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 stated that the Taliban cannot be trusted with US national security, policing Al-Qaeda and ISIS attacks on the US, and that a further withdrawal of US 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 Senator Lindsey Graham’s questions.
In response to questions from Senator Jeanne Shaheen Blinken stated that, “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 education, healthcare, and to employment.”
Blinken affirmed that “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.”
While acknowledging the challenges ahead, he promised to review the agreement between the US and the Taliban and assess what promises were made and met so far. Blinken told the senators that, “we have to look carefully at what has been negotiated. I haven’t been privy to it yet, particularly with the agreement that was first reached between the US 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 stated that they cannot be trusted. “The Taliban were terrorists. They are terrorists today. They are killing women, activists, civil rights activists. You [US] want to negotiate with terrorism, it’s your choice. But we are telling you, don’t be deceived,” he said.
Under the Trump administration the US 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 US and the Taliban, the Afghan government was forced by US officials to release more than 5,000 Taliban prisoners, as part of the deal that the US had agreed to with the Taliban.
“The US 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,” Mr. Saleh added. 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 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.