Afghans under Taliban: The global impact

As the efforts to evacuate Afghan people seeking to flee the country enters its final phase, with the US pullout on August 18, the Taliban taking control of almost the entire country, and the crisis over the failure for thousands of Afghans to leave the country, Afghanistan is now a global issue. Just over 48 hours after Western countries warned of a terrorist attack on Kabul airport, twin suicide bomb attacks near the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul left over 60 civilians and 13 US soldiers dead. The Islamic State terror group claimed responsibility for the attack.

Immediately after the attack, US President Joe Biden vowed to retaliate against the leaders of the IS-K Group believed to be behind the carnage. However, there will be no change to the August 31 deadline when the US and allies will end the evacuations of eligible Afghan civilians and all military personnel.

The impact of the current Afghan situation is on the US, the European Union and NATO member countries, Russia and China, as well as India, Pakistan and Iran, as well as the Central Asian region. It affects Human Rights, the rights of women and minorities in Afghanistan, and the regional relationships in South Asia. This column presents the many aspects of this current crisis.

So far, on Thursday, more than 80,000 people have been flown out of Kabul, with more than 10,000 still waiting at Kabul airport. There are many more thousands outside the airport, largely restricted by Taliban forces. The fears are that thousands of Afghans who wish to flee may be left behind.

The United States has clashed with some of its closest allies over President Joe Biden’s insistence on sticking to an Aug. 31 Afghanistan withdrawal date that will shut down a frantic international evacuation effort from Taliban rule.

Biden insisted after virtual talks with leaders of the Group of Seven (G7) industrialized democracies on Tuesday that the U.S. and its closest allies would “stand shoulder to shoulder” in future action over Afghanistan and the Taliban, despite disappointing them in their urgent pleas now to allow time for more airlifts.

The U.S. President was adamant that the risk of terror attacks was too great to accede to appeals from G-7 leaders to keep what are now 5,800 American troops at Kabul’s airport beyond the end of the month, anchoring the airlifts.

Britain and other allies, many of whose troops followed American Forces into Afghanistan nearly 20 years ago to deal with the plotters of the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, had urged Biden to keep American Forces at the Kabul airport longer. No country would be able to evacuate all their citizens and at-risk Afghan allies by the Aug. 31 deadline, allied officials had said.

“We will go on right up until the last moment that we can,” said British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who had openly lobbied to keep the airport presence after Aug. 31. Johnson acknowledged he was unable to sway Biden to extend the U.S. military presence in Tuesday’s talks.

“But you’ve heard what the president of the United States has had to say, you’ve heard what the Taliban have said,” he said.

A senior French official said President Emmanuel Macron had pushed for extending the Aug. 31 deadline but would “adapt” to the American sovereign decision. “That’s in the hands of the Americans,” he said.

In a partial show of unity, G7 leaders agreed on conditions for recognizing and dealing with a future Taliban-led Afghan government, but there was palpable disappointment Biden could not be persuaded to extend the U.S. operation at the Kabul airport to ensure that tens of thousands of Americans, Europeans, other third-country nationals and all at-risk Afghans can be evacuated.

Following the meeting of the G7 leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the U.S. they said: “Our immediate priority is to ensure the safe evacuation of our citizens and those Afghans who have partnered with us and assisted our efforts over the past twenty years, and to ensure continuing safe passage out of Afghanistan,” but did not address precisely how they would guarantee continuing safe passage without any military presence.

Going forward, the leaders said they would “judge the Afghan parties by their actions, not words,” echoing previous warnings to the Taliban not to revert to the strict Islamic form of government that they ran when they last held power from 1996 until the U.S.-led invasion that ousted them in 2001.

“In particular, we reaffirm that the Taliban will be held accountable for their actions on preventing terrorism, on human rights in particular those of women, girls and minorities and on pursuing an inclusive political settlement in Afghanistan,” the leaders said. “The legitimacy of any future government depends on the approach it now takes to uphold its international obligations and commitments to ensure a stable Afghanistan.”

“I want to stress again that of course the United States of America has the leadership here,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters in Berlin after the meeting. “Without the United States of America, for example, we — the others — cannot continue the evacuation mission.”

On Monday, CIA Chief William Burns met with Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar in Kabul in talks in which the Taliban underscored they would not accept a U.S. military presence at the airport beyond Aug. 31.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid on Tuesday said his group would accept “no extensions” to the deadline.

The G-7 leaders were also joined by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, European Council President Charles Michel, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

Afghan economy in crisis

The World Bank has halted funding for projects in Afghanistan after the Taliban seized control of the country.

It cited concerns over how the Taliban’s takeover will affect “the country’s development prospects, especially for women”.

The Biden administration has also frozen the assets of Afghanistan’s Central Bank that are held in the US.

Since 2002 the Washington-based World Bank has committed more than $5.3bn (£3.9bn) to reconstruction and development projects in Afghanistan.

