By J Nastranis

NEW YORK (IDN) - For the first time in history, more than half of the world’s population of 7.5 billion is living in cities. By 2050, the world’s urban population is expected to nearly double, making urbanization one of the twenty-first century’s most transformative trends. This lends special significance to the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III).

Heads of State and Government adopted at the Conference, held October 17-20, 2016 in Quito, Ecuador, the New Urban Agenda as a collective vision and political commitment to promote and realize sustainable urban development, and a paradigm change, rethinking how cities are planned, managed and inhabited.

- Photo: 2021

Would The US Surrender to the Taliban Bring Peace to The Region?

Viewpoint by Kalinga Seneviratne

SYDNEY (IDN) — It may not be as dramatic as the Vietcong tanks crashing through the gates of the Presidential Palace in Saigon while the US airlifts its last troops by helicopter at the end to the Vietnam war, yet the US troop “withdrawal” from Afghanistan this month looks nothing but a surrender to Taliban after spending $3 trillion on the war over the past 20 years and losing 2400 of its troops.

On July 13 it was reported that in the dead of night the US troops slipped out of the Bagram air-base, which was the headquarters of America’s 20-year occupation of Afghanistan, even without the knowledge of its Afghani military coordinators. Afghani scrap merchants quickly moved in picking through the graveyard of US military equipment left behind.

Meanwhile, the Taliban who controlled a quarter of the country a few weeks ago has swiftly increased it to one third and moving rapidly in other areas. Even before the last American troops left the country, Russia’s RT channel reported that more than 300 Afghani government troops (trained by the US and NATO forces) have fled across the border to neighbouring Tajikistan after heavy fighting with Taliban forces.

Writing in Nikkei Asia last week, Japan’s ambassador to Afghanistan Takashi Okada lamented on July 13 that Taliban continues to expand its area of control in a manner no one thought was possible”. He added: “Are we going to see a military takeover of the country by the Taliban?” He recalled that “Taliban a movement born among Pashtun refugees remains undefeated”.

He argued that they were able to regroup in Pakistan and infiltrate Afghanistan because of the lack of basic services created by the war which the US (and Japan) backed government in Kabul was not able to provide. “In exchange for a semblance of order, the Taliban have forced many rural people to accept their presence,” noted Okada.

Medea Benjamin and Nicolas Davies writing in the American alternative news portal National Change argue that the only legitimate role that the United States can play there now is to pay reparation, in whatever form, for the damage it has done and the pain and death it has caused.

“Speculation in the US political class and corporate media about how the US can keep bombing and killing Afghans from ‘over the horizon’ should cease. The US and its corrupt puppet government have lost this war”. The authors say that President Biden has learned the lesson from the 20-year war that the “US can neither bomb its way to peace nor install US puppet governments at will”.

Former US President George W Bush, who sent US troops to Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks speaking on Germany’s Deutsche Welle TV said that Biden’s troops’ withdrawal is going to have “unbelievably bad” consequences in Afghanistan. He thinks that Afghani women and girls are now going to be at the mercy of the Taliban. This is a common theme reflected in many western media reports on the US withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Speaking at the White House after the US troops withdrawal, President Biden was quoted by the New York Times (NYT) as saying that he is not declaring the “mission accomplished”—perhaps taking a jab at Bush for doing that prematurely in Iraq immediately after the US invasion in 2003 and overthrowing of Saddam Hussein.

He made it clear that the fate of the Afghani people and the rights of women and girls, was no longer in the hands of the US military. He insisted that the US has done more than enough to empower the Afghan police and military to secure the future of their people.

“We did not go to Afghanistan for nation-building”, he said in the speech, adding, “it is the right and responsibility of the Afghan people alone to decide their future and how they want to run the country”.

Then President Bush said in his famous address to Congress after the 9/11 attacks that the terrorists did this because they wanted to destroy America’s freedoms and democratic system. Thus, both he and his successor President Obama made no secret that American adventurism abroad was designed to bring democracy and human rights to countries.

But after debacles of the Arab Spring that has created chaos in Iraq, Libya, and Syria, and now in Afghanistan, President Biden seems to be trying to wash his hands of America’s self-proclaimed “responsibility to protect (R2P)” people from the tyranny of its own governments.

The ‘Black Lives Matter’ protests in the US last year, and this year’s invasion of Capitol Hill, and ongoing debates about the legitimacy of the US Presidential elections of 2020, seem to have given a wake-up call to Biden.

“At another time in the country’s history, Mr. Biden’s speech and the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan might have roiled politics in the United States”, noted NYT on July 8.

“Progressives who once warmed to the idea of educating Afghan girls and women are now more interested in rebuilding America than Afghanistan. Conservatives have largely given up on former President George W Bush’s pledge to spread democracy around the world and instead embraced former President Donald J Trump’s ‘America First’ opposition to what he saw as endless wars”.

Meanwhile, Russia is trying to fill a vacuum as a regional peacemaker. Addressing a regional security conference in Moscow on July 16, the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov raised concerns about the intense fighting within Afghanistan between Taliban forces and the Afghani army that could destabilise the former Soviet Republics in Central Asia.

A top Taliban envoy after a meeting in Moscow told RT channel that they have asked for Russian assistance to get UN Security Council sanctions lifted—Taliban is currently subject to asset freezes, arms embargoes, and a travel ban.

Ambassador Okada believes that there is enormous economic opportunity in the opening of energy and trade routes through a peaceful Afghanistan, allowing Central Asian states to export their abundant energy and natural resources directly to South Asia and grant South Asia access to lucrative Central Asian markets. “But not without peace in Afghanistan” he argues.

Okada sees hope and he points out that many prominent Muslim scholars have denounced violence and called for peace in Afghanistan. “This may have a long-term impact, sapping the morale of Taliban soldiers,” he argues. “Continuing to terrorize fellow Afghans following the withdrawal of foreign troops will only undermine the legitimacy of the Taliban”. [IDN-InDepthNews – 18 July 2021]

Photo: American Troops leaving Afghanistan. CC BY-SA 4.0

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