As the Taliban exploits the hasty US withdrawal, the fallout on
the ground could be disastrous, especially for women

Narges and Hasina – not their real names – are 15-year-old best friends I met recently in Kabul. Narges told me about her dreams of studying for a degree in maths, and Hasina gave me a painting of a girl gazing into the faint purple of a dawn sky, a shooting star streaming over her head. They had the giggly, shy enthusiasm of teenagers with their life opening up ahead of them. But they also have relatives living in areas that recently fell under Taliban control. And as I left their aunt asked me in a low voice: “So what do you think – is Kabul at risk?”

The militants have swept across Afghanistan in recent weeks, seizing territory including places that were once anti-Taliban strongholds, and besieging major cities. In areas they control, Taliban commanders are already barring girls from attending school. Women are flogged for “adultery”, a sweeping label that covers all sex outside marriage, including rape. Should they try to defend themselves in a Taliban court, a judge told the Observer, their testimony is worth only half that of a man.

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