Editorial: After a year under Taliban rule, Afghans feel the price of peace. – Chicago Tribune

Afghan women disperse as Taliban men fire guns in the air during a women’s rights rally in Kabul on Aug. 13, 2022. They were marching in front of the education ministry building, ahead of the first anniversary of the hard-line Islamists’ return to power. (Wakil Kohsar/Getty-AFP)
Afghanistan today under Taliban rule virtually mirrors what the country was like before the American invasion in October 2001. Girls cannot attend secondary school. Once again, women no longer work as lawyers, judges or police officers. Men must wear beards and traditional Afghan garb.
As it was before, morality police scan streetscapes to make sure women are in burqas and accompanied by a male relative. The country has been firewalled from any Western influence. Movies, foreign broadcasts and music have all disappeared.
A year after the Taliban retook Kabul and imposed its oppressive brand of governance, Afghanistan enjoys peace. But that peace comes at a stiff price — acquiescence to a fundamentalist, backward way of life that cannot be defied.
For the U.S., Afghanistan poses a profound foreign policy quandary.
The country is starving. Following the Taliban takeover, Afghanistan’s economy collapsed. Unemployment and food prices skyrocketed. Afghan families are selling their household belongings to survive. The United Nations World Food Program says more than half of the country’s population isn’t getting enough food, and 25 out of its 34 provinces are experiencing acute malnutrition at emergency levels.
Afghanistan’s central bank has $7 billion that could help buoy the country’s economy, but it’s in the wrong place. After the Taliban took over the country, the Biden administration froze the $7 billion that the Afghan central bank had previously deposited in the Federal Reserve Bank in New York. That money remains frozen. In February, Biden decided to set aside half for families of Sept. 11 victims to pursue in court. The other $3.5 billion was supposed to aid the Afghan people, but this week the Biden administration announced it would continue to keep that money frozen.
The reason? Ayman al-Zawahri.
The al-Qaida leader was killed July 31 by a U.S. precision drone strike as he stood on a balcony at a safe house in a Kabul neighborhood where many Taliban leaders live. Though the Taliban deny providing al-Zawahri safe haven, it’s abundantly clear that they were indeed sheltering him. The house he was in belongs to a top aide of Sirajuddin Haqqani, the Taliban’s interior minister and head of terrorist group the Haqqani network.
After the strike, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the Taliban had “grossly violated” the terms of the withdrawal accord reached between the extremist group and the U.S.
Essentially, the Taliban gave Biden little choice but to continue the freeze on the $3.5 billion in Afghan assets held in the U.S. Releasing that money to the Taliban regime risks seeing it end up in the hands of terrorist groups. Though the Taliban portray themselves as a legitimate government with the best interests of the Afghan people in mind, their continued allegiance to al-Qaida and unconscionable treatment of women say otherwise.
Taliban leaders know what they have to do. Allow women to pursue any career track they wish, permit girls to attend secondary school and do away with crude tools of oppression such as the regime’s morality police.
And, of course, Taliban leaders must prove to the U.S. and the rest of the world that they no longer align themselves with terror groups. Words won’t be enough. It will be up to the U.S. to decide when the regime has shown it no longer is a terror enabler, and hence a threat to the West.
Until then, it must be treated as a pariah state. Governments that harbor terrorists can’t expect the rest of the world to lend a helping hand. Domestically, the Taliban can help themselves by helping their people — not with restrictive edicts and brute force, but with basic rights.
Join the discussion on Twitter @chitribopinions and on Facebook.
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Copyright © 2022, Chicago Tribune
Copyright © 2022, Chicago Tribune


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