As we face up to the impact of Taliban rule once again in Afghanistan, I share the fears of millions, particularly women and girls, who remember the brutal regime that was removed by allied forces in 2001.
Women were not allowed to work and faced public flogging and execution for violations of the Taliban's extreme Islamic laws; Girls over 8 years old were banned from education; Women were not allowed to be treated by male doctors unless accompanied by a male chaperone, which meant many illnesses were left untreated; 80% of Afghan marriages were considered ‘forced’, according to an Amnesty International report.
Often referred to as gender-apartheid, this misogynistic regime became a hotbed for fundamentalists giving rise to the Al Qaeda terrorists that wrought havoc around the western world - until the 9/11 attacks catalysed the US led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.
The ensuing War On Terror cost the lives of 457 British service people and MOD civilians, with thousands more wounded in action. Members of Maidstone’s own 36 Engineers and Queen’s Gurkha Engineer regiments were among those who lost their lives from Kent and their sacrifices continue to impact on the lives of hundreds of friends and families to this day. As a Mum I have personal knowledge of the deep and emotional effects of this war through one of my own sons, who served there as a Royal Marine Commando.
Alongside military action the UK and others have undertaken a great deal of positive development work in Afghanistan over the last 20 years, by way of example; 9.6 million more children are now in school than in 2001 and 40% are girls, compared with virtually none in 2001; Remarkably too, maternal mortality has almost halved and infant mortality has also decreased faster than any low income country since 2001.
But now we are witnessing a humanitarian disaster on a colossal scale: According to UNESCO nearly 400,000 have been forced from their homes since the beginning of the year, joining 2.9 million already internally displaced across the country. Of the 250,000 who have fled since May, some 80% are women and children and we are also on course to witness the highest ever number of documented civilian casualties in a single year since the UN’s records began.
It is therefore vital that the international community now unites to somehow ensure that the many gains and sacrifices made over the last 20 years are not lost or wasted. ‘Sad beyond words’ was the phrase used by a Coxheath resident here in Maidstone & The Weald who wrote to me this week, along with so many others, and I echo that.