“We have paused disbursements in our operations in Afghanistan and we are closely monitoring and assessing the situation in line with our internal policies and procedures,” a World Bank spokesperson told the BBC.

“We will continue to consult closely with the international community and development partners. Together with our partners we are exploring ways we can remain engaged to preserve hard-won development gains and continue to support the people of Afghanistan.”

The decision by the World Bank to suspend payments to Afghanistan is the latest financial blow to the country’s new government. Last week, the IMF announced that Afghanistan will no longer be able to access the global lender’s resources.

Biden thinking

President Biden revealed the decision to end the US presence in Afghanistan by August 31, in televised statement. “We are a step closer to truly investing in the American people, positioning our economy for long term growth and building an America that outcompetes the rest of the world,” Biden said.

But Biden was making clear that despite an Afghanistan exit, likely to trap thousands of Afghans eligible for passage to the US, he believes the priorities of Americans and his own political prospects are ultimately with US voters.

Despite asking for contingency plans in case he decides on a short-term extension, staying longer would force Biden to risk open confrontation with the Taliban and the real danger of US casualties. To properly extract all Afghans with US visas, he’d have to surge more troops to expand the airport perimeter and possibly even seek to retake Kabul. In effect, he’d have to choose to massively increase the risk to US lives to save Afghan lives after August 31.

In explaining why he was sticking to his date, Biden stressed the grave and growing terror threat to the US and allied forces. “Every day we’re on the ground is another day we know that ISIS-K is seeking to target the airport and attack both US and allied forces and innocent civilians,” Biden said.

Defying the Taliban after August 31 would only exacerbate the danger — especially after CIA Director William Burns apparently failed to secure an extension of the group’s tolerance for the US operation in secret talks with its leadership.

As US operations in Afghanistan will begin to draw down in the next few days so that military forces can secure their own exit, analysts say the US is likely to break a promise to look after those that had its back during 20 years in the country.

Food shortages

Afghanistan may face food shortages as early as September unless urgent aid funding is met, several UN agencies have warned.

The country may run out of food and medical supplies for nearly 300,000 people who have been displaced over the past two months when the Taliban rapidly took control, according to aid agencies.

“We’ve got 20,000 metric tonnes of food in the country now, we’ve got 7,000 metric tonnes on the way. We need another 54,000 metric tonnes of food to get the Afghan people through to the end of December. We could start running out of food by September,” Andrew Patterson, deputy country director in Afghanistan of the World Food Programme (WFP) told The Guardian newspaper.

The UN agencies, including WFP and the World Health Organisation, have said their ability to respond to the crisis is declining and are seeking urgent help for “immediate and unimpeded access” to deliver medicines and other lifesaving supplies to millions of the people stuck in the country.

Afghanistan is facing a three-dimensional crisis aggravated by the political situation in the country, a sustained drought and the COVID-19 pandemic, with conditions only appearing to worsen with each passing day as millions seek help to survive.

Explaining the crisis-in-making, Patterson said: “Winter is coming. We are going into the lean season and many Afghan roads will be covered in snow. We need to get the food into our warehouses where it needs to be distributed.”

The agency, he said, needs funds worth $200 million (approximately £146 million) to buy food for at least 20 million people who face the threat of the looming crisis. One in every three Afghans faces starvation as an after effect of the drought ravaging the country’s food supply, the WFP said.

The supply of food, medicines and other aid to the country by commercial flights has been cut off after the operations at the Kabul airport were restricted for evacuation efforts.

India – Afghan

A recent meeting of the National Security Advisors (NSA) of India, Russia, China, Brazil and South Africa discussed the developments in Kabul – especially security and terrorism.

Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed a coordinated strategy in Afghanistan, while the NSAs from the five BRICS countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa – met virtually to discuss developments in Afghanistan, with focus on combating terrorism.

In their discussions Indian Prime Minister Modi and Russian President Putin agreed to set up a ‘permanent bilateral channel’ on issues arising from the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. Prime Minister Modi tweeted after the conversion that he had a ‘detailed and useful exchange of views with my friend President Putin on recent developments in Afghanistan. We also discussed issues on the bilateral agenda, including India-Russia cooperation against COVID-19. We agreed to continue close consultations on important issues’.

Among the particular areas of concern were ensuring regional security, countering radicalisation and the spread of ‘terrorist ideology’ and the proliferation of drugs as a consequence of the new developments in Afghanistan, a Russian Embassy spokesman in India said.

These were also issues that figured as the NSAs of the BRICS countries met, a key meeting in the lead up to next month’s BRICS leaders’ summit to be chaired by India.

India’s Ministry of External Affairs said the meeting ‘reviewed the regional, global, political and security scenario with particular reference to the current developments in Afghanistan, Iran, West Asia and the Gulf, and emerging threats to national security, such as Cyber Security.


Pakistan says an inclusive political settlement is the best way forward for peace and stability in Afghanistan.

