Taliban’s interim Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi believes sanctions against Afghanistan or making the country unstable would not benefit anyone.
“Sanctions against Afghanistan … having a weak Afghan government is not in the interest of anyone,” Muttaqi, whose aides include employees of the previous government as well as those recruited from the ranks of the Taliban, told The Associated Press news agency in an interview on Sunday.
Speaking in his native Pashto, Muttaqi said the Taliban government wants good relations with all countries and has no issues with the United States. The Taliban faces diplomatic isolation as the Islamic Emirate, the name of its government, has yet to be recognised by any country or the United Nations.
He urged Washington and other nations to release upward of $10bn in 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.
The UN is warning that nearly 23 million people – about 55 percent of the population – are facing extreme levels of hunger, with nearly nine million at risk of famine as winter takes hold in the impoverished, landlocked country.
Muttaqi also acknowledged the world’s outrage at the Taliban-imposed limitations on girls’ education and on women in the workforce.
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 workplaces that meet their severe interpretation of Islam.
When it first ruled from 1996 to 2001, the Taliban barred girls and women from schools and jobs, banning most entertainment and sports and occasionally carrying out killings in front of large crowds in stadiums.
But Muttaqi said the Taliban has changed since it last ruled.
“We 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 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 percent 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.
Not targeting opponents
Muttaqi also went on to say the Taliban has not targeted its 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.
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 charged the Afghan government that took power after the US-led coalition removed 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 was overthrown for harbouring al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden who masterminded the 9/11 attacks in the US.
Muttaqi insisted poverty and the dream of a better life – not fear – drove thousands of Afghans to rush to the Kabul airport in mid-August in hopes of getting to the US.
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 has made mistakes in its 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.
Fighting other rebel groups
Muttaqi pushed back against comments by US Marine General Frank McKenzie who told the AP last week that al-Qaeda 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 (PDF) that spelled out the terms of a US troop withdrawal, the Taliban had promised to fight “terrorist groups” and deny them a safe haven.
Muttaqi said on Sunday that the Taliban has 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.”
The Taliban faces a mounting security challenge from an ISIL affiliate, the Islamic State in Khorasan Province, ISKP (ISIS-K), which has stepped up attacks on Taliban patrols and ethnic minorities.
Muttaqi, however, said the Taliban has gained the upper hand in recent weeks, saying there had not been a major attack in the last month. Washington’s ability to track the ISKP activities in Afghanistan has been handicapped since the troop withdrawal.
Muttaqi said he does not envision cooperating with the US in the battle against ISKP, its main foe in the country.
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 the US.
“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 regulation, and to end the differences and make the distance between us shorter and choose good relations with Afghanistan.”