TOLOnews’ Lotfullah Najafizada sits down with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to discuss US withdrawal from Afghanistan, Taliban military takeover and the future of US-Afghanistan relationship.
Najafizada: Mr. Secretary! Two decades, trillions of dollars, thousands of lives, was it how it should have been ended?
Blinken: I think it is a question I am sure that will be asking and answering through some time to come. But there are few important things here: the first, we have to start with why we went to Afghanistan on the first place? And that was after 9/11, to deal with those who attacked us on 9/11 and to make sure the best of our ability that they could not do it ever again from Afghanistan, and that effort was largely successful. Osama Bin Laden was brought to justice a decade ago, and Al-Qaeda as an organization with the capacity to attack us or anyone else from Afghanistan was greatly degraded and so on the terms that we set for ourselves after 9/11, we achieved what we set out to achieve. At the same time as you said 20 years, a trillion or more dollars, many lives lost but also many lives changed.
Blinken: We are gonna (going to) look at all of that and in the days and weeks and months ahead I am sure that it will be the subject of ongoing conversation and ongoing debate.
Najafizada: Right; why did it turn this way then? The return of the Taliban, the Taliban military takeover?
Blinken: I think again it is a question that goes back many many years. We have seen the Taliban, over many years continuing a sort of authority over different parts of Afghanistan even in the last 6 or 7 years. Government’s control over Afghanistan went from about 60 percent of the population to 40 percent.
Najafizada: But in the last hundred days, it was very dramatic. How come nobody could see it happening?
Blinken: Well, I think an important question is what happened with the collapse of the Afghan security forces and the collapse of the government? I have to say the so many Afghans in the security forces acted with incredible courage and bravery and tremendous sacrifice. So many lost. But as an institution, it collapsed. And the government of course, the government fled ultimately. All of that happened in a very very short period of time.
Najafizada: That you could not even evacuate Americans from Afghanistan; all of them, and a lot of Afghans, particularly ANDSF, they might feel that they were abandoned, they were let down by their U.S. counterparts.
Blinken: The evacuation effort was extraordinary, and over all, almost a hundred and twenty-five thousand people were evacuated in a very short period of time under incredibly difficult conditions including the threat posed by ISIS-K, the situation at the airport is self. And when it came to American citizens in Afghanistan, we evacuated nearly 6 thousand, virtually all of those who had identified themselves to us, as American citizens and who wished to leave. The remain is a small number who apparently still wish to leave and we are absolutely committed to helping them do so, along with other Afghans who worked with us over the years who maybe at risk. And I should add this, because it is very important, the Taliban…
Najafizada: Mr. Secretary…
Blinken: Go ahead…
Najafizada: Did you help President Ghani flee the country?
Blinken: No, in fact …
Najafizada: Did you know about it?
Blinken: No, I was on the phone with President Ghani the night before he fled the country. In our conversation…
Najafizada: Did you…
Blinken: Let me finish please! In our conversation we were talking about work that was being done in Doha, on transfer of power, and in the absence of that succeeding, what he told me in the conversation the night before he fled is that he was prepared to fight to the death and in less than 24 hours he left Afghanistan. So, no I certainly didn’t know about it. And we certainly we did nothing to facilitate it.
Najafizada: And he took millions of dollars in cash with him. Your taxpayer’s money and Afghan’s money? Do you know about that?
Blinken: That I don’t know. What I do know, is that he left the country and again in very short period of time the security forces and its institutions collapsed and so did the government.
Najafizada: Was he part of a challenge when it comes to the peace process in the past couple of years? Was he an obstacle to peace?
Blinken: I am not interested at this point in looking back with plenty of time to do an accounting of the last 20 years.
Blinken: Because what has happened in the last few months is the accumulation of things that have happened over 20 years.
Najafizada: But looking at the future, now that we are left with the full Taliban control, will you recognize the Taliban government?
Blinken: The Taliban says it seeks international legitimacy and international support and that will depend entirely on what it does, not just on what is says. And the trajectory of its relationship with us and with the rest of the world will depend on its actions. Now the Taliban has made a series of commitments, publicly and privately, including with regarding freedom of travel, with regarding to combatting terrorism and allowing Afghanistan to be as a launching point for terrorism directed at us or anyone else. Including as well upholding the basic rights of the Afghan people, to include women and girls and minorities.
Blinken: To have some inclusivity in government, to avoid reprisals, and these are very important commitments. The international community has also set clear expectations of the Taliban led government. More than a hundred countries, signed on to a statement that we initiated on those very commitments. The United Nations Security Council has made clear its expectations. So, for us, and not just for us, for many countries around the world, the nature of relationship with the government going forward, will depend on the actions it takes.
Najafizada: We see some actions already in the past three weeks. Journalists are beaten, arrested today 14 actually, women protesters on the streets are beaten, separating classrooms based on gender, shutting down local media, raiding people’s houses, even destroying murals in Kabul walls. What else do you want to see? Planning for another 9/11?
Blinken: We will see by its actions, whether it corrects course on any of these incidents of abusive conduct. That’s going to be very important. Whether they are pre-policies, whether those policies are in fact carried out by people. But we have an enduring commitment to the Afghan people, and so to many countries around the world.
Blinken: And we are working together and looking for ways to ensure that commitment diplomatically, politically, economically, through assistance, all of those things remain very much at our disposal, and all the things that we are using in coordination with other countries to continue to support people throughout Afghanistan.
Najafizada: The U.S. – Taliban Doha deal is still in place?
Najafizada: The U.S. – Taliban agreement in Doha signed…
Blinken: Well, I think one of the important questions is, is the Taliban going to make good on its commitments including in that agreement on counterterrorism. We ultimately did good on fundamental part of the agreement that involved us which is the removal of U.S. forces. That was something, that was negotiated and agreed by previous administration with the Taliban. We made good on that commitment. The Taliban has an enduring commitment among other things, to make sure that Afghanistan is not used as a launching pad for terrorism. We are looking very much to see it makes good on that commitment even as we take the necessary steps to ensure that we can see and deal with any reemergence of terrorism.
Najafizada: Mr. Secretary, is the U.S. government in contact with those who are fighting in Panjshir and other places against the Taliban?
Blinken: Our focus right now is on working with the international community to set clear expectations for the government that emerges in Afghanistan, and to communicate those expectations to the government and what the government to be and to work on that bases.
Najafizada: As closing, Mr. Secretary, what America should learn from Afghanistan or invading Afghanistan or the past 2 decades of involvement? In brief.
Blinken: It is a profound question, important question, one that we gonna (going to) have the time and the place to think about, to reflect on. What I am focused on right now, even as we are doing some of those reflections, is on the way forward, is on the showing that we can continue to support the Afghan people and uphold the expectations of the international community. That’s my focus.
Najafizada: And you think democracy was not made for Afghans or Afghanistan? Have you given up on that?
Blinken: I think, I think the people around the world including in Afghanistan all have basic desires, aspirations, hopes including to live freely. I don’t think that’s unique to us, or anyone else I think that’s a basic human aspiration. And much of that is reflected in the universal declaration on human rights, that should apply to the people pf Afghanistan as it applies to anyone else. And my hope and beyond hope, expectation is that the future government of Afghanistan will uphold those basic rights
Najafizada: The Taliban.
Blinken: If it does, that’s a government that we can work with, if it doesn’t, we won’t.
Najafizada: Thank you for your time. Thank you for doing this.
Blinken: Thank you, good to be with you.