KABUL (Reuters) – Many Afghans believe that the United States is putting them at the mercy of hardline Islamist Taliban insurgents after President Joe Biden’s announcement that U.S. troops will leave the country by Sept. 11.
The withdrawal date was pushed back four months from the May 1 deadline agreed to between the Washington and the insurgents last year – but, this time, there have been no conditions attached to the pullout.
“International forces’ intervention was like a light in a dark night,” Amina, 32, a teacher at a girls school in the northern province of Kunduz, told Reuters.
Amina, who was a child when U.S.-led forces toppled the Taliban in 2001, feels Washington should not leave without making the Taliban agree to accept the changes that have occurred in the country over the past two decades.
Washington is pressing for a settlement between the Afghan government and the Taliban at a conference in Turkey next week, where they hope to reach an agreement on a ceasefire and a power-sharing interim government.
The Taliban announced a boycott of the event in reaction to Washington’s announcement that foreign troops would stay beyond May 1.
However foreign capitals are pushing the Taliban to attend and reach some sort of agreement that would save the country from another bout of civil war.
“It would have been better if foreign forces had not come at all… At least we could have found a way in the past 20 years, which I think are now just wasted,” Amina said.
Ahmed, 26, who works at an international organisation in Kabul, said he and many others had been living in fear of the Taliban returning to power.
“Now foreign forces are preparing to leave us in the hands of the Taliban,” he said, but added it was up to Afghans to overcome their fear.
Munira Harir, 30, a government employee in Kabul, criticised the decision to withdraw at a time when unrest was at its peak.
Afghan women, young government employees, and rights activists have, over the last few months, faced increased attacks, which no group has claimed but the Afghan government blames on the Taliban.
Women have found much more space in public than they did during the Taliban’s puritan rule, which included contempt for women’s rights, blocking their education, forcing nearly all to quit work, restricting their movement and brutally enforcing a strict dress code.
“They (Taliban) will repeat the black history again, and this is not acceptable for women like us, so we are again going to face a wave of migration, and once again the achievements of the last 20 years become zero,” Harir said.
For Pedram Qazizada, 40, a resident of the western province of Herat, the withdrawal of foreign troops was inevitable.
“Every country that came was gone one day,” he said in reference to the British and Russians before the arrival of the Americans.
But he added that the United States had failed in its mission because, if there were a return to civil war, it would be worse in the face of an emboldened Taliban, who ruled from 1996 to 2001.
“The fact that they are not attending the peace talks means that they consider themselves the winners of this war,” he said.
Some Afghans still hope things won’t fall apart.
“This nation was alive before U.S.A., Russia and Britain and after them it will get better … by the grace of almighty Allah, we will build and free our country from the evil of a religious and terrorist virus,” said Noorullah, 62, a shopkeeper in Kabul.
Yasin Darman, 25, a professor at Nangarhar University in the eastern city of Jalalabad, in one of the country’s most dangerous provinces, feels Afghan forces had taken over a majority of security responsibilities and were now capable of preventing a complete Taliban takeover.
“Naturally, with the withdrawal of American troops, the war will intensify for a while, but the Taliban will not win,” he said.
(Reporing by Orooj Hakimi and Abdul Qadir Sediqi in Kabul, Ahmad Sultan in Nangarhar, and Storay Karimi in Herat; Writing by Gibran Peshimam; Editing by Nick Macfie)