EVENT TRANSCRIPT: The Future of Afghanistan
DATE: 14th June, 3:00pm – 4:00pm
SPEAKERS: Naheed Farid MP, Col. Richard Kemp CBE, Lynne O’Donnell, Haji Ajmal Rahmani
EVENT MODERATOR: Rob Clark
Robert Clark 00:00
Okay, so good afternoon to everybody watching this until our speakers today who were very kind to join us for a discussion on an incredibly timely topic the future of Afghanistan. As US President Biden announced in April the US withdrawal to be completed by September the 11th, the remaining NATO countries soon followed suit. Indeed, here in the United Kingdom, the Chief of Defence Staff, General Carter expressed disappointment, stating that was not a decision that we had hoped for. The sentiments echoed many concerns across the Atlantic. This was a political decision, which did not accurately reflect the security situation on the ground in Afghanistan. Perhaps most of all, recently, Australian embassy in Kabul is now scheduled to close due to the worsening security situation. This is a reality which unfortunately, does not appear to harmonize with the US President’s vision, and crucially, many Afghans agree. As to NATO withdrawal gathers pace, crucial questions remain unanswered. What will be the nature and indeed level of ministry support afforded to the Afghan government? How will the Afghan security forces manage in the wake of a resurgent al Qaeda in Islamic states? And will the Taliban make good on that promise to the US last year to not allow terrorist organizations free range launch attacks on western targets? And crucially, will the advancements be made in areas including women’s rights and safeguarding children’s education protected by the Taliban under a potential power sharing government down the line? And what role can the international community both regionally and internationally still have for Afghanistan’s future? To help answer some of these important questions? We’re incredibly fortunate to be joined today by some esteemed experts and practitioners. First, I’d just like to take this brief introduction to thank both Martin Rahmani at the Afghanistan US Democratic Peace and Prosperity Council in Washington, and to Eden intelligence for both of their help in putting this event together. Now, I’d like to hand over to our first speaker, Ms. Naheed Farid. Ms. Farid is a member of the Afghanistan parliament, representing the people in Haratz. Ms. Farid serves as the chair of the human right’s civil society and women’s affairs commission, where she’s a vocal champion for Afghanistan’s women and support of human rights. Ms. Farid, thank you ever so much for your time, the floor is yours. Thank you.
Naheed Farid MP 02:04
Thank you so much. I want to thank you. And thank you, the Henry Jackson Society for organizing this event and to Robert Clark, for organizing and serving as moderator. I also want to thank all of you for joining us at this very important and timely event. And you know, as parliament of Afghanistan, and also women, we are working on different various issues in human rights and civil society and human affairs commission. And we establish different initiatives to voice them and concerns at this peace error and security association that we have, we hold a series of parliamentary townhall for inclusive peace to ensure women rights, human rights, civil society remain red lines in the peace process. They are not crossed as part of an anti-political settlement, the Taliban. And I think this opportunity can give me enough time and opportunity to talk about that issue. First of all, I want to touch upon the withdrawal, we worry that the outcome of withdrawal and peace with the Taliban will be a return of mid-90s and even a civil war in Afghanistan, if the human rights of the people are violated, women are imprisoned in their homes, the free will of the people, especially women in determining their political destiny is ignored and expression of the modern and advanced beliefs and concept of Islam that promote coexistence with all human being will be suppressed, I think and I believe that a civil war will happen, a conflict will happen. And the cost will be paid by the people of Afghanistan, by women of Afghanistan, and also by the world because we are as a globe, we have shared interest. We understand that the road to our species long the countless civilian casualties that we have the daily attacks, the targeting of civil society and peace activists cannot continue if this is to be achieved and sustained. Throughout Afghanistan, people desperately want to have the peace, they rallied in support of it. But they must have some positive signs, some indication of progress from the Taliban if they’re willing is for peace. And if it is real, and if the group wishes to continue the process. And one of the concerns that I think it’s the time to raise is that the Taliban has not kept a single promise, they have not been held accountable or taken responsibility for their actions and activities. They destroyed the lives of the people they celebrate rather than address those members who commit atrocities against innocent Afghan’s or innocent people and innocent children. You saw the incident that they attack girl’s schools in Kabul. And they killed more than 50 girls, students in Taliban controlled areas of the country. They burn down girls’ schools, they close media outlets, they shut down women’s organizations, how they, the people of Afghanistan contrast that they will act on any commitment regarding the peace process in the future. In order to show faith, we demand the Taliban to agree on immediate ceasefire. On the issue of women, I believe that women need to be part of a democratic process for it to be successful, especially in a country like Afghanistan that a woman suffered as the devastating setback under a Taliban regime, the process of the progress of Afghan women and girls have been made over the past 20 years. And women are students, teachers, lawyers, doctors, scientists, engineers, pilots, members of parliament ministers, they show to the world that they can do anything. And Afghanistan is recognized