World reacts with horror at Kabul seizure

Away from the ‘victors’ and the ‘vanquished’ in the fast-changing scenario in Afghanistan, the world at large has reacted with horror at the tragedy that has befallen the Afghan people, and the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) reflected this in its emergency session on Monday, August 16.

The diplomatic battle has moved to the United Nations and India as the President this month of the UNSC drew a clear line for the Taliban who have seized power that it was up to the group to assure the world community that human rights, especially of women, will not be violated and that the new rulers would reassure neighbours through zero tolerance for terror.

This came as there were horrifying scenes of thousands of people moving out of their homes for fear of attracting wrath of the triumphant Taliban militia, camping on the streets desperately seeking safe shelter and rushing to the airport to somehow leave the country out of fear of violence.

As UN Security Council members heard of the violence in Afghanistan where the Taliban has swept to power after 20 years, India’s Permanent Representative T. S. Tirumurti said: “If there is a zero tolerance for terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, and it is ensured that the territory of Afghanistan is not used by terrorist groups to threaten or attack any other country, then Afghanistan’s neighbours and the region would feel safer.”

He said that “the current situation in Afghanistan has numerous challenges” but it also has “a few opportunities” if it can stop terrorism. Tirumurti said that “voices of Afghan women, aspirations of Afghan children and the rights of minorities must be respected. A broader representation would help the arrangement gain more acceptability and legitimacy”.

The Security Council meeting was convened by its president India at the request of Estonia and Norway, which have responsibility for Afghanistan in the Council and are known as “pen-holders”, in UN terminology. The two countries tried to have a statement adopted by the Council, but without success so far in a polarised Council.

Tirumurti said: “As a neighbour of Afghanistan and a friend to its people, the current situation prevailing in the country is of great concern to us in India”. He warned that “a grave humanitarian crisis is unfolding” in that country where the “security situation remains precarious”.

The Afghan people, he said, “are living under a constant state of fear. They are uncertain about their future. Everyone is concerned about the increasing violations of the fundamental rights of Afghan citizens. Afghans are worried about whether their right to live with dignity would be respected. There are many unanswered questions”.

In a measured response to the situation that he said has changed dramatically since the Council meeting on Afghanistan last week, Tirumurti said: “We hope that the situation stabilises soon, and the parties concerned address the humanitarian and security issues. We also hope that there is an inclusive dispensation which represents all sections of Afghan society.”

Earlier, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said: “We are receiving chilling reports of severe restrictions on human rights throughout the country. I am particularly concerned by accounts of mounting human rights violations against the women and girls of Afghanistan who fear a return to the darkest days.”

He appealed to the Council and to the international community “to stand together, to work together”. “All of us have seen the images in real-time. Chaos. Unrest. Uncertainty. And fear.” Kabul has seen many foreign missions of smaller nations that were not able to close down and evacuate on time. But even a large one like the UK faces the crisis. British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace held back tears on Sugut 16, Monday, as he conceded that Britain was unlikely to be able to evacuate all its Afghan allies from Kabul.

Wallace, a soldier before entering politics, has in recent days voiced regret at the sudden seizure of Afghanistan by Taliban militants. He has openly worried about the potential return of Al Qaeda and instability in Afghanistan and criticised the deal then-United States President Donald Trump signed with the Taliban in February 2020 that limited direct military action against the insurgents.

But it was during his morning media round on Monday, the day after Kabul fell, that Wallace briefly offered a glimpse into the strain he has been under. Speaking via webcam on LBC Radio, Wallace’s voice started shaking when he began describing his regret at Britain’s likely inability to get all eligible Afghans back to the UK in the coming days.

“It is a really deep part of regret for me that some people won’t get back,” he said. “Some people won’t get back and we will have to do our best in third countries to process those people.” Diplomacy apart, the new and fast developments have upset many things for the Afghan students abroad who are worried about the safety of their kith and kin back home.

At another level, Sri Lanka does not know whether it will be able to host a cricket match between Pakistan and Afghanistan as part of a tournament. Afghanistan is a recent entrant to world cricket and has done well, even defeating veterans who have been playing for long years.

Rashid Khan has emerged as a star cricketer of world repute. He has taken to social media to express his worries about the violence and the developing situation. The worries, not only of Khan, concern the way the Taliban could view cricket, or any game, and any cultural activity, especially one that involves women.

Assurances from some Taliban spokesmen that there would be ideological or political imposition on different sections of the Afghan society have contrasted with the militia forcing women to stay at home and closing down schools for girls.