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Former U.S. And UN Official Urges U.S. To Prevent Atrocities In Afghanistan


Rina Amiri is a former U.S. and U.N. official who's been involved in Afghanistan policy over the last two decades. She's now a non-resident fellow at NYU's Center for International Cooperation and a senior fellow at NYU's Center for Global Affairs. Thank you for coming to the program.

RINA AMIRI: Thank you for having me.

CORNISH: Now, you released an open letter this week urging U.S. officials to prevent atrocities in Afghanistan. You said, quote, "I don't wish to overdramatize matters, but the signs point to a Srebrenica or Rwanda moment. Will we do the right thing this time?" What do you see as the right thing?

AMIRI: The right thing should - well, there's a lot that should have been the right thing that has not happened. The right thing would have been a real peace process rather than one that served as a vehicle for an exit strategy. The right thing should have been having an exit strategy that would have been responsible to the population, that stood by the U.S. for 20 years, for moderate Islam, for democracy, for women's rights and the things that America espouses as important values.

And the right thing right now would be for this administration to put all of its support and resources now that this disaster is unfolding to protecting those that are most vulnerable. Right now, there's a group of us. And we are activists pulling together our own resources and relying on philanthropists to help get the most vulnerable out of Afghanistan.

CORNISH: How is - can you talk about how that's possible logistically?

AMIRI: Well, the logistics are enormously difficult right now. Airports are closed. Borders have closed. There are no visas. And we are lobbying using our skills, our relationships to advocate and appeal to countries to open up their borders, to provide more visas...

CORNISH: Are any countries saying yes?

AMIRI: Yes, there are some countries that have stepped forward for a limited number of human rights defenders and women's rights. And we continue - Albania, for example, has been very good. And we are quite grateful for how gracious they've been in recognizing the severe risk that these women and human rights defenders face. They will be massacred. They have been - they've been challenging the Taliban for 20 years. They've been incredibly brave on the front line, fighting the war on terror with their rhetoric, with their language, with their advocacy and advocating for a moderate and inclusive society.

CORNISH: So when you hear the Taliban using rhetoric, at least in recent hours, to imply that they will somehow be more accommodating to the rights of women and girls in civic life, what do you believe?

AMIRI: I would like to very much hope that they do. But so far, it hasn't panned out in terms of what they've done as they've taken over provinces. In Herat, for example, women have not been allowed to go to school or to work. In other places, women's offices have been looted. They have been attacked physically. Their lives are threatened. There are terrible atrocities taking place against women, journalists, professionals.

CORNISH: And that's what you're hearing right now in the provincial capitals or in the areas that were taken over by the Taliban in the last few weeks.

AMIRI: This is what I'm hearing on a daily basis. I'm on the phone. I've been - there's a group of us that have been on the phone constantly over the course of the last couple of weeks hearing these women call - saying help, that they are helpless. They have nowhere to go. And they are under attack. Their offices are under attack. So their rhetoric right now is - there's a huge gap between their rhetoric and what they're doing in Afghanistan. And what my appeal to them is and what my appeal to the U.S. is is to use whatever remaining leverage is to ensure that the Taliban - that they - what they have committed to that they actually deliver.

And thus far, it has not happened. They keep on making promises, breaking them. And there are no sanctions. There are no penalties. And that has to change. Diplomatically, they should pay a price. And in terms of sanctions, they should pay a price. And furthermore, what the U.S. should be doing - you asked me what's the right thing to do - we need a senior human rights coordinator. We need the administration to step up in using its resources, including its air capacity, its planes, in order to get the most vulnerable out of the country. We need a cease-fire. We need a humanitarian corridor. And we need - the administration has said we're taking the military out, but we're standing with the people.

CORNISH: That's Rina Amiri of New York University. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.