by global terrorism index, and United Nation as the worst geography of the world for women. But at this situation, and condition woman could make a lot of progress on the issue of the situation, because forget about the policies and practices and issues related to combat corruption and activities of the government, I think we must focus much more on the security of Afghanistan. Let me emphasize on my prediction of that will happen in Afghanistan and the region if the UK and US and NATO does not put a strong focus on protecting the rights and safety of African women and girls. In such a situation, the country will fall under the extremism order. Global terrorism groups will emerge and rebuild their safe haven on our territories, people won’t have access to their basic rights. And as a result, we will have a war-torn society that affected by civil war, the situation will demand another intervention of international community and international allies with more costs, more price, more sacrifice. And I think it’s time to prevent any short-sighted policies. I also want to highlight the three most important actions that US and UK and NATO can make to support Afghan women. The first thing is that that they have to make the rights of women and girls a non-negotiable requirement for international support of present a power sharing agreement with the Taliban, Afghan women should not be forced to jeopardize gains or rights that they gained in the last 20 years, the Taliban have to commit to a genuine and sincere peace process so that the negotiations succeed and preserve human rights and gains made over the last 20 years. international community’s second issue is that international communities should make Taliban accountable. So, they commit to a comprehensive ceasefire to demonstrate their wealth towards a political settlement and the commitment to a meaningful peace. And the third issue is that international community should continue training of a national defence. But they should also work with the parliament to combat corruption and forced real government reform. So, they deliver the service they had to deliver to the people of Afghanistan. And I also use this opportunity to highlight the fact that the continued support of the people of Afghanistan is highly required in order to ensure that Afghanistan does not descend into further crisis and become advanced, again, become a breeding ground for terrorist groups. And at the end, because I don’t have enough time, and there is that I have just five minutes. I will touch upon different issues in the Q&A. But I want to wrap up my points with the issue that Afghan people and Afghan women’s hope for the future still shines brightly in our hearts. We count on our international allies, as the supporter in our mission to end the violence, not to allow short sighted policies to jeopardize the rights and lives of millions of African women and African people and to have a country that is going towards prosperity. Thank you.
Robert Clark 09:44
Thank you very much. Ms. Farid, If I could just ask a quick question. We have time. Can I just ask you before we get to the Q&A, how would you see and how would Afghanistan’s government see the help that the international community can provide in order to say, if things like human rights and women’s rights have been advanced, and still have more work to be done, this is the important thing. It’s not just, there’s a standard that’s now being met, and it can be rested upon, there is still more work to be done. And how, I suppose my question at this stage, I could just ask, how would you see an international currency being able to help further that in order, so those gains don’t get eroded, and it can carry on advancing further. Thank you.
Naheed Farid MP 10:26
You know, the withdraw decision has already been taken. And we cannot reverse that. But I think the national committee can help Afghanistan in three most important pillars, the first is that they can help Afghanistan with, with the influence of diplomacy, having these different measures to put pressure on Pakistan and other players in the region. So, they can make Taliban accountable. Also, this will help Afghan women because we want peace, we really, really want peace, because we are the most vulnerable part of the society. The second issue is that Afghan National Security Forces (NTSF) must receive funds, and also the equipment and the air combat, necessary equipment’s, intelligence. And this must be considered. So, Afghanistan, the board the defence from other rights, and the Constitution and the values to do Afghan National Security Forces has to be continued. And the help has to come from the international community. So, we have a strong force to defend our rights. And the third issue is that the development funds must continue as well to build more infrastructure, schools, and roads, to help build jobs, agriculture, to help the lives going on in Afghanistan, and in different, different aspects in these three pillars. I think we have to ask from our governments from different players in the world, to make sure that Afghanistan is not forgotten, is not left behind. And the different nations from different aspect have been taken care of.
Robert Clark 12:37
Oh, that’s fantastic. Thank you very much for fleshing that out. That’s a great help. Thank you. And I’m going to turn it over now to our next speaker, Colonel Richard Kemp, before I do, it’s just a reminder for those watching at home that or at work even. Did you have a question for any of our speakers just to drop it into the Q&A section in the bottom screen, and we’ll adjust those after the speakers. So, I’d like to introduce Colonel camp, which can be a retired British Army officer, he served from 1977 to 2006. Kemp was an infantry battalion commanding officer, and among his commands was Operation Fingal in Afghanistan, commanding British forces, from July until November 2003. Colonel Ken, thank you so much for your time. I know you’re incredibly busy in Tel Aviv at the minute. So, thank you very much. The floor is yours. Thank you.
