WASHINGTON (REUTERS) – US lawmakers grilled President Joe Biden’s Afghanistan peace envoy on Tuesday (April 27) about how women will be protected if the hard-line Islamist Taleban take control after US troops withdraw, and threatened to withhold funding if rights gains are reversed.
“I don’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 Taleban has taken a governing role that ends civil society advances and rolls back women’s rights,” said Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez.
Zalmay Khalilzad, special envoy for Afghanistan Reconciliation, testified at the committee’s first public hearing on Afghanistan policy since Biden announced plans to withdraw troops by Sept 11 after two decades of war.
When Biden made his announcement on April 14, he said Washington would continue providing assistance to Afghan security forces and civilian programmes, including those for women and girls.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the Biden administration was working with Congress to provide nearly US$300 million (S$397.6 million) in civilian aid to the country.
Members of Congress, many of whom are sceptical about the plans to bring home the 2,500 remaining troops, worry the departure would cede control to the Taleban, whose 1996-2001 rule severely curtailed activities for Afghan women.
Lawmakers of both parties expressed concerns about rights, the potential for civil war and whether Afghanistan would again become a refuge for extremists.
“I’m concerned that the administration’s decision may result in a Taleban offensive that topples the government,” said Senator Jim Risch, the committee’s top Republican.
The State Department on Tuesday ordered government employees out of its embassy in Kabul if their work could be done elsewhere, citing increasing violence in the Afghan capital.
The international community has poured billions into Afghanistan since the Taleban was driven from power. Gains for women and girls in access to education and public life are repeatedly touted as a major success.
Women have been underrepresented during peace talks despite promises that they would have a