I'm in the "give the Taliban the benefit of the doubt" camp. I could be very proven wrong very quickly. Now, mind you, I'm not saying that they will be something other than a brutal authoritarian theocracy, although I'm hoping a bit less brutal and maybe a tiny bit more pluralistic-- within their own bounds. Recently, Freedom House analyzed 29 countries from Central Europe to Central Asia, to find which were the most and least democratic. These were labeled "consolidated authoritarian regimes," and they are in order from really, really bad to unbelievably horrible. (The number in parenthesis is their "democracy score.")
Armenia is listed as a "semi-consolidated authoritarian regime" (2.96) and there are several "hybrid" states transitioning either towards or away from authoritarianism, including Moldova (3.11), Kosovo (3.14), Georgia (3.18), Ukraine (3.36), Bosnia (3.36) Hungary (3.71), Albania (3.75), North Macedonia (3.82) and Serbia (3.89).
The U.S. has a wide range of relationships with these countries, ranging from allies and very close, to chilly and unfriendly. But the U.S.deals with all of them. I expect that it may take a very long time before the Taliban steers Afghanistan into the "semi-consolidated authoritarian regime" category with our Armenia ally. That said, the last survey that included Afghanistan, rated our puppet regime as "not free," along with Syria, Tibet, Eritrea, Turkmenistan, North Korea, Equatorial Guinea, China, Central African Republic, South Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Cuba, Somalia, Qatar, Libya, Oman, Congo, Bahrain, Laos, Chad, Egypt, Cameroon, Russia, Rwanda, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Myanmar, Cambodia, Mali, Jordan, Burundi, Angola, Iraq, Ethiopia, Algeria and others. Many of these are U.S. puppet regimes and client states. Their disdain for democracy and human rights does not keep us from cultivating close relations with almost all of them.
I suspect the Biden administration will cautiously ease into non-hostile relations with Afghanistan after a period in which excesses can be expected from a movement like the Taliban towards countrymen who collaborated with the occupying power.
One thing to watch for is how scrupulous the Taliban is towards upholding an "agreement" with the U.S. and 97 other countries to take in Afghan refugees after the U.S. military leaves on Tuesday. The NY Times reported yesterday that "The Taliban’s chief negotiator, Sher Mohammed Abbas Stanekzai, had announced on Friday that the group would not stop people from departing, no matter their nationality or whether they had worked for the United States during the 20-year war. The joint statement released on Sunday on behalf of more than half of the world’s governments and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization said that they had 'received assurances from the Taliban' that people with travel documents showing they were clear to enter any of those countries could safely depart. The countries also pledged to 'continue issuing travel documentation to designated Afghans' and cited a 'clear expectation of and commitment from the Taliban' of their safe passage."
Afghanistan has around 29 million people. I feel that at least half would chose to leave if they could. No one's taking them in and no one's letting them out. So we'll have to see how the various parties to the "agreement" interpret it. China and Russia didn't sign on.
The statement did not warn of any consequences should the Taliban renege on the agreement, although a senior State Department official said it was meant to convey an implicit message about incentives-- namely, foreign aid to the government-- that the international community would use to enforce it.
The chief American envoy to Taliban peace talks, Zalmay Khalilzad, tweeted on Saturday that the Taliban’s assurances were “positive” and that “we, our allies, and the international community will hold them to these commitments.”
That stood in stark contrast to the tens of thousands of Afghans who relief agencies said feared being left behind and living under Taliban rule. That includes those who worked for the American military or the U.S. Embassy since 2001 and were eligible to immigrate to the United States.
Delano, California mayor-- and current congressional candidate-- Bryan Osorio told me last night that "Voters are closely watching how we respond to the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. As politicians point fingers at each other, the lives of Afghans are being impacted and we must respond by increasing the numbers of refugees we accept. Our Afghan and immigrant families in the district are looking for leadership on this issue that is humane and community driven not just politicians pointing fingers at each other."
LGBTQ is a no-no in much of the Muslim world-- and the more so in repressed, theocratic and misogynistic societies like the one the Taliban is likely planning to build in Afghanistan. Ironically, Afghan men who would never identify as "gay," think nothing of having sex with a boy, as I explained back in 2015 (with some up-close and personal observations)-- and as you know if you read The Kite Runner or saw the film adaptation. The bacha bazi part of Afghan culture is very real (although the Taliban drove it underground while they were in power).
But bacha bazi is different from the Afghan LGBTQ community. Writing for The Hill yesterday, Lauren Vella reported on the plight of a community that would have been smart to have skipped town a few weeks ago-- or as soon as they can. "LGBT Afghans," she wrote, "are facing an existential threat under the Taliban, whose previous reign in the country two decades ago saw violence against marginalized groups. Members of the LGBT community in the country who spoke to The Hill via text message, using pseudonyms for personal safety, described widespread and constant fear following the swift Taliban takeover. Many have been forced into hiding after the deaths of family and friends, killings they say came at the hands of the militant group. 'The Taliban have specific group[s], they are searching the LGBT Afghans...they will kill us if they find us,' a gay Afghan man by the name of Sarfaraz told The Hill... [Even] before the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan, members of the LGBT community faced arrests and jail time because of their sexuality. When asked if he felt more acceptance under the Afghan government, Ahmadullah said the main difference was that the U.S.-backed government would put LGBT people in jail, but the Taliban 'kill us on the spot.' He added that he never told anyone he was gay because if Afghan people were to find out 'they will call the Taliban.'.. Ahmadullah described how he and his boyfriend were sitting at a restaurant when the first heard. He said he told his boyfriend to go home and call to say he was safe. But he never received the call. Ahmadullah said he later learned his boyfriend was beheaded by the Taliban. He said a classmate told him that the Taliban 'killed your best friend.They said if you kill a gay, god will send you to heaven,' said Ahmadullah."
By the way, American allies, puppets and friends that criminalize LGBTQ people include pre-Taliban Afghanistan (death penalty), Saudi Arabia (death penalty), Kuwait, Iraq, UAE (death penalty), Bahrain, Egypt, Indonesia, Morocco, Pakistan (death penalty), Tanzania, Ethiopia, Kenya...