Col. Richard Kemp CBE 13:28
Thank you very much. Indeed, Rob, it’s always a pleasure to take part in events organized and run so professionally by the Henry Jackson Society, with whom I’ve had the pleasure of working a great deal in the past. And I also think that Naheed’s comments that we just heard are extremely important. In particular, I think the comments she made about how important it is for the Western world, the international community to continue to back and support Afghanistan and to do what they can to ensure that the gains that have been made in that country in recent decades are not completely lost at the hands of the Taliban and whatever else might follow. Once the international forces are withdrawn from Afghanistan, I want to focus so mainly on the wider strategic implications of the withdrawal from Afghanistan. I think we’ve got plenty of speakers here today who are actually in Afghanistan, who have a much better appreciation of the immediate situation as it exists on the ground today than I do. So, I’m going to look at a slightly wider picture. The first thing I would say is that this withdrawal, which as Naheed says is not something we can do anything about. It’s been decided and it’s going to happen, in my view, unfortunately, it is an unconditional withdrawal. So, withdrawal was decided upon by President Biden to happen irrespective of the conditions that exist in Afghanistan at the moment. And I think that’s in contrast to President Trump’s plan, which was to withdraw with conditions. Or I have to say that the conditions that he said, relied to a large extent on agreements from the Taliban, which in my humble opinion, are worthless, I don’t think it is a reasonable thing for anybody who understands the Taliban or associated groups in Afghanistan to accept their word on anything, I think we have to treat it with the greatest caution. I think this is this is also speaking as a British person, this is the first time that I can remember ever, when the British government has openly dissented from security policies decided by the United States of America, and as Rob, you mentioned earlier, the Chief of Defence Staff General Nick Carter, expressed strong reservations about this intention. But nevertheless, we have no choice Britain has no choice other than to follow the us out of the door. Because we are, of course, such a small country with such a small army and have no capability of dealing with a situation in Afghanistan without the Americans. I would, I would say one thing about the potential implications of what’s going to happen there, which is that in 2012, President Obama withdrew all US forces from Iraq, all US forces unconditionally withdrawn, and the consequence was the rise of the Islamic State, the need then to re insert US and other international forces into Iraq for many years after that, and still are there. And I think Above all, the rise of the Islamic State after us and international withdrawal from Iraq is a very salutary lesson for all of us. President Biden’s justification for withdrawing unconditionally from Afghanistan was because he needs to focus on countering Russia and China, and strengthening us allies around the world against autocracy. The problem is, in my opinion, this will have the opposite effect to what he says he intended. In other words, it will show I believe us weakness in relation to autocracies in relation to jihadists and in relation to our support for his allies. And all you have to do, for example, is to look at what’s going on in in Taiwan and in Taiwan, the Chinese have been fairly frequently carrying out incursions into Taiwanese airspace as a provocation, not involving munitions being dropped, but involving shortly after sort of Chinese aircraft going in there. And that has increased dramatically since President Biden took office. Also, in Ukraine, the recently Ukrainian Russian troops rather massed on the border of Ukraine, threatening invasion, they didn’t, of course, invade. In the end, they ended up withdrawing. But the US intended to pass a naval task group through the Black Sea at that time, and were told by Russia, that if they did say that would be a provocation, and so they decided not to do so. Which again, is that I think, is another sign of weakness. And we’re seeing this in different places around the world now, as a result of, I think, certainly a perception of weakness of the current US administration. And I think in relation to Afghanistan, there’s a very big risk of ceding what is very important strategic territory to a range of autocracies and effect. Essentially, the vultures are circling around Afghanistan as we speak, Pakistan, for example, intends to significantly increase its influence over Afghanistan, of course, Pakistan has been the principal supporter of the Taliban. And I think without the financial military support without the safe havens provided by elements of Pakistan, particularly the Intelligence Service and the military, without that the Taliban would not have been able to conduct the effective campaign it conducted up until now. Iran also is getting close with the Taliban, they intend to increase their influence in Afghanistan, both in conjunction with the current government, but also more worryingly in conjunction with the Taliban and they of course, have been providing resources and safe haven and munitions with which the Taliban have been using which the Taliban have been using to attack Western forces as well as Afghan forces in Afghanistan. Equally, Russia is again, close getting close to the Taliban. And Russia also has been supplying weapons and money to the Taliban to attack us forces in Afghanistan. And likewise, China. China, of course, is another one of these vultures circling around hoping to gain its increased influence, hoping, of course to as far as it can to plunder Afghanistan for risk for energy, and other resources. And, of course, has been working with the Taliban fairly recently on trying to get them to hand over weak members of the Uighur population in Afghanistan, so they can be killed by the Chinese or Indian Taliban killing themselves. So, we’ve got a range of different autocratic regimes circling around Afghanistan, hoping to increase control, partly for their own regional purposes and their own financial economic purposes, but also, of course, partly due to use as leverage against the United States, which is their common enemy. In addition to that, we’ve got the additional threat that will be posed by jihadist once Afghanistan, if Afghanistan, I hope it doesn’t happen. But if I’ve gone, it’s gone, does return to Taliban control, or significant Taliban control, then we will have, I think, a replay of the jihadists, training grounds and rehearsal areas for their terrorist activities. Also, I think, you know, a return of Afghanistan to control by the Taliban will encourage you how it’s everywhere around the world. And we will feel that result of that there will be an increased refugee problem, in my view, if that’s worse situation that we can expect occurs in Afghanistan. And we will see, for example, Pakistan further flooded with Afghan refugees, Turkey and Europe, and Afghanistan, people are already the second largest immigrant population in the world, or refugee populations, as I say in the world, and that will only increase, which will, of course cause immense problems to the numerous countries they unfortunately end up in, because they understandably, want to flee the Taliban. We may see instability flowing into Pakistan across the border, and a more unstable Afghanistan, potentially equals a stronger as well. Just to conclude. I mean, I think, you know, in other words, the overall to summarize the overall outcome of, of what is happening now in Afghanistan will be, I believe, diminished confidence in the United States by its allies, an increased boldness among US adversaries, vital strategic territory being ceded to anti-democratic autocracies, a destabilized region, which includes two nuclear powers and with the potential of further nuclear proliferation in the region, a spiralling jihadist threat and a massive population displacement. All, I believe, terrible outcomes, all of which could have been avoided but won’t be avoided. I hope I’m wrong, but I fear it might be right.
