Image: REUTERS/Kyodo News

By Katelin van Zyl

On Friday, 29 September, Russia hosted Taliban representatives in the city of Kazan to discuss regional threats and how to create an inclusive government in Afghanistan, according to Russian state news agency Tass. Russia reiterated its intent to continue helping Afghanistan unilaterally and through the United Nations (UN) World Food Program (WFP). Earlier in September, the Taliban hosted China’s new ambassador to Afghanistan in Kabul. Afghan officials considered it significant that China decided to nominate a new ambassador after the completion of Wang Yu’s tenure, rather than appointing a ‘charge d’affaire’ like other governments did after the expiry of their ambassadors’ terms. Since the Taliban’s takeover in August 2021, no country has formally recognised the Taliban as the legitimate new government of Afghanistan, although they are acknowledged as the de facto ruling authority. This has made it very complicated for many Afghan embassies and consulates to continue operating, as diplomats appointed by the former government refuse to relinquish embassy buildings and property to Taliban representatives. Afghanistan’s embassy in India announced on 30 September that it would cease operations from 1 October. As the world grapples with whether and how to engage with the Taliban, the global Church can pray for wisdom for global leaders and uplift those trapped in the limbo it has created for many Afghans. 

The West’s freezing of billions of dollars in assets has exacerbated a humanitarian crisis driven by decades of instability, drought, and natural disasters in the country. The Taliban has struggled to revive the economy, and millions of Afghans face insecure access to food and healthcare. Almost half of Afghanistan’s population reportedly received assistance from the WFP last year. An INcontext contact shared that the changes under the different governments in Afghanistan are more felt in the urban areas than the rural areas in the country. Most NGOs and foreign workers focus on projects in the urban areas, but there is also a great need in rural areas.

There have been reports of human rights abuses committed by the Taliban, including unlawful detentions, media crackdowns and restrictions on religious practice. Although Afghanistan moved down eight places on the Open Doors World Watch List from being the most difficult country in which to be a Christian last year to the 9th most difficult country in 2023, the drop does not guarantee that the situation for Christians has improved, but rather reflects the uncertainty regarding the reasons for which people have suffered persecution, given the tense situation in the country. Even though the Taliban’s takeover has forced many Christians further ‘underground’ or out of the country completely, we know that the Afghan Church has grown inside the country both in urban and rural areas, as well as among the Afghan diaspora abroad. 

One of the major areas of human rights abuse for which the Taliban has been condemned is the gradual introduction of a series of increasingly harsh edicts regarding women, based on their interpretation of Islamic law. Some have described the Taliban’s clampdown on women’s freedom – similar to that seen during their previous rule from 1996 to 2001 – as a ‘war on women’, while UN Women has called on the UN to legally declare the systematic discrimination against women and girls in Afghanistan as “gender apartheid”. Girls are banned from attending school beyond the sixth grade, with high schools and universities being closed to female students. Recently, around 100 women were stopped from travelling to the United Arab Emirates on academic scholarships. Women from the group were interviewed, with one lady expressing grief over the loss of a great opportunity, which has been taken away “like everything else”. Beauty salons have been closed and women have been banned from almost all jobs, even in aid agencies, where they are desperately needed. In August, the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice banned women from entering the popular Band-e-Amir National Park, saying female visitors were failing to wear the hijab correctly. These restrictions are a significant barrier to the Taliban administration being formally recognised by other countries and the UN. Despite these curbs, our contact shared that the remaining organisations in the country have made progress in the creation of inroads for rural women through strategic training programmes. In addition, many men and women trained in urban areas are increasingly taking up leadership roles in training their people. Thus, while some larger organisations halted their operations in Afghanistan (especially after female staff were prohibited from working), smaller organisations are now able to focus on women – while not excluding men – in more strategic ways than before. The global Church can pray for the work of these organisations to be fruitful, and for Afghan women to encounter the love of Christ and the internal hope and freedom that He offers. He can meet them in their darkest hour, and they can experience His presence in their homes, transforming what some describe as a ‘prison’ to a place of divine peace and joy.

Please pray with us for the following:

  • For the hearts of Taliban members to be softened towards women, Christians, and other groups holding a different belief to them
  • For the global and local Church to meet the needs of those suffering from the humanitarian crisis and to especially uplift women through serving with the love of Christ
  • For protection, provision, wisdom and guidance for believers and foreign Christian workers in the country as they continue to serve under difficult circumstances