While the war is over for America, the plight of 34 million Afghans remaining 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.
The Biden administration must release more of the $7 billion in Afghan central bank reserves that have been frozen since the end of the war. Otherwise, there will be a complete collapse of the Afghan economy and an even greater breakdown in public services. 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 people of Afghanistan should not be made to suffer the consequences of a lost war against the Taliban.
Though it is extremely difficult to try to influence the Taliban government, it is even more urgent as 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 challenge 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, severe cash shortages, and potential collapse of its financial system. There are also severe limitations to humanitarian aid efforts, as many NGOs and aid organizations rely on the banking system to transfer funds to those in dire need.
The international community must use diplomatic and economic leverage to pressure the Taliban to begin to adhere to their promise to form an inclusive government and respect the rights of all Afghan people, including the youth, minorities and especially women. Right now, the interim Afghan government is made up almost entirely of rank and file Taliban, mostly Pashtun men from Kandahar. Such a narrowly-based government cannot last long, and already there are fissures within the ranks of the Taliban as well as well-organized 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. The seven million Afghans who have been displaced should also have a voice, for many are highly educated with skills and expertise that Afghanistan desperately needs to rebuild after four decades of war. According to Afghanistan’s Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation (MoRR), there are about three million Afghans living in Pakistan, three million in Iran and one million in other nations.
Why would the Taliban agree to share power? They know that the sanctions are negatively impacting their rule and there is some openness to diplomacy. At some point in the not-too-distant future, they will have no choice. They 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 robustly pursue peace and reconciliation among Afghans so they can decide their own future.