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EDITORIAL: The Taliban regime will have to do a lot more than just brush aside claims made by Human Rights Watch (HRW) about summary killings and forced disappearances of former security officials, especially since the United States (US), European Union (EU) and at least 20 other countries are up in arms about it and demand a transparent investigation. It would be a huge blow to efforts aimed at facilitating the new Afghan government’s formal recognition by the international community if these allegations are proved true, of course, because the Taliban promised blanket amnesty for everybody associated with the Ghani and Karzai administrations. And just like their refusal to form an inclusive government, or give women and minorities the equal rights as they promised in Doha ahead of the US withdrawal, reports of kidnappings and executions are not going to help the Taliban’s, or the Afghan people’s, cause at all.

It needs to be said that if the attitude of the international community towards the new Afghan government appears more than a little harsh, the Taliban too seem in no hurry to take steps that will restore humanitarian aid and unfreeze their assets. If western countries with the money to help Afghanistan say they are waiting for the Taliban to honour their commitments before they can sign the cheques, and the Taliban did indeed make those promises, then why all the fuss and all the delay? Surely an inclusive, gender-balanced government, with adequate representation of all ethnic groups in the country, could have been stitched together by now. Yet it hasn’t, which in itself says quite a lot. There have also been instances, like announcing strict rules about women’s participation in social life just before very crucial negotiations with US representatives, which suggest that the Taliban aren’t too bothered about how they are seen by the rest of the world.

That’s become a big problem now, because the longer this who-blinks-first standoff lasts, the more real the chances of an unparalleled humanitarian catastrophe in Afghanistan become. The United Nations (UN) has been issuing very loud warnings about hunger and famine on a very large scale unless a lot of aid comes to Afghanistan very soon. Yet so tight is the stranglehold of sanctions slapped on the country that even legitimate aid money is finding it very difficult to get there. Then there’s also the $9 billion or so of the Afghan central bank’s money abroad that the US government has frozen. And this situation is not going to change till the Afghan government and western stakeholders reach some sort of an agreement about things just like inclusive government, human rights, general amnesty, etc.

The Taliban may have scored one of history’s greatest upsets by defeating the might of occupying forces. But they must now display the political sagacity required to rescue their country from complete disaster. So, while it is very unfair of other countries to attach conditions to humanitarian aid that is very desperately needed by people who had nothing to do with the war or the politics that important decision-makers are consumed with at the moment, the Taliban must take the first step for the greater good whenever they can. And they must do it very quickly because this is a very small window. Very soon, if something is not done about immediate food needs of much of Afghanistan, hunger, starvation and deaths will start making the headlines; especially as the bitter Himalayan winter intensifies.

It is very unfair that the poor people of Afghanistan have been paying with their lives for the faults of their leaders for almost half a century. Now the world finally has a chance to put much of that needless suffering to an end. But for that to happen the Taliban and the international community will have to work together. That is difficult, no doubt, considering the long and ugly war they have been engaged in. But since both claim to, and need to, care for the ordinary people of Afghanistan, there’s no time like the present to set a bold new precedent. Whoever does blink first in this confrontation will do so for the benefit of the people, and should deserve praise for it.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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