/ 11 May 2021

Payne (and pain) visits Afghanistan

In a lightning visit, Foreign Minister Marise Payne has been to Afghanistan to meet with President Ashraf Ghani. She says the Australia-Afghanistan relationship will enter a “new chapter” in the wake of our military withdrawal by 11 September, and Oz will continue to “support our shared aspiration of peace, stability and prosperity”. Australia is following America’s lead to remove troops from the troubled country after almost 20 years of conflict, and there are worries the country will slip into further violence as the government and Taliban continue to clash.

The Taliban continues its campaign to overthrow the Western-backed Afghan Government – a fight they have waged since they were toppled after the 9/11 attacks on America in 2001. But talks hosted by the US saw the Taliban agree to a pathway to peace – pending America’s withdrawal of its troops. And despite the agreement, Taliban-led violence has been on the rise in recent months. On Saturday, a bomb attack outside a school killed 68 people – mostly schoolgirls. President Ghani blames the Taliban, but the group has denied involvement. The Taliban yesterday declared a 3-day ceasefire to mark this week’s Eid al-Fitr holiday, but at least 11 people were killed and dozens injured when a bus was bombed in the country’s south.

The Biden administration thinks so… Their troops could be out as soon as 4 July despite advice from military and intelligence leaders that the withdrawal could see al-Qaeda regroup. Some analysts say it’s a pragmatic move that will enable the US to focus on other pressing challenges, like China’s rise. But others say there are dark days ahead for Afghanistan, and the “possibility of an intensified and potentially highly fragmented and bloody civil war is real”.

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