Taliban Official Hopes U.S. Will Change Afghanistan Policies, Sanctions Have 'No Benefit'

Afghan Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi said the Taliban government wants good relations with the rest of the world, urging the United States to release sanctions against the country imposed when the Taliban took power in August.

In an exclusive interview with the Associated Press at the Foreign Ministry in Kabul, Muttaqi said there is approximately $10 billion currently frozen by the U.S. and other countries that Taliban officials would like released.

He said these sanctions would "not have any benefit," adding that he hopes the U.S. will "slowly, slowly change its policy toward Afghanistan" once it sees this allegedly is not the same Taliban that ruled the country from 1996 to 2001.

Mattaqi claimed that the Taliban government granted amnesty to the former government officials who did not flee the country on August 15. However, Human Rights Watch reported last month the Taliban killed or "forcibly disappeared" over 100 former police and intelligence workers.

He also insisted that U.S. Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie's statement that Al-Qaeda's presence has grown in Afghanistan is false, telling McKenzie to provide proof. He added that a weak Afghan government is "not in the interest of anyone."

"To the American nation: You are a great and big nation, and you must have enough patience and have a big heart to dare to make policies on Afghanistan based on international rules and relegation, and to end the differences and make the distance between us shorter and choose good relations with Afghanistan," Muttaqi said.

Amir Khan Muttaqi, Afghanistan
Afghan Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi said continued sanctions against the Taliban government would "not have any benefit." Above, Muttaqi arrives at Ankara Esenboga Airport on October 14, 2021. Photo by Adem Altan/AFP via Getty Images

Muttaqi acknowledged the world's outrage at the Taliban-imposed limitations on girls' education and on women in the workforce. In many parts of Afghanistan, female students between grades 7 and 12 have not been allowed to go to school since the Taliban took over, and many female civil servants have been told to stay home. Taliban officials have said they need time to create gender-segregated arrangements in schools and the workplace to meet their severe interpretation of Islam.

When they first ruled, the Taliban shocked the world by barring girls and women from schools and jobs, banning most entertainment and sports, and occasionally carrying out executions in front of large crowds in sports stadiums.

But Muttaqi said the Taliban have changed since they last ruled.

"We have have made progress in administration and in politics...in interaction with the nation and the world. With each passing day, we will gain more experience and make more progress," he said.

Muttaqi said that under the new Taliban government, girls are going to school through grade 12 in 10 of the country's 34 provinces, private schools and universities are operating unhindered, and 100 percent of women who had previously worked in the health sector are back on the job.

"This shows that we are committed in principle to women participation," he said.

Muttaqi alleged the government that took power after the U.S.-led coalition ousted the Taliban regime in 2001 carried out widespread revenge attacks against the Taliban. Hundreds disappeared or were killed, with thousands fleeing to the mountains, he said. The Taliban were ousted for harboring Al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden for masterminding the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the U.S.

Muttaqi insisted poverty and the dream of a better life—not fear—drove thousands of Afghans to rush to Kabul's airport in mid-August in hopes of getting to America. The crush of people had generated searing images of men clinging to a departing American C-17 aircraft, while others fell to the ground as the landing gear retracted.

He said the Taliban have made mistakes in their first months in power and that "we will work for more reforms which can benefit the nation." He did not elaborate on the mistakes or possible reforms.

In a February 2020 deal that spelled out the terms of the U.S. troop withdrawal, the Taliban had promised to fight terrorism and deny terrorist groups a safe haven.

Muttaqi said Sunday that the Taliban have kept that promise, along with a pledge not to attack U.S. and NATO forces in the final phase of the withdrawal, which ended in late August.

"Unfortunately, there are (always) allegations against the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, but there is no proof," Muttaqi said. "If McKenzie has any proof, he should provide it. With confidence, I can say that this is a baseless allegation."

Meanwhile, militants from the Islamic State group have stepped up attacks on Taliban patrols and religious minorities in the past four months. The Islamic State militant group (ISIS) affiliate in Afghanistan has targeted Shiite mosques in the provincial capitals of Kunduz and Kandahar, carrying out frequent attacks on Taliban vehicles.

Muttaqi, however, said the Taliban have gained the upper hand in recent weeks, saying there had not been a major attack in the last month. Washington's ability to track ISIS activities in Afghanistan has been handicapped since the U.S. withdrawal.

Muttaqi said he does not envision cooperating with the U.S. in the battle against ISIS.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Amir Khan Muttaqi, Associated Press, interview
The foreign minister in Afghanistan's new Taliban-run Cabinet, Amir Khan Muttaqi, said Afghanistan's new rulers are committed to education and jobs for girls and women, have learned lessons from their previous time in power and appeal to the world's "mercy and compassion" to help millions of Afghans in desperate need. Above, Muttaqi speaks during an interview with the Associated Press in Kabul, Afghanistan, on December 12, 2021. Mohammed Shoaib Amin/AP Photo