Fergus Finlay: The women of Ireland will not ignore the plight of ordinary Afghans

We must open our doors to these families — and particularly women and girls — fleeing the most appalling fate imaginable 
Fergus Finlay: The women of Ireland will not ignore the plight of ordinary Afghans

We cannot look away. This group of nine, including a babe in arms, and a little girl with her pink backpack, were among the many thousands of people desperately scrambling to flee the advancing Taliban at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul yesterday. Picture: Haroon Sabawoon/Anadolu/Getty

Today, Afghanistan, as remote and mysterious as it is, is on the top of every news bulletin in the world. What’s happening there is being reported by the hour, and with an increasing sense of foreboding.

But soon enough, Afghanistan will fade into the middle distance. The entire world will turn a blind eye to whatever happens there and get on with the rest of its life. There’ll be a half-hearted United Nations effort initially, but once enough people are evacuated, it will drift down the agenda.

Every now and again in years to come, there’ll be an atrocity that will wake the world from its Afghan slumber. A girl will be imprisoned or shot or tortured; a woman suspected of being unfaithful to her husband will be stoned to death. And we’ll all be horrified. Until it fades again.

A girl whose family fled their home due to fighting between the Taliban and the Afghan army, in a makeshift tent near Mazar-e-Sharif. Given the Taliban's resurgence, and their misogynistic outlook, life for many in the region is likely to have deteriorated further since July 8 when this photo was taken. Picture: Rahmat Gul/AP
A girl whose family fled their home due to fighting between the Taliban and the Afghan army, in a makeshift tent near Mazar-e-Sharif. Given the Taliban's resurgence, and their misogynistic outlook, life for many in the region is likely to have deteriorated further since July 8 when this photo was taken. Picture: Rahmat Gul/AP

Twenty years of effort by the west has resulted not just in failure but in abject humiliation. So, the West will seek to bury the history. Some half-baked deal will be done with the inevitable Taliban government, and all sorts of pronouncements will be made to the effect that they have agreed to respect international human rights and the rule of law. And then they’ll be told to get on with it, while we try to forget.

Except, I hope, the women of Ireland won’t allow that to happen. Human rights are indivisible. What happens to women and girls in Afghanistan will not be tolerated by women anywhere.

This is the main front-page photo in the print edition of the Irish Examiner today, Tuesday, August 17, 2021. And again, we cannot look away. Another group of men women and children scramble to get over a security fence into the main airport in Kabul just to get away from the Taliban. Picture: Reuters/Stringer
This is the main front-page photo in the print edition of the Irish Examiner today, Tuesday, August 17, 2021. And again, we cannot look away. Another group of men women and children scramble to get over a security fence into the main airport in Kabul just to get away from the Taliban. Picture: Reuters/Stringer

When I was a youngster, I was obsessed with the Khyber Pass and the Hindu Kush. There was an old set of Encyclopedia Britannica in our house, and that’s where I came across it first. I still remember the photographs of tall dark men with turbans and long beards, carrying long rifles. Always standing on a hill, commanding the valleys below.

The scholarly articles were written like history stories. They talked about the use of the pass by forces as diverse as Alexander the Great and Sikh rulers of the Punjab. The faded pictures I remember also included Victorian British army officers with funny hats and ramrod moustaches.

To me back then, the Khyber Pass (at the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan), was at one and the same time the most savage and the most romantic place on earth. 

But, as an adult, I haven’t studied it enough to understand it. Why it has been fought over for so long. Why it is so divided. Why it seems to be so supportive of terrorism against the rest of the world. Why it seems so medieval in its religious practices, so barbaric in its attitudes to women and girls. Why its fighters are so feared.

As this current crisis has unfolded, I’ve been trying to read everything I can, to understand it better. And one thing that became clear quickly is that if you want to know what’s going on, ignore the official account. It has been clear from the beginning of the latest Taliban assault that Afghanistan would fall quickly. But you can search the American media from top to bottom and you won’t find anyone accurately predicting what was going to happen.

