Afghanistan’s lasting instability

The western media discourse takes a cultural approach to Afghan instability

Ali Hassan Bangwar November 27, 2022
The writer is a freelancer based in Kandhkot, Sindh. He can be reached at

A life characterised by sustainable peace, prosperity, freedom and stability is the dream of every society. However, ordinary Afghan citizens are yet to experience these luxuries. For most of them, peace means a brief halt in a lasting war. A tribal and resilient society notwithstanding, chaos and fear engulfed the country for centuries. This is mainly because unlike many parts of the world, the voice of ordinary Afghans hardly finds space to decide their fate.

The western media discourse takes a cultural approach to Afghan instability. Terra incognita, the land of tribes, the graveyard of empires, and the home of warlords are epithets ascribed to Afghanistan. However, looking at realities through a cultural lens alone loses sight of the genuine realities. Though the cultural forces might affect the social dynamics, the broader historical, political, strategic, economic, geographical and regional features are the chief designers of the cultural outlook. Looking at the persistent conflict in Afghanistan through cultural lenses is, therefore, prejudicial.

Afghanistan has witnessed around a dozen major conflicts over the last two centuries. They include the war of state construction during 1880-1901; the conflict with Britain in 1919; the battle against the communist administration (1979-1991); the civil war among rival mujahideen factions (1992-1996); the US invasion and its fight against Taliban (2001-2021); and the ongoing humanitarian tragedies under the Taliban. The long-sought Taliban takeover of Kabul in August 2021 did little good to the lives of ordinary Afghan, and today, Afghanistan is in the throes of one of the worst humanitarian crises of modern times.

Afghanistan’s economic deterioration under the Taliban, coupled with global economic sanctions, has left devastating implications for the society. Inflation, poverty, hunger and unemployment have forced to sell their belongings — even their children in some cases — just to afford food. Healthcare and educational systems are on the brink of collapse.

A recent report from a UN official has warned about the deepening human rights crisis and growing authoritarianism in Afghanistan under the Taliban regime. In his first report to the Human Rights Council, UN Special Rapporteur Richard Bennett comprehensively documented the human rights abuse under the Taliban. The report highlights the suspension of the rights of girls and women, the reprisal against critics and opponents, the crackdown on media, and the persecution of religious minorities, including Shia Hazara.

“There is no national mechanism in Afghanistan that can openly address the scale of the human rights violations taking place, let alone hold perpetrators accountable or provide victims with reparation and redress,” Bennett said. “Their places of worship, [and] educational and medical centres have been systematically attacked. They have been arbitrarily arrested, tortured, summarily executed, evicted, marginalized and sometimes forced to flee the country, raising questions of international crimes that warrant further investigation,” he added.

Taliban’s rigid and fundamentalist stance towards human rights and sheer disregard for international commitments has failed them from earning legitimacy in the comity of nations.

The worsening of the humanitarian crisis demands a holistic solution. Humanitarian aid, engagement with the Taliban and a pragmatic approach to health and economic crisis would help. International leverage should press the Taliban for sticking to human rights commitments. Taliban too should realise that without respecting fundamental human rights, they could never productively engage with the world. Therefore, they should respect the social, economic, religious and cultural rights of the people, recognise the rights of women, girls, and minorities, and redress the ongoing blatant violations. Only an enlightened engagement with the world community could promise lasting prosperity to Afghanistan.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 27th, 2022.

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