Robert Clark 23:39
That’s a very succinct summary there. Thank you very much. If I turn now to our next speaker, Lynne O’Donnell, who’s also joining us from Kabul, just before I do, just a reminder, if you’ve got questions from the audience watching, please do feel free. We actively encourage it; submit your questions and we’ll get around to answering as many as we can in the time permitting before the close of the event. So, thank you for that. Lynne, can I just ask first of all, before you get to this, is your audio working? Okay. Yeah.
Lynne O’Donnell 24:10
I’ve just spent some time re-downloading. So, if you can hear me, I’m happy. I can hear you now.
Robert Clark 24:16
Perfect. Excellent. So, thank you. I’ll just introduce so Lynne O’Donnell is an Australian journalist, war correspondent, author, and analyst. She was Afghanistan bureau chief for the Agence France press, and the associated press between 2009 and 2017. And in 2011, then, when the amnesty international human rights press award for her stories on Afghan women, and like I mentioned Lynne is that is currently based in Kabul herself as well. So, Lynne, thank you so much for your time, and the floor is yours. Thank you.
Lynne O’Donnell 24:48
Thanks, Rob. I’m not actually based in Kabul, but I came here three weeks ago so that I could do some reporting and research around the retrograde and the end of current phase of war in Afghanistan. And so, I came with pretty fresh eyes. I hadn’t been here for four years, more than four years. And to be honest with you, I noticed the changes. Almost as soon as I got off the plane, I have found couples to be incredibly tense. And there is a great deal of uncertainty and trepidation and fear. And I’ve spent the last three weeks that I’ve been here talking to a lot of people at all levels of society from the top of the government down, I’ve been in Kabul for all that time. So, I can only talk from the perspective of the Capitol at this stage. But I was quite surprised to be honest with you. And I know, Richard talked about this, just now that Afghan people and Afghan politicians at the highest levels of government were surprised that the Biden administration decided that it would stick to the Trump deal with the Taliban and go or bid for a few months later than the original may one deadline. I thought that anyone who knew anything about Biden’s attitude to large military footprints versus small counterterrorism presences when needed, would have expected the decision that he made. And to be shocked, but not surprised. But there has been an awful lot of surprise, because what seemed to have happened was that people thought that if there was a change of administration in DC, that there would also be a change of plan. And as we know, very recent history tells us that that’s not the case. But the fact is that since about the beginning of the year, there have only been two and a half 1000. US troops here. And we saw pretty much the same thing happen when the combat missions ended with them, the end of 2014. And the panic that prevailed then was, was really quite incredible. And I don’t think it’s, it’s unfair to say that the decision to end the combat missions, when they did end was probably the reason that there was migrant, illegal migrant crisis in Europe the following year. We’re not quite seeing the same sort of level of flight. There’s certainly panic and uncertainty. But I think that one of the major problems that Afghanistan has at the moment is the narrative, the narrative isn’t really going in the republic’s favour, it’s going very much in the Taliban’s favour. And if we look at what’s happening on the battlefield, it’s a very hot battlefield. It’s an under declared some offensive, the madrassas have closed down on the Pakistani side of the border. So Human Resources certainly aren’t a problem for the Taliban fighting forces at the moment. But what’s happening is a screeching news coverage of this village has fallen and the Taliban have moved into that district and blardy blar. But there hasn’t been any overriding or taking of significant territory, no provincial capitals, no major cities, and certainly no provinces. And from what I can understand, there are a lot of people fighting and dying on both sides. But it’s not so much a stalemate. And I think that what you can say is that there is a status quo. There is certainly a concern about the impending departure of private contractors who do all the maintenance for the airframes. And the one advantage that the Afghan Republic side can point to is air support of the ground forces as they’re fighting. If that goes, then I think the republic side will lose an advantage. But I don’t really think at this stage that it is fair to say that the Afghan side, Republic side, the government side is losing the war. I don’t think that that’s the case. I think there’s a lot of hot fighting out there. There’s been incredible fighting down south Helmand, Kandahar, that’s the poppy belt. The Taliban always fight hard when the when the harvest is coming in, and they’ve got to move their goods to where they