Afghanistan: US withdrawal complete, Taliban government expected

Afghanistan: US withdrawal complete, Taliban government expected

The United States and its NATO allies have completed their withdrawal from Afghanistan after 20 years of occupation and presence on August 31.

US President Biden dedicated major parts of a speech held on the same day to the evacuation efforts, describing these as an “extraordinary success”. Biden said the “assumption — that the Afghan government would be able to hold on for a period of time beyond military drawdown — turned out not to be accurate”, emphasized again that the withdrawal agreement had been signed by his predecessor, Donald Trump, and then defended in clear words the retreat from Afghanistan:

Graphic: International Herald Tribune

“We faced one of two choices: Follow the agreement of the previous administration and extend it to have — or extend to more time for people to get out; or send in thousands of more troops and escalate the war.

To those asking for a third decade of war in Afghanistan, I ask: What is the vital national interest?  In my view, we only have one: to make sure Afghanistan can never be used again to launch an attack on our homeland.”

“It’s about ending an era of major military operations to remake other countries”

The US President also pointed out to a general strategic decision beyond Afghanistan, concerning US foreign policy and military deployment:

“This decision about Afghanistan is not just about Afghanistan.  It’s about ending an era of major military operations to remake other countries. (…) We’ve been a nation too long at war.  If you’re 20 years old today, you have never known an America at peace.” 

The last US soldier leaving Afghanistan

Taliban: “Afghanistan is finally free”

The Taliban celebrated the US withdrawal in Kabul and the airport as well as with a military parade in the city of Kandahar. “Afghanistan is finally free,” Hekmatullah Wasiq, a top Taliban official, told The Associated Press on the tarmac. “Everything is peaceful. Everything is safe.”

Speaking before a crowd at Kabul’s airport, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said, “Most important is our national unity, integrity”, reports the Washington Post. Mujahid also added “And that’s why we need all the economic experts and professionals to step forward, come together and lay down a road map for the future.”

“I invite you all to come and invest in Afghanistan,” he continued. “Your investments will be in good hands. The country will be stable and safe.”

Harsh criticism on Biden in the US, the president losing approval

The US President’s speech was received in parts of the US public with harsh criticism.

Biden’s speech was “defiant” and “accusatory,” its execution “so dishonest,” lacking in “self-reflection or accountability,” that it was unworthy of the sacrifices Americans have made in that conflict, writes the Wall Street Journal editorial board: “The President even had the ill grace to blame Americans for not leaving Afghanistan sooner, and Afghans for not fighting.”

House Republicans yesterday called for a vote on a bill from Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI) that would keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan until all Americans are evacuated, but Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI), who led the roughly five-minute pro forma session and moment of silence, adjourned the House without any further action, prompting outcry from the Republicans on hand who didn’t get a chance to be recognized to speak on the floor in favor of Gallagher’s bill. Gallagher’s bill would have prohibited a reduction in U.S. troops in Afghanistan until Biden certified that all U.S. citizens and permanent residents are evacuated, reports the US news outlet The Hill.

A group of retired military officers are calling for the resignations of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, over their handling of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

The conservative group Flag Officers 4 America orchestrated the letter signed by 87 officers that accuses Austin and Milley of failing to recommend “against this dangerous withdrawal in the strongest possible terms” that left 13 U.S. troops dead.

The retired military members claim “America’s (…) weakness displayed in Afghanistan benefits most China, followed by Russia, Pakistan, Iran, North Korea and others.”

Sean Trende from the US website RealClearPolitics meanwhile states that “Biden’s job approval has entered dangerous territory”, with the President’s approval falling below 50% first time in August, while the majority of surveyed US citizens now “disapprove”.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll indicates that less than 40% of Americans approve of Biden’s handling of the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan, and three quarters wanted U.S. forces to remain in the country until all American civilians could get out.

Taliban government ahead

Meanwhile, efforts to establish a new government in Afghanistan are going on. The Taliban spokesperson Mujahid said that 3-days-long deliberations were completed in the city of Kandahar.

Taliban say Mullah Hebatullah will be the leader under whom a prime minister or president will run the country. Anamullah Samangani, a member of the Taliban’s cultural commission, said that Mullah Hebatullah Akhundzada, the leader of the Taliban, will also be the leader of the new government, reports the Afghan news website Tolo News.

Senior Taliban leader Anas Haqqani told Al Jazeera that Afghanistan’s new government will be announced in the coming days. “We have covered about 90 to 95 percent and we will announce the final outcome in the following few days,” he said.

“Currently, the Taliban leadership is consulting with different ethnic groups, political parties and within the Islamic Emirate about forming a government that has to be accepted both inside and outside Afghanistan and to be recognized,” Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, another senior Taliban leader said in a televised address Saturday, reports the Voice of America.

International debate on recognizing the Taliban government

Meanwhile, the international debate on the US and NATO occupation and the recognition of the Taliban government is continuing.

Russian President Putin summarized the US/NATO operation in Afghanistan as “only losses, tragedies”, reports the Russian news agency TASS.

