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The curtains are coming down around Afghanistan as the Taliban consolidate their hold over the nation and its people. With most foreigners having left, media sources on events within that country are drying up. Enough has come through to confirm that the attitude towards women remains the same as before. There have already been numerous killings and beatings of women (and men) associated either with the previous regime or with ‘banned’ activities such as politics, sports and music. The danger is that, once this ceases to be reported, it will disappear from the public consciousness and women will be consigned permanently to a living hell.

Attempts are being made, at the same time, by various quarters to ‘normalise’ relations with Afghanistan. Primary movers behind this are long-time Taliban backers Pakistan, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Early signals were that China and Russia could provide the desperately needed assistance but they have backed off somewhat after seeing the hardline composition of the Taliban ‘government’ and the treatment of ethnic minorities. The world’s democracies may feel pressured to also engage with the new regime to offset the influence of these two nations. In all of this realpolitik, the plight of women and the common folk will very likely be forgotten.

This is why it is necessary to ensure the matter remains in the headlines and the public consciousness. Measures such as not playing with the Afghanistan men’s cricket team because of the ban on women playing the game will have significance well beyond the immediate impact. The greatest pressure will be on providing ‘humanitarian aid’ but serious care should be taken it reaches the targeted beneficiaries and is not siphoned away. The modalities for this need to be worked out and monitored by trusted agencies. Even this necessary act will ease the pressure on the Taliban, who would otherwise face widespread protests from a desperate people.

Having already lost a significant percentage of its professional and highly skilled work force – the latest to move to other countries are Air Force pilots who had escaped with their aircraft before the takeover – Afghanistan will need help from nations that have capabilities in the required quantity. India is one of the foremost among these (with a huge cost advantage) but once the invitations begin to come, it should seek significant improvements on the women’s rights front before becoming involved. So should all the other democratic nations despite all the compulsions.