Western countries need to talk and cooperate with the Taliban regardless of their ideology based on hatred and violence. For the time being, Taliban are the key if we want our support being brought to the Afghan isolated populations in desperate need of help. This is what Thomas Lund, from Norway, presents us as a human duty, based on his personal experience and local acquaintances as an expedition leader and activist in the mountains of the remote Wakhan corridor. As he says: “It will be as difficult as fighting an enemy without a uniform who is a farmer by day and soldier at night. But we have no other option.”
Love or sorrow?
The Norwegian authorities have held talks with the Taliban – and that is good. It’s the right thing to do to help people in need. Afghanistan, the wonderful nature, the beautiful and wise people, have left their mark on me. For better or worse.
I don’t know how I feel, but there are very strong, almost overwhelming feelings I carry with me when I see images of the Taliban in Norway, but there is no fear. The Taliban have been visiting Norway as representatives of Afghanistan.
One consequence of the Taliban’s takeover of power in Afghanistan is that Afghan women are almost “thrown on the bonfire.” The work for gender equality and women’s rights in Afghanistan may be in tatters. For me, a life’s work seems to have been ruined. For women in Afghanistan, life can be ruined.
I am a middle-aged Norwegian, academic education, homeowner in a central district, full of shame over own consumption of plastic, flights and meat. But it’s a stronger shame I’m struggling with now. I can’t help my friends in Afghanistan.
I’ve been in Afghanistan since 2016, and together with other volunteers, I’ve run a program for girls. The participants have learned about women’s rights, trained to become strong independent women with high ambitions for the future. I’ve taken the girls into the mountains and learned what mountains and nature mean to our bodies and souls. This became a bunch of kick-ass girls! But we would never have achieved it without cooperation with parents- and always with the armed hand of international forces above us.
Never without fear.
Now all the girls, 74 in total, are out of the country living their lives as refugees. Taliban fighters have for years been present in large parts of Afghanistan and been in control of many communities. There they have stood for negative social control, especially when it comes to women. But they have also had dialogue and compromised so that nonprofits have been able to continue their work. This means that a lot of international aid has indirectly been channeled via the Taliban. Without international aid- with Taliban approval- schools and health centers in parts of the country would not be operational. In this sense, the Taliban have largely been recognized as local powers and at the same time received increasing support from locals.
I have feared the Taliban and am eternally grateful to have avoided them on my travels in Afghanistan. They are behind atrocities that I know from personal stories and that we all know from the media. One of my closest friends in Afghanistan, Habiba, experienced the attack on the university in Kabul in 2016. She saw fellow students get shot and killed and she ran for their life. Thirteen people died in the attack. The Taliban’s armed groups have fought allied forces and against Norwegian soldiers who have sacrificed everything. There is no doubt that it is thanks to the international military presence that it has been possible for me to travel to Afghanistan. Now the situation is different.
“He was shot in front of my house”
In our digital world, it’s easy to stay connected, and I speak either by phone or Messenger with the people I know best.
A couple of months ago, I spoke to a young man in the north of the country who I know well. He told me that two Taliban killed a man when he refused to give up the phone that he used to listen to music. “He was shot in front of my house,” he said.
This shows that parts of the Taliban are still practicing fierce, human-hostile justice. The Taliban have been engaged in continuous terrorist activity for years. Every single day there have been incidents, and weekly we have been able to read about suicide bombings or other types of terrorist activities in the media. The dreadful years of 1996 to 2001 have posed a threat to what will happen again if the Taliban return.
Fear is a foundation of the Taliban’s power.
I’ve done controversial things in Afghanistan. I have worked for gender equality and women’s liberation, which is generally somewhat unknown and incomprehensible to Afghans outside Kabul and other major cities.
