August 16, 2022

Afghanistan

“The Taliban on Monday marked a year since they seized the Afghan capital in a rapid takeover that triggered a hasty escape of the nation’s Western-backed leaders, sent the economy into a tailspin and fundamentally transformed the country.” AP News

Here’s our previous coverage of the Al-Zawahiri killing and the Taliban government.

Both sides lament the current situation in Afghanistan, and urge the Biden administration to expedite visa processing and hold itself accountable for missteps:

An Afghan activist writes, “For many Afghans like me — young activists, journalists, writers, academics — Aug. 15 marks the anniversary of the day we saw our dreams collapse like a Jenga tower. And yet, here we are

“I fill my days with the kind of activism that might not be seen internationally but that makes a big difference. That means getting a former Afghan soldier in captivity his blood pressure medication, providing aid to areas that organizations are not able to access, and even calling Taliban members who were threatening families over the phone to try to get them to stop. A digital campaign against the forced veil, under the hashtag #FreeHerFace, got the Taliban’s attention — Taliban members criticized us during a meeting we held but did not arrest us or threaten us with violence…

“Of course, there’s fear. I often wonder whether I am pushing too much and whether the Taliban’s patience will finally run out. I just hope that if Taliban fighters do come for me, many more Afghans — inspired by my nonviolent actions and eagerness to change society through dialogue and cooperation — pick up where I left off.”
Obaidullah Baheer, Washington Post

A UN report last month detailed how far Afghanistan has fallen. It outlined systematic arbitrary and widespread use of violence by the Taliban state: torture is routine in prisons; members of the former government have been hunted down and killed; a woman who complained to the police of sexual assault by her brother-in-law was lashed in public and forced to marry him; a couple were stoned to death for adultery; a man and woman stopped at a checkpoint who were not married were arrested, and their mutilated bodies found the next day…

“At the same time the Taliban have failed basic tests of governance. They took over sophisticated modern systems of accounting across Kabul and have no capacity to manage them. To take one indicator, maternal and child mortality is soaring again as the health system has been starved of cash, and there is no sign that the Taliban are worried about this. After all, it affects the lives only of women… The economy has collapsed. International investment is negligible. More than half of a population of some 40 million people now live in what the World Food Program call ‘acute food insecurity.’”
David Loyn, Spectator World

“The past 12 months should’ve dispelled any optimism about the new regime. In its second turn in power, the Taliban again seems willing to host foreign terrorists, including former al-Qaeda chieftain Ayman al-Zawahiri, killed by a US drone strike in the heart of Kabul. Those Taliban leaders who favor less barbaric social policies — such as allowing girls to attend school — aren’t willing to challenge their more conservative counterparts… Importantly, even those Taliban leaders who desire sanctions relief and international recognition aren’t willing to compromise in any significant way to achieve them…

“With those realities in mind, the US needs to take a pragmatic approach to further engagement. Its top priority should be preventing Afghanistan from again becoming a base for terrorist attacks. The Biden administration should advise the Taliban that the US can and will take out more targets there if necessary… [The US should also focus] on rallying donors to meet the United Nations’ humanitarian funding appeal, which is far short of its target. Finally, the US should recommit to bringing Afghans who qualify for so-called Special Immigrant Visas to the US as quickly as possible.”
The Editors, Bloomberg

“The Biden administration seems to have no plan to get any of the tens of thousands of Afghans who worked with the U.S. military out, and the Pentagon has suggested it might not be able to do so…

“As of June, more than 46,000 Afghans had applied for humanitarian parole to escape the brutality and oppression of the Taliban. Only 4,543 of those applications have been processed. Around 93 percent of applications were denied. Thus far, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has taken in more than $26,450,000 in nonrefundable $575 per-applicant filing fees from Afghan applicants, while refunding filing fees to Ukrainian refugees utilizing the Uniting for Ukraine refugee program.”
Beth Bailey, The Federalist

“Even as he took responsibility [for the chaotic withdrawal], Biden obfuscated. He blamed Afghans (‘Afghanistan political leaders gave up and fled the country. The Afghan military collapsed, sometimes without trying to fight.’). He also blamed his predecessor for making a bad deal with the Taliban. Yes, the Afghan army did disintegrate. And Trump, who signed the Doha Agreement in 2020 with the Taliban that committed to withdrawing US troops by May 2021, laid few plans to follow through on it. But Biden’s team had eight months in office to plot a responsible drawdown…

“There was not a senior coordinator within the diplomatic corps to ensure a smooth withdrawal — that is, until late August 2021. Former ambassadors told me that the buck stops with the secretary, who received an alarming July dissent memo from diplomats in the US Embassy in Kabul warning of the country’s collapse, but apparently didn’t share it with the White House. As Kabul collapsed, Secretary of State Antony Blinken was on vacation in the Hamptons. There are also the intelligence agencies, which either did not offer clear enough warnings or weren’t heeded… A year to the day after the fall of the US-backed government in Afghanistan, it’s unclear who, if anyone, has been held accountable.”
Jonathan Guyer, Vox

Other opinions below.

See past issues

From the Left

“The Afghan war killed more than two thousand Americans and seventy thousand Afghans and Pakistanis, and left Afghanistan itself in ruin. What can we learn from this catastrophe? Two lessons stand out. First, respect the power of nationalism. Second, listen to voices outside the foreign policy mainstream…

“When people fall outside the ideological mainstream, especially during times of war, it’s easy to ridicule them as traitors or nutcases rather than responding to their ideas. Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, for instance, hawks have again and again called people skeptical of NATO expansion pro-Putin dupes. In Washington today, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to advocate cooperation and compromise with China without being labelled an apologist for Beijing…

“Given how frequently these jingoistic smears have been deployed in the past—against people whose dissents on Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq turned out to be prescient—folks in the foreign policy establishment should exhibit more humility.”

Peter Beinart, The Beinart Notebook

From the Right

Some argue, “If the critics had their way, the August 2021 withdrawal would have been pushed to an undetermined date. But ‘undetermined’ likely meant ‘forever’ because the objectives of building a modern Afghan state or pressuring the Taliban to join the Afghan political system were unachievable. We know this because U.S. military officers, policymakers, regional specialists and aid workers tried and failed on both of these objectives…

“U.S. forces, under the command of President Biden, failed to anticipate the speed of the Taliban’s takeover, as did the U.S. intelligence community. These were embarrassing mistakes covered round-the-clock on news bulletins, and it took a toll on the administration’s claims of experience and competency…

“At the same time, the chaotic exit also underscored that the war was a hopeless exercise—one the U.S. spent more than $2 trillion on, including $146 billion in reconstruction costs. Not to mention the human toll of the conflict—mostly Afghan but thousands of American troops and contractors as well.”
Daniel R. DePetris, Time Magazine

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