Tuesday, September 28

Afghanistan: now what?

When many people are still desperately trying to get out of Afghanistan before August 31st; when almost all countries have already concluded evacuation operations; when it is very likely to be intuited what the daily life will be like, undoubtedly terrible, of men and women –especially theirs– and the political and social life in this country; when everything is still happening … doubts and uneasiness assail me.

There is something ahead that, despite its obviousness, I must remember: I am not an expert or a good connoisseur of international politics or its complicated ins and outs. My shortcomings may lead me to some perplexities and incorrect approaches, but I am afraid that many of the questions raised are not adequately answered in my understanding either from these fields of knowledge and experience.

First of all, we still do not know what has really been done in these 20 years of Western “presence” in Afghanistan, from 2001, when the United States and allies invaded the country, until the Taliban – the self-styled Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Afghanistan – they took the territory and its capital, Kabul, on August 15. An invasion that was, in its day, one of the responses of the United States to the attacks of September 11, 2001 to combat Al Qaeda and expel the Taliban from power. Later invasion supported by NATO – and, therefore, by Spain – until December 2014, when this organization ceased operations and put security in the hands of the Afghan government. Without forgetting the role of the United Nations in implication in this conflict and the military presence of many countries so far in that territory.

And, although it has already been underlined by a good number of analysts, the truth is that we deserve many explanations about the “work” carried out at this time, beyond military operations. How, if at all, has it worked with civil society? How has the organization of citizens and their preparation for the defense of their rights been supported or not? What real role has been given to other groups, such as those known as “warlords” and how have they played in everything that has happened and, notably, in their relations with the Taliban and how have they influenced its rapid advance?

Second, the end of the international operation, undoubtedly hasty and, above all, clearly unsuccessful. Because, certainly, the decision to “abandon” – in every sense – Afghanistan, in an agreement that would have been negotiated by the Trump administration with the Taliban for withdrawal in May 2021, ratified by Biden for August 31, it has revealed that neither the Afghan Army nor the Government have been able to stand up to the Taliban power. Let us remember in this sense that Biden has even gone so far as to say that “Americans should not die in a war that Afghans are not willing to fight for themselves.” Phrase that reveals the clear idea that, for various and undoubtedly very complex reasons, neither the Afghan population nor the Government nor the Army were mostly prepared or aware to defend a certain way of life and political organization.

And, in this regard, I also highlight that, according to various media, Biden has also affirmed that the mission of these twenty years “was not destined to build a nation or create a unified central democracy”, but was designed “to prevent a terrorist attack on US soil “. And, undoubtedly also, in this mission, with such a specific and limited objective, NATO was involved and also, consequently, Spain. An objective that, of course, could well have been tried to be achieved through collaboration to establish a democratic State that respects human rights, but it is not clear that this has been the case.

Because the truth is that it does not seem that at any time it has been a question of defending those rights of Afghan citizens or promoting a more or less democratic political regime, but rather of avoiding terrorist attacks in the United States and, surely, in the rest of the West. As it is not done or required in other neighboring countries where human rights, notably women, are not respected either. And very likely, with this same security purpose, we will attend, as it is already beginning to be suggested as a very real possibility, not only negotiations but also agreements with the Taliban to prevent the activity of ISIS-K that attacked the airport last week. Kabul, since stopping the advance of these terrorist groups would be a common goal.

In any case, it will be necessary to demand that in these agreements, if they occur, the basic respect for human rights on the part of the new Taliban regime has a prominent place. Something that the Biden administration will have to do seriously. And it will also be necessary to demand a response to possible attacks within international law, contrary to what the Biden administration has already given or to the one that occurred after the 2001 attacks.

Finally, the European – and Spanish – response to this evacuation calls my attention powerfully. Certainly, relevant decisions have been made to facilitate the departure of the country for people who have collaborated with international forces and their families, women and girls, and they are being given a well-deserved welcome. And this is what governments are proud of and praise for this reaction. And this is fine. But they are measures that are very different from those that these same governments take every day with respect to immigrants who try to flee from dramatic situations of poverty and despair, as serious as that in Afghanistan, but which have never deserved a similar welcome, but the most rejection. absolute, with hermetic closure of borders, expulsions –such as those of minors from Ceuta to Morocco–, internments in centers or camps in a lamentable situation.

And I can’t help wondering what will happen to the Afghans who from now on leave that country and try to reach Europe. Although, unfortunately, I think the answer is already known, as it has been going on for years. I will only remember that there were already, before this latest crisis, some 2.6 million Afghan refugees in the world, of which only 10% reached Europe – read mostly Turkey or Greece, in refugee camps – and 90% they are found between Pakistan and Iran, also in camps created for this purpose.

It will be here where the EU will have to decide clearly whether it will continue to “welcome” those fleeing Afghanistan outside of the official evacuation operations that, for the moment, have ended. Will you facilitate a humanitarian corridor by negotiating with neighboring countries or through the UN, as is already beginning to be suggested? Will it make it easier for all these people to reach any country in Europe? Or, for example, will it allow Greece and Turkey to further strengthen their walls to avoid, as they have already announced, being a gateway to Europe for migrants from the Afghan crisis?

Only if the reception line of the last days is followed will we be able to say “mission accomplished”, only then. And I am very much afraid that it will not be so, as experience indicates.