The grim situation in Afghanistan is expected to be on top of the agenda when Antony Blinken and S Jaishankar meet tomorrow to take a measure of things. The Taliban have been advancing across Afghanistan, and with half the country’s districts under their control, major cities are now under threat.
It appears the US administration is readjusting its Afghanistan policy in the face of heavy criticism at home and abroad for pulling out troops ahead of schedule, and leaving the Kabul government to its own meagre devices. Last week saw three significant developments that hint at recalibration. The first was the US air strikes on Taliban positions in Kandahar and statements from Centcom chief, General Kenneth McKenzie, on continuing air support to his ‘Afghan partners’.
The second was a call between Joe Biden and Ashraf Ghani, in which the two leaders criticised the Taliban for violating the peace agreement. Biden pledged continued financial support for Afghan security forces to the tune of $3.3 billion. He also restored $300 million in development aid blocked by Blinken’s predecessor, Mike Pompeo, in a fit of anger against Ghani.
The third was an exhaustive 16-point communiqué on Afghanistan issued by special representatives of the US, Britain, Germany, France, Italy, the EU and Nato after they met in Rome. The statement called on the Taliban to end their military offensive, expressed deep concern about human rights abuses, and vaguely threatened that international support to any future government will depend ‘at least in part’ on inclusive governance, right to elect political leaders, protection of human rights and ensuring Afghanistan doesn’t again become a terrorist safe haven.
It’s hard to take the statement seriously given the weak and flawed peace agreement on which the high-minded envoys are trying to ‘build back better’. The international community must do more than simply ‘urge’ the Taliban to reduce violence.