UN says Taliban cooperating with aid workers, allowing food distribution operations

As America leaves Afghanistan, there remains the possibility of a humanitarian disaster. Feeding millions of people is a top priority of the United Nations' World Food Program, whose executive director, David Beasley, negotiated with Taliban leaders in Qatar last week over the continuation of aid. Amna Nawaz spoke with him about those negotiations and the continuation of aid efforts.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    As America leaves Afghanistan, there remains a growing humanitarian disaster. Feeding millions of people is a top priority of the United Nations World Food Program.

    Its director is David Beasley, who negotiated with Taliban leaders in Qatar last week over the continuation of aid.

    Earlier today, our Amna Nawaz spoke with him from his home in South Carolina.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    David Beasley, welcome back to the "NewsHour." Thank you again for making the time.

    I have to ask you. Today is the very first day of Taliban rule across Afghanistan. You met with the Taliban last week in Doha. What did you agree to with respect to World Food Program's continuing work in the country?

  • David Beasley, Executive Director, World Food Program:

    You know, it's been an interesting time, because the Taliban have been assuring us that they want us to continue.

    I met with them and said, let's be very clear. We need our independence, impartiality, neutrality. And they have assured us of that. And so, in the areas that they have gained control over the last few weeks, they have, in fact, assured us, protected our warehouses, made certain that we can operate independently.

    They have done that so far. They have honored their word. We have had very frank discussions about the needs: Please don't get in the way of our helping the innocent victims of conflict, the people that are in need.

    And, quite frankly, so far, shockingly to many people, they have done that. And we are working through many issues as we speak, like our national women that work with, school meals program for little girls. They are assuring us that we will be able to continue to do that. And so far, they haven't.

    But they are actually putting their people in the place now, and particularly in the provinces. This is — Kabul is a small part of the issue. It's the rest of the country where we have our massive operations. And, of course, this fall, we're very concerned because we're running out of money and the winter months are coming, and we have got to preposition food. But that's another discussion.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, let me ask you about what they have been saying to you so far, what you have been seeing so far in the early days and what's ahead, because this is the big question.

    There is a very big gap between the messaging we're hearing from the leadership now and their actual record, horrific abuses against minorities, not allowing girls into public spaces, oppression of women.

    If those practices pick up, what can you do? Can you withhold aid? Can you not work with them?

  • David Beasley:

    No, exactly right.

    And the more they cooperate, the better it is for everybody. So far, we have received the cooperation, but, again, we're just now getting out into the weeds, so to speak, throughout the country. Operations, so far, so good. We have had a couple I would say hiccups, but that's normal. And they have corrected them quickly.

    For example, they're not catching our trucks. They're allowing us the access. We're now moving people back out into the field. Operations are starting again. And so, as I have told them, I said, I will speak the truth. If you become a problem, I will tell the world so. So, please cooperate with us. We are here to help the innocent people of Afghanistan.

    And so we're working through a lot of issues right now. And, actually, in a couple of places, we have had the Taliban say give them a little bit of time to get their act together, which is actually not surprising, because they're putting their teams into place. They have got a new government they're designing, putting together.

    But I hope that we could get all that resolved, so that we can get about our business to reach the people in need, so they don't become vulnerable to ISIS and al-Qaida and life-and-death situations.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So this is a new government that's come in. They have inherited a budget that was essentially 75 percent dependent on international aid, right?

    And we know billions of dollars from the U.S., from the IMF, from others have been frozen. Based on your impression of the Taliban so far, based on the promises you have been made and what you have seen, do you think that those leaders, as you have, should trust the Taliban, that they're building an inclusive, different government to the one they had before, and release those funds?

  • David Beasley:

    This is the dilemma, the paradox is that, what's your alternative? If you're not careful, you could have stopped a lot, lot worse.

    And so the reality going forward, you have got moderate Taliban, you have got hard-liners. And if we're not careful, then if we allow the extremists to take over, then everybody loses. So we don't have a choice. I mean, we just can't walk away and say, oh, we don't care. People can't go without food for a month. They just can't do that.

    And so we have got to work with whomever is in charge. And while we're doing that, we want to do everything we can to help stabilize and build a path forward. Some of the areas that we are already getting very positive operations moving forward in Taliban-controlled areas, but there are some other areas that are more hard-liners.

    So we're sitting down, explaining what we're doing, why we're doing it, how we will do it. We want to reach women and men. We want to reach girls and boys. And so far, so good. But let's see. We have got 14 million people right now marching towards starvation. And we can't turn our back on them.

    And if we do that, we have created an incredible opportunity for extremist groups to exploit, to recruit. And we have seen what happened in Syria. We have seen it happen in other places around the world when we have turned our back on innocent people. They have become obviously victims to using food as a weapon and recruitment for war. We don't want that.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    If they do continue to restrict women's movement, as we have seen, if they do go back to their ways of oppressing minorities, committing horrific abuses against them, you're saying you will continue to deliver aid because you have no choice?

    So why would they act differently then?

  • David Beasley:

    Well, I think what we're being told so far, with our women working with the WFP, we evaluate all of these different dynamics. And so far, so good.

    I can imagine there will be some difficult areas. We have got to work through those. And we want, obviously, food to be used in a humanitarian way. Where there's going to be complications, obviously, we are going to deal with it, because we're not — we will go in — first and foremost, we feed women and men, girls and boys.

    That, I just can't imagine that being tampered with. That would be a red line, for sure.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    You and your team are doing such necessary work under incredibly difficult circumstances.

    David Beasley, executive director of the World Food Program, we wish you luck ahead. Thank you so much for making the time.

  • David Beasley:

    Well, thank you very, very much.

    We are going to get it done. I can assure you of that. It's just, that's the World Food Program.

    Thank you.

Listen to this Segment