Afghans to ‘pay twice’ after Taliban takeover

Special to

By John J. Metzler

Following the Taliban’s lightning takeover of Afghanistan and America’s humiliating withdrawal, the remote South Asian country soon morphed into the political netherworld.

The U.S. war was over, the Taliban Islamic fundamentalists had won, and the long-suffering Afghan people were relegated to the tragic club of conflict-wrecked countries that are overlooked, forgotten and forsaken.

A camp for internally displaced people in Qala-i-Naw, Badghis province, Afghanistan, on Oct. 17.

Somalia, Syria, Libya, Congo, Yemen and so forth. None of these sad states were forsaken early on; quite the contrary, there have been significant UN and international aid efforts keeping them on humanitarian life support even after the primary crises have passed.

So we revisit Afghanistan.  It’s not the fault of the U.S. nor more than a score of NATO countries that had troop commitments in that country for twenty years.  Americans, British, Canadians, French, Germans, Italians, among others served there to sustain a status quo which was at odds with regional and cultural realities.

American blood and treasure was spent (some would argue squandered) to stabilize a host of quasi-democratic governments in Kabul which were supposed to transform, through the magic wand of nation building, a semi-feudal land into a hybrid working Democracy.

After the Biden Administration’s shameful and shambolic withdrawal, most Americans would prefer to turn the page.  That’s understandable but allows for emotion to override compelling reality.

Another crisis looms.  “To abandon the Afghan people now would be a historic mistake, a mistake that has been made before with tragic consequences,” warned Deborah Lyons, the UN’s Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).  Addressing the UN Security Council, she said that the Taliban takeover has left the Afghans, “feeling abandoned, forgotten and punished by circumstances that are not their fault.”

Viewing the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the country, Ms. Lyons said it is preventable, as it is largely due to financial sanctions that have paralyzed the economy. Now with winter fast approaching, she stressed up to 23 million Afghans will be in crisis or emergency levels of food insecurity. Starvation looms.

Despite the Taliban’s tenuous control of Afghanistan, their regime has not been able to contain a growing insurgency, namely the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant-Khorasan (ISIL-K), which is widening, stepping up attacks from 60 in 2020 to 334 in 2021.

Concerning the deterioration of women’s rights under the Taliban, the UN representative conceded that while the “the de facto authorities”  had initially assured the protection of women’s rights within Islamic law; however, there has been a general curtailment of Afghan women and girls’ fundamental rights and freedoms.

France’s Ambassador Nicolas de Riviere stated that the Taliban has created a crisis situation for the people and may destabilize the entire region.  Nonetheless France has committed $112     million in humanitarian aid.

The United Kingdom moreover has pledged $384 million for winter aid.  The U.S. has marked an additional $144 million in assistance.

Afghanistan’s delegate (from the ousted government) Ghulam Isaczai said his country, “faces a crisis of historic proportions,” with the lives and dignity of millions of its people currently being threatened by a failing economy, severe food insecurity and the absence of security, basic rights and freedoms.

Ambassador Isaczai painted a grim picture of the conditions in his country, where nearly 23 million people need food aid. “While the Taliban have not changed, the Afghan population has,” he emphasized, adding that many in his country have benefited from opportunities provided over the past 20 years and can drive local and national change.  This remains a key element.  Younger Afghanis, especially women, have been educated and empowered socially in ways which make it difficult for the Taliban to easily exert their fundamentalist gloom over the country.

In the next weeks the UN’s Credentials Committee will see a challenge to the sitting pre-war Afghan delegation by representatives of the now ruling Taliban regime.

U.S. Deputy Ambassador Jeffery de Laurentis stated, “The Taliban chose the path of battleground victory” but added “the Afghan people should not have to pay twice for the Taliban’s decisions.” Thus, Washington is committed a total aid of $474 million in 2021.

Clearly American aid should be conditional on Taliban pledges and transparent actions for women’s equality in the society and unequivocally ensure the safe and free passage of at least 400 U.S. citizens still trapped inside the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.  Britain’s delegate stressed candidly, “the United Kingdom’s approach to the Taliban will continue to be calibrated according to their actions, not their words.”  We must watch and verify.

John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014). [See pre-2011 Archives]

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