Beirut Institute Summit e-Policy Circle 39 Wednesday July 14th, 2021 10am EST, 2pm GMT, 6pm Abu Dhabi, 5pm Beirut

On Wednesday, July 14th, 2021 Beirut Institute hosted e-Policy Circle 39 with HE Zalmay Khalilzad, US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation at the State Department, and former US Ambassador to the UN, to Iraq, and to Afghanistan; HE Lakhdar Brahimi, former Foreign Minister of Algeria, former UN Envoy to Syria, and former Special UN representative for Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, and Haiti; HE Bruno Maçães, former Portuguese Europe Minister, Senior Advisor at Flint Global in London, and Senior Fellow at Renmin University, Beijing and the Hudson Institute in Washington; and Dmitri Trenin, Director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, former Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Europe in Moscow and former Research Fellow at the NATO Defense College.

Click on the below link to watch the full video:

This 39th episode of the e-Policy Circles is part of the run-up program to the Beirut Institute Summit in Abu Dhabi Edition IV, under the theme Stability Redefined – Who Authors the Future?

This global conversation, which focused on recent developments in Afghanistan in the context of the American withdrawal, resulted in excellent points around the following issues, among many points:

The future US relations with Afghanistan and the repercussions of the withdrawal

HE Zalmay Khalilzad

We will continue to support Afghanistan while the forces are leaving. […] We will provide assistance to the security forces of Afghanistan, we will provide economic assistance and humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan. Second, we will focus on the support of the peace process because we believe that there is no military solution to the Afghan conflict, that a settlement is necessary and a settlement that has broad support in Afghanistan and support from the neighbors and the broader international community especially the major powers.

HE Bruno Maçães

[The military withdrawal] is an unambiguous defeat from US foreign policy, for US power, for US prestige. We shouldn’t hide those words. There will be thoughts about how reliable US alliances are, once overnight because of domestic politics you drop an ally like that was entirely reliant on you and that in fact had tarnished its reputation by being so close to US power. The Afghan government tarnished its reputation inside of Afghanistan. What went wrong I think is that the US was just unable to deal with the reality of Afghanistan.

HE Zalmay Khalilzad

I disagree […] that the US are abandoning the region or Afghanistan. No, we’re adjusting our posture. We’re developing stronger relations with central Asia. We’re maintaining relations with Pakistan. We are working with others in terms of support for a peace process.

The peace process in Afghanistan

HE Zalmay Khalilzad

A settlement must produce circumstances in which the rights of all Afghans are universally recognized or respected, [that] the Afghan people should have the right at some point in the process to have their say in terms of the leadership that governs them [and] that Afghanistan does not pose a threat to the security of the neighboring states and beyond.

HE Zalmay Khalilzad

Afghanistan has been at war for 43 years. It isn’t that Afghanistan was peaceful when we came in, and now it’s becoming a battleground. The Taliban were making progress each year of the last several years when we were still there. […] For the first time in 43 years the fighting parties of Afghanistan are talking to each other.

HE Lakhdar Brahimi

The thing now is to make the best out of the hell that the Afghan people have been living. This is terribly important to remember. […] What do we do now? I think we need to look back to recent history, and even further back, and learn lessons.  […] We have to expect the worst. And the worst could happen. But aren’t neighbors interested in avoiding that worst?

The role of the Taliban in Afghanistan

HE Zalmay Khalilzad

I think that our policy has evolved and adjusted to the circumstances. Initially we thought that the Afghans we supported had defeated the Talibans and that the Talibans had disappeared and that there was perhaps a military solution. But over time it has become clear for reasons that there is too little time to explain that there was no military solution, that the Taliban had reconstituted, and that the [military solution] to bring the Taliban to accept what was acceptable to us and to the other Afghans did not work. 

HE Zalmay Khalilzad

I believe that given the Afghanistan circumstances and its needs, international needs, and internal circumstances, a monopoly of power by the Taliban will not stabilize Afghanistan and will not be accepted as [normal] in the foreseeable future.  […] Others, whether ethnically or otherwise, need to be accommodated.

HE Lakhdar Brahimi

Everybody jumped to the conclusion that the Taliban were a creation of Pakistan. […] Even when they control 95% of the country, the international community, including the US, failed to recognize them. That was a terrible mistake.

The danger of terrorism

HE Zalmay Khalizad

The soil of Afghanistan will not be allowed to be used by groups or individuals threatening the security of the US and our allies.

