The Taliban have pleaded with the US and the West to show ‘mercy and compassion’ by releasing $10billion in funds frozen when the group seized Afghanistan.
Speaking in a rare interview, Afghan Foreign Minister, Amir Khan Muttaqi said the funds would help millions of the country’s citizens that are in desperate need.
He also claimed Afghanistan’s new Taliban rulers are committed in principle to education and jobs for girls and women, a marked departure from their previous time in power which saw a history of oppression and human rights abuses.
Speaking to the Associated Press, Muttaqi said the new government wants good relations with all countries and has no issue with the United States.
He urged Washington and other nations to release the funds that were frozen when the Taliban took power on August 15, following a rapid military sweep across Afghanistan and the sudden, secret flight of US-backed President Ashraf Ghani.
But despite insisting the Taliban have changed for the better, Muttaqi’s comments hint at a dire situation in Afghanistan – already one of the poorest countries in the world per capita before the group took control of the country.
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‘Sanctions against Afghanistan would … not have any benefit,’ Muttaqi said Sunday, speaking in his native Pashto during the interview in the sprawling pale brick Foreign Ministry building in the heart of the Afghan capital of Kabul.
‘Making Afghanistan unstable or having a weak Afghan government is not in the interest of anyone,’ said Muttaqi, whose aides include employees of the previous government as well as those recruited from the ranks of the Taliban.
Muttaqi’s comments are not the first time he has made a plea for the funds – from Afghanistan’s Central Bank – to be released.
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However, in October, Deputy United States Treasury Secretary, Wally Adeyemo told a US Senate Committee that he saw no situation in which the Taliban would be allowed to access the reserves.
Concerned nations have pledged aid to the country, which made up a large part of its economy before the Taliban took over, but many are reluctant to send funds unless the Taliban agrees to a more inclusive society.
Meanwhile, reports from Afghanistan have told harrowing stories, such as parents being forced to sell their children to survive, and droughts forcing people from their homes.
The UN has warned that more than half of Afghanistan’s population faces starvation this winter, a problem compounded by the fact that many aid agencies fled the country as the government collapsed and international aid dried up.
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International charity Save the Children has called on governments to make urgent exemptions to existing counter-terror and sanctions policies, to allow for the delivery of lifesaving humanitarian aid.
According to DailyMail, since August, representatives of the group have worked to present a new image for the Taliban, claiming to have changed since its last brutal rule that ended in 2001. Its efforts have been met with scepticism from the international community.
Muttaqi acknowledged the world’s outrage at the Taliban-imposed limitations on girls’ education and on women in the work force.
In many parts of Afghanistan, female high school students between the grades of seven and 12 have not been permitted to go to school since the Taliban took over, and many female civil servants have been told to stay home.
Taliban officials have said they need time to create gender-segregated arrangements in schools and work places that meet their severe interpretation of Islam.
When they first ruled from 1996-2001, the Taliban shocked the world by barring girls and women from schools and jobs, banning most entertainment and sports and occasionally carrying out executions in front of large crowds in sports stadiums.
But Muttaqi said the Taliban have changed since those times.
‘We have have made progress in administration and in politics … in interaction with the nation and the world. With each passing day we will gain more experience and make more progress,’ he said.
Muttaqi said that under the new Taliban government, girls are going to school through to Grade 12 in 10 of the country’s 34 provinces, private schools and universities are operating unhindered and 100% of women who had previously worked in the health sector are back on the job.
‘This shows that we are committed in principle to women participation,’ he said.
He claimed that the Taliban have not targeted their opponents, instead having announced a general amnesty and providing some protection.
Leaders of the previous government live without threat in Kabul, he said, though the majority have fled the country since the takeover.
Last month, the international group Human Rights Watch published a report saying the Taliban summarily killed or forcibly disappeared more than 100 former police and intelligence officials in four provinces.
However, there have been no reports of large-scale retribution.
Muttaqi claimed the Afghan government that took power after the US-led coalition ousted the Taliban regime in 2001 carried out widespread revenge attacks against the Taliban.
Hundreds disappeared or were killed, causing thousands to flee to the mountains, he said. The Taliban were ousted for harboring al Qaida and Osama bin Laden who masterminded the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the US.
Muttaqi insisted poverty and the dream of a better life – not fear – drove thousands of Afghans to rush the Kabul airport in mid-August in hopes of getting to America and other Western countries, such as the UK.
The crush of people had generated searing images of men clinging to a departing American C-17 aircraft, while others fell to the ground as the wheels retracted.
He said the Taliban have made mistakes in their first months in power and that ‘we will work for more reforms which can benefit the nation.’ He did not elaborate on the mistakes or possible reforms.
Muttaqi pushed back against comments by US Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie who told the AP last week that the al-Qaida extremist group has grown slightly inside Afghanistan since US forces left in late August.
McKenzie is Washington’s top military commander in the Middle East.
In a February 2020 deal that spelled out the terms of a US troop withdrawal, the Taliban had promised to fight terrorism and deny terrorist groups a safe haven.
Muttaqi said Sunday that the Taliban have kept that promise, along with a pledge not to attack US and NATO forces during the final phase of the withdrawal which ended in late August.
‘Unfortunately, there are (always) allegation against the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan , but there is no proof,’ said Muttaqi. ‘If McKenzie has any proof, he should provide it. With confidence I can say that this is a baseless allegation.’
Meanwhile, Islamic State militants have stepped up attacks on Taliban patrols and religious minorities in the past four months.
The IS affiliate in Afghanistan has targeted Shiite mosques in the provincial capitals of Kunduz and Kandahar, and carried out frequent attacks on Taliban vehicles.
Muttaqi however said the Taliban have gained the upper hand in recent weeks, saying there had not been a major attack in the last month. Washington’s ability to track IS activities in Afghanistan has been handicapped since the troop withdrawal.
Muttaqi said he does not envision cooperating with the US in the battle against the Islamic State group.
However, he did express hope that with time, ‘America will slowly, slowly change its policy toward Afghanistan’ as it sees evidence that a Taliban-ruled country able to stand on its own is a benefit to America.
‘My last point is to America, to the American nation: You are a great and big nation and you must have enough patience and have a big heart to dare to make policies on Afghanistan based on international rules and relegation, and to end the differences and make the distance between us shorter and choose good relations with Afghanistan.’