One challenge for us “in the West” is that there is actually a very small part of the population in Afghanistan that is amenable to gender equality. Afghans most, preferably see that women are dressed in burkas, and they keep the girls away from high school. This has been the case for a long time, even before the Taliban emerged. You need to work hard to see the result of gender equality work, or go very far out in the countryside to bee accepted. As far as possible. The area I have visited is in the north-east of the country where Tajik residents and those who populate the Wakhan Valley live. On the map, the area is a “finger,” squeezed between Tajikistan and Pakistan, which tickles China in the armpit.
The area is unique in terms of nature, wildlife, and not least culture. The women here are outside, visible, and take part in society in the same way as men. It’s easy to be charmed by the people here. Ole Paus (Norwegian musician and poet) has said something like “in this country we have everything, but that is also all we have”. In Wakhan, they have virtually none of what we have, but they have something else. It has made a profound impression on me and has taken firm hold of my heart. These are the people I have in mind every single day.
As a first-time expedition leader, I made a mistake. Of course, I made several mistakes, but as a Norwegian I think that not being able to pay for one’s way is perceived as a particularly gross mistake. I hadn’t exchanged enough local currency to pay the 18 people who had taken the job as carriers for me. My Afghan sidekick explained the situation to the men as I looked down into the ground. “You can pay us the next time you come,” they said.
“Next time, “I thought. I may not ever set foot on Afghan soil. I perceived this as a trust I can’t remember having experienced before. I may be a romantic, but I know the modest research that’s been done in the area, and it provides insight and understanding. If we take a closer look at this society, only 1 to 4% of the population actually takes part in a money economy. They’re still swapping goods here. If they are to use cash, they must travel and take part in a market economy where they are most likely to be deceived. But why did they leave home and farming to follow me for 4 days up to a height of about 5,000.
Editor note: Wakhan Corridor is mostly inhabited by Wakhi people from Persian (Tajik) ethnicity and language. Wakhi people also stay in Pamirs of Tajikistan, China & Pakistan. Read: Wakhi in relation with other people of their areas. A small isolated group of ethnic Kyrghyz breeders live about 4,000 m at the eastern end of the corridor.
Previous regimes have also only cared about Kabul. The rest of the country does not benefit from the power and resources possessed by those in power in Kabul.
People don’t carry guns in this area. They are extremely hospitable and open.
The girls from Kabul I travelled with were welcomed as heroes. “If you’re going to climb the high mountains, you’re brave and strong,” the local men said.
I wanted to do some good in Afghanistan, something significant, but the truth is that the Afghans have done more good for me, until the Taliban took over.
Now my hands are tied. I have the means. It’s amazing how much you can do too little in Afghanistan, but I can’t. My friends are informed and honest. There is no longer anyone to trust, they say.
“No one can guarantee your safety, don’t come.”A Wakhan villager
Local men I have had to deal with in order to get a travel permit have switched sides and now call themselves the Taliban.
In addition, more Taliban fighters have come to the area and in addition «other terrorist groups,” my friend says. Other sources outside the country report a flow of fighters from Egypt and Algeria to Afghanistan, among others.
I’m talking to my friend in the north again.
“Do you have food and fuel? Is the doctor still in the village and are there medicines?”.
‘We have our own land- so we’ve got food for a while. No rice and oil though. There is no job here now and prices have skyrocketed while the Afghan currency has fallen in value”.A Wakhan villager
Then I must hang up because I have to drive to the store and find a decent dinner before the kids are home from school. It’s a strange feeling.
The Afghans are hard-nosed and live under harsh conditions, but there is a limit to what they can endure as well. Old, sick and newborns will be hit hard when adult family members cannot provide for them.
“Now there’s money coming,” I say to my friends, referring promises of aid through the UN.
“Great! But they’re going to be in Kabul. There will never be any help here for us”
Historically, it is Kabul that any commander in power in Afghanistan will control. Nothing else. Previous regimes have also only cared about Kabul. The rest of the country does not benefit from the power and resources possessed by those in power in Kabul. At best, people in rural areas can feel part of a nation by being taxed.
