Western powers have been forced to accept the reality of the Taliban’s control of Afghanistan as they swung behind a watered down UN resolution that says it “expects” the Taliban to honour a commitment to allow Afghans to leave the country and “requests” that Kabul airport be securely reopened, but falls short of demanding a UN-sponsored safe zone in the Afghan capital.
A UN security council resolution suggests no specific reprisal if Afghanistan is sealed off after the 31 August deadline for the final US withdrawal that ends its near 20-year battle to crush the Taliban.
The draft from the 15-strong council, co-written by the US, UK and France, simply notes a “statement of 27 August, 2021, in which the Taliban committed that Afghans will be able to travel abroad,” and “expects that the Taliban will adhere to these and all other commitments”.
The text also “calls on the relevant parties to work with international partners to take steps to strengthen security and to prevent further casualties, and requests that every effort be made to allow for the rapid and secure reopening of Kabul airport and its surrounding area”.
The text in effect leaves the security of the airport to the Taliban. The political imperative to keep the security council united means no specific consequence is spelt out if the Taliban does not heed the calls in the resolution. The outcome is a setback for France, which at the weekend led calls for a UN safe zone. The UK largely regarded the proposal as unenforceable without UN or other troops.
Nevertheless, none of the major powers are in a rush to recognise the Taliban, even if Russia is pressing the US to release Afghanistan’s assets held by the Federal Reserve, warning the Afghan economy is running out of cash at the banks.
The UN World Health Organization managed to fly one relief plane containing medical supplies for 200,000 people into Mazar-i-Sharif in the north of the country, but it is warning there is a humanitarian crisis imminent due to drought, the hold up in vaccinations and spread of as many as 550,000 refugees to Afghanistan’s borders.
A Unicef official in Kabul Hervé de Lys also admitted after talks with the Taliban education commissioner that he had received no guarantees that women would be allowed to attend school beyond primary school age. He said: “All issues on table for discussion. We will continue to advocate and not give up”. Afghan’s children are not due to return to school yet partly due to Covid restrictions.
At an earlier virtual meeting of G7 leaders hosted from Qatar, foreign ministers from the G7, Turkey, Qatar and Nato discussed security inside the country, and the right of Afghans with travel permissions from overseas countries to leave the country.
There is a broad international consensus around three main demands made of the Taliban: the extension of human rights to women, the right to travel abroad and a commitment that Afghanistan will not be allowed to become a safe haven for terrorists.
There is less international agreement on how much, and what form of, pressure to place on the Taliban to meet these commitments. Rory Stewart the former Conservative cabinet minister said: “The most important thing for the west to do is not to make the situation worse. Afghanistan is now on the edge of a real humanitarian catastrophe.
“The Afghan government, which is now obviously the Taliban government, is running out of money. It’s going to be very difficult to keep the water supply and electricity going.
“Much of the healthcare and education in the country is delivered by foreign NGOs and agencies. At the moment there is no clarity at all from Britain, the US and others on how they are going to continue supporting these development and humanitarian projects on the ground.”