On May 16, the deputy spokesman for Afghanistan’s Taliban government, Innamullah Samangani, told Reuters a financial crunch was behind the recent decision to dissolve key parts of government, including the Human Rights Commission.
Other agencies eliminated include the High Council for National Reconciliation (HCNR), the National Security Council, the Independent Commission for Overseeing the Implementation of the Constitution (ICOIC), and the General Secretariats of the Afghan assembly.
“Because these departments were not deemed necessary and were not included in the budget, they have been dissolved,” Samangani said, noting that they could be reincarnated, “if needed.”
That is misleading.
While it's true that the Taliban face financial hardship, abolishing the country’s human rights watchdog undermines the credibility of Taliban promises, especially on women’s rights.
The Taliban ousted Afghanistan’s government and took power in August 2021 as U.S.-led foreign forces pulled out of a 20-year-long war. The group immediately began dismantling government agencies that did not align with its conservative ideology.
Among the first to go was the Women’s Affairs Ministry, replaced with a Ministry for Preaching and Guidance and the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice. Since then, the ministry has issued a manual of harsh rules, New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported:
“The manual also imposes abusive restrictions on personal autonomy and other liberties. It prohibits sex outside of marriage – which the penal code adopted by the previous government also prohibited – along with adultery, same-sex relations, and ‘immorality and vice.’
‘Strong allegations’ of adultery or homosexuality must be reported to the ministry’s district manager for further action, presumably punishment.”
Earlier this month, the Taliban mandated that women must cover themselves head-to-toe when in public, preferably with a burqa. The United Nations mission in Kabul said the move broke with Taliban assurances to protect the rights of women and girls.
Before its dissolution, Afghanistan’s Women’s Affairs Ministry had received funding from the World Bank for economic empowerment and rural development in 34 provinces. The bank suspended that funding after the ministry was dissolved.
In March, the Taliban backtracked on plans to reopen secondary schools for girls, citing a lack of teachers and an appropriate environment. The group said the closures would continue until “a comprehensive plan, in accordance with Sharia and Afghan culture, is developed.”
That same month, the World Bank put projects worth $600 million on hold, citing concerns over the ban on girls going to high school. In April, the bank resumed its funding for health, agriculture and livelihoods while maintaining a freeze on $150 million for education projects.
In December 2021, the Taliban also dissolved Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission (IEC) and the Independent Electoral Complaints Commission. The Ministry of Peace and Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs were also dissolved. Taliban government spokesman Bilal Karimi said there was “no need” for the IEC department to stay.
Thousands of civil servants lost their jobs as a result of these actions, JURIST, a nonprofit online legal news service, reported.
“The Taliban appears to show no concern for the fact that several competent and hardworking employees will lose their jobs and does not even pretend to discuss the potential for these individuals to be hired by other government agencies,” JURIST said.
Dissolution of the rights commission came as watchdog groups reported an increase in arbitrary detentions of journalists, civil society activists and former government officials.
In March, Amnesty International issued a report on a Taliban crackdown on criticism and dissent. Amnesty said the Taliban were creating an atmosphere of fear through arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances and unlawful detentions, mostly targeting women’s rights activists.
In February, 29 women disappeared from a safe house in Kabul. The Ministry of Interior said the women had been arrested for chanting anti-Taliban slogans, and the agency released a video showing some of the women confessing they had received help from abroad.
Amnesty said the circumstances surrounding the video were unclear, given that “the Taliban are known to intimidate and torture detainees.”
In some of Afghanistan’s provinces, Taliban affiliates have banned broadcasting women’s voices and faces on radio and TV, as well as music and foreign soap operas. The Afghan Journalists Safety Committee (AJSC) said the Taliban continue to arrest and detain journalists.
The Taliban government recently ordered women TV presenters to cover their faces while on camera.
In January, the United Nations said there are “credible allegations” that the Taliban had killed 100 former Afghan government officials since taking power, despite earlier promises to grant amnesty.
The Taliban’s decisions and governance have deepened Afghanistan's economic woes.
In March, HRW reported that the country’s humanitarian crisis is tied to its economic crunch, which in turn is rooted in the failure of the Taliban and the U.S. government to reach an agreement “to avert the humanitarian impacts of the change in governance in August 2021.”
Almost 75 percent of Afghanistan's economy depends on foreign funds. After the Taliban took Kabul, foreign governments cut off $2 billion for programs that paid the salaries of millions of Afghanistan’s teachers, health workers and other essential workers.
Although the World Bank resumed some of its assistance, it remains unclear how the money will be distributed, HRW said.
Afghanistan’s economy is also affected by the international sanctions imposed on Taliban leaders in 1998 after al-Qaida terrorists attacked U.S. embassies in Africa. Al-Qaida's headquarters in Afghanistan at that time was under the Taliban’s patronage.
Most officials of Afghanistan’s Central Bank fled the country after the Taliban moved in. The Taliban then appointed its own members, some of whom face international sanctions, to lead financial institutions.
This caused the U.S. and other countries to revoke the credentials of Afghanistan’s Central Bank, which cut it off from the international banking system and financial institutions like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.