What the US and its allies left behind in Afghanistan
3 Feb 2022|

The Afghanistan war is over for the United States and its allies. But the suffering of the Afghan people has multiplied under the extremist, repressive rule of the Taliban in the name of Islam. No country today is in as much danger of losing half its population to starvation as Afghanistan. Who is responsible for this?

The Taliban blame the previous internationally backed but incompetent and corrupt government, which disintegrated in the wake of the ill-conceived and poorly implemented US and allied withdrawal from Afghanistan. However, that’s only part of the story. The main responsibility lies with the Taliban themselves and their Pakistani patrons.

Despite the initial promises by their leaders—most of whom are on the UN blacklist, including at least one who is also wanted by the FBI—the Taliban have done nothing to alleviate international concern about their exclusive, discriminatory and oppressive behaviour.

They have so far resisted all international pressure to create an inclusive government to represent the diverse population of Afghanistan and to respect human rights, especially those of women and girls whom they have frozen out of public life. Also, there is no concrete evidence that they have severed all ties with al-Qaeda, which reportedly has cells in at least half of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces. There are no such domestic and foreign policy processes in place that could bring their government an acceptable measure of internal and external legitimacy.

As foreign aid has dropped and Afghanistan’s financial assets are locked up, especially in US banks, the Afghan economy, finances, and health and education systems have collapsed. Many businesses have gone bust and development projects have stopped. Unemployment and inflation figures have shot through the roof. Ninety percent of the Afghan population is in the grip of a scarcity of food and other necessities, with many of them facing an agonising death. Child malnutrition and deaths have reached an unspeakable level, while hospitals are emptied of basic medicine and Covid-19 has ravaged the country.

The situation is compounded by the Taliban maintaining their brutality against any form of opposition, involving arbitrary arrests, killings and house searches, despite claiming to have declared a general amnesty.

A United Nations report just submitted to the body’s Security Council says that the UN mission in Afghanistan ‘continues to receive credible allegations of killings, enforced disappearances and other violations’ against former officials, security force members, and Afghans who worked with foreign troops and missions. It also claims that  human rights defenders (including women) and media workers continue ‘to come under attack, intimidation, harassment, arbitrary arrest, ill-treatment and killings’.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has expressed alarm about the Afghan economy being in free fall and called for a liquidity injection into Afghanistan. He has warned that without immediate action ‘lives will be lost, and despair and extremism will grow’.

The Taliban spokesman has rejected the report as not tallying with realities on the ground. However, all other media and private accounts, including reports by Human Rights Watch, confirm the UN’s findings. Yet, the US and its allies have remained hamstrung by political and ethical considerations to assist the Afghan people through the Taliban government. They have contended with providing humanitarian aid directly to the people via the UN and other independent agencies. The operations of these agencies on the ground have nonetheless required the cooperation of the Taliban, which the group has used to its advantage in whatever way possible.

Meanwhile, Pakistan, along with Russia and China, has repeatedly called for the release of some US$9 billion of Afghan Central Bank funds kept mostly in American banks. As the main power behind the Taliban, Islamabad has practically recognised the Taliban as the legitimate rulers of Afghanistan. It is the only country to which the Taliban have appointed an ambassador. Pakistani civilian and military leaders, including Prime Minister Imran Khan and his foreign minister and national security adviser, as well as a former chief of the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), have made a beeline to Kabul to enforce what can only be described as Pakistan’s patron–client relationship with the Taliban.

Khan has tirelessly lobbied for international engagement with and recognition of the Taliban government and recently ordered Pakistan’s provision of skilled labour to assist the Taliban in running their administration in all fields. In return, the Taliban leaders have put out the welcome mat as before in Pakistan. But Islamabad can’t address Afghanistan’s problems under the Taliban, given Pakistan’s own fragility as a state with massive political, economic and social problems as well as foreign policy complications, despite being a nuclear-armed state.

As the situation stands, the evidence points to the Taliban functioning as a Pakistan proxy, enabling Islamabad to achieve its long-standing objective of ‘strategic depth’ whereby it can use Afghanistan against its arch-regional rival India and for wider influence in the neighbourhood. By seeking to reap the reward of its support of the Taliban since the ISI’s orchestration of the group from mid-1994, it appears to want a weak and manipulatable Afghanistan.

To save Afghanistan, it is imperative that the international community stands by its demands for an inclusive government that enjoys the support of a majority of cross-section of the country’s mosaic population and respects the rights of women and other minorities as full participants in charting the destiny of the country as a sovereign state, while providing humanitarian aid directly to the Afghan people until such a government comes into existence.