Afghan Ambassador to Austria: “This will set our country back a century.”

Editor’s note: A few days before Kabul fell to the Taliban, Afghanistan’s ambassador to Austria, Manizha Bakhtari, agreed to an interview with Metropole, answering pre-approved questions in writing, under the condition that none touched upon deportations.

MET: Since the beginning of May, the Taliban have captured about 200 districts, putting them in control of more than half of the 400-plus districts in Afghanistan. What does that mean for the people in the affected regions and what does their life look like now?

Amb. Bakhtari: In recent months, we have witnessed a record number of security incidents, human rights violations, humanitarian crises and attacks on public infrastructure. The Taliban’s violent campaign is directly targeting our young democracy, our vibrant civil society, and our free and independent press. The violence against our security forces and Afghan civilians has reached unprecedented proportions. Thousands of civilians and security forces have been killed and injured, millions have fled. The Taliban have destroyed $500 million worth of infrastructure, including facilities such as schools, hospitals, bridges, and government buildings.

These dreadful killings and the surge in violence are occurring during one of the biggest global health emergencies. The recent escalation of the conflict has resulted in a significant rise in the numbers of internally displaced people (IDPs) across the country. Four million are stranded, their access to food, shelter, water, and sanitation blocked, with an already high number of people previously affected by drought and poverty.

MET: What is the situation like for women and girls in particular?

Amb. Bakhtari: The Taliban’s violent attacks are meant to discourage women and girls’ participation in society. In the areas they control, girls are banned from going to school, women from attending work. They have circulated decrees ordering women not to leave their homes without a male companion and to cover their bodies from head to toe. They are shamelessly ordering each household to present at least one girl for marriage to a Taliban soldier. Women are the main victims of this terror campaign. The Taliban are not concerned with human rights or women’s rights. If the war and abuse continue, Afghan women will lose all the progress they have achieved. Locals have filmed brutal incidents showing the lashing and stoning of women. There is no room for female participation or education in the Taliban’s ideology. This will set our women and our country back by a century.

MET: Analysts have warned the escalating violence could result in a long civil war. Is this a concern you share?

Amb. Bakhtari: It is not easy to predict the direction of this unwanted war. There is more to it than a civil war or a power struggle in Afghanistan. It is a threat to international peace and security. The deadly terrorist attacks this year in Afghanistan and across the globe are a testimony to the fact that terrorism knows no borders, religions or nationalities. As Afghans, we are directing all our efforts towards putting an end to this deadly war and the atrocities, and to convince the Taliban to return to peace talks. The Afghan people have been suffering through more than four decades of war and conflict. The sheer number of people in need underscores the urgency of a comprehensive ceasefire and efforts to achieve durable and sustainable peace.

MET: The Biden administration has stressed that it will continue to support the Afghan government despite the military pullout. Do you feel the USA is doing enough to help Afghanistan at this moment?

Amb. Bakhtari: I would like to commend the United States’s continued commitment to our nation. The US has been a great ally to Afghanistan throughout our journey of transformation and progress. Thousands of Americans in uniform served to secure our country and to combat terrorism. We will not forget the sacrifices they have shown, including losing loved ones. However, more has to be done. We still need their support in different areas, especially security. Our partnership with the USA will be crucial for us in the time to come. I am sure that they will observe the situation closely and act with caution. We have reached all our achievements together and we expect them not to fail us or leave us in the middle of chaos.

MET: How can the international community and foreign powers best support Afghanistan?

Amb. Bakhtari: Let me seize this opportunity to express gratitude and appreciation to the international community. Without your steadfast support, we could not advance our democracy and our development agenda. Continued international assistance to Afghanistan is needed in the process of peacemaking. We attach great importance to the role of the international community in acknowledging the many challenges beyond the peace process, such as development, democracy, human rights and women’s rights. Afghans are counting on the solidarity of the international community. Afghanistan is at a historic moment where we need more aid and support. With solidarity and diplomatic support, we can bring the Taliban back to the negotiation table, and together, we can address their crimes against human rights and humanity.

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