News & Politics

A Kinder, Gentler Taliban? Afghan Leaders Want Us to Think So

AP Photo/Kathy Gannon

In the midst of all that was horrific about the Biden administration’s hasty and poorly-executed withdrawal from Afghanistan, one of the things that worried sober-minded people the most was that the Taliban would return to power.

After all, the Taliban’s first stint at the reins in Afghanistan was characterized by removing girls from schools and women from the workforce, the prohibition of most sports and entertainment, and even mass executions in front of stadium crowds. That period from 1996-2001 wasn’t a good time for the Afghan people.

Now that the Taliban is back in power, should we expect a return to those awful days? Afghan Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi says we shouldn’t. In an interview with the Associated Press, Muttaqi said that the Taliban seeks peaceful relations with other governments and that they would like the U.S. to release the $10 billion or more in assets that Washington has frozen since the Taliban took control of the country in August.

Muttaqi addressed the outrage over the Taliban removing girls from schools by stating that the government did so in order to retrofit schools for classes and activities segregated by sex. He pointed out that girls are back in schools in 10 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces and that private schools and universities are continuing operations as they did before the Taliban takeover. All of the women who worked in the Afghan healthcare industry are back to work as well.

“This shows that we are committed in principle to women participation,” Muttaqi stated.

He also said that the Taliban is a better organization than it was 20 years ago.

“We have made progress in administration and in politics [and] in interaction with the nation and the world,” he declared. “With each passing day, we will gain more experience and make more progress.”

Muttaqi also claimed that the Taliban has not retaliated against its enemies since coming back to power, and he said that representatives of the former Afghan government who haven’t fled are living safely in Kabul, contrasting his government’s ascendancy with that of the previous government, which he claimed engaged in revenge attacks against the Taliban in 2001 and ensuing years.

This assertion goes against a Human Rights Watch report from November that insists that the Taliban has “summarily executed or forcibly disappeared more than 100 former police and intelligence officers in just four provinces since taking over the country.”

Related: Will the Taliban Get a Seat at the United Nations?

Muttaqi hopes that “America will slowly, slowly change its policy toward Afghanistan” and see the benefit of this new and improved Taliban.

Of course, for the U.S., this would mean fighting terrorism. In 2020, the Taliban agreed to join in the fight against terrorism. However, last week, Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, told the AP that Al Qaida is on the rise in Afghanistan.

Muttaqi disputed McKenzie’s claims.

“Unfortunately, there are (always) allegations against the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, but there is no proof,” he responded. “If McKenzie has any proof, he should provide it. With confidence, I can say that this is a baseless allegation.”

Muttaqi went on to recount how, after Islamic State attacks over the past few months, the Taliban has cracked down, and the country hasn’t seen a terrorist attack over the past few weeks.

“My last point is to America, to the American nation: You are a great and big nation, and you must have enough patience and have a big heart to dare to make policies on Afghanistan based on international rules and relegation, and to end the differences and make the distance between us shorter and choose good relations with Afghanistan,” he concluded.

Is the Taliban turning over a new leaf? Is there any reason for the U.S. to come to trust the Taliban? I’m certainly not one to advocate for siding with groups with track records like that of the Taliban, but time will tell.