moved them to get them to market. I don’t think we should be surprised by that. But what is annoying, and I’ll go back to the narrative is that there’s nobody from the Republican side or the American slash NATO, International Military side are talking. I can’t get anybody on the phone. I had a two-hour interview last week with the spokesman for the Taliban and I wrote a story about it for foreign policy, and it went great guns. And I thought I can work that – the Taliban I can get them on the phone, I can get them on Skype, they will talk to me. I cannot get the guy who runs a public affairs office, a mile down the road at Resolute Support to answer the phone, return a call respond to an email. And I told CENTCOM that and I went on Twitter, I say that it’s one thing to talk to the Taliban, tried talking to RS, Resolute Support, and the guy rang me up. And he was really rude and called me unprofessional. And I said, “Hey, I’ll get you on the phone, result.” But they still won’t talk to me. The pandemic is giving a lot of people a very good excuse for not opening up, not having people on the basis, there’s no invitation to international media to cover the transition at all. And yeah, the pandemic is bad here. But you know, it’s been an excuse for a couple of years. And I think that what this is doing, and also the military, the Ministry of Defence is taking advice from the International Military here also not to talk. So, information on the republic side is not forthcoming, the Taliban have pretty much got their public relations sewn up. And as a result, you have a lot of armchair commentators, media, whoever it is, who is saying, the Taliban are coming, the airport’s going to fall, everyone’s got to get out because the end is nigh. And I do not believe that that’s the case. And here’s another reason I don’t believe it’s the case is that the Taliban have wanted for 25 years, they’ve been desperate for political legitimacy. And the Trump deal for all its faults, handed them political legitimacy. If we have a Saigon style event at the airport where we’ve got choppers lifting off from the roof of the of the American Embassy, while the Taliban are taking pot-shots at foreign is trying to get out of here. Political legitimacy will melt away faster than an ice block in the Kandahar desert. So, I can’t see that happening either. I what I would like to see is some balance brought in to ameliorate the fear and the panic that is prevalent here. And to really get behind the republic forces who are doing a pretty good job of keeping the Taliban out of significant territory. Is that enough?
Robert Clark 32:20
No, that’s a great perspective on the ground in Kabul, thank you then for that very much. I’ll hand over in a moment to our final speaker Haji Ajmal Romani, but before I do so I would just like to iterate that the Q&A will commence shortly. So, if you have any questions, and please do feel free to submit them. So, I want to that I’ll introduce our final speaker. Haji Ajmal Rahmani. He is a member of parliament in Afghanistan representing Kabul. Mr Rahmani, serves as the common coordinated leader, which is the majority whip in the Afghanistan parliament. And he’s also on the advisory board, an advisory board chairman sorry for Afghanistan, US democratic peace and prosperity Council in Washington. So, with that, I’ll hand over to Mr Rahmani. Thank you very much. Mr Rahmani, you’re on if you’d like to unmute yourself and address and give your comments if you’re if your audio is working. Okay, it might not be working. So, what we’ll do in the meantime, just before he hopefully manages to re-join us what I’ll do, I’ll start off the Q&A temporarily until we get that fixed. There’s a current there’s a common occurrence with some of the questions and indeed some of the questions I’ve received myself over the last few days in the last few weeks. And that revolves around I think, what a lot of the people have just spoken about our speakers. And that’s really the role of the Taliban. And Lynne O’Donnell just touched upon the fact that how the political legitimacy that the Trump deal afforded them, and it’s something that the Taliban have been incredibly hungry for the last 25 years to give them that perceived legitimacy. And really, I suppose the question is, is chairs prerogative, I’m going to put to our speakers if they could flesh this out a bit, is really what assurances have an indeed can the Taliban or elements of the Taliban leadership give the Afghan government and indeed international community regarding the regarding their intentions, and I’ll use one example, there was a shadow governor, aka Mazar Sharif in the north of Afghanistan, who claimed quite boldly that they will be returning to Sharia law, and they’ll be enforcing it quite strictly. And outside of the main cities, obviously, the Taliban do control things like the checkpoints in the villages. So, it’ll be interesting to see if there are any assurances that the Taliban can give in the light of that, and perhaps if I just ask a Col. Kemp if he could just kick us off with any remarks on that front.
