- Bilal SarwaryAfghan journalist now based in Toronto, Canada.
As next month marks one year since the United States officially withdrew from Afghanistan, we look at the Taliban-ruled country’s devastating economic and humanitarian crisis that has unfolded since. Afghan journalist Bilal Sarwary describes the dire situation as “an epic failure by the Taliban as the de facto rulers in terms of not stopping their crackdown against the Afghan people” while they cope with flash floods, food shortages and more. He adds that the U.S. exit deal with the Taliban “completely sidelined the previous government” and failed to kickstart a peace process, contributing to instability in the country.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh, as we turn to Afghanistan, where a new Amnesty International report documents the Taliban’s suffocating crackdown on women and girls since it took control of the country, with widespread detention and torture of those who protest the crackdown. One Taliban guard told a woman who was beaten in detention, “After protesting, you should have expected days like this.”
Whistleblowers in Taliban-run detention centers say the Taliban is also arresting women and girls on the charge of moral corruption for appearing in public without a male chaperone. Meanwhile, the Taliban has blocked most women and girls from access to education. The rates of child enforced marriage in Afghanistan are now surging. This comes as a staggering 95% of Afghans are facing food insecurity under Taliban rule, according to the U.N., with that number rising to almost 100% in households headed by women.
For more, we go to Bilal Sarwary. He is an Afghan journalist who reported from Afghanistan for 20 years. He fled the country after the Taliban takeover a year ago, is now in Toronto.
Bilal, welcome back to Democracy Now! If you can talk about — while you are in exile, you have been reporting extensively about your country. We are approaching the first anniversary of the U.S. withdrawal and the Taliban takeover. What does your country look like? What is the most dire situation it is facing now?
BILAL SARWARY: Well, Afghanistan under the Taliban is facing a number of crises. The economy has collapsed, obviously, for a number of reasons. We are seeing natural disasters, from earthquake in Paktika and Khost provinces in southeastern Afghanistan, killing more than 1,000 Afghans, to flash floods and heavy rain now for weeks, you know, destroying pomegranate gardens in the Arghandab River Valley outside of Kandahar province, to destroying grapes in Zabul province. These are some of the most remote areas in southern Afghanistan. So the economy is suffering at a village and district level. In provinces like Nuristan and Kunar in the east, all the way up in the Pech River Valley, thousands of red goats, as they are known, died simply because of heavy rain causing flash floods and landslides, also destroying important grazing land for animals. And you have to simply feel heartbroken for the people of Afghanistan.
But what we also see is an epic failure by the Taliban as the de facto rulers in terms of not stopping their crackdown against the Afghan people. Who are the victims of such crackdowns? The Afghan women. Who are the victims of such a crackdown are the Afghan media family. Afghanistan has seen, you know, a situation where the best and the bright have been forced to leave the country. So, as a result, the Taliban continue to paint a rosy picture of Afghanistan under them, and they continuously brag about how they’ve defeated the United States, how they’ve defeated the West, how they are the victorious forces. And they don’t really hide their sort of ambitions as sort of an Islamist-style government, you know, from which militant groups in the region, if not far away, are taking great, great inspirations.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Bilal, to what extent do you think — if you could talk about the U.S. position, in particular, with respect the effects of the sanctions, American sanctions and European sanctions, and the $7 billion in assets that have been frozen by the U.S. since the Taliban took over?
BILAL SARWARY: Well, we have to put this into the context when the United States entered into an exit deal with the Taliban, and they completely sidelined the previous government under President Ashraf Ghani. And what, in reality, happened in Doha were efforts to start a peace process, which never sort of materialized. You know, a ceasefire, for example, never took place. And there was this famous quote by the former U.S. special envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, where he said, “Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.” Actually, what happened was the quite opposite. And as a result, the Taliban had a military victory.
The United States, in my view, did end up punishing the Afghan people by freezing the assets, which really contributed towards more problems. But it’s also for the Taliban to do well by the people of Afghanistan. It’s also for the Taliban to do well, you know, in 21st century. The Taliban cannot say that “it’s not our fault.” I mean, we have to really remember the Taliban were a party to this destructive war, which really caused a lot of pain and suffering. And you also have to put the Taliban, as the de facto rulers, into the regional context. They have really failed to gain the trust of the regional countries. Pakistan, a major patron of the Taliban, you know, is really struggling to cope with some of the realities. And in that context, I think the region also is paying a price, because they either allowed a military takeover of Afghanistan or they helped it, specifically when you talk about Pakistan or countries like Iran.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And do you see any of that support now waning? I mean, Imran Khan was ousted in Pakistan. He was a key supporter of the Taliban in Afghanistan. And also India — what is India’s role now in Afghanistan?
BILAL SARWARY: Well, you have to look at the promises that the Taliban have made to Pakistan and TTP, the Pakistani Taliban. And I’ve been following that extremely closely. The TTP is extremely adamant that it wants a Sharia sort of system in Pakistan, that it blames the Pakistani establishment, the army and intelligence for all of the violence. And it does really appear that the Taliban in Afghanistan might not be able to deliver the Pakistani Taliban on the plate, as was probably the expectation.
It is also incredibly heartbreaking to witness this assassination campaign in Pakistan as the talks are underway. This is what we experienced in Afghanistan, where assassinations were taking place when talks in Doha were taking place, and no one was claiming any sort of responsibility.
You spoke about India. India is Afghanistan’s traditional and historical friend, but India did abandon Afghanistan. I think there’s a lot of anger and disappointment among many who were extremely close with India, especially the former officials, members of the former security forces. Their visas, for example, were not, you know, issued —
AMY GOODMAN: We have 10 seconds, Bilal.
BILAL SARWARY: — or extended.
AMY GOODMAN: We have 10 seconds. I didn’t mean to interrupt you. Just 10 seconds to wrap.
BILAL SARWARY: I think, in that sense, India is seen abandoning Afghanistan. But, on the other hand, it’s good that India is again back in Afghanistan, they have a presence, and they continue to help the people of Afghanistan, whether it’s with medicine or whether it’s with, you know, wheat for the people.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to do Part 2 of this discussion and post it online at democracynow.org. Bilal Sarwary, Afghan journalist. And also, the latest news out of Reuters: U.S. and Taliban officials are talking about the possibility of unfreezing assets. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.