Afghan-Taliban tensions force civilians to flee, poverty estimated to grow

By Laxman Datt Pant

Afghan-Taliban tensions force civilians to flee, poverty estimated to grow

Civilians in Afghanistan continue to flee as the country’s army launches counterattacks against the Taliban who have intensified their fight now that the U.S. has withdrawn its troops from the country. The intense fighting in recent days between the Taliban and Afghan forces has claimed dozens of lives with experts warning that the situation will further worsen the persistent poverty of the country.

The hostilities have extended to a range of populated areas with Lashkar Gah, a city in the southwest, the city of Herat that borders Iran, and Kandahar in the south being among the worst hit leaving residents being forced to flee in terror and in fear of losing their lives. According to the U.S. publication, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies Long War Journal, in July 2021 the Taliban controlled about 54% of Afghanistan districts which is more than at any time since 2001 when it was ousted from power.

  • The Taliban armed group has been trying to seize provincial capitals after already having taken smaller administrative districts in recent months.
  • On August 3, as many as eight people died during a Taliban attack at the acting Defense Minister’s residence and more than 20 people were wounded.
  • According to Ferdaws Faramarz, a spokesman for the Kabul police chief, hundreds of residents in the area were moved to safety while security personnel carried out house-to-house searches.
  • The Taliban, who held a strong rule between 1996 and 2001, had previously stated that it would focus on border crossings although at times provincial capitals have also been targeted.

Responding to DevelopmentAid regarding the situation in Kabul, Dr. Barkhaa Versha, an Indian activist currently residing in Kabul, painted a troubled picture of the surrounding areas which, according to her, have almost all been captured. Although Kabul, the capital city, is in a much better position, the Taliban continues to capture different provinces, she said.

Talking to DevelopmentAid, Rehan Zeb Khan, Youth Leader and Chairman of Youth Forum Pakistan, who lives in the Salarzai Khyber Pakhtunkhwa area located at the Afghan border, said:

“The recent tensions in Afghanistan that started with continuous attacks in Lashkar Gah and Kandahar claiming dozens of lives, and a blast in Kabul that wounded many people have now escalated with half of Afghanistan’s districts being controlled by the Taliban.”

Hundreds of families have fled their homes in different cities mainly in Lashkar Gah, Khan said, citing local Afghan residents.

“As neighbors, we want to see peace in Afghanistan. Maintaining peace in Afghanistan could be the very first step towards reducing poverty that has currently hit the rural areas of the country,” Rehan Zeb Khan said. Youths and children are deprived of their rights to education, clean drinking water, and food whereas almost 50% of the approximately 40 million Afghan population live below the poverty line, he added.

While the blame-game continues with the Taliban being accused of murdering civilians at the borders and Afghan President, Ashraf Ghani, blaming the sudden exit by the US as a major reason behind the worsening security in the country, Khan urged all concerned to find a solution without external interference in Afghanistan’s recent crisis.

When asked by DevelopmentAid whether Afghan tensions have any effect on the Pakistani people, the youth leader Khan said:

“The Pakistan side is almost safe as the Pakistani army is working hard to complete the construction of the fence. The army has completed almost 90% of the work for the construction of a fence along the border with Afghanistan.”

Meanwhile, on August 2, addressing a joint session of the bicameral National Assembly of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani, the President of Afghanistan, remarked:

“Our people yearn for peace and while we will pursue a negotiated path, we also stand forcefully against the Taliban’s aggression.”

It is worth noting that tensions in Afghanistan escalated when the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) decided to withdraw their troops from the country by August 31, 20 years after their deployment to overthrow the Taliban. The peace agreement the Taliban and the U.S. signed in 2020 in order to commence power-sharing negotiations with the Afghan government has never been respected. The Taliban has more than tripled the territory it controls and analysts do not rule out a renewed civil war unless an agreement on power-sharing is reached.

According to the World Bank (2020), 47.1% of Afghanistan’s population were living below the national poverty line in 2020. COVID-19 has intensified health and socioeconomic hardships mainly for the poor and vulnerable populations in rural areas, the current targets of the Taliban. Approximately one in every two Afghans lives under the national poverty line and three out of every four poor individuals live in rural areas. Although poverty levels reduced from 54.5% in 2017 to 47.1% in 2020, these attacks and counterattacks are expected to deteriorate the situation among the rural masses of the country.