In Islamabad, Pakistan’s foreign minister said on Tuesday that an inclusive political settlement is the best way forward for peace and stability in Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover. Pakistan fully supports efforts in that direction, he added.

Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi made the remarks in a phone call with Lavrov about the situation in Afghanistan.

Qureshi told Lavrov that a peaceful and stable Afghanistan is of critical importance for Pakistan and the region. Qureshi informed the Russian foreign minister about Pakistan’s outreach to regional countries for consultations on the challenges arising out of developments in Afghanistan.

Qureshi has also said that Pakistan is facilitating the evacuation of foreigners stranded in Afghanistan.

Russian position

Russia, China, the United States and Pakistan are interested in serving as mediators in resolving the crisis in Afghanistan, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Tuesday.

“We remain committed to the task of establishing peace and stability on Afghanistan’s territory so that it poses no threats to the region,” Lavrov said.

He also said Russia opposed the idea of allowing Afghan refugees to enter Central Asia, the former Soviet region that lies between Russia and Afghanistan, or having US troops there.

“If you think that any country in Central Asia or elsewhere is interested in becoming a target so that the Americans could fulfill their initiatives, I really doubt anyone needs that,” he told a briefing during a visit to Hungary.

According to Reuters, Russia maintains close ties with Central Asia’s former Soviet republics and regards the region as part of its sphere of interest.

Kamala Harris – China

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris on Tuesday accused China of coercion and intimidation to back unlawful claims in the South China Sea, in her most pointed comments on China on a visit to Southeast Asia, a region she said was critical to U.S. security.

Harris’s seven day trip to Singapore and Vietnam is aimed at standing up to China’s growing security and economic influence globally, and addressing concerns in the West, about China’s claims to disputed parts of the South China Sea.

Diverting attention and resources to the region has become a centrepiece of President Biden’s administration, as it turns away from old security preoccupations with the withdrawal of U.S. Forces from Afghanistan.

The U.S. administration has called rivalry with China “the biggest geopolitical test” of the century and Southeast Asia has seen a series of high-profile visits by top administration officials, including Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin.

“We know that Beijing continues to coerce, to intimidate and to make claims to the vast majority of the South China Sea,” Harris said in a speech in Singapore.

“These unlawful claims have been rejected by the 2016 arbitral tribunal decision, and Beijing’s actions continue to undermine the rules-based order and threaten the sovereignty of nations,” she said, referring to an international tribunal’s ruling over China’s claims in The Hague.

On board the USS Tulsa, a U.S. combat ship at the Changi Naval base in Singapore on Monday, Harris told U.S. sailors “a big part of the history of the 21st Century will be written about this very region” and their work defending it was pivotal.

China rejected the ruling and has stood by its claim to most of the waters within a so-called Nine Dash Line on its maps, parts of which Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam also claim.

China has established military outposts on artificial islands in the waters, which are crossed by vital shipping lanes and also contain gas fields and rich fishing grounds.

On Monday, Harris began her trip by meeting Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. They discussed the importance of upholding a rules-based international order and freedom of navigation in the Indo-Pacific region, expanded cybersecurity cooperation and efforts to shore up critical supply chains between their countries. “Our partnerships in Singapore, in Southeast Asia and throughout the Indo-Pacific are a top priority for the United States,” Harris said, adding the region was “critically important to our nation’s security and prosperity”.

A top Chinese diplomat last month accused the United States of creating an “imaginary enemy” to divert attention from domestic problems and to suppress China.

Part of Harris’s task during the trip will be convincing leaders in the region that the U.S. commitment to Southeast Asia is firm and not a parallel to Afghanistan. President Biden has faced criticism over his handling of the withdrawal of U.S. Forces and the chaotic evacuation after the lightning takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban.

Later, in her visit to Vietnam, Vice President Kamala Harris called on Vietnam to join the U.S. in challenging China’s “bullying” in the South China Sea, continuing her sharp rhetoric against Beijing as she met with Vietnamese leaders on Wednesday.

“We need to find ways to pressure and raise the pressure, frankly, on Beijing to abide by the UN Convention on Law of the Sea, and to challenge its bullying and excessive maritime claims,” she said at the meeting with Vietnamese President Nguyen Xuan Phuc.

She also expressed support for sending an additional US Coast Guard cutter to Vietnam to help defend its security interests in the disputed waterway, and pledged the US would ‘maintain a strong presence in the South China Sea’ to challenge China.

Harris was due to announce a donation of 1 million coronavirus vaccine doses to the pandemic-hit Vietnam. But a three-hour delay in her schedule handed China a window of opportunity.

Beijing quickly sent its envoy in Hanoi to meet with Vietnam’s Prime Minister and pledged a donation of 2 million vaccine doses, undercutting the subsequent U.S. announcement. Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh, thanking the envoy, said Vietnam “does not ally with one country to fight against another,” according to state media.

– Daily News Sri Lanka

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