airport, as people tried to escape their fate and get on US aircrafts out of the country, some even falling to their deaths. Since Sunday, 12 people have been killed at the airport either by gunshots or in stampedes.
The Afghan government has been conceded to the Taliban. The atmosphere in Kabul is relatively calm, but evidence trickling out of the city and elsewhere in Afghanistan points to an emerging climate of fear.
Given this all-too-swift changing of the guard – in which a recognised Afghan government is no longer in a position to help its citizens, and where Taliban leader Abdul Ghani Baradar has been welcomed with fireworks back to the country after 20 years – the international community needs to step in urgently in order to prevent a backslide into instability.
The UAE, for one, has lent its full support during ongoing evacuations of civilians and diplomats from Afghan soil. A French military plane with citizens from Afghanistan on board landed in Abu Dhabi earlier this week and further evacuation flights have arrived in Dubai. Both the UK and France have thanked the Emirates for their help with evacuation efforts. Afghanistan's President, Ashraf Ghani, also arrived in Abu Dhabi yesterday, as the UAE announced it is receiving him and his family on humanitarian grounds.
On a visit to Kabul on Tuesday, Gen Frank McKenzie, head of US Central Command and overall commander of US troops in Kabul, said he had cautioned the Taliban "against interference in our evacuation".
As much as the US is concerned with ensuring the "safe and efficient withdrawal” of all American nationals, it is imperative that global stakeholders marshal resources and prioritise helping members of Afghanistan’s civil society, as well as ordinary people, most of whom have no choice but to remain in Afghanistan.
The situation on the ground is dire. The UN Refugee Agency has said that 80 per cent of those fleeing are women and children and that Afghanistan is on course to witnessing the highest number of civilian casualties in a single year since UN records began in 1945. This toll, compounded by the imminent refugee crisis, could get much worse.
Nor can Afghanistan afford the massive impact the situation could have on education for young Afghans. Last year, five teenage girls in Afghanistan designed a ventilator to help the country’s battle against the Covid-19 pandemic. They call themselves the Afghan Dreamers. To ensure that feats such as these are no longer a thing of the past, the world needs to help girls and women have the opportunity to graduate from school. A fund for the education of Afghan girls, within and outside of Afghanistan, is something the world can and must support.
Despite the Taliban having talked in a press conference this week about a general amnesty for Afghans who previously opposed them, the world needs to ready itself for an influx of Afghan refugees trying to escape a regime with a grisly track record, by getting across borders to safer countries in their neighbourhood – as a first step to safer shores. The Afghan-American author Khaled Hosseini has urged the US to let in "as many Afghans as possible". Countries such as Germany and the UK have already committed to taking in refugees. But even the thousands they plan to accept will be nowhere close to the number of Afghan citizens who need sanctuary.
The group has asked people to get back to work. They have said women will be allowed to continue their employment – in so far as their austere interpretation of Islamic law allows. Their assurances need to be matched by actions.