When Labor Tony Blair landslider won the 1997 British election, becoming prime minister after 18 years of conservative rule, he assembled a cabinet full of figures who exuded energy and promised a new era in politics.
One of the more charismatic faces of the “new labour” was Congresswoman Clare Short, who was given a role tailored to accommodate her enthusiasm: secretary of International Development.
At the head of the new department —equivalent to a ministry—, she became the spokesperson for an ambitious foreign policy that aimed to be more idealistic and supportive. It managed to increase the budget for international assistance and paid special attention to African and Asian countries.
Short was in position in the September 11, 2001 attacks and participated in defining the Blair government’s strategy for the attacks on the Taliban, insisting that the process not only contemplate the military side, but also development projects.
Known for her strong temper, she broke with her boss two years later, unhappy with the invasion of Iraq, now considered the biggest political mistake made by Blair.
Short, 75, stepped down from her seat in 2010 after 30 years in the British Parliament. Today, he is dedicated to projects in multilateral institutions. By email, the former minister says that it is necessary to give a credit of trust to the Taliban and negotiate with the fundamentalist group, at least initially.
He also claims that the humiliation suffered by the US shows that the country has learned nothing from previous fiascos. “There is no doubt that Afghanistan is a humiliating failure. For the US, it comes after Vietnam and Iraq. The question is: can the US learn? It’s extraordinary that they didn’t make it.”
Mrs. she was the UK’s Secretary for International Development on September 11, 2001 and during the attack on the Taliban. How do you feel about the group’s return to power? I stayed in government until 2003, when I resigned due to the invasion of Iraq. Since then it was already clear that the occupation of Afghanistan had failed. The Taliban progressively took over more territory, and half the population depended on humanitarian aid. America’s Initial Instinct [ao atacar o Afeganistão] it was revenge, so his motives weren’t clear from the start. The invasion was a success, and the Taliban melted after little fighting. Today we know that the group wanted to negotiate a deal, but the US didn’t want to talk to them. that was the big mistake [dos americanos]. They should have declared victory and withdrawn the military.
Development support should then have been provided to improve people’s lives. Going further back, it was American policy, with the help of the Saudis, that instigated Islamic movements and warlords to overthrow the Soviet-backed progressive government in order to drag the Soviet Union into a Vietnam-like situation.
What kind of threat does the Taliban’s return pose to human rights in Afghanistan, especially for women? The Taliban now is different from the one that ruled Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001. They traveled abroad and visited other Muslim countries. Afghanistan has also changed in 20 years, with more educated people, including girls, and working women at all levels.
The Taliban has promised that these rights for girls and women will continue. Time will tell, but it would be smart for the international community to engage with them as they need economic support, otherwise there will be a catastrophic collapse. This need for help means influence to bring the Taliban to international standards.
Mrs. do you believe in the Taliban when it promises to be more moderate this time? We must wait and see whether promises to respect women and girls and govern inclusively are honored. But this is much more likely to happen if all parts of the international community engage with them.
As mrs. Do you evaluate the role of Western countries in aid to Afghanistan since 2001? Was it enough to improve people’s lives? There have been some significant advances in the lives of ordinary Afghans. But there was also terrible corruption, endless war and death. There is no doubt that Afghanistan is a humiliating failure for US, UK and NATO [aliança militar ocidental]. For the US, it comes after the failures in Vietnam and Iraq. The question is: can the US learn? It is extraordinary that they have not succeeded.
The US military continued to present optimistic reports to Congress on progress in Afghanistan, and in fact they were downright misleading and hid the problems. For the UK, which has now left the European Union and wants to cling more tightly to its relationship with the US, it creates a problem when the Americans fail so badly.
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, with whom Ms. worked, called the US decision to leave Afghanistan “an imbecile.” Mrs. do you agree? Tony Blair’s comments about the Afghan crisis were extremely silly and rudely expressed. The logic of their position is that the US should remain in Afghanistan indefinitely until there is complete defeat. I don’t think he’s welcome to the White House again.
President Joe Biden said the mission in Afghanistan was never to build a nation or build strong institutions, but to remove the threat of new terrorist attacks. Mrs. do you see these goals as excluding? Confusion about what the US was trying to achieve was a big part of the problem. Trying to promote development in a country as complicated as Afghanistan by military means was destined to fail. The US spent $1 trillion, but most of it didn’t reach the people.
Mrs. Are you afraid that global jihadism will be encouraged by the decision to leave Afghanistan, especially after images of chaos at Kabul airport? There is no doubt that it will be greatly driven by the US failure in Afghanistan.
What kind of assistance can the West offer ordinary Afghans after these events? There is a humanitarian crisis and a terrible drought creating needs for half the population of Afghanistan. The first point is to ensure sufficient support and that all people in need are reached.
Furthermore, multilateral institutions must be available to engage with the Taliban in the long term to institute an inclusive governance system that respects people’s rights.
What kind of paper does mrs. see to UN and NGOs? They will be key in trying to ensure the best possible transition to Taliban rule. The US, UK and others who were involved in the military effort in Afghanistan must offer generous support through the UN and other acceptable agencies.
NGOs are important in providing humanitarian relief. But it is critical that efforts be made to include people from Afghanistan in the delivery and distribution of aid, rather than foreigners coming and then leaving when the immediate crisis is over and local capacity has been weakened rather than strengthened.
Clare Short, 75
Graduated in political science from the University of Leeds, was MP for the Labor Party (1983-2006) and independent (2006-10); as well as secretary for International Development (1997-2003) and chair of the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (2011-16). Today he chairs the board of the Alliance of Cities.