From threats of sanctions to pleas of safe zone: Western approach to Taliban

Timid UN resolution on Afghanistan, a reality check

Politics

August 31, 2021

/ By / Paris

From threats of sanctions to pleas of safe zone: Western approach to Taliban

Maj. Gen. Chris Donahue, the last American soldier boards an US Air Force C-17 on August 30, 2021, ending US mission in Afghanistan (Image: @DeptofDefense/Twitter)

In less than a month, as the Afghan jigsaw puzzle fell into place, the approach of the Western nations, led by United States, towards their arch enemy the Taliban has evolved from virulent threats of sanctions to pleas of a safe zone or letting people leave Afghanistan. With Russia and China already building bridges with them, the Taliban know the West will follow suit in near future, irrespective of what happens to democracy and freedom in Afghanistan.

On the night of August 30, just as the last aircraft of the United States Air Force, a C-17, departed Kabul, the Taliban celebrated with a huge display of fireworks and gunfire to mark their victory over the world’s most powerful nation, after a 20-year-long see-saw battle.

The Taliban issued a clear message as well. Minutes after the US left and as the Taliban took charge of the last spot in Afghanistan still outside their control, Taliban leaders addressed hundreds of fighters in full fighting gear, calling the victory a warning for other countries that may think of invading Afghanistan.

The Taliban said they would want good relations with the US and the entire world. What they left unsaid but their actions over the last month have clearly indicated that these good ties with the world are incumbent upon the world keeping clear of interfering in how they govern Afghanistan.

The last few weeks have been full of instances of exactly what they may end up doing. Unconfirmed reports and some first-person accounts from areas like Kandahar or Jalalabad that fell weeks ago speak of the Taliban murdering dozens of activists as well as soldiers of the Afghan Army, despite clear declarations that there would not be any revenge attacks.

These attacks which have largely gone unreported in the international media are bound to continue and speed up as the foreign forces have left the country and its residents at the mercy of the ruthless Taliban fighters.

Another key issue on which the Taliban have apparently reneged from their promises relates to the rights of women and their space in the Afghan society in the Taliban rule. While the Taliban leaders have been speaking of letting women continue working, but there have been adequate number of reports coming in from cities that had fallen to the Taliban over the last few months, indicating that the atrocities on women have already begun. Added to these reports is the current uncertainty and fear as well as memories of how the Taliban ran Afghanistan two decades ago and that has proven to be enough to keep most of the Afghan women within the confines of their homes.

Trouble with trusting the Taliban

Many Afghans, at least those in the diaspora or those who have recently fled the country and few that stayed behind, do not trust the Taliban and say it would be a folly to do so as the Taliban’s raison d’etre is to erase the progress and westernisation of Afghanistan that has occurred over the past two decades.

There have been more than enough instances of where the Taliban have done just the reverse of what they had promised to do. First take the so-called peace talks that had been going on in Qatari capital Doha for over three years. The first major undoing of western stance on the Taliban was the controversial decision taken by the former United States President Donald Trump to engage in negotiations with a group that the US had been fighting on the battlefield for almost 15 years and who had refused to give up arms and continued their own military campaign.

Even as the Afghan Army battled the Taliban in various parts of Afghanistan, the main partner, indeed the backbone of the anti-Taliban forces, had begun engaging with the Taliban and disengaging itself from the country. That was as clear a signal to the Taliban that they had won the war and the US would leave them with a blank cheque as any.

The talks were never peace talks between Afghanistan government and the Taliban, they essentially became talks about how soon the US could get out of Afghanistan. Another move by Trump that sealed the fate of Afghanistan and the western nations was a clear declaration that the US would pull out all its forces from the country. It did not help that Trump’s successor in the White House, Joe Biden, did nothing to reverse Trump’s policy on Afghanistan, even though within his first month in the Oval Office, the new President had undone many of the controversial orders issued by Trump.

Finally, it was Biden’s sticking to Trump’s decision that proved to be the game-changer for the Taliban, leading to a swift fall of the country and the current feeling of a huge victory, justified to an extent, a group of insurgents over the collective might of the world’s sole superpower and its allies.

Also, in the final weeks of the campaign, as the Taliban seemed to cruise through large swathes of government-held territory, the threats of sanctions emanating from the Western capitals began to disappear and gave way to hopes of a moderate and inclusive government that would respect the rights of women and minorities, highlighted as recently as last night by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken after the last US soldier and diplomat left Afghanistan.

On his part, the French President Emmanuel Macron launched a vague idea of UN-mandated ‘safe zone’ within Afghanistan. Soon enough, the safe zone thought was junked and the United Nations Security Council passed a very bland statement, expressing hopes and pleas for the Taliban, with not a word on sanctions or any other response by the international community should the Taliban go about their business just as they had been doing in the 1990s.

The abstentions by Russia and China, both veto-bearing powers in the UNSC, even from this plain statement sends a clear signal to the Taliban as well as the West and its allies, notably India, about exactly how powerless and helpless the international community would be in dealing with the Taliban and any atrocities that they may commit.

How the Taliban will treat the rest of the world and its concerns over the fate of women and minorities as well as the eventual and highly possible use of Afghan territory by terror groups has become evident over the past couple of weeks.

Now as the outside world watches helplessly, it may turn to be a question of survival for the women, minorities and thousands of other Afghans as they face not just the uncertainty of what the Taliban 2.0 would look like, but also the drought and a crushed economy that the war has left behind.

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