While the war is over for America, the plight of 38 million Afghans inside the country and 2.6 million registered refugees remains dire. The United States and our European allies have a moral obligation to help Afghans who remain in the country, as well as refugees and those in the diaspora. An estimated 90 percent of the country’s population is living in poverty, while over half of Afghans are reliant on humanitarian aid.
To avoid a collapse of the Afghan economy and an even greater breakdown in public services, the Biden administration should release some of the $7 billion in Afghan central bank reserves that have been frozen since the end of the war. Diplomatic engagement must be prioritized with the Taliban government as well as engagement with civil society so the funds can reach the Afghan people. The innocent citizens of Afghanistan should not be made to suffer the consequences of a lost war against the Taliban.
Afghans continue to face a desperate humanitarian crises with insufficient funding and little access to basic services, especially healthcare and food. The United States — and the West — has only three options: turn our back on Afghanistan and the 38 million Afghans left behind; bankroll an armed opposition to the Taliban, but we’ve tried that before; or engage with the government. The aim is to find a way to engage without strengthening the Taliban’s grip on power.
There are significant challenges facing the Taliban as millions of Afghans grow frustrated with unemployment, food insecurity, limited access to health care and constraints on civil liberties. There are also serious impediments to the delivery of humanitarian aid, as many NGOs and aid organizations rely on the banking system to transfer funds to those in dire need.
According to Afghanistan’s Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation (MoRR), there are over one million registered Afghans living in Pakistan, and that is after 800,000 Afghans have been forcibly repatriated in the past year. There are 3 million Afghans living in Iran, and 4,000 a day are being forced to return to their homeland. In 2022, Turkey deported around 50,000 Afghans, with thousands more repatriated in recent months. The Afghan government desperately needs international assistance to provide food and shelter for the returning refugees, many of whom are young people who have never lived in Afghanistan.
The international community must use diplomatic and economic leverage to try to pressure the Taliban to begin to adhere to their promise to form an inclusive government and respect the rights of all Afghans, including young people, minorities and especially women. The interim Afghan government is made up almost entirely of rank-and-file Taliban, mostly Pashtun men from Kandahar. Such a narrowly based government will not last long, and already there are fissures within the ranks of the Taliban as well as growing opposition from disaffected Afghans. The best hope for Afghanistan is a political process that leads to a government that represents the interests of the country’s many ethnic groups, of women and of young people.
Why would the Taliban agree to form a more inclusive government? Sanctions and continued diplomatic isolation are a threat to their power. Moreover, they have stated that that they want better relations with western nations, but to date, no country has recognized the interim government, and the Taliban have not been able to claim Afghanistan’s seat at the United Nations. At some point, they may have no choice, for they will need foreign development assistance as well as the return of highly skilled Afghans to help rebuild their nation. This excludes the former warlords and corrupt elites who deserve no say in the future of the country.
One thing is certain, the war has not helped Afghanistan. It is time to pursue peace and reconciliation among Afghans so they can decide their own future.