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As Afghanistan Faces Economic Crisis, U.S. Could Help Prevent Mass Starvation by Unfreezing Funds

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One year after the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Taliban takeover of the government, the country is in a humanitarian crisis that includes widespread hunger and poverty. Meanwhile, the U.S. refuses to release $7 billion in foreign assets that belong to Afghanistan’s central bank. “At least preventing starvation in Afghanistan is still our duty,” says Anatol Lieven, senior fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, which held a recent symposium on Afghanistan.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Anatol Lieven, I wanted to shift focus, in the last few minutes we have with you, from Ukraine to Afghanistan. This month marks one year since the return of the Taliban to power and the withdrawal of U.S. troops, ending what was the longest war in U.S. history. Afghanistan facing today a humanitarian crisis. According to the U.N., 95% of Afghans are going hungry. Meanwhile, the United States is continuing to refuse to unfreeze $7 billion of foreign assets held by Afghanistan’s central bank on U.S. soil. You’re with the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, which held a recent symposium on Afghanistan and the U.S. withdrawal. Your thoughts on this other anniversary today?

ANATOL LIEVEN: Well, I mean, the whole business in Afghanistan was a tragedy and a disaster, from which, by the way, there were no easy exits, and there were and are no solutions. I’ve been arguing for many years that there is no solution to the endless problems in Afghanistan. There is only better or worse management — and also basic humanitarian duty, I mean, especially in the case of Afghanistan, given all the promises we made to the Afghan people. I think we do have a duty and responsibility to provide food aid, to make sure that at least the population does not starve to death. But, of course, especially after the location of al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in Kabul, under Taliban protection, and given Taliban policies towards women, it isn’t possible, I think, to resume any kind of normal relations with the Taliban at present or give them massive aid.

The only problem, of course, is that in Afghanistan, as always, there are people even worse than the Taliban and much more threatening to the West, in the form of ISIS, the Islamic State of Khorasan, who are fighting bitterly against the Taliban and have carried out terrible terrorist attacks against minority — religious minority targets and universities and educational establishments in Afghanistan. And they’re also, of course, real promoters of international terrorism. So, you know, we also don’t want the Taliban to fall and, God forbid, ISIS to take over. So, you know, there is a bind. But at least preventing starvation in Afghanistan is still, I think, our duty and, perhaps, could be, at some stage, the basis for a new relationship with the Taliban — one day, but not today.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Anatol Lieven, we only have about a minute left in this segment. But I wanted to ask you how you assess the world response and the U.S. response to the humanitarian crises in Ukraine versus Afghanistan. Obviously, Ukrainian refugees were welcomed in the U.S., while the United States had allowed some Afghan refugees to come in, but many were blocked, including those who had worked with the occupation, from obtaining permanent refugee status. How do you assess a comparison between the response to Ukraine and the response to Afghanistan?

ANATOL LIEVEN: Well, I mean, the response to Ukraine has obviously been — and Ukrainian refugees — has been vastly more generous. Now, not giving asylum to people who worked for the United States and Britain is obviously disgraceful. It’s dishonorable. I have to say, though, that when it comes to much larger numbers of refugees from Afghanistan, as we have seen from previous generations of migrants to the West, there has been often real problems with integration, and therefore, you know, even in the first generation, let alone the second generation, with some of these people who have come to the West as refugees then turning to extremism and terrorism. So, I’m afraid that, you know, simply saying that we must accept anyone who wants to leave Afghanistan and can is not a solution. You know, Ukrainians, like Poles and others, are much, much easier, frankly, to integrate and much more likely to be successful in Western societies. I mean, that sounds harsh, but I’m afraid it is a fact.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Anatol Lieven, I want to thank you for being with us, senior fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, speaking to us from Leicester, England.

Coming up, we look at the fight for reproductive rights in the United States as a four more states — Texas, Tennessee, Idaho and Oklahoma — enact new bans on abortion. At least one in three women in the United States have now lost access to abortion in their own state, since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Stay with us.

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