Updated Jan 22. at 1:00 p.m. PST to include quotes from Blinken and Sen. Shaheen.
In his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday, Antony Blinken promised to protect the hard-won gains of Afghan women and girls if confirmed as secretary of state. He said the Taliban cannot be trusted with U.S. national security, policing Al-Qaeda and ISIS regarding attacking U.S., and that a further withdrawal of U.S. troops will be conditions-based.
“Any agreement that trusts the Taliban to police Al-Qaeda and ISIS without us having any say in that would be a bad deal,” Blinken said in response to South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham’s questions.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) brought up the importance of considering women when setting foreign policy agendas:
“I briefly wanted to ensure that women are part of our foreign policy agenda and I am very proud to have worked on legislation to try to include women at the table when we are negotiating conflict and to ensure that they are part of those efforts. Those kind of negotiations have 35% better chance of lasting 15 years or longer. It is something that makes sense.
I hope the State Department will take a more robust part to be engaged in that in promoting women’s participation in talks. One of the areas where it is clearly an issues is Afghanistan and we have not gotten any commitment from the Taliban about the role of women in the future Afghan state. I was wondering if you could talk about what we should be speaking to the Taliban?”
“When it comes to Afghanistan, we have a real challenge there to state the obvious. First, we want to tend this so-called forever war. We want to bring our forces home. We want to retain some capacity to deal with any resurgence of terrorism which is what brought us there in the first place and we have to look carefully at what has been negotiated.
I don’t believe that any outcome that they might achieve, the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban, is sustainable without protecting the gains that has been made by the women and girls of Afghanistan over the last 20 years when it comes to access to healthcare, education, to employment.”
Blinken affirmed, “I think we have a strong interest, if there is an agreement, if it is going to hold up, to do what we can to make sure that those rights are preserved.”
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While acknowledging the challenges ahead, he promised to review the agreement between the U.S. and the Taliban and assess what promises were made and met so far.
“We have to look carefully at what has been negotiated,” Blinken told the senators. “I haven’t been privy to it yet, particularly with the agreement that was first reached between the U.S. and the Taliban to understand fully what commitments were made or not made by the Taliban and then to see where they get with their negotiations with the government of Afghanistan.”
Recently, in an interview with the BBC, the first vice president of Afghanistan, Amrullah Saleh, called the Taliban “terrorists” and that they cannot be trusted.
“The Taliban were terrorists. They are terrorists today,” Saleh said. “They are killing women, activists, civil rights activists. You [U.S.] want to negotiate with terrorism, it’s your choice. But we are telling you, don’t be deceived.”
Under the Trump administration, the U.S. and the Taliban signed an agreement, also referred to as the Doha agreement, in February 2020. Although the Afghan government was not a party to the agreement between the U.S. and the Taliban, the Afghan government was forced by U.S. officials to release more than 5,000 Taliban prisoners as part of the deal.
“The U.S. delegation came to us and swore on every Holy Scripture that if you release these 5,000 Taliban prisoners, there will be no violence. We told them at the highest level that our intelligence indicated otherwise, and if we do this violence will spike. Violence has spiked,” Saleh said.
In the last two months alone, many members of civil society, women’s rights activists, and several journalists were murdered in targeted killings.
The first round of the Intra-Afghan peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban ended in early December 2020 for a month-long break, after 84 days of negotiations in Doha. In the first round of talks, the negotiators agreed on the procedures of the process only.
The second round of talks has been on hold, awaiting a decision from the Biden administration. It will focus on substantive issues, at the top of which are the future of the Afghan government and a ceasefire.
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