Meet the new Taliban- just like the old Taliban.

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Photo by IsaaK Alexandre KaRslian on Unsplash.

Last week, girls in Afghanistan were attending school. This week they are being abducted from their families by armed men and given to Taliban soldiers as “wives”. They are not wives; they are victims of sex traffickers.

Last week, new Afghan mothers were caring for their infants. This week, mothers are reportedly throwing their babies over barbed-wire fences at the Kabul airport to British soldiers on the other side in a last, desperate attempt to get their children out of the country and away from the Taliban.

Last week, many of the women in Afghanistan were working government jobs, serving in the military, teaching, practicing law, or pursuing other professions. This week they are in mortal peril.

Their future, once full of bright promise, is now treacherous. There is a widespread fear among many that they won’t be alive to witness it anyway. The Taliban’s views on women in the workplace are, in a word, murderous.

Not that women working in the home are particularly safe.

Last week, gay people in Afghanistan were dating, if still extremely quietly. This week, they fear the cellphones which helped them find and date one another will be confiscated by the Taliban and used to hunt down and murder other gay people. Being ruled by the Taliban, for sexual minorities, means being under a death sentence.

Last week, Afghanistan’s professional women’s soccer team was encouraged by their captain to “stand up, be visible,” in their ongoing quest for recognition and equality in a still very traditional Afghan society. This week, their captain, who managed to flee the country to safety, is telling her fellow (former) teammates left in Afghanistan to delete their social media accounts, destroy any photos, and burn their uniforms. She is afraid for their lives.

Afghanistan is a young country: A majority of people living there are under the age of 25. This week, the only world they’ve ever known was ripped away. It has been replaced by a new, darker reality.

The Taliban is also no friend to former U.S. allies.

Anyone who cooperated with the U.S., and perhaps especially anyone who took part in what the Taliban considers an apostate government, is in deadly danger. Already, worried relatives have reported officials from the deposed government missing or detained.

Not only the people of Afghanistan, but the world has suddenly come to depend on the goodwill and mercy of the Taliban- and a newly empowered Taliban neither needing nor wanting goodwill from the world, at that.

U.N. warnings about respecting human rights are toothless, as are threats of sanctions. The Taliban already has the support of China and Russia.

The best that can be hoped, is that Taliban leadership- perhaps at the urging of their new Russian and Chinese allies- will make a few smart calculations:

  1. The Taliban may decide that 20 years of first-class education should not be wasted on the women and girls of Afghanistan. Adding women to the workplace has quadrupled the Afghan GDP in the past decades. The Taliban may want to keep getting returns on that good investment.
  2. The Taliban may decide that the goodwill of the U.S., the U.N. and its allies is worth more than whatever benefit they might get from taking hostages, and let everyone who wants to leave Afghanistan go peacefully. This motivation could also keep human rights abuses at minimum.
  3. The Taliban may decide that arming other radical groups in the area would risk retaliation by world powers.

Then again, if the Taliban thought that way, they probably wouldn’t be the Taliban.

If the Taliban plans on violating human rights with regards to the executions of the families of collaborators with Western powers and former government officials- and a laundry list of their other past and present crimes too gruesome and horrifying to contemplate- keeping hostages would be a strategic bet.

The Taliban already has one American hostage after all- a man they’ve held captive for years and whose release was not negotiated in any dealings between the U.S. and the Taliban.

There are plenty of other Americans in the clutches of the Taliban now, thousands. Some have reportedly been able to reach the airport and have been evacuated, but there are also reports of others being beaten and turned away.

There are bound to be repercussions with regards to American military equipment, and sensitive intelligence, falling into the hands of the Taliban, and their likeminded compatriots elsewhere. Acts of terrorism in the region, and well beyond it, could result in the U.S., or another country, bringing full military might to bear on Taliban forces.

But not if they have a few thousand hostages.

If they plan to set up shop in Kabul, centrally locating their forces in one convenient location, the Taliban might do better to responsibly govern the citizens of Afghanistan, as opposed to subjugating them.

Being at the mercy of the Taliban with regards to American citizens and allies trapped behind newly formed and quickly cementing enemy lines is an uncomfortable reality.

But for many ordinary citizens in Afghanistan, it is a living nightmare.

(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)