US Senator Chris Van Hollen on Tuesday maintained that former president Trump’s administration had facilitated the Taliban coming to power in Afghanistan, and defended Pakistan, saying the country had released three top Taliban commanders at the behest of the then US government to facilitate the Afghan peace process.
Hollen, a Maryland Democrat, was speaking at the first senate hearing on the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. The senator observed that it was in Pakistan’s interest to “prevent chaos and civil war” in its neighbourhood.
During the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, some Republican lawmakers held the Biden administration responsible for the turmoil and Taliban takeover that followed the US withdrawal from Afghanistan last month. Meanwhile, both Republicans and Democrats accused Pakistan of supporting the Afghan Taliban during the 20-year war.
Responding to these allegations, Senator Van Hollen engaged in a discussion with Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
“Is it not the fact that the Trump administration asked the Pakistani government to release three top Taliban commanders as part of that process?” he asked.
“That’s correct,” Blinken replied.
Blinken responded in the affirmative when Hollen pointed out that Taliban leader Abdul Ghani Baradar was released at the request of the US, former Afghan regime was not included in Doha talks and forced to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners who were later involved in Kabul’s takeover.
The US secretary of state also agreed with Hollen when he recalled that an agreement was reached which stated that the US forces would leave Afghanistan by May and would not be attacked but there was no such restriction on attacking the Afghan forces.
“And so, we pick a date. We say to the Taliban you can attack Afghan forces and then we say, now let’s negotiate the future of Afghanistan. Isn’t the way it was set up when you walked in?” the senator asked. “That’s essentially, yes,” Blinken replied.
“There is a saying in Afghanistan, partners have watches, we have the time. So, the Trump administration, with this negotiation, set it up perfectly for the Taliban. Greenlight to attack the Afghan forces. No discussions going forward,” Hollen said.
Blinken responded: “I believe that’s accurate.”
Senator Van Hollen reminded secretary Blinken that former president Donald Trump even censured President Joe Biden for not withdrawing the forces by May, as agreed in the US-Taliban agreement.
He observed that the Biden administration now had both Pakistan and India on the table because the Afghan dispute could not be resolved without involving regional players.
“I think a number of those countries, at least Pakistan — like India, like the others — have an interest in preventing chaos and civil war in Afghanistan,” he added.
Mentioning the hostility of some lawmakers towards both Pakistan and the Biden administration, he said: “The level of hypocrisy in this Congress is staggering.”