Author: Prof. Engr. Zamir Ahmed Awan, Founding Chair GSRRA, Sinologist (ex-Diplomat), Editor, Analyst, and Non-Resident Fellow of CCG (Center for China and Globalization). (E-mail: [email protected]).
Two years have passed since the tragic and heart-wrenching moment when the US-led Western troops concluded their withdrawal from Afghanistan, marking the end of an illegal invasion and occupation. In the wake of this tumultuous exit, the global community has called upon the United States to acknowledge its responsibility for the immense suffering endured by the Afghan people.
The chaotic departure of US military planes from Kabul directly resulted in civilian casualties, culminating in the final withdrawal of US forces from Kabul airport in August 2021. A grim toll of human lives lost in the 20-year conflict was revealed by the Costs of War Project, with a staggering 176,000 fatalities, comprising 46,319 civilians, 69,095 military and police personnel, and at least 52,893 opposition fighters.
On August 14, 2021, Afghanistan's Ministry of Martyrs and Disabled Affairs reported a grim statistic, registering 638,954 individuals, including widows, orphans, and disabled individuals, most of whom were victims of the two-decade-long war. It is essential to underscore that this invasion was deemed illegal, irrational, and ethically indefensible. The United States, leveraging NATO and non-NATO allies, led a coalition of 58 nations against a small, impoverished, and beleaguered nation already worn down by decades of conflict.
During the 2002-2021 American occupation of Afghanistan, indigenous Afghan populations suffered from severe human rights violations, the decimation of infrastructure, powerhouses, industry, and agriculture. The country saw the installation of puppet governments led by Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani, with effective governance held by the CIA and Pentagon. The Afghan youth were coerced into becoming CIA agents or were compelled to engage in sex work. Local culture and traditions were eroded, transforming the nation's people into virtual slaves or pushing them into refugee camps. Sadly, the so-called civilized Western world inflicted grievous harm and committed tragic crimes against humanity in the name of freedom and democracy. Two decades of Afghan occupation yielded nothing but immeasurable suffering for the innocent Afghan populace. The paramount concern now should be addressing this suffering and seeking ways to alleviate it.
The catastrophic withdrawal of US and NATO forces from Afghanistan has exacerbated the challenges faced by the nation. Afghanistan's economy contracted by approximately 30 percent from 2020 to 2022, leaving 24.4 million people in need of humanitarian assistance, with a staggering 90 percent living in poverty, according to the United Nations Strategic Framework for Afghanistan. UNICEF reports that nearly half of all Afghan children under the age of 5 suffer from malnutrition, with nearly 1 million requiring intervention for severe acute malnutrition, a leading cause of death among young children.
Regrettably, two years after the Taliban assumed power in Afghanistan, not a single country has formally recognized their rule. The international community remains divided on engaging in dialogue with the Taliban. Some advocate for engagement as a means to induce change, while others argue that the Taliban's fundamental nature will resist change, making engagement futile.
As the world grapples with how to deal with Afghanistan's new rulers and the state of human rights within the country, Taliban's supreme leader, Haibatullah Akhundzada, insists that recognition should have come long ago. He asserts progress in various areas and a willingness to address other concerns. On the ground, improvements have been observed, including a significant reduction in violence, theft, looting, and social crimes. Public security, social justice, and satisfaction have all improved noticeably. Although there is some resistance from groups allegedly on the CIA's payroll, public trust in the Taliban is evident.
However, the economic situation remains dire due to US and Western sanctions that have isolated Afghanistan, exacerbating economic difficulties. Rebuilding a nation with a shattered infrastructure, no industrial base, devastated agriculture, and a lack of human resources is a protracted process. Whether or not to engage with the Taliban government has become a divisive issue, with various stakeholders advocating different approaches. The Afghan diaspora, still traumatized by four decades of unrelenting conflict, remains embittered and deeply divided.
Diplomats engaged in dialogue emphasize that engagement does not equate to recognition. They acknowledge that failing to engage with Afghans who seek dialogue may empower those who wish to perpetuate the isolation of a substantial portion of the population.
A meeting between the reclusive Akhundzada and Qatar's Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani revealed disparities, particularly in the realms of education and women's rights. Nevertheless, it hinted at a potential path forward.
Despite occasional differences between regional and Western powers, there is a rare consensus among global powers, including Russia and China, on certain red lines, particularly regarding recognition of the Taliban. The stalemate has dire consequences for ordinary Afghans, with the UN's humanitarian appeal severely underfunded and donors turning away. More Afghans are going to bed hungry, and a staggering 84% of households resort to borrowing money to purchase food.
While Acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi receives delegations in Kabul, Western embassies remain mostly shuttered, except for a small European Union and Japanese mission. Discussions continue regarding whether diplomats based in Qatar should relocate to Kabul to exert any meaningful influence.
In light of the isolation and sanctions imposed, ordinary Afghans are enduring profound suffering. While it was expected that regional powers such as China and Russia might swiftly recognize the Taliban's rule, the Muslim world has yet to follow suit. The United States and its allies, on the other hand, have chosen to isolate the Taliban and impose sanctions, exerting economic pressure. Recognizing the Taliban, lifting sanctions, releasing frozen assets, and allowing them to govern their affairs is recommended based on their achievements. This approach, in the broader interest of the Afghan populace, respects the will of the Afghan people and permits them to address their issues according to their traditions and culture. Foreign intervention should cease, and the imposition of Western ideology must end immediately. Afghanistan's people should be free to live in accordance with their religion, culture, and traditions.
(ASIA PACIFIC DAILY)