Countries Backing US Call For Taliban to Allow Free Travel Exclude Russia, China, Most Muslim States

Patrick Goodenough | September 1, 2021 | 2:23am EDT
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Taliban fighters patrol a street in Kabul on Tuesday. (Photo by Aamir Qureshi/AFP via Getty Images)
Taliban fighters patrol a street in Kabul on Tuesday. (Photo by Aamir Qureshi/AFP via Getty Images)

( – The Biden administration for three days has been promoting a statement by “more than half the world’s countries” calling on the Taliban to allow freedom of travel, characterizing it as a highlight of its diplomatic efforts in response to the Islamist militia’s takeover of Afghanistan.

The statement released by the State Department does not, however, have the support of two of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council – Russia and China.

It also has not been endorsed by any of Afghanistan’s six neighbors – Pakistan, Iran, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and China.

The signatory countries are a largely a mixture of key Western allies and small developing nations.

But of the world’s ten most populous countries only one, the United States, supports the statement. The other nine – China, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Brazil, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Russia, and Mexico – do not.

The statement touted by the State Department and White House has the backing of fewer than half of the 57 members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), and only eight of the 22 members of the Arab League.

Of the 25 OIC members that have added their names to the call on the Taliban, most are smaller, less influential members of the bloc of Muslim-majority countries, with Turkey and Saudi Arabia the notable exceptions.

Missing from the list of signatories are nine of the ten most populous OIC members – Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Egypt, Iran, Algeria, Sudan, and Iraq.  (The one exception was Turkey.)

Nonetheless, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said early this week the statement reflected “a clear expectation across the entire world, across the entire international community.”

Queries sent to the State Department about the absence of so many influential countries brought no response by press time.

Administration officials at different times have given differing numbers of signatories to the document, ranging from 100 (White House press secretary Jen Psaki) to “over 100” (President Biden) to 114 (Blinken).

As of early Wednesday, the updated list of countries on the State Department website numbers 102 (along with European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell and NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg, neither of whom speak on behalf of individual governments.)

Some administration mentions of the statement follow:

--Blinken, NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Aug. 29: “We have more than a hundred countries, 114 countries, who signed onto a statement we initiated making clear the international community expects the Taliban to make good on a commitment to let people continue to leave the country after August 31.”

--Blinken, ABC’s “This Week,” Aug. 29:  “One hundred and fourteen countries have made very clear that it is their expectation that the Taliban will permit freedom of travel going past August 31.  So that is a clear expectation across the entire world, across the entire international community.”

 --Blinken, Aug. 30:  “More than half the world’s countries have joined us in insisting that the Taliban let people travel outside Afghanistan freely.”

--Psaki, Aug. 30:  “Just over the weekend, the State Department put out a letter from a hundred countries, making clear that there must be safe passage for citizens, for Afghans who want to leave after the 31st.”

--Psaki, Aug. 31:  “More than half of the countries in the world have conveyed clearly what they expect.” 

--State Department spokesman Ned Price, Aug. 31:  “More than 100 countries have said that they expect the Taliban to honor travel authorizations by our countries.”

--Biden, Aug. 31:  “In fact, just yesterday, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution that sent a clear message about what the international community expects the Taliban to deliver on moving forward, notably freedom of travel, freedom to leave. And together, we are joined by over 100 countries that are determined to make sure the Taliban upholds those commitments.”

(The Security Council resolution cited by Biden was not passed unanimously; permanent members Russia and China abstained.)

The statement now supported by 102 countries reads:

We are all committed to ensuring that our citizens, nationals and residents, employees, Afghans who have worked with us and those who are at risk can continue to travel freely to destinations outside Afghanistan.  We have received assurances from the Taliban that all foreign nationals and any Afghan citizen with travel authorization from our countries will be allowed to proceed in a safe and orderly manner to points of departure and travel outside the country.  We will continue issuing travel documentation to designated Afghans, and we have the clear expectation of and commitment from the Taliban that they can travel to our respective countries.  We note the public statements of the Taliban confirming this understanding.

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