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The U.S. Is Figuring Out How To Go Forward With The Taliban's Interim Government


So that is a reminder of how quickly things have changed in Afghanistan and how quickly they continue to change. I want to turn on this one-month anniversary of the fall of Kabul to talk about where Afghanistan and the U.S. go from here. And to do that, we are joined by NPR diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen. Hey, Michele.


KELLY: How is the United States dealing with this new Taliban government?

KELEMEN: Well, it's a major challenge. I mean, the U.S. wanted to see the Taliban form an inclusive government. That was optimistic thinking. The list so far includes mostly people who are on U.S. sanctions lists - an interior minister who's wanted by the FBI, no women, of course, and no representation from the government that collapsed, at least so far. So the secretary of state, Antony Blinken, is facing a lot of questions about how he's going to deal with this group. He was on Capitol Hill this week. Just take a listen, you know, when - to Senator Mitt Romney asking him about if the Taliban have broken ties to al-Qaida.


MITT ROMNEY: Has that relationship been severed?

ANTONY BLINKEN: The relationship has not been severed. And it's a very open question as to whether their views and the relationship has changed in any kind of definitive way.

KELEMEN: And of course, this whole war started when al-Qaida used Afghanistan as a base to launch the 9/11 attacks. The secretary says the intelligence community currently doesn't believe al-Qaida has that kind of capabilities. But he says the world has to keep the pressure on the Taliban to make sure that remains the case.

KELLY: Well, and this gets at the very tricky balancing act because the world needs to keep the pressure on. But at the same time, there are areas where the U.S. and the world need the Taliban's help right now.

KELEMEN: Yeah, I mean, particularly for the U.S., Blinken and his staff have to deal with the Taliban to get Americans out of Afghanistan, to get green card holders, Afghans who worked with the U.S. and who are at risk, those people who did not make it out in that massive airlift that ended last month. You know, he hasn't been meeting directly with the Taliban, but U.S. officials have. They've been talking about getting that Kabul airport back up and running with the help of Qatar and Turkey. There have been a few flights out there. They're talking about overland routes. They're talking about charter flights out of Mazar-i-Sharif - still no work there. So far, he's maintained kind of back channels to the Taliban just on practical issues like that. And more broadly, he doesn't want to lend legitimacy to the Taliban government. He wants the world to show a united front to make clear that it expects freedom of movement, it expects basic human rights, and it expects the Taliban not to allow Afghanistan to be a safe haven for terrorist groups that can threaten the rest of the world.

KELLY: And, Michele, what about daily life in Afghanistan now, a month after the fall of Kabul? We heard a moment ago New York Times reporter Matthieu Aikins talking about people on the verge of starvation. How bad is the situation right now?

KELEMEN: Well, really dire. I mean, you know, it's not only the conflict, but also the coronavirus pandemic, a severe drought. And there's just no cash in the country. Afghanistan, in recent years, has been entirely dependent on foreign aid. The World Bank manages donor funds, and that's been put on pause. Afghanistan's reserves are in the U.S., and those reserves are frozen. Even the U.N. can't pay its workers, according to the secretary general. He's asking, to the U.N. secretary general, countries to figure out ways to get around sanctions and allow the economy to breathe. He said a collapse of Afghanistan's economy is in no one's interest.

KELLY: And what about other countries? How are they approaching the problems in Afghanistan and the many challenges there - from starvation, to drought, to the need to allow women to work?

KELEMEN: Well, there's - you know, Secretary Blinken has been trying to rally the international community to keep everyone on board, to keep everyone focused and sending the same messages to the Taliban. But of course, neighboring countries have different interests. Pakistan has different interests - Russia and China. So that's going to be a challenge for him to keep that united front.

KELLY: NPR's Michele Kelemen, thank you.

KELEMEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.