As each September, apart from last year’s due to the COVID-19 pandemic, dozens of heads of government and state arrive in New York City to deliver their grandiloquent speeches at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).
And although this year some decided to stay at home and send pre-recorded statements, almost a hundred world leaders met in the huge UNGA chamber to discuss the planet’s most pressing challenges.
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 hours before he was scheduled to speak.
Since the ‘World Cup of Diplomacy’ took place just 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 after having led the final withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan. “We’ve ended 20 years of conflict in Afghanistan … we’ve turned the page,” boasted the American president.
After that moment of pride, he acknowledged the delicate situation endured by millions of Afghans. “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 efforts of state building. “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 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,” stated Mr. Michel voicing a degree of mea culpa on behalf of the EU.
“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,” went on to emphasize the Belgian diplomat, highlighting the priorities of the EU in Afghanistan moving forward.
Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan
The future of Afghanistan was one of the central pieces of Mr. Khan’s speech in the hall of the UN Assembly. “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,” he stated.
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,” reminded Mr. Khan to the diplomatic audience, 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,” ventilated the Iranian President.
The Iranian leader also cautioned that “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.”
India Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi
India’s leader sent several messages to one of their common neighbours: Pakistan. “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 asked for action to tackle the lamentable situation of millions in the war-torn 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 reprimanded the countries involved in the invasion of Afghanistan.
“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 the conflicts that last more than four decades,” said 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 developments in Afghanistan, the Amir speech generated a substantial amount of attention. And similar 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.”
And on the human rights-humanitarian aid question, the Emir encouraged the world to hurry up. “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.
Although China’s Xi Jinping and the UK’s Boris John did not refer to Afghanistan even once on their UN speeches, the Italian-led G20 virtual meeting of foreign ministers about Afghanistan in the sidelines of the UNGA show that the perilous humanitarian and human rights situation in the country, as well as its diplomatic limbo, are today one of the top geopolitical priorities for leaders worldwide.