ISLAMABAD - The Taliban Friday sharply criticized U.S. President Joe Biden for declaring Afghanistan "not susceptible to unity," and questioning the competence of the Islamist group's ability to govern, asserting the humanitarian and economic crisis in their country had been precipitated by the U.S. sanctions.
Speaking to reporters during his Wednesday news conference at the White House, Biden said he makes "no apologies" for his August withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan.
'It's been the graveyard of empires for a solid reason: It is not susceptible to unity,' he said.
Biden argued that Washington was spending a billion dollars a week in Afghanistan for 20 years and nobody thought U.S. involvement would ever be able to unite Afghanistan.
"Not divided, but only 'united' nations cause the fall of invaders and great empires," the Taliban foreign ministry responded Friday.
"Discord is an external phenomenon instigated by foreign invaders for their survival, however, Afghans defeated them with their shared Islamic beliefs, homeland & celebrated history, & are now taking strong leaps towards becoming an equal nation," the statement read.
FILE - Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen leaves after a news conference in Moscow, Russia, July 9, 2021.
Suhail Shaheen, the Taliban's permanent representative-designate to the United Nations, told VOA he concurs with Biden's view of Afghanistan being the graveyard of empires. However, the rest of the assertions made by the U.S. president are distant from the ground reality, he said.
"Afghanistan has always been and is united. Afghans across the country speak with one voice when it comes to supporting national interests and national unity," Shaheen argued.
Biden expressed regret, however, for changes that have taken place in Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover five months ago.
'Now, do I feel badly [about] what's happening as a consequence of the incompetence of the Taliban? Yes, I do,' the U.S. president said on Wednesday.
Michael Kugelman, the deputy Asia program director at the Wilson Center, described Biden's comments about Afghanistan as "both defensive and defiant, and clearly meant to emphasize that withdrawal was the right decision despite how bad conditions have become in Afghanistan since the completion of the pullout."
"What was striking is that the reasons he gave for the withdrawal were different from those - a need to focus on higher priority issues, the achievement of U.S. goals - that he cited when he first announced his decision to depart [Afghanistan]," Kugelman said.
Shaheen said the current economic crisis and other upheavals facing Afghanistan stem not from the Taliban's governance but from the financial sanctions the United States and other foreign entities have imposed, including the freezing of billions of dollars in Afghan central bank's assets.
The international withdrawal led to the immediate suspension of the nonhumanitarian funding that made up more than 75% of the deposed Western-backed Afghan government's national budget.
"The sanctions are hurting ordinary Afghans not our government. Today, if they release our more than $9.6 billion assets, if they lift the sanctions on our banking system to allow our traders to use routine financial channels for imports and exports, and money starts flowing the way it happens in America, it will pave the way for our economic recovery," Shaheen said.
"If those sanctions are removed and the crisis still persists, it will certainly be our incompetence and inability to govern," he added.
Since returning to power, the Taliban have reinstated social restrictions on women, barring most female government employees from returning to work, requiring women to wear hijabs and undertake long road trips only with a male relative. While secondary schoolboys were allowed to resume classes in September, most girls' schools across Afghanistan remained shuttered.
Shaheen defended the Taliban government, saying it has brought peace and stability to the country in a short period and with limited resources.
The economic challenges have deepened an already bad humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, which is blamed on years of conflicts and natural disasters. The United Nations estimates more than 24 million Afghans, or 55% of the country's population, face acute food shortages, with 9 million people one step away from famine.
Former Afghan diplomat Omar Samad viewed Biden's assessment of Afghanistan as flawed because of his misreading of the ground situation and competing U.S. domestic and foreign policy agendas.
"The reality is that the U.S. is still responsible for the unfolding humanitarian disaster and needs to do its part to prevent chaos and instability by pushing for a new political arrangement and lifting of sanctions," Samad, a senior fellow at Washington's Atlantic Counci, said.
The U.N. and the United States have pledged to organize, together with partners, the delivery of humanitarian aid to millions of Afghans who aid workers say are threatened with starvation.
'We see assignment of blame between President Biden and Taliban. Clearly that is rhetorical talk for the political needs of each side," said Torek Farhadi, a former Afghan official.
"But in all honesty, the people of Afghanistan didn't have a say in these political games; why would they have to pay the heavy price of crippling sanctions on their livelihoods," asked Farhadi.
No country has yet recognized the Taliban as the legitimate rulers of Afghanistan. Foreign governments have pledged to send urgent relief aid to Afghans but at the same time they want to make sure it does not end up with the Taliban rulers.