Putin: US intervention brought “only losses, tragedies”

“For twenty years, the American troops were present on that territory and for twenty years they attempted – and we can say so without hurting anyone’s feelings – to ‘civilize’ the people living there,” the Russian leader said at a meeting with schoolchildren on the occasion of Russia’s Knowledge Day during his trip to the Far East on Wednesday.

However, in actual fact, they tried “to introduce their norms and standards of life in the broadest sense of this word, including the political organization of society. This has ended up only in tragedies, and only in losses both for those who did this, for the United States and, all the more so, for the people who are living on the territory of Afghanistan,” the Russian leader stressed.

US: Working with Afghan government for “vital national interests”

The US Secretary of State indicated recognition of the Taliban government.

“Going forward, any engagement with a Taliban-led government in Kabul will be driven by one thing only: our vital national interests. If we can work with a new Afghan government in a way that helps secure those interests (…) and in a way that brings greater stability to the country and region and protects the gains of the past two decades, we will do it.  But we will not do it on the basis of trust or faith.  Every step we take will be based not on what a Taliban-led government says, but what it does to live up to its commitments. The Taliban seeks international legitimacy and support.  Our message is: any legitimacy and any support will have to be earned”, Blinken said in a press conference on August 30.

Afghanistan is currently facing a huge economic crisis, also because the country’s foreign exchange reserves at the IMF and World Bank are frozen. International media has reported of rising prices and long queues in front of banks in Kabul.

China: “make contact with the Taliban and gıide it actively”

In a phone call with Blinken, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi called the US “to make contact with the Taliban and guide it actively”. “The United States, in particular, needs to work with the international community to provide Afghanistan with urgently-needed economic, livelihood and humanitarian assistance, help the new Afghan political structure maintain normal operation of government institutions, maintain social security and stability, curb currency devaluation and inflation, and embark on the path of peaceful reconstruction at an early date. Facts have proved again that the Afghanistan war never achieved the goal of eliminating terrorist forces in Afghanistan” Wang stated according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

Taliban to rely on Chinese funds, spokesperson says

With the help of China, the Taliban will fight for an economic comeback in Afghanistan, Zabihullah Mujahid told Italian newspaper La Repubblica. “China is our most important partner and represents a fundamental and extraordinary opportunity for us, because it is ready to invest and rebuild our country,” the Taliban spokesperson was quoted as saying in the interview.

He said the New Silk Road – an infrastructure initiative with which China wants to increase its global influence by opening up trade routes – was held in high regard by the Taliban.

There are “rich copper mines in the country, which, thanks to the Chinese, can be put back into operation and modernized. In addition, China is our pass to markets all over the world.”

Russian presidential spokesperson: Afghanistan “should not become safe haven for terrorists”

Russia is interested first and foremost in ensuring Afghanistan should not become a safe haven for terrorist groups, Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the TV broadcaster Izvestia on the sidelines of the Eastern Economic Forum on Thursday.

“They have already formed some structure of power and made the first appointments, as we know. But it remains to be seen what steps the Taliban as the new ruler of Afghanistan will take first thing. For us it is important above all to ensure Afghanistan should not become a safe haven for a large number of terrorist groups, the way it happened 20 years ago,” Peskov said according to TASS.

Germany: Taliban should not be isolated

German Foreign Minister Heiko Mass met his Qatari counterpart Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani on Wednesday in Doha and they discussed the latest developments in Afghanistan.

Both Qatar and Germany warned of the negative consequences of Taliban isolation and urged the world to engage with the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Al Thani said that the Taliban’s isolation benefits no one, and that engaging with them could bear positive results.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said they expect the United States to restart its diplomatic mission in Kabul.

“America should have only a diplomatic presence in Kabul. We have communication channels with them and we expect them to reopen their embassy in Kabul and we also want to have trade relations with them,” Mujahid said.

Embassies moving to Doha, Qatar

But for the time being, several countries have closed their embassies and moved their representations to Doha, Qatar, where the Taliban also maintains an office since long time. The US and Netherlands, among others, have evacuated their embassies to Doha. Currently, the Russian, Chinese, Turkish and Pakistani embassies in Kabul are working.

The Ambassador of India to Qatar, Deepak Mittal, met Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai, the Head of Taliban’s Political Office in Doha on August 31. The meeting took place at the Embassy of India, Doha, on the request of the Taliban side, declared India’s Foreign Ministry.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s “Special Representative Simon Gass has travelled to Doha and is meeting with senior Taliban representatives to underline the importance of safe passage out of Afghanistan for British nationals, and those Afghans who have worked with us over the past twenty years, reports CNN.

UK: no recognition, but “need to engage with the Taliban”

The meeting was followed by a visit of UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab to Qatar, who declared “there is a need to engage with the Taliban on Afghanistan, but Britain has no immediate plans to recognize their government”, reports Reuters.

The reopening of the Kabul International airport was one of the main issues, which Raab discussed with his counterpart, Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani.

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December 2022