Floral tributes outside Sayed Ul-Shuhada school in Kabul on Saturday, May 8. Thought to have been targeting girls seeking education, the bombs killed an estimated 90 people, many of them girls aged between 11 and 15. Picture: Mariam Zuhaib/AP
Floral tributes outside Sayed Ul-Shuhada school in Kabul on Saturday, May 8. Thought to have been targeting girls seeking education, the bombs killed an estimated 90 people, many of them girls aged between 11 and 15. Picture: Mariam Zuhaib/AP

Part of the reason for that is that the American failure is profound — so profound that many have been slow to admit it. I read somewhere recently that if this had happened on Trump’s watch we’d all have been in a frenzy of criticism. But because Joe Biden made the fateful final decision to withdraw there’s been an embarrassed silence.

I’m guessing that history will not be kind to Joe Biden on this issue but it will also see him as a bit hapless. Once Donald Trump made his nefarious “peace agreement” directly with the Taliban — surely the single greatest piece of international hypocrisy since Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize — it has been a matter of when, not if, Afghanistan would fall. The only surprise really has been the speed of the collapse, the cravenness of the surrender.

It’s clear that former president Ghani is not one of those captains who believes in going down with the ship. In fact, he was one of the first to leave, announcing that he was going to prevent “a flood of bloodshed”. His own, presumably.

But what happens next?

So just who are these families fleeing?  

People fleeing Afghanistan cross into Pakistan at a border post in Chaman yesterday. The world community, including Ireland, must provide refuge for families who face persecution at the hands of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Picture: Jafar Khan/AP
People fleeing Afghanistan cross into Pakistan at a border post in Chaman yesterday. The world community, including Ireland, must provide refuge for families who face persecution at the hands of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Picture: Jafar Khan/AP

I suppose in time we’ll all become familiar with the names Haibatullah Akhundzada and Abdul Ghani Baradar. For the sake of brevity let’s call them Leader A (Akhundzada) and Leader B (Baradar). From everything I’ve read, Leader A is the religious leader of the Taliban, and Leader B, its political leader.

Leader B will probably take control of the negotiations now, as power is solidified in Kabul. While he is busy mollifying the rest of the world that the Taliban has changed and will of course respect human rights treaties and covenants, Leader A will be busy setting up Shariah courts throughout the country.

He has taught and practiced an extreme version of Islamist law for most of his life, and anyone who believes that Taliban culture will change under him is delusional.

Stoned to death for being raped

In Leader A’s courts, people (men, women, or children) convicted of theft are likely to be sentenced to the amputation of a limb — usually with a heavy-bladed knife. A woman of any age convicted of adultery is sentenced to be stoned to death. And this penalty is also applied to victims of rape since, in Leader A’s court, a woman who says she has been raped is seen as admitting to adultery.

These are the men who have won the war and have taken over the country. These are the men and the practices that will prevail into the near future of Afghanistan. These are the men who will condemn millions of women and girls to lives without meaning. And the rest of us (until we are confronted with occasional visual evidence) will deny it is happening.

The world — in the form of Boris Johnson and other loathsome types — will talk instead about how important it is to encourage Afghanistan into the league of civilised nations. The world will need to make them an ally in the ongoing war against terror, they’ll say, and we’ll all be encouraged to believe all the lies they tell us as al Qaeda rebuild in the mountains and caves of the Hindu Kush.

What can we in Ireland do?

Is there anything we in Ireland can do? We know there is only one answer. Thousands of people — especially families with girls — will need refuge in the coming months and years. We know we can’t support them all. But a country with thousands of small communities and thousands of primary schools can do a lot. We’ve done it before.

The women of Ireland, I reckon, will lead the response we need to make. If human rights are indivisible, so are the rights of women and girls. Our policymakers won’t be allowed to forget them even if we try. Women have led the battles for equality here at home, and I hope and believe they won’t rest now until as many of the children as possible are rescued.

More in this section

IE_logo_newsletters

Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox

LOTTO RESULTS

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

  • 1
  • 8
  • 14
  • 33
  • 38
  • 40
  • 30

Full Lotto draw results »