Col. Richard Kemp CBE 35:05
I mean, I don’t really have much more to add to what I said before, which is I don’t believe that the anything any assurance to tell a bank give on any subject in any circumstances is worth the paper is printed on. We know very well what their policies and intentions are, they might well use. They might, they might well make some concessions in negotiations that, for example, with in discussions with the Trump administration, previously, they might may well make concessions on various things, but I certainly don’t think they can be counted upon as being something they would even dream of adhering to, of course, you know, any, if they say something, their objective really is to, to, to enable America to get out. So, in a way it’s giving, you know, international forces , something they can hang their hat on. So, we’ve been told this is this is an undertaking by the Taliban. And then of course, they won’t do it. There’s no doubt they won’t do it. But they but I think in many ways, they they’re willing to, to make those paper concessions, as it were, in order to remove as many obstacles as they can for the Americans to leave. And I think also, when you look at the way that they’re, they’re fighting at the moment, I think, you know, I have little doubt they could be fighting a great deal more ferociously than they are now. But clearly, they don’t want to give the Americans any reason to change their mind. I mean, they probably know that the Americans aren’t going to change their mind. But they don’t want to give them any reasons to do so. I think that’s the way we should look at any either actual or verbal comments from the Taliban.
Robert Clark 37:01
I completely agree. Thank you. I’ll just see now if Haji Ajmal Rahmani is there. Are you able to join us at the moment? If you can hear this Mr Rahmani, if you can unmute yourself, and you can join. I appreciate that you’re on somewhat of a time restriction. So, if I can just ask you Mr Rahmani. Would you like to give your remarks now please, for the event, thank you so much for your time. Okay, we’ve lost Mr Rahmani. What we’ll do, we’ll hand over to the Q&A then. And hopefully, Mr Rahmani can join us and jump into the Q&A as he sees fit. And one of the one of the other questions, in fact is a very good question. We’ve got here Alexandria Wexler, I believe, forgive the pronunciation. And that’s regarding the role of the NGOs and the non-governmental organizations. And if I could potentially ask our speakers who are currently in Kabul, so Ms. Farid and Ms. O’Donnell, the impact that this is having on the NGOs and the non-government organizations, and what effect if any, is having on their operations, and particularly in the in the middle to long term future? How will the NATO withdraw impact and how the NGOs operate? If I could turn to Ms. Farid, please. Thank you.
Naheed Farid MP 39:56
Thank you so much. On the issue of NGOs non-governmental organizations, in a situation that we are facing an escalating of violence in Afghanistan, we need to make sure people have enough access to their basic needs to, to the education, to the health, to infrastructure, and to their agricultural activities and to the roots. So, NGOs can play a very important role in creating jobs, to make sure that people of Afghanistan are, are not disappointed that they are left alone. Okay, that’s, I think, very important. At the same time, as, as I told you earlier, international communities backing of the development of the country is very important, because one of the most important factors that contribute to the situation is that we are an underdeveloped country, we don’t have enough jobs and assurance of economy, for the people no immunity in the in the terms of having a satisfied situation of life. And that’s very important to have NGOs become part of this, this process of development of the country, and making sure women are part of that, as well as half of the society that don’t have enough access to their basic needs.
Robert Clark 41:50
Thank you for that. Ms. Farid. Lynne, do you have anything you’d like to add to that, from your experiences? And you know, the conversations that you have in Kabul. And with your contacts? How do people view the NGO situation developing or sustaining or even withdrawing potentially?
Lynne O’Donnell 42:07
I think there’s already been a departure, shall I say, of a significant number of NGO personnel here, we saw it happen in 2014, as well, without the feeling that they are in a safe place, of course, they’re not going to be here. Those NGOs that are here are largely locked down on their compounds are under heavy guard, they’re not moving around. I think the Red Cross is probably one of the few exceptions, but then they always are. UN agencies, they’re pretty much like embassies, so the way they function and operate and move around. So, there’s not much of that going on. Human Rights Watch did a report a little while ago, their operator in Islamabad came here. And she visited hospitals and said that as the drawdown and the retrograde accelerates a lot more NGOs leaving and as they leave their services, leave with them. And she visited a number of hospitals where you know, used to go to a hospital here and inside the hospital was a pharmacy and you got your drugs and left and now there are no drugs and the doctors are saying to the patients where you’re going to need this, this, and this and sending them outside to pharmacies outside of the hospitals to buy their own supplies. And that doesn’t just include the drugs that they might need to take. It includes scalpels if they need operations. At the moment, Afghanistan is deeply in a public health crisis with the third wave of Corona, it’s been managed. Even worse here, if you can imagine it, then it was in the UK, which is a terrible thing to say. But it’s an appalling situation. And the hospitals have no oxygen, oxygen supplies that are coming in are not reaching their destination, they’re being commandeered in the north, for instance, by warlords who are stealing them en-route and keeping them for their own militias. They’re the private price gouging for masks, central gloves and for hand sanitation has been going on for months. And as you know, this is a very poor country. And when things get outside of people’s affordability, then they just don’t buy them. So public awareness is very low. And there are some extremely good local NGOs working very, very hard here. But without the access to the supplies, they can’t function and that’s where it’s all falling apart. So, NGOs leaving. Yes, they are, and their departure will accelerate as does the retrograde it’s a pretty dire situation.
