By Sophie Salmore
Out of a combined 14,000-plus minutes of the national evening news broadcast on CBS, ABC, and NBC in 2020, just five minutes were devoted to Afghanistan, according to analysis by the Tyndall Report via the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. Those five minutes, which covered the February 2020 Doha agreement between the Trump administration and the Taliban, marked a 19-year low for coverage of Afghanistan on the three networks’ newscasts.
It should be no surprise then, that Americans were stunned in August, 2021 to see images of the Taliban’s return to power and the grim political situation on the ground today.
Most Americans have little knowledge of Afghanistan: it is a battlefield, a distant and dangerous land where American troops served. But recent events are just the latest chapter in the country’s nearly 42 years of instability and conflict.
Afghans have lived through foreign invasions, civil war, insurgency, and a previous period of oppressive Taliban rule. The Afghan War that lasted from 1978 to 1992 left about one million Afghan civilians dead, and some 4.3 million Afghans refugees fled to neighboring Pakistan and Iran.
The Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996 until the U.S.-led invasion in 2001. They forbid most women from working, banned girls from education, and carried out punishments including beatings, amputations, and public executions. More than a million Afghans fled to neighboring Pakistan, only to languish in squalid refugee camps.
Fast forward to August 2021. After a nearly twenty-year war and the withdrawal of U.S. military forces, the Taliban returned to power. While stating that they would form an “open, inclusive Islamic government,” they carried out reprisals in several provinces, including summary executions and enforced disappearances of former officials and security personnel.
Since then, the Taliban have conducted raids on the homes of human rights defenders, women’s rights activists, and journalists. At the same time, they have restricted the rights of women and girls. Now cash is in short supply, and the country is facing an economic and humanitarian crisis.
After more than four decades of instability, nearly 6 million Afghans have been forcibly displaced — 3.5 million within Afghanistan and 2.6 million as refugees in other countries — one of the world’s gravest and largest protracted refugee situations.
Since the U.S. military’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, about 73,000 Afghans have been evacuated to the United States, and the Biden administration has said it is expecting to resettle up to 95,000 Afghans in the U.S. Eight military installations in Virginia, Wisconsin, Texas, New Jersey, Indiana, and New Mexico have become hubs for an extraordinary humanitarian resettlement operation.
A new chapter of America’s engagement with Afghanistan has begun. To do it right, the Biden administration must honor its professed commitment to human rights and welcome with dignity our Afghan allies. This includes ensuring Afghan newcomers receive the resettlement and integration services they need as they settle into their new lives in the U.S.
In service of this aim, Human Rights First launched Project Afghan Legal Assistance (PALA). Recognizing the immediate legal representation needs of the Afghan people, and the longstanding debt we owe to this community, PALA is playing a leading role in the protection of Afghan refugees.
PALA is working to enhance coordination and collaboration among U.S. legal organizations, law firms, resettlement agencies, and other stakeholders to help provide legal representation to Afghan nationals who have arrived in the U.S. Over 1300 attorneys and more than 20 law firms, corporate counsel partners, and law school clinics have signed up to provide legal services to recent Afghan arrivals.
In addition, PALA has engaged nearly 200 supporters from a range of organizations and a strong network of Afghan-American and Muslim-American organizations that attend our weekly coordinating calls to serve these new arrivals.
PALA staff have visited three bases where Afghans are housed, providing trainings and application assistance to Afghan residents. Language access is critical for this population, and we currently have nearly 400 volunteer Dari and Pashto interpreters who provide Afghans assistance in the legal immigration process and beyond.
PALA also hosted two trainings in December 2021: TRIG and the Taliban: Terrorism-Related Inadmissibility Grounds and Other Bars to Protection of Possible Relevance to Afghan Asylum Applicants and Understanding the Afghan Refugee Crisis. The latter talk offered context for the ongoing crisis for attorneys and others seeking to understand how to support Afghan refugees in the U.S.
With news from Afghanistan once again fading from our screens and newspapers, efforts like PALA’s can make a profound difference in the lives of Afghans in the United States.
You can help, too. Referrals for legal representation of Afghans in the U.S. can made using our Request for Legal Assistance Form. Please complete this form to assist Afghan evacuees as an interpreter or translator.