As each September, except last year’s due to the COVID-19 pandemic, dozens of heads of government and state arrived in New York City to deliver grandiloquent speeches at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).
And although this year some decided to stay at home and sent pre-recorded statements, almost a hundred world leaders met in the huge UNGA Chamber to dissect the planet’s most pressing challenges and threats.
Afghanistan itself did not take the podium, as the representative of the former government of Ashraf Ghani, who still holds Afghanistan UN seat, withdrew his name just before he was scheduled to speak.
Since the ‘World Cup of Diplomacy’ took place only weeks after the Taliban takeover of Kabul, and as the Spanish Prime Minister put it, “all eyes [were] focused, obviously, on Afghanistan.”
The gathering, held between the 21 to the 27 of September, provides a great deal of insight about what key global leaders think, intend and seek out of this new chapter in Afghanistan’s troubled history.
President of the United States, Joe Biden
For starters, Mr. Biden did little to hide his satisfaction for having led the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan. “We have ended 20 years of conflict in Afghanistan … we’ve turned the page,” boasted the American president.
After that moment of pride, he acknowledged the humanitarian agony endured by millions of Afghans, indicating Washington’s and its allies’ intention to relief it, with a caveat. “The UN Security Council adopted a resolution outlining how we will support the people of Afghanistan, laying out the expectations to which we will hold the Taliban when it comes to respecting universal human rights,” reminded the 78-year resident of the White House.
Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov
Mr. Lavrov used his address to denounce what, on his view, are the West’s disastrous state building enterprises. “The chaos that accompanied [the US’ hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan] is a further demonstration of the rules [with which] the West is going to build its world order,” mocked the Russian Foreign Minister.
“In Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Yemen and in other hotbeds, all external actors must show an understanding of the cultural and civilisational specifics of society, reject politicisation of humanitarian aid, and assist in the creation of broadly representative bodies of authority that would involve all major ethnic, religious and political forces of the relevant countries,” warned Mr. Lavrov.
President of the European Council; representing the European Union (EU), Charles Michel
The former Prime Minister of Belgium voiced a degree of mea culpa on behalf of the EU.“The new situation in Afghanistan is a failure for the international community. And lessons must be learned from it. But one thing is certain: the end of military operations is not the end of Europe’s commitment to the Afghan people.”
“We want to avoid a humanitarian disaster and to preserve as many of the gains of the past 20 years as possible, in particular the rights of women and girls,” emphasized the Brussels diplomat, stressing the EU hopes for the future of Afghanistan.
President of China, Xi Jinping
In a pre-recorded video message, and without referring to Afghanistan once, the Chinese leader rejected state building adventurism. ”Recent developments in the international situation show, once again, that military intervention from the outside and so-called democratic transformation entail nothing but harm,” pointed Mr. Xi Jinping.
“We need to advocate peace, development, equity, justice, democracy, and freedom which are the common values of humanity,” he went on to say, using again the term democracy, a concept that the Chinese President would certain define differently that most dignitaries at the UNGA Chamber.
Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan
As the country with more at stake of developments in Kabul, Afghanistan’s uncertain future was also one of the central pieces of Mr. Khan’s UNGA speech. “There are two paths that we can take. If we neglect Afghanistan […] this will have serious repercussions not just for the neighbors of Afghanistan but everywhere. A destabilized, chaotic Afghanistan will again become a safe haven for international terrorists – the reason why the US came to Afghanistan in the first place,” stated the former cricket star.
In his address, the Prime Minister of Pakistan showed a considerable degree of trust on the pledges made by the Taliban since coming back to power. “What have the Taliban promised? They will respect human rights. They will have an inclusive government. They will not allow their soil to be used by terrorists. And they have given amnesty,” said Mr. Khan, even if in many instances the Taliban have not lived up to their word.
President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Seyyed Ebrahim Raisi
On his first speech to the UN, Mr. Raisi told Western powers away from foreign adventurism.“What is seen in our region today proves that not only the hegemonist and the idea of hegemony, but also the project of imposing a Westernized identity have failed miserably. The result of seeking hegemony has been blood-spilling and instability and, ultimately, defeat and escape. Today, the US does not get to exit Iraq and Afghanistan but is expelled,” vented Iran’s new president.
But the Iranian leader also exhibited scepticism and concern about the new Afghan rulers. “If an inclusive government having an effective participation of all ethnicities does not emerge to run Afghanistan, security will not be restored to the country,” said Mr Raisi referring to the country’s third larger ethnic group, the Hazaras, a mostly Shia minority in Afghanistan long persecuted by radical elements of the Sunni majority.
India Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi
Mr. Modi sent several indirect messages to Islamabad, a common neighbour of India and Afghanistan. “Countries that are using terrorism as a political tool have to understand that terrorism is an equally big threat to them. It is very important to ensure that the soil of Afghanistan is not used for spreading terrorism and terrorist attacks,” said Mr. Modi.
The Indian Prime Minister urged action to tackle the lamentable humanitarian situation in the embattled country: “the people of Afghanistan, the women and children there, the minorities there, need help, and we have to discharge our responsibility.”
President of the Republic of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
As most of his non-Western counterparts did, Mr. Erdoğan used the UNGA podium to scold the countries involved in the Afghan invasion and its ill-fated outcome.
“We witnessed in Afghanistan that problems cannot be solved by imposing methods that do not take into account the realities and the social fabric on the ground. The people of Afghanistan have been left alone, abandoned to the consequences of instability and conflicts that last more than four decades,” vented the Turkish President.
Amir of the State of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani
Given the oversized role of the tiny but affluent State of Qatar in Afghanistan, the UNGA speech of the Amir generated a substantial amount of attention. And similarly to the Turkish leader, Mr. Al-Thani sent an unambiguous message to the US and its allies: “Afghanistan is not a matter of victory or defeat but rather an issue of failure to impose a political system from outside. Regardless of intentions, efforts made, and money invested, this experience in Afghanistan has collapsed after twenty years.”
On the human rights-humanitarian aid question, the Emir encouraged the world to hurry up, no matter what. “We emphasize the importance of the international community’s continued support to Afghanistan at this critical stage and to separate humanitarian aid from political differences,” warned the ruler of Qatar.
During his speech, UK’s Boris Johnson did not refer to developments in Afghanistan, as his talk was entirely devoted to global warming and the November COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow.
Yet, the Italian-led G20 virtual meeting of foreign ministers about Afghanistan in the sidelines of the UNGA showed that the perilous humanitarian and human rights situation in the country, as well as Kabul diplomatic limbo, are today one of the top geopolitical priorities for leaders worldwide.