Robert Clark 44:52
Thank you for that. Those interesting insights and I think it will only echo I think a lot of people’s concerns to be fair. An interesting question we’ve had in regarding the support the international community can still give does not necessarily overtly, militarily overtly military nature. This reminds me of I think it was only this morning or yesterday, President Erdogan of Turkey, highlighted the fact that Ankara is actually in a good place to, you know, offer lots of support in the wake of NATO’s a larger NATO withdraw. And I know Turkey has potentially offered to safeguard and protect some critical national infrastructure, including the airports in Kabul. So, I suppose this question is quite interesting. What support can the international community give? And I suppose really, there’s two types. When we talk about these international community, I know Colonel Kemp touched on it briefly. You know, there’s the NATO sort of Alliance and sort of democratic nations around NATO. But there’s also the maybe not support, but the influence that autocratic, especially some autocratic neighbours like Russia and China will have. So maybe I suppose my question, slightly reframing it from the audience members would be to our speakers, what form of support do the Afghan government desire from both? If we look at it from both NATO who have maintained a will still support the Afghan government, and then also from regional, regional partners like China, and Russia? Ms. Farid, if I could ask you to just start us on that, please. Thank you.
Naheed Farid MP 46:40
On the regional aspect, I believe Afghanistan issue is not an internal issue. We have a proxy war in Afghanistan with different players in the region, that have their impact on Afghanistan war. And I don’t believe on in an internal solution to the problem of Afghanistan, we need an and regional. So, everyone sees themselves in a in a peaceful Afghanistan, in the region, all players that will help Afghanistan otherwise. Even though, even if Taliban became part of that peace process, the other groups would emerge with the state sponsorship, backup, and support. And that will definitely make the country fall into another security conflict and crisis. That’s why as I mentioned earlier, it is very important to have the influence and political diplomatic measures of the countries like United States like UK, like European Union, to put pressure on Taliban on us also in on Pakistan, on Iran, to put pressure on Russia and China to have a constructive role in the peace process of Afghanistan. And intelligence report shows how active these countries are in Afghanistan, in security and attacks and problems. And India as well, all these countries have to make sure have to become part of a constructive process of peace in Afghanistan. And another issue that I think is very, very important to highlight is that, from a US perspective, United States always had a different, different kind of view regarding Pakistan. And we kept telling them that Pakistan was the state that sponsor Taliban and ISIS and other groups. But we didn’t see the sanctions that United States should have on Pakistan. And the measures that the political measures and pressure that Pakistan has to receive frontal international community, we didn’t see that. And they played the game very well. But the reality is that Pakistan has to has to become part of a constructive process of peace in Afghanistan, and that regional player is very important for the future of the region.
Robert Clark 49:43
It certainly is. Thank you. Colonel Kemp, do you have anything to add on that regarding the level of international support for different countries can and indeed should be able to offer?
Col. Richard Kemp CBE 49:52
I do think I do agree with what he said. And I think that it’s very important that Western nations Do everything to pressure the regional powers, like Pakistan, China, Iran, to, to work for the good in Afghanistan. But I’m extremely sceptical about the likelihood of that actually happening. And, you know, if you look at it over many years of conflict in Afghanistan, no amount of Western pressure against the tide against Pakistan had any great success in getting them to desist from supporting the Taliban. And of course, for Pakistan, Afghanistan is a vital strategic interest, they see it as manoeuvre space for themselves, in the event that they end up in a war with India, and that, you know, whether it’s realistic or unrealistic, that is almost an article of faith for the Pakistan government, and in particular, the Pakistan military. So, I would be of, deeply sceptical about the likelihood of, of any pressure being applied to Pakistan, for the good. And I would say this a similar observation in relation to China and Iran as well. I do think India, which we haven’t really mentioned that, and he touched on it, India, could be an extremely important regional player in relation to the future of Afghanistan, of course, it’s a democracy, it shares out many of our interests and values and is an ally of the United States of America. But Indian influence and presence in Afghanistan will be extremely strongly resisted by Pakistan, as it already has been, and of course, also by China in particular. So, I would, you know, I would have great doubts as to whether India has any future in relation to, to helping Afghanistan, I think, in terms of what the West can do, of course, you know, there is a possibility of the US maintaining some kind of military capability and respect to Afghanistan. It’s quite hard to see that how that would work. They’ve certainly been speaking about basing some assets in Pakistan, whether that will actually happen. I don’t know. I would, I would doubt it. Also talk about basing of assets in the Stans around Afghanistan, and, and in even as far afield as Qatar, which I suspect isn’t going to be a particularly useful place to have military assets based. But I think, you know, the, one of the key elements is intelligence, US intelligence. And it may be that there’s some ability to some advantage to be gained by US intelligence assets in Pakistan. But again, it’s you know, I I’m very, I have some very sceptical about any influence of any significance that can be had by international powers after the withdrawal of international force from Afghanistan. If I may take a Liberty, Rob, and ask, and you may or may not want, may not want to ask this question, straight away. But if I may take a liberty and ask within a question. I thought her presentation was extremely impressive and intriguing. And I, I just, I don’t know if I misunderstood what she was saying. But I felt that she was saying that she was somewhat more optimistic about the prospects of the Afghan National Security Forces resisting aggression by the Taliban after the departure of international forces, which is pretty much what most I think most international commentators and, you know, generals, and all the rest of these armchair generals as well have to say about I think most people will have a much more gloomy perspective, but I may have misunderstood, perhaps I did.
