Implications of re-engaging Afghan Taliban


Dr Moonis Ahmar June 25, 2024
The writer is Meritorious Professor International Relations and former Dean Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Karachi. Email: amoonis@hotmail.com

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The UN-sponsored talks on Afghanistan to be held in Doha, Qatar on June 30 and July 1 will be crucial because the Afghan Taliban government has been formally invited in the parleys, unlike in the earlier two rounds, to become part of dialogue to explore strategies for peace and stability in that war-torn country.

The talks on Afghanistan initiated by Secretary General Antonio Guterres in May 2023 in Doha were not attended by the Afghan Taliban. They had expressed reservations for not being invited to the first round of talks which prompted them to boycott the second round. The participation of Afghan civil society groups provoked the Taliban to boycott Doha talks. Now, Afghan civil society groups have announced their boycott of Doha talks criticising the UN for inviting the Taliban regime. The Afghan Taliban decided to attend the third round of Doha talks because of the dividends they expect to achieve.

Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid made it clear that “a delegation of the Islamic Emirate will represent Afghanistan there and express Afghanistan’s position. The talks’ agenda appeared beneficial to Afghanistan because it includes topics such as aid for Afghanistan and creating opportunities for investors which are important.” If the temptation on the part of Taliban regime is to use Doha talks for economic benefits while ignoring massive human rights violations and an exclusive mode of governance, they may be mistaken. Human Rights Watch’s Associate Women Rights Director Heather Barr while talking to AFP lamented that “the world must provide platforms for the people and women of Afghanistan to discuss the future of their country. It is unthinkable that diplomats could gather to discuss Afghanistan in the middle of such a crisis and do so without women’s rights being the main issue on the agenda and Afghan women being full participations in discussion. Still, they are not heard because the world is interacting anyway with the Taliban, even if they say they do not recognize them.”

Inviting the Taliban government as the sole spokesman of Afghanistan in the third round of Doha talks is contradictory in nature. When the UN has not granted legitimacy to Afghan Taliban, why did the UN Under-Secretary General for Political and Peace building Affairs, Rosemary Di Carlo, extend an invitation to Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi to participate in Doha talks? It has been almost three years since the Taliban took over the reins of power in Afghanistan and imposed an exclusive regime denying women, minorities and opposition any role in statecraft. If China, Russia and other countries disregard the legitimate position of Taliban regime and grant de facto recognition, why are the UN and other wielders of global power silent and following a policy of appeasement to a group which has usurped power and imposed its parochial mode of governance?

When the first Taliban regime (1996-2001) was recognised by Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, they were not granted a seat at the UN and no other country had granted legitimacy to them. Now, the second Taliban regime which controls 100% of the territory of Afghanistan also lacks recognition by the world, except for a handful of countries who want to engage with them for their own interests. The present Taliban regime is wise enough in giving the impression to the world that they are tolerant to dissent and respect the rights of women. But, realities on the ground are different as evident from the reports by several human rights organisations which highlight the denial of legitimate rights to women and coercion of non-conformist groups. It is yet to be seen how the Afghan Foreign Minister and his delegation will react to possible criticism about severe human rights violations and harsh curbs imposed on Afghan girls and women for seeking education, employment and travel without a male companion.

Suffocation in Afghanistan is so visible and there is no foreseeable possibility of the Taliban regime implementing Doha Accord of February 2020 in which they had pledged to respect rights of women and form an inclusive government. Certainly, there is a remote likelihood of Russia and China, the two main supporters of Taliban regime, changing their stance and exerting pressure on Afghan Taliban to adopt a flexible approach vis-à-vis issues which tend to augment their unpopularity. By re-engaging them, they expect to moderate the Taliban regime.

The UN policy to re-engage the Taliban regime will have three major implications.

First, the message which is given to the world for re-engaging Taliban will be highly negative except few countries wishing to grant legitimacy to the Kabul regime. When the Afghan Taliban who had signed the Doha Accord reneged from their commitment to be part of a political process and establish an inclusive government accommodating cross sections of society, it led to a serious trust deficit. After capturing power in August 2021, Taliban refused to follow a moderate approach and reverted to the policies they had adopted in their first regime by suppressing women and minorities. When a majority of UN members have refused to grant legitimacy to the Taliban regime because of their way of governance, how can their participation in the third round of Doha talks be fruitful? Taliban neither believe in political pluralism nor constitution or democracy and adhere to their narrow version of Shariah. As a result their isolation from the rest of the world continues till today.

Second, Taliban participation in Doha talks will further alienate opposition groups particularly women and human rights organisations who view the Kabul regime as repressive. However, the Afghan opposition groups have failed to mobilise the masses against the coercive and repressive policies of the Taliban regime. The regimes inducted in Kabul following 9/11 with the support of American and other Western powers may have been dependent on foreign forces, but both Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani had arranged elections and governed through a democratic process, even if symbolic. Whereas, the Taliban failed to take a first step to seek popular legitimacy and continue to follow repressive mode of governance.

Finally, if the Taliban delegation to Doha manages to convince the UN and other participants about their success in establishing peace in Afghanistan and focusing on development, they will be able to broaden their international space.

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