Recognising Taliban: is the ice melting?

Prospects for recognition would brighten up with any single initiative by any of the regional countries

Rustam Shah Mohmand October 30, 2021
The writer is a former chief secretary K-P and former ambassador

Taliban are busy consolidating their grip on the country — amid tremendous uncertainty though. Not only is the world watching the unfolding situation closely, the poverty-stricken Afghan citizens are also concerned about how the evolving situation would shape their destiny.

The UN has warned that more than 20 million people may face food insecurity. The biggest problem at the moment is how to pay the salaries of public sector employees. The country faces a breakdown of institutions. To make matters worse thousands of doctors, paramedics, engineers, technicians, teachers, and administrators have left the country — not out of fear of the Taliban, as is generally presumed by many outside the country, but to seek jobs abroad. Such flight of skilled workers has created an administrative vacuum in the country.

But the issue that haunts the Taliban leadership the most concerns global acknowledgement of their rule. Not only the western countries but also the regional ones have withheld recognition of the new government. The reasons cited are: The government is not inclusive enough to justify recognition; the guarantees for girl’s education and women’s employment have not been fulfilled; and there is no concrete policy yet to ensure protection of the rights of minorities.

There is a rationale in these arguments. What is not understood, however, is that the Taliban lack governance experience — and vision too. The new government has so far not been able to prioritise their policies and options. More importantly, they have not been able to reach out to the world and explain the complexities of the challenges they confront and seek help in overcoming serious financial and management issues. There is a belief in some sections of the Taliban leadership that eventually these issues would be sorted out. But that is an oversimplified view. And in the meantime, much damage is being caused to the credibility of the new system that Taliban want to put in place in the country.

Equally important, however, is the fact that the world does not seem to realise that a delay in recognising the Taliban rule would only make matters worse. On the one hand the new government would remain handicapped because of non-recognition entailing severe implications; and on the other, the opponents of Taliban would try to seize the opportunity to destabilise the government. A long impasse would motivate the rivals to put up a fierce resistance against the government. That would encourage the regional countries to once again seek favourites and support proxies — all at the expense of peace and stability in Afghanistan.

The world also seems to be oblivious of the fact that in more than four decades, Afghanistan at least has a government that in is control of the entire country. For the first time in almost half a century, there is a government in Kabul that faces no real opposition. The warlords have fled the country. Discredited former chieftains and clan leaders — those who filled their coffers while rank and file Afghans were killed, displaced and humiliated in years of a bloody conflict — have all disappeared. This then is an opportunity to turn a new leaf. This is a chance to rebuild the country and help its transition into a new era — one that offers hope for a nation that is tired and exhausted after more than four decades of conflict. For the world not to realise this would be a tragedy. One wonders how such a logic can pass nations by, and how the gravity of the alternative does not touch any chords.

In this deadlock over recognition, the role of the regional countries, particularly Pakistan, comes into sharp focus. A role full of contradictions, of somersaults, of leveraging its influence in a manner that has left deep scars on the collective conscience of all Afghans. Even after many serious miscalculations, no lessons seem to have been learnt. The recognition is being delayed apparently on the “advice” of the Americans who fear that with their exit from the region, China will have an open ground to establish its credentials as major economic and political power. There is a lobby in America that promotes the idea of obstructing the BRI progress. This is just one dimension of the US-China rivalry that is playing out in different parts of the world — South China Sea, Horn of Africa, South America, etc.

For Pakistan to be aligned with such thinking is deplorable. The reality across the border has to be acknowledged. The sooner the better. There is no other option. On the one hand, Islamabad boasts of historic ethnic, cultural and religious ties with Afghanistan and its longest border with the country; and on the other, it brackets itself with countries that have no such common ground with the landlocked country, thereby creating doubts in the minds of Afghans with regard to ‘eternal ‘ bonds that connect the two countries.

On the recognition question, meanwhile, the ice seems to have started melting. EU member states have announced providing the much-needed assistance to the new Afghan government even though a formal recognition would wait for some time. The Americans have concluded negotiations with Taliban leaders in Doha amid reports of convergence of perceptions on some issues. These are encouraging signs.

Also, China — a big player in the current scenario — is just waiting for an ‘opportune’ moment to announce recognition. Apparently there are problems with regard to Uyghurs having taken shelter in Northern Afghanistan which, Beijing believes, cold pose a threat to peace in China’s Xinjiang province. Hopefully that issue would be sorted out soon.

Prospects for recognition would brighten up with any single initiative by any of the regional countries. That would be followed by many more countries taking the plunge. Only then would the more pressing issues be focused on like tackling Daesh; negotiating the release of assets worth $9 billion kept in American banks; carrying out rehabilitation and reconstruction; offering incentives for those who have left the country to return and take part in the historic task of rebuilding; taking steps for poverty alleviation; establishing institutions for progress in sectors like healthcare, education, banking, IT, communication; laying the foundation of a sound judicial system based on cardinal principles of institutionalised accountability for all; etc.

Delay in recognition is a deception. It will hurt all and deliver little.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 30th, 2021.

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