Afghanistan’s staggering set of crises, explained

“The markets in Kabul have food, but few can afford it. A sack of flour can cost about $40. Businesses struggle to get materials because of lack of access to bank accounts or foreign currency. Teachers and government workers weren’t getting paid, and even if those salaries have resumedincomes are lower. People sell furniture and silverware for cash. They also sell their kidneys.

This is Afghanistan in the months after the Taliban marched into Kabul, the Afghan government fell, and the United States withdrew. America’s 20-year war ended, but another crisis replaced it: economic collapse. This was brought on by the near-instant evaporation of billions of dollars in foreign aid, sanctions on Taliban leaders, and the US’s freezing of Afghanistan’s foreign currency reserves. A severe drought, the Taliban’s struggles to govern, and now the global shocks from the Ukraine war have pushed Afghanistan toward humanitarian catastrophe.”

“The Taliban are not changing. In March, in Qatar, the US planned to begin discussions with the Taliban about economic issues, including those frozen funds, but talks fell apart after the Taliban issued their decree stopping girls from attending secondary school. Those talks resumed this summer in Doha, but Zawahiri’s assassination in Kabul might sidetrack them once again.

The Taliban are content to blame the West, and especially the US, for Afghanistan’s suffering — but their continued human rights violations and ideological extremism have kept Afghanistan cut off from the world. The Taliban continue to curtails women’s rights, like barring girls from attending school beyond sixth grade after they promised they would allow it. The Taliban’s restrictions on freedom of movement for women and girls, and on employment outside the home, have added to the economic strain, as they can’t earn income or seek access to things like health care.

The Taliban have also continued to target civil society. They embarked on revenge killings of former members of the Afghan security forces, and human rights groups and the United Nations have documented arbitrary arrests, torture, and extrajudicial killings across the country, along with the targeting of minority groupsspecifically the Hazaras, a Shiite population.

The Zawahiri killing also eliminated any doubt about what kind of government the Taliban oversees. “The Taliban — if there was any doubt — hasn’t changed,” said Douglas London, who served as the CIA’s counterterrorism chief for South and Southwest Asia and is the author of The Recruiter: Spying and the Lost Art of American Intelligence. “It’s really the same organization we know from the ’90s, and thereafter.” As London pointed out, Zawahiri wouldn’t be in Kabul without the Taliban’s permission, a sign they are continuing to give sanctuary to terrorists groups that might threaten the US and its allies, in direct violation of the deal the Taliban signed with the US.”

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