Biden Officers Place Hope in Taliban’s Need for Legitimacy and Cash

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WASHINGTON – President Biden’s plan to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan has met with sharp criticism that it could facilitate a takeover by the Taliban, with brutal consequences, particularly for the rights of women and girls.

In response, high-ranking government officials from Biden have cited a case as to why the outcome may not be that bad: the Taliban may rule less harshly than feared after taking partial or power – to gain recognition and financial support from the powers that be.

This argument is among the main defensive measures against those who warn that the Taliban will take control of Kabul and impose a brutal, premodern version of Islamic law that reflects the strict rule that followed the American invasion after the 9/11 attacks September 2001 ended.

State Secretary Antony J. Blinken made the case on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday, saying that the Taliban must come to power through an organized political process, not violence, “if they want to be recognized internationally if they don’t want to. ” be a pariah, ”he said.

On Wednesday, Mr Blinken announced that the administration would work with Congress to expedite a $ 300 million humanitarian aid pledge to Afghanistan that was pledged under the Trump administration last fall.

“When the United States begins to withdraw our troops, we will use our civil and economic aid to promote a just and lasting peace for Afghanistan and a better future for the Afghan people,” Blinken said in a statement.

In a background briefing for reporters following the announcement of Mr Biden’s withdrawal last week, a senior civil servant said denial of international legitimacy was a punishment for any effort to roll back human and women’s rights in the country.

Other US officials and some prominent experts call this “pariah” theory valid. The Taliban leaders are demonstrably seeking international credibility and attach great importance to lifting sanctions against them. Taliban officials have made clear their desire for foreign aid to rebuild their country after two decades of tough war.

Some experts also believe that the Taliban leaders have moderated in recent years, realizing that the cities of Afghanistan have modernized, noting that the group’s peace negotiators have traveled internationally and saw the outside world as theirs Founders rarely, if ever, have done so.

For critics, however, such notions are tragically deceived and ignore the fundamentalist ethos of the Taliban – and they are a thin cover to leave the country to a cruel fate.

“This is a story we tell ourselves we feel better about when we go,” said New Jersey Democrat Representative Tom Malinowski, who served as the State Department’s chief human rights officer in the Obama administration.

“We have nothing to offer that would lead them to preserve the things they have fought to erase,” added Malinowski, who spoke out against Mr Biden’s withdrawal plan.

Given that Mr Biden is withdrawing all American troops by September 11, diplomatic and financial pressure remains one of the few instruments the United States can use to contain the Taliban. For now, the United States will continue to provide military aid to the Afghan government in the hope that its security forces will not be overrun.

In the long term, however, there is almost no doubt that the Taliban will either become part of the Afghan government or take over the country entirely. How the United States will react is unclear.

“It will be difficult to define what is ‘acceptable’ for the Taliban’s future influence in Afghanistan,” said Jeffrey W. Eggers, who served as Senior Director for Afghanistan at the Obama White House and adviser to the country’s chief commander, General, was. Stanley A. McChrystal.

Mr Eggers said it was relatively easy to define and enforce expectations of the Taliban’s relations with terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. But social and human rights will be more difficult, he said.

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April 22, 2021, 8:01 p.m. ET

Barnett Rubin, an expert on Afghanistan who served as senior adviser to President Barack Obama’s Special Envoy to the country from 2009 to 2013, is among those who hope the Taliban can be softened through non-military means.

In a paper released by the United States Institute of Peace last month prior to Mr. Biden’s announcement, Mr. Rubin claimed that America “has overestimated the role of military pressure or presence and underestimated the leverage that the pursuit of Taliban after offering sanctions for relief, recognition and international aid. “

Mr Rubin added that the deal the Taliban leaders signed with the Trump administration in February 2020 required Washington to begin the process of lifting US and UN sanctions against the group, including some that are directed against their individual leaders. There was also a guarantee that the United States would “seek economic reconstruction cooperation with the new Afghan Islamic government after settlement.”

General Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, believed the idea in February during a testimony to Congress after a report he led, the Afghanistan Study Group, released a report.

“Sometimes we think we have no control over the Taliban,” said General Dunford, saying that the group’s desire for sanctions relief, international legitimacy and foreign support could mitigate their violence.

Vanda Felbab-Brown, the director of the Non-State Armed Actors Initiative at the Brookings Institution, agreed that Taliban leaders place high value on relations with the international community, if only to secure development finance.

“There is a real understanding at management level, not just a wrong attitude, that they don’t want to bankrupt the country to the extent they did in the 1990s,” said Ms. Felbab-Brown, who spoke extensively with the Taliban Officials and commanders. “In the 1990s, bankruptcy wasn’t accidental – it was a focused policy aimed at addressing Afghanistan’s problems by destroying the institutions of the past few decades.”

However, it remains unclear how the Taliban can resolve the contradiction between their doctrinal positions on women’s rights and political pluralism with the standards by which every US government and congress will condition aid.

Among others, the recently confirmed head of the US agency for international development, Samantha Power, is one of the most prominent human rights activists in the government.

“America is not shoveling aid unconditionally,” said Malinowski. “Most American relief supplies are designed to help governments do exactly what the Taliban despise.”

Such decisions were available to the Taliban when they controlled much of Afghanistan in the 1990s. For several years in a row, the group sent delegations to United Nations Headquarters to gain recognition, without success.

However, the desire for recognition and support was insufficient to convince the group to comply with the United States’ request to hand over the leader of al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, an attitude that ultimately followed the 9/11 attacks Invaded Afghanistan.

“I think Afghans deserve more than just being told. Well, the Taliban better not do that,” said Christine Fair, a professor at Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service who has studied in Afghanistan for years. “They are really clear that they want to turn back women’s rights. And they don’t want to contest elections. They believe they should get a piece of government because they have deadly power. “

Ms. Fair added that the Biden government should focus more on the role of neighboring Pakistan, which has long had great influence over the Taliban.

HR McMaster, a retired three-star general who served as national security advisor during the Trump administration, said it was “deceptive” to believe that the Taliban had changed radically in 20 years and rejected the idea that the group seeks greater international acceptance.

It is wrong to believe “there is a bold line between the Taliban and Al-Qaeda,” he said Monday during a discussion for the Belfer Center at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard in which he said Mr Biden’s decision sharply criticized.

“You have said your first step is to restore the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan,” he said. If that happened, it would be “a humanitarian catastrophe of colossal proportions”.

Mr Eggers said the reality could be more nuanced and one that could confuse American policymakers.

“For example, what if Afghanistan is about as bad as the Saudis in terms of treating women?” he said. “That’s not good enough, but what do we do then?”

Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt contributed to the coverage.