Afghanistan: Whose Stake? Whose Dialogue?

by Zoe Nneka Ejiofor

Afghanistan. Simply stating the name of this country conveys so many emotions, from sadness to anger, and downright despair. Many share in these emotions, with a particular feeling of desolation; especially when one thinks about those vulnerable under the Taliban- such as women and girls.

The response by President Biden to the current situation in Afghanistan given in his speech is resolute if being generous, and downright callous and cold at a push, as noted by some commentators.[1] In his speech delivered on August 16, 2021, he stated that the goal of America’s ‘war-fighting’ in Afghanistan was to ‘degrade the terrorist threat of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and kill Osama bin Laden [which] was a success.’[2] Yet, the Taliban are virtually in control of all of Afghanistan; surely the terrorist threat of Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan has actually risen, rather than degraded?

This leads one to wonder, where do talks of transitional justice come in? Is there even any room for such talks? NATO has currently not committed to any more fighting in Afghanistan. President Biden in his speech stated that he does not even regret his decision to withdraw US troops from the country. This can leave people to think that there is no room for such talks, as these need to be facilitated by the West, but they seem to have turned their backs. Article 14(1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) states that ‘everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.’ The West has facilitated this right, as seen by the various refugee programs that have been announced. For example, President Biden announced Operation Allies Refuge in July, which has moved 2,000 Afghans to the US. However, the total number of Afghans that will be moved is unknown. The UK government has stated that it will resettle 20,000 Afghan refugees over five years, under the Afghan Citizens’ Resettlement Scheme. This has been criticised as inadequate by several key British figures, such as Lord Dubs[3], especially when the UK’s role in Afghanistan is considered. The Scheme is very similar to the UK’s Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme, which also resettled 20,000 people over five years. Yet, the UK had less of an influence in Syria than it did in Afghanistan. The extent to which the West has facilitated the Afghan people’s right to Article 14(1) is limited though, as there is a limitation on the number of people that can claim asylum.[4] Furthermore, not everybody that is even eligible under the UK’s Scheme has been able to leave Afghanistan, with an estimated population of 32 million, as admitted by the Head of the Armed Forces, Gen Sir Nick Carter.[5]

The plans of the US and UK to resettle Afghans is certainly a step in the right direction, but they are really just band-aids over the issues in the country. What the Afghan people need are concrete talks as to how to guarantee the human rights and liberties of the Afghan people under the Taliban, in line with the UDHR, such as Article 5.[6] Whether such talks will be generated is an unknown, especially after President Biden said that the US mission in Afghanistan ‘was never supposed to have been nation-building.’[7] It seems as if only the threat of terrorism in the West will enable such talks to occur. The increasing risk posed by ISIS-K, a splinter group of ISIS, could force such talks. They already claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing on Thursday 26th August, which killed over 180 people, including 13 US service members.[8] The US conducted a drone strike in response to this less than 48 hours later, which killed an ISIS member with claims of some civilian casualties.[9]

Unfortunately, many ordinary people in the international community can only watch and wait to see if the ‘Taliban 2.0’ is any different to the Taliban of the 1990s as it seeks international legitimacy.

[1] See David Smith’s analysis of Biden’s speech: Biden’s speech on Afghanistan was resolute, but lacked contrition or humility | Joe Biden | The Guardian (accessed 19 8 2021)

[2] Read the Full Transcript of Biden’s Afghanistan Speech – The New York Times (nytimes.com) (accessed 19 8 2021)

[3] UK to take 20,000 Afghan refugees over five years under resettlement plan | Afghanistan | The Guardian (accessed 19 8 2021)

[4] Canada has also stated that they will resettlement 20,000 Afghan refugees- see Canada expands resettlement program to bring more Afghans to safety – Canada.ca (accessed 26 8 2021)

[5] Afghanistan: Final UK flight for civilians leaves Kabul, says government – BBC News (accessed 19 8 2021)

[6] This Article states that ‘No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment

or punishment.’

[7] See point 2

[8] What is ISIS-K, the group that claimed responsibility for the Kabul attack? – CBS News (accessed 30 8 2021)

[9] Afghanistan: US airstrike targets ISIS-K after deadly Kabul airport attack | World News | Sky News (accessed 30 8 2021)

Zoe has a First Class Degree in Law from the University of Manchester and is currently serving as an intern at the WATJCentre