Editorial: Taliban leaders are exhausting the world’s goodwill toward Afghanistan

The Afghan capital, Kabul, has been host to high ranking UN officials and charity executives over the past weeks, all hoping to convince the Taliban leadership to rescind their draconian and oppressive restrictions on women and girls, especially the ban on women working as aid workers. 

Amid international condemnations and intense lobbying, and the rapidly worsening humanitarian crisis, the Taliban has refused to lift the ban on women working for NGOs, which came into force last month and resulted in aid agencies suspend their operations in the country. 

With 97 percent of Afghanistan’s population living in poverty, over 28 million of whom are dependent on aid to survive, and 6 million on the verge of famine, the international community, including the UN and the international aid agencies active in the country, understand the urgency of the situation and the catastrophic consequences of inaction. But the Taliban leaders, on the other hand, have demonstrated that they are oblivious to the appalling sufferings of the people they rule.

In a desperate effort to convince the group to change course, the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, despatched his deputy, Amina Mohammed, the Executive Director of UN Women, Sima Bahous and Assistant Secretary-General of the Department of Political, Peacebuilding Affairs and Peace Operations, Khaled Khiari, on a four day visit to Kabul on 17 January, to meet with the group’s leaders. It was hoped that a delegation of senior UN officials of Muslim background will soften the Taliban’s attitude and result in a change of policy.  

The UN delegation met Taliban leaders, including its foreign minister, Amir Khan Muttaqi, deputy prime minister, Abdul Salam Hanafi, in Kabul. Hoping to meet senior officials around the group’s supreme leader, Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada, the delegation travelled to Kandahar and was met by the provincial governor’s deputy. And at each meeting, they faced a list of demands from the group: international recognition, removal of its leaders from sanctions and the handing over of Afghanistan’s UN seat. There were insults too. Sima Bahous told the BBC that they were reminded that “maybe we shouldn’t be here without our mahram.” Speaking to Al Jazeera, Amina Mohammed said she was told that it was “haram for me to sit in a room with them.”

The UN aid chief, Martin Griffths, led a second group of senior UN officials to visit Kabul on 23 January. In his meetings with Taliban leaders, including Mullah Baradar and Sirajuddin Haqqani, he reminded them of the gravity of the situation in the country and begged them to reverse or relax the ban, so aid agencies could resume their desperately need deliveries. 

But the Taliban has demonstrated time and again that it is neither interested nor takes responsibility for improving the lives of the people of Afghanistan. On the contrary, it has been actively pursuing policies which exacerbates the situation by the day. The group remains confident that irrespective of its behaviour, the international community will continue to provide enough aid keep the country’s population just about surviving. The group believes implementing its ideology, irrespective of costs on the people of Afghanistan, is its only responsibility.

The Taliban leaders are testing the international community’s patience and goodwill. Indeed, the UN and humanitarian agencies feel obliged to continue working in Afghanistan irrespective of the political environment. But for donor countries funding such efforts, it is becoming increasingly difficult to justify doing the Taliban’s job for them.

As a former British diplomat told KabulNow:

“Aid money is not finite. With the war in Ukraine and other humanitarian crises around the world, donors have enough on their hands. And if it becomes politically difficult, which the Taliban is making it, they will either reduce or cut funding to agencies in Afghanistan.”