UNITED NATIONS: US President Joe Biden used his first speech to the UN General Assembly (UNGA) on Tuesday to warn Afghanistan’s new rulers that the entire world expects them to respect universal human rights.

The US leader framed the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan as ending “a period of relentless war” and starting “a new era of relentless diplomacy.”

President Biden also referred to a UN resolution, adopted unanimously earlier this week, which urges the Taliban to fulfill their obligations. The resolution “outline(s) how we’ll support the people of Afghanistan moving forward, laying out the expectations to which we’ll hold the Taliban when it comes to respecting universal human rights,” he said.

“We all must advocate for the rights of women and girls to use their full talents, to contribute economically, politically, and socially, and pursue their dreams free of violence and intimidation,” he added.

Despite the threat of the Covid-19 pandemic, Mr Biden traveled to New York to attend the 76th UNGA and used the world stage to outline his policy of collaborating with allies to combat pandemics, climate change, human rights violations and “new threats” from emerging technology.

“We’ve ended 20 years of conflict in Afghanistan. And as we close this period of relentless war, we’re opening a new era of relentless diplomacy,” he declared.

Recalling that a terrorist attack killed 13 American soldiers and 200 Afghans at the Kabul airport last month, Mr Biden warned that those who commit such acts of terrorism will continue to find a determined enemy in the United States.

“The world today is not the world of 2001 though, and the United States is not the same country we were when we were attacked on 9/11, 20 years ago,” he said. “Today, we’re better equipped to detect, to prevent terrorist threats and we are more resilient in our ability to repel them and to respond.”

The United States, he said, had also learned how to collaborate with local partners in a region, “so that we need not be so reliant on large scale military deployments.”

Underlining the issues that his administration would now focus on, Mr. Biden noted that Covid-19 had killed 4.5 million people worldwide, calling each death “an individual heartbreak.”

“We need to act now to get shots in arms as fast as possible and expand access to oxygen, tests, treatments to save lives around the world,” he said.

The US president also called for a new global health mechanism to “finance global health security” and a global health threat council to stay ahead of emerging pandemics.

Mr Biden said the US “will lead on all of the greatest challenges of our time, from Covid to climate, peace and security, human dignity and human rights, but we will not go it alone.”

The US media described his approach as “a departure from that of the Trump administration’s, which embraced an “America first”- style of diplomacy putting nationalism ahead of multilateral efforts.

Mr Biden said the US was not seeking a new Cold War and would work with any nation willing to work peacefully on shared challenges despite disagreements in other areas. This was an apparent reference to China.

But he also talked about reaffirming “our sacred Nato Alliance,” renewing engagement with the European Union, and elevating the quad partnership among Australia, India, Japan, and the United States.

Commentators believe that the United States is trying to counter China’s growing influence with the help of these partnerships and alliances.

Published in Dawn, September 22nd, 2021

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