HE Zalmay Khalilzad

I’m not so sure that the Iranians are happy or the Chinese are happy [about the US withdrawal] because we were providing to some degree free services to them. They obviously were concerned about the problem of terrorism. […] The Iranians are concerned about Daesh. And the US and our allies were combating those terrorist groups in Afghanistan. And we share the concern with the Chinese and the Iranians and the Russians and the Central Asians. It’s sort of extraordinary of a consensus with regards to what we all see.

Regional and global powers’ involvement in Afghanistan

HE Zalmay Khalilzad

The role that neighbors play will be vital in affecting Afghanistan’s trajectory […] The Afghans, although vulnerable to influence by these countries, ideally would like to be the masters of their own destiny. I believe all three [Pakistan, India and Iran] have a common interest in Daesh not gaining influence in Afghanistan. All 3 would like to see stability at one level in Afghanistan, [Pakistan for instance would see] the markets of central Asia would be open more efficiently.

HE Zalmay Khalilzad

I think the Iranians will emphasize a political settlement that’s very inclusive of ethnic groups, ethnic groups with ties to Iran [and] the Shia.

HE Lakhdar Brahimi

China and Pakistan taking the opportunity of US and Western withdrawal to become the masters of the game in Afghanistan […] would be a terrible mistake that the Chinese would make. They would do the same mistake that the Soviets have done, that the US have done. Ignore the fact that the Afghans want to be masters in their own house.

HE Lakhdar Brahimi

Peace and war in Afghanistan depend very largely on their neighbors. […] In particular, Iran, Pakistan, and India. These 3 countries need to agree at long last that peace in Afghanistan is in their interest. […] If one of them thinks that war is in their interest, the other two will have to say that war is in their interest. And the war will continue forever in Afghanistan.

HE Bruno Maçães

I think China will be tempted by the idea of extending the influence and control it already has in Pakistan to Afghanistan, very important mineral resources. And China is in a very good position because it has a privileged relationship with Pakistan and it has money to spend in Afghanistan.

HE Bruno Maçães

Many people are worried about a scenario where the Taliban will become dominant [but] I think there’s another scenario, the Syrian scenario, where Afghanistan remains under the influence of several foreign powers. And they all seem to be marching in.

HE Bruno Maçães

China […] doesn’t want to take over Afghanistan but it certainly would be interested in taking over certain economic activities that will be heavily fortified and protected. a

The roots of the Afghan conflict

HE Lakhdar Brahimi

The history [of Afghanistan] since the mid-1990s is responsible for the situation we have now. It’s not 9/11 alone that is.

The prospect of mass Afghan migration

HE Bruno Maçães

People are concerned in European capitals and in Brussels mostly of the impact on migration. Already in 2015 […] migration was already an important part of the process and Europe is still very traumatized by what happened back then. I think we’re gonna see again that happening. Relations between Turkey and the EU are already difficult.  Of course a new wave of migration from Afghanistan could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back both in the sense of limited tolerance for a new wave of migration in Europe and relations between the EU and Turkey.

The Russian perspective on recent developments in Afghanistan

Dmitri Trenin

Some people were jubilant at the fresh defeat of the US or fresh failure of US foreign policy in Afghanistan. Others were thinking through the consequences of that defeat. The consequences are quite serious. So I think that Russian thinking is guided by the following principal points. Point 1 what happened in Afghanistan is the business of the Afghan people themselves. Russia will not be trying to interfere or get involved in that as long as what happens in Afghanistan does not cross the borders of Afghanistan and create problems for Russia and the countries of central Asia.  So basically the problem for Russia is not the Taliban, it’s the jihadists, ISIS or such like groups that may cross the borders into central Asia. [The other] big problem is drugs, what the future of Afghanistan means for drugs trafficking.

Dmitri Trenin

Russia should give so much more of a priority to that part of the world and work more closely with the countries in the area, with China, with Pakistan, with Iran, with India, Turkey and the Arabs.

Dmitri Trenin

What worries the people in Moscow is not so much the Taliban. The Taliban is a mixed bag. But the consensus in Moscow is that the Taliban are essentially about Afghanistan. It’s a group that fights for supremacy or primacy in Afghanistan. […] Russia doesn’t care these days who rules Afghanistan. What it cares about is Daesh [and that] they start probing the stability of the fragile countries around the Afghan border. […] Whether China or somebody else will dominate Afghanistan is not Russia’s concern.

Dmitri Trenin

There is jubilation over American defeat which you would understand under the conditions of confrontation that exist between [the US and Russia but] this is superficial, this is the foam on the surface of the water. The real thing is the concern about what to build.

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