Blinken: ‘It Would Be a Mistake … For The Taliban to See Afghanistan Through The Prism of 2001’

By Patrick Goodenough | April 16, 2021 | 1:26am EDT
Afghan women in Kabul in 1996, wearing Taliban-imposed burqas. (Photo by Emmanuel Dunand/AFP via Getty Images)
Afghan women in Kabul in 1996, wearing Taliban-imposed burqas. (Photo by Emmanuel Dunand/AFP via Getty Images)

( – Visiting Kabul to sell the Biden administration’s troop withdrawal plan, Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday advised the Taliban that it would be a mistake “to see Afghanistan through the prism of 2001 or the 1990s.”

But for the fundamentalist militia that styles itself the “Islamic Emirate,” the ideal future Afghanistan would resemble an era that goes back a lot further than that.

Responding to President Joe Biden’s announcement that all U.S. and NATO troops will be withdrawn before September 11, the Taliban declared on Thursday that it will “under no circumstance ever relent on complete independence and [the] establishment of a pure Islamic system.”

And earlier in the week, the terrorist group published a commentary making clear that democracy does not have a place in its thinking.

“Democracy must not be put forth as an infallible solution to all problems,” it said. “[W]hy must a system with foreign roots be forcefully implemented in Afghanistan when Afghans possess a superior model of governance?”

The Taliban said that past attempts to enforce “non-Islamic forms of governance,” whether democratic or communist, have proven unsuccessful, adding that Afghans should be allowed to “agree upon the establishment of an Islamic system.”

After the Taliban seized control of most of Afghanistan in the latter half of the 1990s, it put in place a medieval, misogynistic regime in which women and girls were denied schooling, the compulsory wearing of full body coverings was enforced, and most women were not allowed to work outside of their homes.

The State Department’s human rights report in 2000 stated that under Taliban rule Afghan women were “subjected to rape, kidnapping, and forced marriage,” and described restrictions on their lives as “widespread, institutionally sanctioned, and systematic.”

Religious freedom was non-existent under the Taliban, whose religious police would “beat individuals on the streets for infractions of Taliban rules concerning dress, hair length, and facial hair, as well as for the violation of the prohibition on women being in the company of men who were unrelated to them.”

Men are required to have beards of a certain length or longer, not to trim their beards, and to wear head coverings.  Men whose beards did not conform to the guidelines on beard length set out by the Taliban were subject to imprisonment for 10 days and mandatory Islamic instruction.

In 1998 the Taliban prohibited television sets, satellite dishes, videocassette recorders, videocassettes, and audio cassettes as part of an effort to ban music, television, and movies.

Visiting Brussels this week for meetings at which NATO allies backed Biden’s withdrawal plan, Blinken described the Taliban as “part of Afghanistan’s governance.”

It was not in the group’s interest, he said, “to plunge Afghanistan back into a long war, into a civil war that will do terrible damage to the country and to everyone.”


In Kabul a day later, Blinken said it was “very important that the Taliban recognize that it will never be legitimate and it will never be durable if it rejects a political process and tries to take the country by force.”

He said he has visited Afghanistan a number of times since the early 2000s, and “the country has gone through profound, positive changes.”

“I met with representatives of civil society groups, women leaders, extraordinary people and young people who are reflective of a new Afghanistan. And similarly, the Afghan National Security Forces, thanks to the partnership with the international community, are very well trained and a strong force that exhibits extraordinary courage and sacrifice every day.”

“So I think it would be a mistake, for example, for the Taliban to see Afghanistan through the prism of 2001 or the 1990s,” he said. “This is, in many ways, a new Afghanistan, one we’re very, very pleased to have been a partner to and one we’re committed to remaining a partner for.”

In its statement responding to Biden’s plan, the Taliban accused the U.S. of violating an agreement concluded in February 2020 by missing a May 1 deadline for leaving. For its part, it said, it had “complied with the agreement exceptionally well.”

On that basis, the Taliban warned that the U.S. breach “in principle opens the way for the mujahideen of Islamic Emirate to take every necessary countermeasure,” and the U.S. would be “responsible for all future consequences.”

The May 1 withdrawal deadline in the Feb. 2020 accord was conditional on the Taliban taking steps including severing ties with al-Qaeda. U.S. military leaders have voiced skepticism about the Taliban’s willingness to act against its terrorist ally.

Biden, and America’s NATO allies, have walked away from a “conditions-based” withdrawal, arguing that the approach, in the words of a senior administration official, “is a recipe for staying in Afghanistan forever.”

Still, Blinken did say in Kabul that the Taliban made a commitment “to prevent the re-emergence of al-Qaeda here in Afghanistan.”

“We will hold them to that commitment to the extent they have the – they’re in a position where they need to be enforcing it.”

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