One year after Kabul’s destruction

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One year after Kabul's destruction

Source: AUN News

The significance of the past in the political present is marked by public anniversaries. One year after the Taliban took control of Kabul, Washington continues to be divided about the failure of the United States and its allies. A “Strategic Failure” study, published this month by House Republicans, is scathing in its criticism of the Biden Administration’s decision to withdraw all remaining American personnel from Afghanistan last year and how it handled the tumultuous departure that followed. The National Security Council released a statement defending the Administration’s activities, while the White House criticised the report as “partisan” and “demagogic. In particular, if Republicans take over one or both chambers of Congress in November’s midterm elections, there will be more of this. In that case, Democrats are concerned about hearings and investigations on Afghanistan motivated by Benghazi and intended to influence the election outcome. However, any Republican attempt to blame Biden for last year’s failures will be complicated by former President Donald Trump’s central role in the work.

America’s experience in Afghanistan has been starkly politicised, which poses the risk of adding another cycle of failure and loss to an already depressing record. Accountability is essential if handled objectively and thoughtfully, but the pressing issue does not require assigning blame. Many of the 40 million Afghans left behind by retreating troops and diplomats last summer suffer from severe hunger and persecution issues. The Biden Administration and its NATO partners must make tough and ethically complex policy decisions. They will be far more difficult if Washington’s party politics cloud them.

Nowhere else in the world has there been as widespread, systematic, and all-encompassing an attack on the rights of women and girls—every aspect of their lives is being restricted under the guise of morality and through the instrumentalisation of religion, said Richard Bennett, the U.N.’s special rapporteur on human rights in Afghanistan, who was joined by other rights experts from around the globe.

In the meantime, roughly 50% of the populace struggles to eat. Vicki Aken, the country director for the International Rescue Committee (I.R.C. ), a charity that provides help and development, told me from Kabul that “we’re looking at almost universal poverty.” According to Aken, the poverty rate in Afghanistan was roughly 50% when she moved there in 2017; by the end of 2022, it may have risen to 97%. “You see no medicines when you go into clinics and hospitals,” she remarked. “You witness lines of women carrying starving children out the door, three to a bed.”

Governments and charitable organisations are juggling an uneasy conflict between prioritising the defence of human rights and cooperating with the Taliban to strengthen the Afghan economy. According to Fereshta Abbasi, an Afghan-born researcher with Human Rights Watch in London, “We want the pressure” on the Taliban on human rights. We must communicate to the Taliban that we support the Afghan people and that “if they want any recognition,” the regime’s record must improve. On the humanitarian front, she continued, “We don’t want the Afghan people to be victims of this catastrophe and disarray.”

Additionally, studies claim that despite pressure from outside sources, Taliban repression is getting worse. According to Aken, there are unquestionably different points of view between the humanitarian and human rights communities. However, she continued, “the only way to solve this situation is to find a way to make the economy run. I have enormous respect for the human rights activists.” That necessitates working with the Taliban or, at the very least, engaging them.

According to Aken, “one of the things that I find so hard is that there are a lot of Afghan women who stayed behind, women who manage their own N.G.O.s, who people vilify outside of the country for even implying that it’s even feasible to do that. In Afghanistan, some 3,000 women directly support the I.R.C. It’s not simple, she said. “Human rights violations certainly need to be brought to light, but if we don’t continue to be involved, the chances that remain for women and racial and ethnic minorities may completely vanish.”

The choice for NATO states is whether to release substantial sums of money to Afghanistan to stabilise the economy, even though doing so may help the Taliban. The alternative would be to impose more stringent travel restrictions, increase travel bans, and further isolate the regime’s leaders, even though doing so would hasten the economy’s collapse and possibly lead to widespread hunger. Of course, this is not an either-or policy issue. It is a well-known challenge to prioritise rights advocacy while cooperating with authoritarian regimes to deliver humanitarian help. These challenges are frequently subtle. But the current Afghan circumstance is unique—and unquestionably challenging.

Bennett and the other rights experts emphasised that the Taliban’s proud restoration of gender segregation in secondary and higher education and many economic areas is an outrage of particular dimensions. The reversal of the status of women is virtually unthinkable for the United States and other NATO nations. For two decades, they have championed a modernisation drive in Kabul and other critical Afghan towns. On July 28 in Washington, Secretary of State Antony Blinken claimed that “women and girls have virtually been removed from public life.” We all recall how different things were not long ago, so accepting this is particularly challenging.

Ayman al-Zawahiri, the commander of Al Qaeda, was assassinated on July 31 in his hideout in the heart of Kabul by a U.S. drone. Like its predecessors, the Biden Administration views counterterrorism as an “important” area of ongoing interest in Afghanistan. Washington’s scepticism about the Taliban’s credibility has only grown due to Zawahiri’s sanctuary being in the Afghan capital. After the drone strike, Blinken said that the Taliban had breached their “repeated commitments to the world that they would not allow Afghan land to be utilised by terrorists” by “hosting and sheltering” Zawahiri in Kabul. The Taliban adamantly denied knowing Zawahiri was there.

Despite this track record, development specialists are still pleading with the Biden administration to release vast foreign currency reserves to the Afghan central bank. Technically speaking, the problem is complex. The Biden Administration froze $7 billion in U.S.-held assets after the Taliban seized Kabul last August. Following that, attorneys for the families of 9/11 victims urged a judge to designate those monies as compensation for their clients. (The Taliban have been held accountable for the attacks despite never hiring counsel to defend themselves.)3.5 billion dollars were set aside in an executive order signed by Biden as prospective compensation for the 9/11 families. The remaining funds were held in reserve for potential future restoration of the Da Afghanistan Bank, the name of the Afghan central bank. The U.S. has labelled Noor Ahmad Agha, the first deputy governor selected by the Taliban to lead the bank, as a terrorist, stopping any foreseeable release.

The Taliban, who have legitimate allies, want all of the reserves that have been frozen in the United States returned. In a letter to President Biden and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen dated August 10th, 71 economists, including Nobel winner Joseph Stiglitz, pleaded with them to grant the Afghan central bank immediate access to its reserves. They said the money was “essential to the Afghan economy’s operation.” Salary payments are not being made, the private banking system in Afghanistan “has practically ground to a standstill,” and businesses and individuals are unable to access their savings. According to the analysts’ analysis, the central bank would be able to stabilise the domestic currency and pay for imports of food and energy if the reserves were returned. In response, William Byrd, a development economist who previously worked for the World Bank in Kabul and is currently at the United States Institute of Peace, contended that the Afghan central bank could not manage billions of dollars effectively.

Two reputable mid-level State Department employees—Thomas West, the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan, and Rina Amiri, the special envoy for Afghan women, girls, and human rights—were given this foreign policy case study from hell by the Biden administration. Direct talks between the West and Taliban officials are conducted on issues including aid and counterterrorism. He has disqualified it as a “near-term option” to release the funds held by the Afghan central bank.

Due to the regime’s treatment of the women and children she is tasked with defending, Amiri has thus far declined to participate in bilateral negotiations with the Taliban. This disagreement over diplomatic strategy is a microcosm of the more significant problem. Amiri recently tweeted, “I applaud my colleagues engaging the Taliban. “It is essential to focus on areas that have support, including economic stabilisation & the humanitarian response.” However, she noted, “strong international engagement… hasn’t achieved substantial achievements for Afghan, women, girls, & at-risk communities” in the regions her agency is in charge of.

Analysis by: Advocacy Unified Network

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