Opinion and Editorial

Afghanistan’s neighbours and OIC must step up to the plate

M. Osman Siddique
Filed on August 30, 2021

The hasty and cowardly escape of the Afghan president precipitated and exacerbated an already deteriorating political and military situation.

The two-decade long American investments in sweat, blood and dollars in Afghanistan seemed to have washed away in a matter of a few days. Just days after the United States withdrew its last combat troops from the war-torn country, the US-backed government in Kabul collapsed in the face of Taliban onslaught — without a fight.

The hasty and cowardly escape of the Afghan president precipitated and exacerbated an already deteriorating political and military situation. The United States entered the Afghan war with righteous indignation and anger. Two decades later with thousands of precious American lives lost and over a trillion dollars expended the end was not a pretty picture. The Afghan military did not have the will power to match up with the fire power we provided them and to stand up to the Taliban onslaught. The Afghan leadership failed to take ownership of their own country.

President Biden made the right call to bring home all American troops from Afghanistan ending the longest war in America’s history. Some may argue that perhaps the withdrawal could have been more orderly had we bought some more time. Unfortunately, time was no longer on our side. Would it make any substantial difference if our troop withdrawal was delayed by a month or a year? Perhaps not. President Biden did not want to handover this war to a fifth US president. We had to cut our losses and move on.

History shows that many such evacuations and pullouts do not exactly follow a tightly disciplined script. The fall of Saigon, the US embassy hostage rescue debacle in Iran and the Benghazi tragedy are few examples that come to mind. But the American people have the right to know as to why and how this current situation spiralled down to this level of embarrassing mess. A transparent accounting which led to the fall of Kabul should be initiated and made available to the American public. However, that is a debate and investigation we should hold off for right now. Our focus should now be to ensure that some of the gains we made in Afghanistan are not totally erased.

The concerns about the consequences of Taliban rule for Afghan women and girls is justified, but the United States does not bear sole responsibility and there is no military solution that will solve this problem. Indeed, US intervention and the extended deployment has been transformative for a generation of young Afghan women, which, in a sense, is why the reversal now is so painful and poignant.

Statements made by few extreme elements in the region, praising the Taliban’s bravery and leadership are irresponsible and short-sighted and such reflexive anti-Americanism does nothing to help Muslim women and girls that will be harmed by Taliban orthodoxy. President Biden agrees, recently saying, the most effective way to deal with women’s right is “putting economic, diplomatic and internal pressure on the (ruling leaders) to change their behaviour”.

The second major concern is the future of Afghan civilians who assisted the US and Nato forces. To that end, the US absorbing a major proportion of this population should also expeditiously work with other nations including Nato and other allies to relocate these men and women. Although the Taliban has reportedly declared an amnesty for all opposition groups, nothing should be left to chance at this time.

While it is easy to blame the United States for all that is wrong, it is time for Afghanistan’s neighbours (five out of six are Muslim majority nations) to step up and honour their Islamic faith and to reject the Taliban’s extreme ideology that besmirches true Islam. And the international community must now step up and collectively apply pressure on the Taliban to protect the gains made over the past 20 years.

The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) is an apex body of 57 member states of which 49 are Muslim majority nations. The aggregate size of the economies of the OIC countries is roughly $6 trillion. As a collective voice of the Muslim world, it counts nearly 2 billion or a quarter of the world’s population. The OIC has an opportunity right now to show the world it can be a leader. This starts by holding the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan accountable for the treatment of all its citizens and to find common grounds for them to be a true member of the civilised community of nations.

M. Osman Siddique, a former US Ambassador to Fiji, Tonga, Tuvalu and Nauru, is the first Muslim and South Asian American to serve as an ambassador or chief of mission US history. Leaps of Faith, his biography, was released last year.

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