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OP-ED: Protecting gains in Afghanistan now falls on the international community

  • Published at 08:33 pm August 22nd, 2021
taliban afghanistan
What does the future of Afghanistan hold now that the US has left? REUTERS

A stable and viable Afghanistan is in the best interest of all Afghans, the region, and the world

The recent collapse of the Afghan government was “most eloquently characterized by the way [Afghan President Ashraf] Ghani fled,” according to Nikita Ishchenko, a spokesman for the Russian Embassy in Kabul. “Four cars were full of money, they tried to stuff another part of the money into a helicopter but not all of it fit. And some of the money was left lying on the tarmac.”

The hasty and cowardly escape of President Ghani precipitated and exacerbated an already deteriorating political and military situation. The United States entered the Afghan war with righteous indignation and anger. Two decades later, with thousands of precious American lives lost and over a trillion dollars expended, the end was not a pretty picture. The Afghan military did not have the willpower to match up with the firepower the United States provided to stand up to the Taliban onslaught. And Afghan leadership failed to take ownership of their own country.

History shows that many such evacuations and military conclusions do not follow a tightly disciplined script, and the American people have the right to know why and how this current situation spiraled down to this embarrassing mess. 

A robust investigation should ultimately take place, but our focus right now needs to be two-fold: Ensuring that the gains we made in Afghanistan are not entirely erased and urging that Afghanistan’s neighbours and the Muslim community take an immediate leadership role in blunting the extremist ideology of the Taliban.

One of the most significant developments in Afghanistan over the past two decades was the expansion of rights for women and girls. US intervention and the extended deployment has been transformative for a generation of young Afghan women who had access to education and economic opportunity, which is why the potential reversal now is so painful and poignant. But while the concerns about the consequences of Taliban rule for Afghan women and girls are justified, the United States does not bear sole responsibility, nor is there a military solution that will solve this problem.

The international community must now step up and collectively apply pressure on the Taliban to protect the gains made over the past 20 years. President Biden agrees, recently saying the most effective way to deal with women’s rights is “putting economic, diplomatic, and international pressure on them [ruling leaders] to change their behaviour.”

Perhaps no group within the international community has a bigger role to play in blunting the impact of the radical Taliban agenda than Afghanistan’s neighbours -- five out of six of which are Muslim-majority nations -- and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).  OIC is an apex body of 57 member states, of which 49 are Muslim-majority nations, representing nearly 2 billion people among its population, or a quarter of the world’s population. With such vast size and economic influence, the OIC has an opportunity right now to show the world it can be a leader on human rights and freedom.

This can start by holding the new leaders of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan accountable for the treatment of all its citizens and to find common ground for it to be a true member of the civilized community of nations. This should include the threat of withholding political and economic recognition of the Taliban should it begin radically stripping away the important societal gains made in Afghanistan since 2001. All indications suggest the Taliban is eager to earn such recognition among the international community, and the OIC should use that desire as considerable leverage.

A stable and viable Afghanistan is in the best interest of all Afghans, the region, and the world at large. The incoming leadership of their new government need to think of themselves as Afghans first and not embroil themselves in petty retributions and senseless ideologies. Most Afghans would prefer stability and good governance and could give the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan a second chance. The world is watching. l

M Osman Siddique served as US Ambassador to Fiji, Tonga, Nauru and Tuvalu (1999-2001). He is also a senior adviser with the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center.

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