14 February, 2022
Analysis: Uncertainty reigns in Afghanistan six months after the Taliban seized power, with the country facing crippling humanitarian, economic, and political crises.
On 11 February, the Biden administration announced that it intended to divert $3.5 billion of frozen assets from Da Afghanistan Bank (Afghanistan’s central bank) to families of 9/11 victims.
This amount is roughly half of Afghanistan’s foreign reserves, which Washington froze amid the Taliban’s takeover of the country in mid-August 2021.
The US will allocate the other half of Afghanistan’s frozen foreign reserves for aid to “provide a path for the funds to reach the people of Afghanistan, while keeping them out of the hands of the Taliban and malicious actors”.
Put simply, the US government is seizing Afghanistan’s sovereign wealth against the backdrop of Washington waging six months of financial warfare, including imposing crippling sanctions, on Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.
With the economy already in collapse, the Biden administration’s decision to basically bankrupt Da Afghanistan Bank will undeniably exacerbate humanitarian catastrophes that plague Afghanistan.
Many Afghans are livid about Biden’s recent Executive Order. Many in the country believe that Washington’s sanctions and economic constraints on Afghanistan “have done little to punish the Taliban, while taking a devastating toll of millions of ordinary people”.
“At this time, when every penny matters to save human lives in Afghanistan, splitting funds, the money that belongs to Afghans, is a cruel act”
According to the United Nations, 4.7 million Afghans will probably be victims of “severe malnutrition” in 2022 while three-quarters of the country’s population lives in “acute poverty”.
Biden’s recent decision can only be described as a demonstration of inhumanity. “At this time, when every penny matters to save human lives in Afghanistan, splitting funds, the money that belongs to Afghans, is a cruel act,” Dr Rabia Akhtar, a non-resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Centre and Director of the Centre for Security, Strategy, and Policy Research at the University of Lahore, told The New Arab.
The delicate question of Taliban recognition
It is critical to ask what Biden’s move means for the Taliban’s standing before the international community. To be sure, the extent to which certain segments of the Afghan population view their Islamist rulers as legitimate will be largely tied to the de facto government’s ability to govern effectively. The Taliban’s (in)ability to address Afghanistan’s current economic and humanitarian catastrophes is a central question.
“With the worsening of the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, Taliban [officials] are hoping that the international community will forget the recognition conditions and extend monetary and material support to the Taliban to manage the crisis,” according to Dr Akhtar.
Sayed Jalal Shajjan
“If the Taliban are somehow able to reach the local population, and save them from hunger, disease, and death, and are able to provide them even minimal sustenance to survive this humanitarian crisis, it will be a big win of internal legitimacy strengthening their credibility at home,” she added.
“With this race against time induced by this incredible humanitarian crisis, many countries and the UN are willing to forgo the recognition conditions and prioritise financial assistance to help save the local population.”
However, countries bordering Afghanistan, such as China, Pakistan, and Iran, are unlikely to decide whether to recognise the Taliban based on humanitarian conditions on the ground. Instead, officials in Beijing, Islamabad, and Tehran will do so based on how the Taliban regime’s policies and conduct are impacting their own countries’ national security.
“I think [foreign powers] will not care if the Taliban addresses the needs of the Afghan public or not, but if the Taliban poses a threat to their security and also their agendas,” said Dr Murat Aslan, a researcher at the SETA Foundation and a faculty member at Istanbul Sabahattin Zaim University, in an interview with TNA.
“For instance, let’s take China [which is] more concerned than any other country because Uyghurs in eastern Turkestan are closely relevant to the policies of the Taliban. Once a Uyghur formation happens in Afghanistan, China will be irritated. So as a regional power, and a global power, China will be concerned about the Taliban’s [policies] and [officials in Beijing] will clarify their perception.”
|The Taliban seized power in mid-August last year amid the chaotic US military withdrawal from the country. [Getty]|
Relations between the Taliban government in Kabul and Pakistan are complicated and delicate. Dr Akhtar outlined three problematic fronts for this relationship.
“First, there are issues related with the recognition of the international border (the Durand Line) on which the Taliban [officials] are not forthcoming and there is no clarity on their official position,” she told TNA.
“Second, the Pakistan-Afghanistan border fencing is not acceptable to the Taliban, however, it is critical for safeguarding Pakistan’s territorial security. There should absolutely be no compromise from Pakistan’s side on accepting any de-fencing demands by the Taliban.
And lastly, perhaps the most challenging of them all, is Pakistan’s problem of [Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP)]’s resurgence and using Afghan territory to conduct attacks against the State of Pakistan. Taliban’s release of TTP’s prisoners from jails in Afghanistan after the takeover, and their silence on Pakistan’s repeated requests on cautioning the TTP terrorists, is alarming enough. Pakistan must define its redlines with the Taliban.”
“Countries in the region and the world are pursuing their interests in Afghanistan, and now they do not really care who rules, but how they can use Afghanistan to their advantage”
In terms of Iran-Taliban relations, there is a genuine desire on the part of both Tehran and the new government in Kabul to establish cordial and working relations. Neither side wants a return to the hostility between the Islamic Republic and the Islamic Emirate, which shaped bilateral relations in the 1990s and early 2000s.
Iran has concerns about the standing of Shi’a Muslims and the ethnic Hazara minority in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. The Taliban has provided Tehran with assurances that all citizens of Afghanistan, regardless of religion or ethnicity, will enjoy rights and security.
Nonetheless, as Dr Murat explained, Tehran’s concerns about the Hazaras have done less to shape Iran’s actions vis-à-vis post-US Afghanistan than most observers were expecting early on after the Taliban took over the country in August 2021. “Nowadays [the Iranians] are just observing because they benefit from having the US out of Afghanistan. They will tolerate the Taliban but check what [the rulers in Kabul] are doing.”
Ultimately, Iran’s government is fearful of the threat posed by Islamic State Khorasan (IS-K). Looking ahead, the IS-K factor is “reason enough for Iran to collaborate with the Taliban,” said Dr Akhtar.
For now, the Iranians are “playing a wait-and-see game, like the rest of the countries in Afghanistan’s immediate neighbourhood.” The extent to which the Taliban regime proves capable of preventing the expansion of IS-K’s presence in post-US Afghanistan will heavily inform Tehran’s position.
Side-lining human rights
Other experts also believe national security agendas will take precedent over the well-being of the Afghan people when it comes to relations with the Taliban.
“Countries in the region and the world are pursuing their interests in Afghanistan, and now they do not really care who rules, but how they can use Afghanistan to their advantage,” explained Rateb Noori, the Kabul bureau news manager of Radio Azadi, in an interview with TNA.
“The issues of freedom of expression, freedom of women, children, democracy and others have remained just in words and slogans for all countries, including the West, and their recent moves against the Taliban have shown that the Afghan people are not important to them.”
“Under these circumstances, there are valid concerns about the landlocked country experiencing more bloody insurgencies, to say nothing about the prospects for a new Afghan civil war”
Disturbingly, humanitarian crises plaguing Afghanistan are set to worsen before they improve. The Biden administration’s recent decision to split the $7 billion belonging to Da Afghanistan Bank to compensate the American families which suffered the most from the 9/11 terrorist attacks practically guarantees much darker days ahead for the people of Afghanistan.
Under these circumstances, there are valid concerns about the landlocked country experiencing more bloody insurgencies, to say nothing about the prospects for a new Afghan civil war.
Giorgio Cafiero is the CEO of Gulf State Analytics.
Follow him on Twitter: @GiorgioCafiero