US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad on Tuesday testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on US policy in Afghanistan where lawmakers questioned him about how Afghan women will be protected if the Taliban takes control after American troops leave the country.
“How we withdraw and what political arrangement is left in our wake matters deeply,” US Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez said. “If the Taliban were to come back to power, the reality for Afghanistan’s women and girls, I think, would be devastating.”
Menendez said that he doesn’t “believe under any circumstances that the United States Senate will support assistance for Afghanistan, especially under the World Bank’s program which provides budget support, if the Taliban has taken a governing role that ends civil society advances and rolls back women’s rights.”
But Khalilzad said any future support of a government that included the Taliban would be conditional.
“If they do want US assistance, they want international acceptance … those things will be all affected by how they treat their own citizens, first and foremost the women of Afghanistan, children and minorities,” Khalilzad told the senators.
“We should all remain concerned that those rights could suffer,” he said.
Asked if the US would keep any leverage to protect those rights once its troops are gone, Khalilzad said aid and other types of diplomatic support “would be not available if they did not respect the human rights of Afghan women or others.”
Senator Jim Risch said the US military withdrawal should proceed only with safeguards for the gains the US has made in Afghanistan.
“I have deep concerns about the administration’s rush for the exits in Afghanistan,” Risch said. “I hope I’m wrong, but I’m concerned that the administration’s decision may result in a Taliban offensive that topples the government.”
But Khalilzad said that he doesn’t “believe the (Afghan) government is going to collapse or the Taliban is going to take over.”
“The choice that the Afghans face is between a negotiated political settlement or a long war,” he added.
Khalilzad echoed President Biden and other administration officials in saying the US would remain committed to Afghanistan and its development and human rights gains made since 2001 despite the withdrawal.
“That opportunity is once again confronting them and it’s up to them,” Khalilzad said, adding that the “terrorism” threat that led to the 2001 attacks has now moved to other regions.
Shortly before he spoke, the State Department said it had instructed all personnel to depart unless their jobs require them to be physically located in Afghanistan.
US Charge d’affaires Ross Wilson said the departure order was issued “due to increasing violence and threat reports,” would affect only a relatively small number of employees, and there would be no reduction in services offered.
Wilson said it “ensures that American diplomacy and support for Afghanistan will be sustainable, robust, and effective.”
Meanwhile, Afghan parliament’s Standing Commission for Human Rights, Civil Society and Women’s Affairs, and the Women's Parliamentary Caucus on Women’s Role in the Peace Process issued a statement expressing grave concerns over the privilege which is given to the Taliban by the US and other partners of Afghanistan.
“The Taliban and other terrorist groups have intensified the war because of the United States' presence in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, today, as the people of Afghanistan look forward to the prospect of peace, the United States and its allies are giving the Taliban the privilege of an unconditional withdrawal and signing an agreement,” the statement said.
The statement also said that the decisions will negatively affect the Afghan people and the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANSDF).
The statement said that in the last two decades, the people of Afghanistan have made great sacrifices to preserve human rights values and institutionalize the values of democracy and women's rights.
On the sacrifices of the ANDSF in the fight against terror, the statement said: “The ANDSF has lost nearly 100 people a day, and no other army in the world has sacrificed as much in the fight against terrorism. We bravely stood on the front lines of the war, fought against global terrorism, and made countless sacrifices.”
“Due to their bitter experiences in the past, Afghan women have the right to question the decisions that will lead the country to a crisis,” said the statement.
The statement also said: “As Afghanistan enters a new chapter in its history, an unconditional, irresponsible, and hasty withdrawal of NATO by the coming September will cause suffering and hardship to Afghan people, particularly Afghan women.”
“We have initiated a campaign to raise the voice of the Afghan women to the world, we are in contact with various parliaments around the world including the UK parliament, the Swedish parliament, Iran and other countries in the region who are decision makers—it is good that this issue was raised during the testimony of Mr. Khalilzad in the US congress,” said MP Nahid Farid.
Nevertheless, US senator Jeanne Shaheen during Khalilzad’s testimony warned that they would oppose continued foreign aid to Afghanistan if the Taliban retakes control and rolls back human rights advances in the country.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., the only woman on the Foreign Relations Committee and a longtime advocate for the rights of Afghan women and girls, highlighted the June 2020 murder in Kabul of an Afghan midwife, Maryam Noorzad. She was killed by a Taliban gunman when she refused to leave the hospital bedside of a mother who she was helping with her delivery. The gunman killed Noorzad, as well as the mother and the newborn. Two-dozen women, children and babies were massacred in the attack on the maternity ward.
“These are the Taliban who we are being asked to join at the negotiating table to support. I will not support any efforts that will allow them to continue to commit these horrific acts without any accountability for their behavior,” Shaheen said. “What we do over the next four months is going to impact the lives of women for generations to come and I believe we have to do everything in our power to support the women of Afghanistan.”