More than two weeks after the Taliban regained power, the military mission of the United States and its allies in Afghanistan has ended.
Date picked yourself
It was US President Joe Biden, who has been criticized internationally for the chaotic exodus from the country, who… early July itself came up with the end date of August 31. That was before the chaos broke out at the airport in the capital Kabul, with the suicide attack by IS-K as the absolute low point, with at least 182 dead and hundreds injured.
European countries, including the Netherlands, did not agree with that end date. They wanted more time to evacuate their citizens and employees from the country, but did not get it from the Americans – who until today controlled air traffic to and from Kabul.
Sunday suddenly became a new statement released by the Netherlands and over a hundred other countries. “We have been assured by the Taliban that all foreign nationals and all Afghan citizens with travel authorization from our countries may travel to the departure points and outside the country in a safe and orderly manner,” the countries said in a statement.
However, the emphasis will be on the evacuation of foreigners, expects Jorrit Kamminga, researcher at the Clingendael Institute. “There are still many more foreigners than expected. The Netherlands has also greatly underestimated that.”
He doesn’t think this deal will evacuate everyone. “Especially the group of Afghans who have worked for Dutch and foreign development programs is simply too big. It is sad, but it will not be possible to evacuate everyone who is now at risk.”
‘First see, then believe’
Outgoing Foreign Minister Sigrid Kaag (D66) also does not dare to trust the Taliban’s promise. “First see, then believe”, said Kaag yesterday. She also says it will “take a while” before people can be evacuated again.
“It is not a matter of one day to the next. We have to be very realistic about that,” said Kaag, who will soon travel to the region to make evacuations possible again. The cabinet says it will continue to make efforts ‘to also help those who qualify for evacuation and who are still left behind in Afghanistan’.
The Dutch Afghanistan expert Willem Vogelsang, who has often stayed in the country in recent decades, sees the declaration of the Western countries mainly as good weather. “It is an excuse for the Western powers that they have abandoned Afghanistan. We like to hear that here in the West, it gives the idea that we still have some control over what is happening there.”
Because, according to him, we have lost that hold for a long time. “Military have won the Taliban. Are they going to crack down on the population again? And will the Afghans accept that after twenty years? We don’t know at all what will happen in Afghanistan now.” He also fears that attention for the country will fade in the near future, now that most Western and Afghan journalists have fled the country.
The Taliban itself also promised last weekend that Afghans with the right papers will be allowed to leave the country ‘in a dignified way’. This could be once commercial flights resume in the country, Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen wrote on Twitter.
Yet few Afghans still trust the Taliban because of their violent past. In particular, there is a lot of fear and insecurity in the country, especially when it comes to education and work for women and minorities, who have previously been oppressed by the Taliban. People are also afraid of the rise of terrorist groups IS and al-Qaeda, which are carrying out attacks targeting both the Afghan population and the Taliban. That is why the European Union fears that a new refugee crisis will break out.
Recognition and support
Kamminga thinks that it would probably be better for the Taliban itself, apart from their propaganda, to cooperate with the evacuations of the West. “That can later help to gain international recognition and support. And in that sense it is also a win-win situation. Because these are people who, in their eyes, have committed treason by working for the Americans and their puppet regime in Kabul.”
This international recognition and support, which comes with humanitarian supplies and money, will be badly needed by the Taliban, he says. “Otherwise they can’t offer the population much and support for the Taliban will quickly crumble again.”