One requirement of the West to provide aid now is for the money to go through the UN. It remains to be seen whether it can be done to channel money to those who need help without simultaneously sponsoring the Taliban. It will be as difficult as fighting an enemy without a uniform who is a farmer by day and soldier at night. But we have no other option.Thomas lund
It is not primarily because of the fear of terrorism and a new refugee flow that we must do something. It’s our duty as fellow human beings.
Poverty and fundamentalism do not lead to anything good. The 10-year boycott of Iraq killed two million people, the weakest, the sick and the young. Later, the country became a hotbed for Al Qaeda, ISIL and later IS in Syria. Afghanistan has suffered for a long time for housing the man behind 9/11. If extreme poverty is allowed to develop further, it is not inconceivable that similar militant groups with international goals will flourish again. But it is not primarily because of the fear of terrorism and a new refugee flow that we must do something. It’s our duty as fellow human beings.
Jonas Gahr Støre (Norwegian prime minister) says that Norway is not a superpower, but a country with economic and political surpluses. Afghanistan is geopolitically very important- and always has been. Whether it’s for humane or political reasons Norway choose to get involved I don’t know, but now we have a finger in the game and I’m happy about that. What I do know is that we have a prime minister who himself firsthand has experienced the terror and death of the Taliban in Afghanistan. It has undoubtedly affected him.
Helping the Afghans is a duty, as formulated and communicated by Fridtjof Nansen. Nansen’s ideas are not old-fashioned. They must not be forgotten just because we have become a rich country. Contrary. Because we are a rich country, we must help others. If we don’t, we have reason to feel shame. When I see the black turban on TV, I feel sorrow, but when I look at my own photos from my travels in Afghanistan it is love I feel.
NEGAR NGO, which accomplishes a remarkable endeavour with Afghan women, issued a petition against Norway’s talks with Taliban. The arguments are developed and documented. This shows the appalling complexity of the situation created by the Taliban occupation and violences in Afghanistan.
All over the world a movement of solidarity with the Afghan people has developed. Feminists everywhere are relaying the words of Afghan women, begging them not to be forgotten and above all not to recognise the Taliban.NEGAR, soutien aux femmes d’Afghanistan
However, from 23 to 25 January 2022, a delegation from the Islamist fundamentalists in power in Kabul will be welcomed in Oslo by the head of Norwegian diplomacy, Anniken Huitfeldt, for a meeting with representatives of the United States, France, the United Kingdom, Germany and Italy, as well as with representatives of Afghan civil society in exile.
The purpose of Norway’s invitation “in view of the large-scale humanitarian disaster facing Afghanistan”, is to engage in dialogue with the Taliban, says Mrs Huitfeldt, who assures us that these meetings “do not constitute a legitimisation or recognition of the Taliban”. However, as the Taliban spokesman analyses, “this visit will open the way to discussions, meetings and agreements with the countries of the European Union”…
Elisabeth BADINTER, philosopher and writer; Danielle BOUSQUET, President of the CNIDFF, former Vice-President of the National Assembly; Marie-George BUFFET, Member of Parliament (MP) for Seine-Saint Denis, former minister; Marie-Arlette CARLOTTI, senator for Bouches-du-Rhône, former minister; Elizabeth CAZAUX-LAGROLET, business manager; Chahla CHAFIQ, writer and sociologist; Laurence COHEN, Senator for Val-de-Marne; Catherine COUTELLE, president of the association of former MP’s, president of the women’s rights delegation of the National Assembly (2012-2017); Patricia LALONDE, former Member of the European Parliament; Laurence ROSSIGNOL, Vice-President of the Senate, Senator for Oise, President of the Assembly of Women, former Minister; Martine STORTI, professor of philosophy, feminist activist and journalist; Olivier WEBER, writer, great reporter, former war correspondent, itinerant French ambassador (2008-2013).