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Afghanistan: How A Nation Failed Its Citizens

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History is always written by the victor. After world war 2, it was almost certain that the henceforth history of the world would be written by the nations that stood tall. Even though the British controlled an empire so vast that at least one part of it was always facing the sun, it failed to emerge as a superpower after the war. With the rise of the Cold War, countries started to take sides as per their convenience. Those who were not brave or big enough to have their say were used as puppets. From Vietnam to Cuba, people fought wars that were controlled by someone thousands of kilometres away. Afghanistan, a country that had witnessed more than its share of violence in the past, was at the forefront again.

Image Credit: Getty Images. Terrorist organisation Taliban has taken control of Afghanistan.

The Cold War And Afghanistan

To understand what prompted the superpowers to control Afghanistan, we need to understand two things, first its location, and another is the domino effect. America believed, and probably rightly so, that if one nation becomes communist, its neighbours will follow suit. The interference of the Soviet Union in the politics of Afghanistan made America wary of its neighbours following the same trend. As the US tried to disrupt the government by fielding the Mujahideen, the Soviets had to invade the country to keep its control.

What followed was a decade of war between the Mujahideen backed by the Americans against the Socialists. The graveyard of the empires proved catastrophic for the Soviets and they had to pack their bags. The Americans abandoned them soon after and a deadly civil war broke out. The Taliban emerged victoriously and the stringent sharia law was imposed. It was only after an attack on the twin towers by Al-Qaeda that America decided to invade this haven for terrorists.

What followed was the ousting of the Taliban from power and the process of nation-building got underway. The election of 2004 witnessed the first-ever democratically elected president. But the things on the ground were pretty much the same for the people. Albeit women were allowed to do as they please, the financial status of people remain unchanged.

According to recent data, more than 80 per cent of Afghanistan’s population is poor. The US and NATO government Invested billions to modernize the Afghan military but the soldiers were often operating in insanely hard conditions. The Ashraf Ghani government became too self-centred and such was the distrust that they were not even part of the initial Doha talks.

Afghanistan’s Collapse

It was projected that the Afghan army, trained by the Americans at a cost of billions of dollars, was as strong as any modern army. Turned out it was only on paper. The way the commanders abandoned their posts was enough to instil fear into the hearts of the citizens. If you were in a bank that was being robbed, the right choice for you would be to keep quiet because your money is insured by the government and you have nothing to lose. When the soldiers saw their commander running away, they knew they had nothing to protect. Now, if you are rushing to blame the commanders, hear this out.

Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani
Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani

The commanders thought they had nothing to fight when they saw their American and NATO allies abandoning them. The abandonment of the Bagram airbase in the dead of night was the biggest blow for the Afghan army. The army was abandoned by the same force that nurtured it for 20 years. When the Commander-in-chief of your most faithful ally has signed a treaty with your foes, from where would you get the strength to fight them? For what would you fight them?

When in 2006, Armullah Saleh, the then chief of intelligence warned about the regrouping of the Taliban, no one paid any heed. He was even forced to resign by President Hamid Karzai. After the killing of Bin Laden, everyone was fearing the withdrawal of the American troops. Though that didn’t happen, Saleh was still very much critical of it. He had done his homework and knew that if Americans withdrew, everything would crumble down.

He dauntlessly blamed Pakistan for providing safe havens and aid to the Taliban. Several attempts were made on his life but he somehow survived. He was on a quest to destroy the Taliban once and for all but failed to mobilize enough support. It turned out the people eventually paid the price.

The focus of the NATO forces had been cities only. They trusted their trained warlords for the rural areas. As the Taliban had backing from its neighbour, warlords were left to manage their affairs on their own. The corrupt governments were too proud to solve the ground problems. Ashraf Ghani, an ex-professor and World Bank employee, proved education has less to do to be a leader. Fearing that he would meet the same fate as Mohammad Najibullah Ahmadzai did in 1996, he fled the country when the enemies were at the gate.

He was repeatedly accused of ignoring the demands of its people, especially army personnel. The voices condemning the poor quality of food and delay in payment fell on deaf ears. Seeing the lack of response from the top officials following the advancement of the Taliban, the army personnel knew that they were on their own. They happily joined the Taliban or surrendered without giving a fight. The lack of air support or a well-defined plan to counter the mujahideen made taking the provinces a cake for the Taliban.

The Supreme court of India once quoted that the right to life does not mean to merely live like an animal, it should be a life of dignity. Abandoning the people of Afghanistan by their government was a violation of their fundamental right to live. Now that the Taliban is in control, they are at its mercy and will be forced to live on its terms. The world is slowly moving towards giving legitimacy to the government even though they have violated all the basic requirements of being called a legitimate government. Only time will tell what this new era will bring to this graveyard of empires, but the world will remember for a long time how a nation betrayed its people.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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