WASHINGTON – When the last American soldier left Afghanistan on August 30, 2021, leaving the country in the hands of the Taliban, the world braced itself for a security nightmare. human rights.
In that sense, the Taliban have lived up to expectations.
The country’s extremist rulers, who seized power from a US-backed government for 20 years, have carried out revenge killings, torture and kidnpingsaccording to international observers.
They have also imposed the most radical gender policies in the world, denying education and employment to millions of Afghan women and girls, and even closing beauty salons.
On August 14, a group of United Nations officials released a report stating that the Taliban had carried out “a continuous, systematic cancellation and scandalous violation of a multitude of human rights, including the rights to education, work and the freedoms of expression, assembly and association.
Some analysts and U.S. officials had held out hope that the Taliban had moderated since they last controlled the country in the 1990s.
Or at least make concessions to Western human rights demands to obtain diplomatic recognition or economic aid, as the country suffers a deepening humanitarian crisis.
“The concept of a ‘reformed’ Taliban has proven wrong,” the UN experts wrote.
As a result, Biden administration officials have ruled out the possibility of them acceding to Taliban demands for international recognition, sanctions relief and access to billions of dollars in frozen assets in the United States.
At the same time, some aspects of the Taliban government have modestly surprised some US officials.
Fears of civil war have not materialized, and the Taliban has cracked down against corruption and opium cultivation banned, although it remains to be seen to what extent the ban will be strictly enforced.
And as for the President’s top priority Joe Biden for the country – to prevent the return of terrorist groups that could threaten the United States – the Taliban leaders seem to have the proval of Washington.
This is crucial, given that the United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001 because the Taliban was harboring leaders of Al Qaeda who plotted the attacks of September 11, 2001.
“I said Al Qaeda wouldn’t be there,” Biden said on June 30, in response to a reporter’s question about a U.S. withdrawal.
“I said we would get help from the Taliban. What is hpening now?”
The question was rhetorical; Biden’s clear implication was that he had been claimed for his decision to withdraw American troops.
That has not been enough to persuade Biden to restore American support for the country.
But some humanitarian groups and Afghanistan experts are calling on the Biden administration to soften its stance and, at a minimum, provide the Taliban with direct economic aid to ease the desperate poverty and the famine of the country.
“The world has to think about what it wants to achieve in Afghanistan right now, and most of the things we want to do require working with the Taliban,” said Graeme Smith, a Crisis Group analyst who has worked in Afghanistan since 2005 and who recently has spent months in the country assessing conditions under the Taliban regime.
Smith recently wrote an essay in the journal Foreign Affairs urging Western governments and institutions to “establish more functional relations with the Taliban.”
That could include help with the country’s power grid, banking system and water management, Smith said.
The need is especially pressing, Smith added, as international humanitarian aid – which the United States and other countries send directly to aid groups, bypassing the Taliban government – has been declining.
Such cooperation is unlikely in the short term, Smith said, given what he called Afghanistan’s “toxic politics.”
Republicans have attacked Biden for what they see as a mismanaged and undignified exit from the country, a dynamic that may be making the president more risk-averse.
“If Biden is re-elected, he will have some operating room to find practical solutions,” Smith said.
Taliban officials say U.S. policies are worsening suffering in Afghanistan because long-standing U.S. sanctions on Taliban leaders discourage foreign investment and trade in the country.
They insist that the United States has no right to retain 7 billion dollars in assets deposited by his predecessors at the New York Federal Reserve.
(Biden last year ordered that half of that money go to a trust fund for the humanitarian needs of the Afghan population.)
The Biden administration maintains some contacts with Taliban representatives. In the last two years, Thomas Westspecial representative of the State Department for Afghanistan, has traveled to Doha, Qatar, to hold several meetings with Taliban officials, the last of them on July 30 and 31.
An official State Department description of that session criticized the Taliban and “the deteriorating human rights situation in Afghanistan, particularly for women, girls, and vulnerable communities,” and said that U.S. officials “expressed “its serious concern about arrests, repression of the media and limits on religious practice.”
But the summary also offered some positive words about declining opium production, promising economic indicators and counterterrorism efforts, and hinted that greater cooperation might be possible.
In a meeting with Afghan government finance and banking officials, according to the description, West and his colleagues “were open to a technical dialogue on economic stabilization issues soon.”
However, when it comes to counterterrorism cooperation, some officials and analysts remain deeply distrustful, fearing that the Taliban will simply contain al Qaeda in the short term to avoid provoking the United States.
The Taliban are also fighting a local branch of the terrorist group Islamic State.
But some say that means little, given that the Islamic State group openly defies Taliban rule, making such operations clearly in the Taliban’s self-interest.
“Trying to involve the Taliban in terrorism while ignoring what they do to women is a mistake,” Lisa Curtis, a National Security Council official at the Trump White House, said on a panel hosted by the East Institute. Middle in July.
However, the Biden administration places clear limits on such contacts.
Vedant Patel, deputy spokesman for the State Department, told reporters in April that “any kind of recognition of the Taliban is totally out of the question.”
And officials say US diplomats won’t be returning to the cital Kabul any time soon.
Zalmay Khalilzad, who was the president’s envoy donald trump against the Taliban and negotiated the troop withdrawal plan that Biden inherited, advocated for a change in US policy.
“We have wanted the problem to go away,” he said.
Khalilzad is one of those who say that, relative to the worst expectations, the Taliban have shown some restraint.
“Many thought that things would be much worse than they are: that there would be much more terrorism, many more refugees, and that there would be bloodshed” on a much larger scale, he said.
But giving any credit to the Taliban remains highly controversial. Last month, Tobias Ellwood, a British Conservative Party MP, traveled to Afghanistan and posted a video in which he declared it was “a country transformed,” in many ways for the better.
“Security has vastly improved, corruption has decreased and the opium trade has virtually dispeared,” he said, adding that the economy was growing.
Ellwood called for Britain to reopen its embassy in Kabul, closed in August 2021, and for his government to engage with the Taliban rather than “shouting from afar”.
But after being widely denounced, he deleted the video from X, the site formerly known as Twitter, and now faces a vote of no confidence in his chairmanship of the House of Commons Defense committee.
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