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Thursday, May 20, 2021

May 20, 2021

A month ago, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken made a rapid and unannounced visit to Afghanistan, where he met and talked with various politicians and social leaders to discuss topics related to bilateral relations between Washington and Kabul after the withdrawal of American troops, scheduled to be completed by September 11th. On the occasion, the head of the American diplomacy assured leaders of organizations in defense of human rights that his country will collaborate with Afghanistan in the defense of humanitarian agendas, in the fight against terrorism, in the social inclusion of women, among others. Since then, a lot has happened in Afghanistan and the withdrawal of troops has already started, however, everything seems to go exactly on the opposite way of Blinken's promises.

"The reason I'm here, so quickly after the president's speech last night, is to demonstrate literally, by our presence, that we have an enduring an ongoing commitment to Afghanistan," said Antony Blinken during his eight-hour visit to Kabul on April 15th. Amid so many uncertainties and fears about the future of Afghan society with the withdrawal of American troops, the American chancellor endorsed the narrative that changes in US-Afghanistan relations would be restricted to form, not to objectives, promising to preserve bilateral cooperation.

However, the Afghan reality still seems far from the ideal scenario promised by the American Department of State. Terrorism in Afghanistan is not awaiting the end of the American occupation to return with total force - it is already advancing rapidly and with extreme brutality. Over this month, hundreds of people have died in Afghanistan in several terrorist attacks, even under the Taliban ceasefire - motivated by religious celebrations during Ramadan. Blinken promised to cooperate in matter of human rights, but these rights have never looked so violated as they do now. He also promised to defend women's rights, but nothing was done when terrorists exploded a women's school leaving dozens of girls dead or injured. With so many episodes of violence, Taliban advancement and possible ISIS operations, what can be said to be true in Blinken's words?

To understand the case, it is necessary to realize that Blinken, above all, is an international representative of the Biden government and of its entire agenda, which, as we know, is based on liberal and humanitarian principles. For a president who came to power as a human rights defender - contrary to Trump's authoritarian behavior - it would not be acceptable to suddenly “abandon” Afghanistan. After 20 years of occupation, making Kabul dependent on American troops to guarantee national security, the sudden withdrawal of troops would seem truly condemnable from a humanitarian point of view. In the face of international society, the US would be portraying the image of an exploratory nation, which had occupied Afghanistan for as long as it was convenient, now leaving the country because it found no further strategic value in it.

In fact, Blinken just tried to keep the American image "clean", camouflaging the simple truth that the reason Washington wants to withdraw its troops is due to cost and benefit calculations. There is nothing "humanitarian" in withdrawing troops - it is just Washington's best way of ensuring its interests in Afghanistan today. Not by chance, it was Trump who initiated the withdrawing process, which Biden only continued by consolidating the final terms of the deal. The withdrawal does not happen suddenly: Washington has negotiated its terms with the Taliban terrorists and is operating its retreat with all the necessary caution in order to not harm its interests. Such caution certainly includes even keeping intelligence bases and special forces in Afghanistan secretly.

These bases will act as observers of American interests in the country - which are still many - but will not cooperate with Afghan security forces in combating terrorism. In other words, the US is just changing its strategy in Afghanistan, managing costs to better serve its objectives and at no time are Afghan interests included in this calculation – although the State Department tries to camouflage it.

Fighting the Taliban, preventing terrorist attacks and ensuring the protection of the Afghan population are no longer part of the American plan - but preventing the influence of other countries, such as Iran, on Kabul, controlling one of the largest narcotics routes in the world and maintaining good relations with the terrorist organizations operating in the region, are certainly still part of this strategy.

As humanitarian as Biden's agenda may be, Realpolitik is speaking louder in the American strategy for Afghanistan. Human rights and the protection of women are common standards in the Democrats' speech, but they are far from signifying an American concern in Afghanistan. A month after Blinken’s unexpected visit, we have a prelude to what the life of the Afghan people will look like going forward: social chaos, civil war, and terrorism.

By Lucas Leiroz, research fellow in international law at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.


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