Robert Clark 53:53
Lynne, would you like to address that?
Lynne O’Donnell 53:58
I was going to say you didn’t misunderstand me at all. I, I think that the, the narrative, as I was saying before, and I go on a lot about the narrative is very much in favour of the Taliban without any real evidence. I don’t see the Taliban taking over significant territory. The argy bargy down south a month or so ago, is an annual thing. The poppy harvest comes in and the Taliban need to get their product out. And there is always a hot spring, early summer offensive in Helmand and Kandahar when that happens this year hasn’t been any different, except perhaps for the flow of human resources, because the madrasas in Pakistan have closed and so there’s a great number of young fighting age men available. I think, getting back to the question about what we can do. Just to just to finish that off, though. I think that we have a status quo. I think that the capabilities and capacity of the Afghan forces are being talked down, I think that there is a little bit of a worry about their great advantage that they have with air support. Once the contract is removed, I’d like to hear something from, from the United States and NATO about maybe renewing the contracts for maintenance and training and mechanic maintenance bases around the country so that the air force can survive. But I don’t really see any evidence that the Taliban can take over significant territory. And that when they do go into villages and districts, that they do what’s called governance, The Wall Street Journal referred in an article last week to Taliban governance, they don’t do governance, we know that they don’t provide civic services, they don’t build roads, they don’t provide schools that provide health care, all they can do is disrupt and destroy, and they do it very well. But they don’t provide governance and they’re not taking over cities, and they’re not taking over the capital, and they’re not taking over provinces. So, what I would like to see from the from the, from the Allies is, is a statement of support further than Stoltenberg goes with it. “Well, you know, they can do it by themselves. And they’ve got to do it by themselves sooner or later. And we’re all they’re gung-ho”. Okay, he can’t say that without the US telling him that it’s okay to say that. But I would like to see some concrete expressions of financial and logistical support to the Afghan fighting forces, as I think that they’re forthcoming. But I think that what needs to be done, like answering my calls from RS down the road, what needs to be done is some sort of communication that provides not only a morale boost to the Afghan forces, but also confidence to the Afghan people, that their forces can do, and they will prevail. What, if I might just add something to that, Robert, what I’d also like to see is a holding to account of the Taliban. They did a deal; they signed a deal as a political entity with the United States government. And one of the reasons that Biden has said that he is going through with that is because it was signed on behalf of the United States, despite all the details of it, but you don’t have the tail of adhering to the letter of the deal. They’re still in cahoots, and we’ve known it all along and the UN, their monitoring group for the Security Council has just confirmed that they’re still very much in cahoots with al Qaeda, we know that the Haqqani group, all of this stuff about ISIS did that and that Carney did that and they did that, and Al Qaeda are diminished. It’s all rubbish. These This is that there is a symbiotic long-term relationship between all of these groups, and they need to be held to account in the same way that other parties to this deal are being held to account. And even the party that was left out, which is the Afghan government that we’ve all been fighting and paying to support for the last 20 years was left out of that deal. I’d like to see some account holding for the major party, the one that’s crowing about its own victory. And that’s the Taliban. Let’s hold him to account, conditions. There we go. I’ve said it.
Robert Clark 58:30
No, I feel it’s very well put. But I’d very much like to share, hopefully, your optimistic views on the state of the Afghan security forces. Sincerely, I think the next few months are going to be incredibly telling. As to the role, obviously, the Taliban have, I think, personally that the more powerful the Taliban will get they’ll get more fragmented and more, more fractured internal dimensions and internal politics within the Taliban is well known to be a fracture of states anyways. So, I think that that’s a very interesting point to almost some optimistic hopes. I, I believe we can conclude on.
Lynne O’Donnell 59:22
Not so much optimistic, but not pessimistic, let’s maintain the status quo rather than, you know, it is the glass half empty, but at least it’s half at least this half of it. There I went. I won’t say I’m totally optimistic, but I’m not pessimistic either.
Robert Clark 59:35
Well, I think we could all do with a bit of that, going forward with this situation. So again, thank you, and thank you to the rest of our speakers. Also, particular thanks, like I mentioned earlier to the Afghanistan US democratic peace and prosperity Council for helping us with this. So, I’ll say thank you and goodbye to everyone who’s joined us. Thank you.