Could the devastating natural disaster in Afghanistan be a turning point for a Taliban government in the midst of a crisis?
After rowing back on promises around human rights when it came into power last year, the Taliban firmly lost all hopes of engagement and diplomatic discussions with much of the West, including the UK.
Its decision to ditch the pledge that all girls would be able to go to school in March has no doubt been a factor in the limited international response to the earthquake that has impacted so many – the death toll is thought to exceed 1,000 people.
While in Kabul over the last few days, Sky News spoke to two senior members of the Taliban government – both are hurt by the damage caused to their country and equally both want to see financial sanctions lifted by the United States as they believe “it’s a basic right to human life”.
But speaking to a senior British diplomat, any chance of that is far off until the Taliban is prepared to improve its stance on human rights.
At the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, we met Abdul Qahar Balkhi – the department’s spokesperson. He admitted to me the Taliban “shot ourselves in the foot” when it came to banning girls from secondary school – but reiterated it’s an issue they are resolving very soon.
A sign, perhaps, they’re aware of the diplomatic damage the move caused.
When asked if they were prepared to sit at the table with Western governments and compromise by improving their human rights, Mr Balkhi said: “If we look at the sanctions, if we look at the collective punishment on us, then our track record is actually many times better than what they have.
“So talking about moral superiority, ours is up here and theirs (the West) is in the gutter.”
He also blamed the coalition for the country’s current infrastructure which has proven unsuitable for a major natural disaster – the worst earthquake in Afghanistan in two decades.
‘A lack of basic infrastructure over the last 20 years’
Mr Balkhi added: “The problem stems from the 20 years of occupation and stems from the lack of basic infrastructure that hasn’t been built over the last 20 years.
“As for the resources, it’s the sanctions and the assets freezes and the callous attitudes of the world towards Afghanistan.”
Mr Balkhi’s colleague in the Ministry for Disaster and Emergency, Ghulam Ghaus, is a more senior member of the Taliban.
He had just returned from Gayan, one of the hardest hit areas when we spoke to him.
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His department has been in charge of running the response to Wednesday’s earthquake and refused to say there was a formal response plan in place for such an event.
The images and stories coming out of the eastern region certainly suggests they didn’t.
He said: “The roads aren’t in a good condition, most of the villages are very remote because they’re in mountainous areas and so it is important for us to rebuild these roads.
“But since we won the battle and have been in power for only nine months it’s not possible to reconstruct everything everywhere.”
‘Where is Europe? Where is America?’
He too blamed American and NATO forces for not investing in infrastructure whilst they were here.
But while playing the blame-game Mr Ghaus also asked the West to help in their time of crisis.
What was incredibly poignant when speaking to him was how emotional he got when recalling his visit to the Paktika province.
It was the first time I or any of our team had seen a member of the Taliban government cry.
These men, who are usually seen as strong, powerful and often quite intimidating, actually showed pain and emotion and it could be a turning point.
Mr Ghaus shared a story of how he bought expired biscuits whilst at the disaster zone and shared them with two children who had lost everything, including their parents.
Tearfully, he said: “Where is Europe? Where is America? Where is the international community? These people need mercy and they need to help us.”
Perhaps the desperation following the earthquake could be a brutal but much-needed moment of realisation.
This earthquake is Afghanistan’s biggest test after crisis upon crisis.
From the worst drought in almost four decades, to some of the highest poverty rates on record – this is a government that simply wasn’t prepared.
They will have to think strategically from here on in about when help is needed once more so they’re not abandoned once again.