The United Nations and the Bretton Woods institutions are 75 years old and unable to respond to contemporary challenges

Representational image. AP

India was chairing the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) when the Americans hastily withdrew from Afghanistan and the Taliban took over the country. There has been complete chaos in Afghanistan, with several terrorist outfits, including the Islamic State, competing for space and power in that country. Islamic State – Khorasan’s recent Kunduz mosque bomb attack has left 55 people dead and hundreds injured.

Taliban and Panjshir fighters are on a war course, while Shias, Hazaras and ethnic minority communities suffer Taliban death threats. American weapons left behind are already being sold in Pakistan. While the Central Bank of Afghanistan has no money, the country’s economy, healthcare system, and supply of food and basic amenities are in dire state. Regional security environment continues to be capricious while international responses to developments in Afghanistan remain highly puzzling.

High Table Diplomacy

Meanwhile, from the UNSC and the UN General Assembly (UNGA) meeting to 13th BRICS Summit hosted by India, Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) meet at Dushanbe, and Quad heads of states in person meeting at Washington — there has been a series of high-level diplomatic events in the last one month. Washington further surprised everybody by announcing the formation of AUKUS (Australia, UK, US), a new trilateral security partnership which also held its first meeting at Washington. Now G-20 leaders’ extraordinary emergency meet exclusively on Afghanistan is the latest in the series of international high table diplomacy which Russian president Vladimir Putin and Chinese president Xi Jinping didn’t join for curious reasons.

A host of high table diplomatic hustle bustle and back-to-back meetings of the most powerful countries and leaders of the world indeed. From Islamabad, Beijing and Doha to Moscow, New Delhi, Washington, Canberra and Durban — it’s been a busy schedule for heads of states and diplomats.

Also, several international intelligence service chiefs also visited New Delhi. Richard Moore, head of the UK Secret Intelligence Service MI6, was the first to visit New Delhi, followed by American intelligence service (CIA) director William Burns. No official announcement of what transpired. Next, Nikolay Patrushev, secretary of Russia’s Security Council, also visited New Delhi which was announced and adequately publicised. Such very high level diplomatic and intelligence level meetings do communicate a large landscape of high table international diplomacy. The background obviously has been Taliban, humanitarian issues, concerns of terrorism and regional security volatility.

Where is the consensus?

All this while, India has been quite active diplomatically, thanks to its presence at several international institutions. India also had the added advantage that it was the UNSC Chair for the month of August when the Taliban took over Kabul. India’s presidency ended with “substantive” outcomes on key global issues — a strong resolution on the situation in Afghanistan demanding that the Afghan territory not be used to threaten any country or shelter terrorists. Adopted on the penultimate day of India’s presidency of the Security Council, it was the first resolution being adopted by the Council on the situation in Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover of Kabul.

The 13th BRICS summit on 9 September was the next big event. India was the host and Chair and, most interestingly, India, China and Russia — three critical stakeholders in the Afghan situation — came face to face in a virtual mode at the peak of the Afghan crisis. China is alleged to have extended supporting hand to Taliban, while Russia has its direct strategic interests in the developments in Kabul.

South Africa and Brazil do not correlate directly to the Afghan crisis other than sharing common concern over terrorism and its implications. BRICS has evolved to be a multilayer interface body working on areas of culture, health, women, trade, financial instruments, technology, counter terrorism and several layers of cooperation.

While Prime Minister Narendra Modi highlighted the need for BRICS cooperation on terrorism and terror funding, it was President Putin who very clearly hit at the American withdrawal from Afghanistan and the emergence of a new crisis. Xi Jinping and Cyril Ramaphosa didn’t mention Afghanistan at all. BRICS’ ‘New Delhi Declaration’ finally captures Afghanistan in a rather minimal way.

Days later, the 21st meeting of the SCO Council of Heads of State was held on 17 September in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, in a hybrid format. Consisting of China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and most recently Iran, the SCO meeting primarily discussed the evolving situation in Afghanistan and its ramifications for member states as well as the international community. Now Iran has joined as a full member and SCO countries directly share concerns of the Afghanistan situation.

SCO took a strong stand on radicalism and extremism. Urged for anti-terrorism joint approach, code of conduct to stop terror financing and cross-border terrorism and voiced the relevance of moderate Islam in Central Asia. SCO also voiced concern over humanitarian crisis, illegal drug, weapons flow and human trafficking, etc.

In spite of huge expectations, Quad leaders’ meeting on 24 September turned out to be a damp squib. Japanese prime minister Yoshihide Suga attended Quad meet but two weeks later Fumio Kishida took over as the new prime minister of Japan. Additionally, the sudden emergence of AUKUS and its first meeting ending with a trilateral security pact virtually overshadowed Quad, threatening to turn it into a ceremonial interface. Quad mostly discussed COVID-19 , climate change and other socio-economic issues without any substantive outcome, while AUKUS shifted the focus to China and the Indo-Pacific. Now the G-20 meeting in Rome to discuss the Afghanistan refugee and humanitarian crisis is the latest in the series.

Too much diplomacy to nowhere

The common man in Afghanistan must have noted with assurance that the biggies of the world shall do something. Unfortunately, nothing emerged. All felt concerned but none institutionally and categorically condemned the de facto Taliban take over.

The United Nations and the Bretton Woods institutions are 75 years old and unable to respond to contemporary challenges. It is time that countries like India, Brazil, South Africa and several democracies of the world come together to explore an alternative world order that is more representative, equitable, bottom-up development-centric, rule-based and above all people friendly. Times have changed and a ‘people-planet-and-prosperity’ centric ‘new international order’ is more needed than geopolitics and high table diplomacy.

Views expressed by the authors are personal and need not reflect or represent the views of Centre for Public Policy Research

This article is co-authored by Christopher Isike (Professor , Dept of Political Sciences, University of Pretoria, South Africa)

This article was first published in First Post

RP Pradhan
RP Pradhan
Dr RP Pradhan is an Associate Professor at the Dept. of Humanities & Social Sciences, BITS Pilani, KK Birla Goa Campus. He is a PhD in International Relations and largely works on Political Economy. His current teaching and research focus involves International Relations; Migration & Labour Market; International Trade & Development; Development Economics; Maritime Studies & Blue Economy.

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