The world is waiting to see whether the Taliban has changed or not, if so to what extent. Countries involved in Afghan affairs know that they would not witness fundamental change but hope for a move towards minimum moderation. The question is for how long they would wait and see.
Last week, in remarks to the High-level Ministerial Meeting on the Humanitarian Situation in Afghanistan, UN Secretary General Guterres said:
“Even before the dramatic events of the last weeks, Afghans were experiencing one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world.”
Many military and intelligence experts predicted that the withdrawal from Afghanistan would not be an easy operation. With chaotic evacuations and the devastating twin bomb attacks of last Thursday, they proved right.
Through the withdrawal Washington not only empowered the Taliban politically but also left behind millions of dollars’ worth of military equipment, arms, and ammunition leading to questions. Was this only in exchange for a safe evacuation or more? The “Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan between the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which is not recognized by the United States as a state and is known as the Taliban and the United States of America” was signed in Doha on February 29, 2020. What was negotiated and agreed on since then? Is there a broader agreement? On July 8, President Biden was asked if he trusted the Taliban. This was his response: “It’s a silly question. Do I trust the Taliban? No…” Has this changed? Are the Taliban no longer an enemy but a partner? If so, has this been discussed with NATO partners? Have they agreed?
On February 19, 2021, in his first address to the global audience at the 2021 Virtual Munich Security Conference President Biden said, “I speak today as President of the United States at the very start of my administration, and I’m sending a clear message to the world: America is back. The transatlantic alliance is back. And we are not looking backward; we are looking forward, together.” Since then, the slogan, “America is back” coined Mr. Biden’s desire to reassert global leadership.
The “rules-based international order” is now a recurrent theme in policy statements by senior officials of the Biden administration.
Secretary Blinken, meeting with his Chinese counterparts in Anchorage on March 18, 2021, started the talks by saying that the rules-based international order is not an abstraction; that it helps countries resolve differences peacefully, coordinate multilateral efforts effectively, and participate in global commerce with the assurance that everyone is following the same rules; that the alternative to a rules-based order would be a far more violent and unstable world for everyone.
Following the Second World War, the standoff between the US and Russia, NATO and the Warsaw Pact was called the Cold War. Nonetheless, in 1969, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty was signed. The same year, Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) were launched. These talks led to Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 1972. Thus, East-West relations moved beyond Khrushchev’s “peaceful co-existence” to a period of “détente”.
In September 1990, Congress of People’s Deputies voted for the dissolution of the Soviet Union. This marked the end of a bipolar world and the beginning of a unipolar one, of US supremacy.
On February 19, President Biden addressed the global community for the first time. At 2021 Virtual Munich Security Conference he defined the partnership between Europe and the US as the cornerstone of all that the West hopes to accomplish in the 21st century, just as it did in the 20th century. He said, “I know — I know the past few years have strained and tested our transatlantic relationship, but the United States is determined — determined to reengage with Europe, to consult with you, to earn back our position of trusted leadership.” (emphasis added)
He expressed his strong belief that democracy will and must prevail.
I often look up for words, synonyms, antonyms in Merriam-Webster. Yesterday, I looked up for a word and the column titled “Trending Now” caught my attention because on top of the list was the word “sedition”. This is what followed:
“Why are people looking up sedition?
“Sedition once again rose through the ranks and became one of our top lookups, in the first week of 2021, after making numerous appearances in articles on political upheaval.”
The main foreign policy topics of the past decade have been China’s ascendancy, relations between the West and a resurgent Russia, the rise of authoritarianism, democracy’s decline, the failure of multilateralism and climate change. With the Trump White House, most of the questions raised in recent years focused on Washington. People started asking “what went wrong?” to use the title of Bernard Lewis’s remarkable book on the clash between Islam and modernity in the Middle East. Pundits in the West, including the US, started talking about Washington’s external military interventions and their political/diplomatic/economic cost, racism, gridlock. Some of the questions raised went beyond the Trump years. With major foreign and security policy challenges and 251,000 new coronavirus cases recorded last Friday, Mr. Biden will not be moving to a dream house on January 20.