This morning the Atlantic Council put out a paper, Afghanistan Is About To Collapse. Here's What The US Must Do About It by a dozen prominent foreign policy experts, including well known Afghanistan actors like David Petraeus, James Dobbins and Ryan Crocker. They wrote, delusional in terms of motivation, that "During the past twenty years, all of us have led American diplomatic and military efforts to support the emergence of a more modern, prosperous, and democratic Afghanistan." When you read what they have to say, keep in mind something they didn't say-- namely that the U.S. has $10 billion in frozen Afghan government assets in American banks.
My first thought on seeing it is that the United States foreign policy establishment wants Afghanistan to collapse and is largely unconcerned with the consequences in regard to any humanitarian aspects, despite the opening lines: "The alarm bells are sounding. The United Nations, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the donor community have all been warning of the humanitarian catastrophe emerging with the imminent collapse of the Afghan economy. The withdrawal of US and allied forces from the country, which led to the disintegration of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Taliban takeover, has been followed by the cutoff of most external assistance and the freezing of most of Afghanistan’s monetary reserves, thereby eliminating 40 percent of the country’s gross domestic product and 75 percent of the government’s budget. The banking system is on the verge of collapse as well, and the currency (the afghani) is losing value rapidly. Add to this a prolonged drought, a raging COVID-19 pandemic, and the disintegration of government services. The United Nations Development Program has warned that “Afghanistan teeters on the brink of universal poverty,” with as much as 97 percent of the population in danger of falling below the poverty line by mid-2022. The World Food Program estimates that only 5 percent of Afghan households have sufficient food to eat each day and predicts that Afghanistan is poised to become the world’s largest humanitarian crisis. The UN’s humanitarian chief laments that Afghanistan’s economy is unraveling 'before our eyes.'"
The writers warned that the West must step in and help Afghanistan avoid "governance failure" and professes to be worried about ordinary Afghans. But-- and you knew that was coming-- "The Biden administration, like other donors to Afghanistan, is rightly reluctant to do anything that helps the Taliban impose its repressive rule on the country, underscored by recent reports of extrajudicial killings and disappearances."
We believe the United States has a reputational interest and a moral obligation in vigorously joining efforts to help the Afghan people preserve at least some of the social and economic gains made over the last twenty years. We believe that ways to do so can be found, while erecting barriers to assistance being diverted to purposes other than those for which it is intended. Afghan civil society continues to exist, and it is important that the United States and other international donors continue to work with it.
We therefore recommend that the Biden administration expedite its consideration of these issues and, working in close coordination with key allies, come forward with tangible proposals to help stabilize the Afghan economy for discussion with other donors and ultimately presentation to the Taliban. Delay will only fuel more death and suffering.
This morning, the Associated Press ran a few quotes from an interview that Kathy Gannon did with the new Afghan Foreign Minister, Amir Khan Muttaqi. And he was generally as forthright and self-aware as the 11 Atlantic Council gentlemen cited above. Admitting he's seeking the world's "mercy and compassion," he made the absurd claim that the Taliban is "committed in principle to education and jobs for girls and women." Muttaqi was correct, though, in warning that "Making Afghanistan unstable or having a weak Afghan government is not in the interest of anyone." Well... it very much is in the interest of ISIS and its backers.
Muttaqi acknowledged the world’s outrage at the Taliban-imposed limitations on girls’ education and on women in the workforce. In many parts of Afghanistan, female students between grades 7 and 12 have not been allowed to go to school since the Taliban took over, and many female civil servants have been told to stay home. Taliban officials have said they need time to create gender-segregated arrangements in schools and the workplace to meet their severe interpretation of Islam.
...“We have have made progress in administration and in politics ... in interaction with the nation and the world. With each passing day, we will gain more experience and make more progress,” he said.
Muttaqi said that under the new Taliban government, girls are going to school through grade 12 in 10 of the country’s 34 provinces, private schools and universities are operating unhindered, and 100% of women who had previously worked in the health sector are back on the job.
“This shows that we are committed in principle to women participation,” he said.
He claimed the Taliban have not targeted their opponents, instead announcing a general amnesty and providing some protection. Leaders of the previous government live without threat in Kabul, he said, although most of them have fled.
Last month, the international group Human Rights Watch published a report that said the Taliban summarily killed or forcibly disappeared more than 100 former police and intelligence officials in four provinces. However, there have been no reports of large-scale retribution.
Muttaqi alleged the government that took power after the U.S.-led coalition ousted the Taliban regime in 2001 carried out widespread revenge attacks against the Taliban. Hundreds disappeared or were killed, with thousands fleeing to the mountains, he said. The Taliban were ousted for harboring al Qaida and Osama bin Laden for masterminding the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the U.S.
Muttaqi insisted poverty and the dream of a better life-- not fear-- drove thousands of Afghans to rush to Kabul’s airport in mid-August in hopes of getting to America. The crush of people has generated searing images of men clinging to a departing American C-17 aircraft, while others fell to the ground as the landing gear retracted.
He said the Taliban have made mistakes in their first months in power and that “we will work for more reforms which can benefit the nation.” He did not elaborate on the mistakes or possible reforms.
Muttaqi pushed back against comments by U.S. Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie who told the AP last week that al-Qaida has grown slightly in Afghanistan since U.S. forces left. McKenzie is Washington’s top military commander in the Middle East.
In a February 2020 deal that spelled out the terms of the U.S. troop withdrawal, the Taliban had promised to fight terrorism and deny terrorist groups a safe haven.
Muttaqi said Sunday that the Taliban have kept that promise, along with a pledge not to attack U.S. and NATO forces in the final phase of the withdrawal, which ended in late August.
“Unfortunately, there are (always) allegations against the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, but there is no proof,” Muttaqi said. “If McKenzie has any proof, he should provide it. With confidence, I can say that this is a baseless allegation.”
Meanwhile, militants from the Islamic State group have stepped up attacks on Taliban patrols and religious minorities in the past four months. The IS affiliate in Afghanistan has targeted Shiite mosques in the provincial capitals of Kunduz and Kandahar, carrying out frequent attacks on Taliban vehicles.
Muttaqi, however, said the Taliban have gained the upper hand in recent weeks, saying there had not been a major attack in the last month. Washington’s ability to track IS activities in Afghanistan has been handicapped since the U.S. withdrawal.
Muttaqi said he does not envision cooperating with the U.S. in the battle against the Islamic State group.
However, he did express hope that with time, “America will slowly, slowly change its policy toward Afghanistan” as it sees that a Taliban-ruled country standing on its own is a benefit to the U.S.
“My last point is to America, to the American nation: You are a great and big nation, and you must have enough patience and have a big heart to dare to make policies on Afghanistan based on international rules and relegation, and to end the differences and make the distance between us shorter and choose good relations with Afghanistan,” he said.