Taliban on the Global Stage

Developing Just Leadership

Zia Sarhadi

Rabi' al-Awwal 25, 1443 2021-11-01

News & Analysis

by Zia Sarhadi (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 50, No. 9, Rabi' al-Awwal, 1443)

The Taliban may not have been formally recognized as a government but that has not cramped their style. They are conducting themselves—and most of their neighbours are treating them as such—as if they have formal diplomatic recognition. This has been evident in the diplomatic missions to Kabul as well as their delegation being welcomed in Moscow.

The Moscow meeting on October 20 was by far the most important attended by officials from 10 regional states. The Taliban were received virtually as an official delegation. Led by their deputy Prime Minister Abdul Salam Hanafi and accompanied by acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi were received for a private meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov before heading to the conference of foreign ministers of 10 regional states.

After meeting Lavrov in his office, Afghanistan’s acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi said, “we have good relations with Russia. We discussed various issues, including economic ties, trade between the two countries and the policy of the new Afghan government at large, aimed at using the location of Afghanistan to stimulate trade between the countries of the region and ultimately the economic integration.”

Lest this is (mis)interpreted as the Taliban’s wish-list not grounded in reality, consider what Lavrov said in his opening remarks at the conference. “A new [Afghan] administration is in office now. This hard fact places great responsibility on the Taliban. We note the efforts they are making to stabilise the military-political situation and to ensure the smooth operation of the public governance system… the new balance of power in Afghanistan which took root after August 15 has no alternative in the foreseeable future.” This was a clear message to the Americans. Get over it; the Taliban have won militarily, politically and diplomatically and they are the only player in town.

A day after the Moscow conference, a high-powered delegation from Pakistan headed by Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi arrived in Kabul for talks with Afghan officials. According to reports, the meeting went very well. Upon return from the Kabul visit, Qureshi held a press conference in Islamabad (October 21) and announced that Pakistan will provide more than $28 million in immediate humanitarian aid to Afghanistan and will ease travel and trade restrictions at its land borders.

While Afghanistan’s neighbours are taking steps to stabilize the situation, the Americans are stuck on the issue of formal recognition. The neighbouring countries see the larger picture and want to deal with it accordingly. For them, a stable Afghanistan is vital. That can only be achieved by dealing with the Taliban.

Valentina Matviyenko, speaker of the Russian Federation Council, was quite clear when she said on October 24: “The Taliban have come to power, they are controlling the entire country and it is necessary to hold a dialogue with them, it is necessary to meet with them… The issue of recognition or non-recognition today is not the priority act. I think, that if as a result of this dialogue the Taliban accepts those conditions I mentioned, not just approves in writing but implements in actions, I think that this will be, of course, their recognition since nowadays they are the actual power there.”

This is de facto recognition of the Taliban government. True, the issue of an “inclusive government” continues to be raised—as it was at the Tehran conference on October 27—but the looming humanitarian crisis has overshadowed other considerations. Both the UN and the World Food Program have raised alarm. Already faced by a severe drought, famine in Afghanistan could result in refugees flooding into neighbouring countries that would destabilize the entire region. Afghanistan’s neighbours want to avoid this possibility, hence their fast-paced efforts at holding meetings and trying to deliver food, fuel and other essential items into the country as soon as possible.

The joint statement issued after the Moscow conference as well as the Tehran conference clearly reflected the regional countries’ priorities and concerns. The salient features were:

1: Recognition by regional states that the Taliban government is a compelling “reality” (This comes as close to a formal recognition as it can gets);

2: It is through constructive engagement that regional states should endeavour to influence the Taliban (US attempts to isolate the Taliban have failed);

3: A collective initiative to convene a broad-based international donor conference under the auspices of the United Nations to tackle the looming humanitarian crisis;

4: Robust regional backing for Afghanistan’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity; and,

5: US responsibility for Afghanistan reconstruction after 20 years of devastating war that has left the country in ruins.

Three regional states—Russia, Pakistan and Iran—have taken the initiative to help steer Afghanistan under the Taliban to a stable future. The Central Asian ‘stans’ will go along with whatever Moscow decides. China, too, cannot be ignored because it is likely to provide the bulk of economic support that Afghanistan desperately needs. This was also hinted at in a commentary in the Global Times (October 18) that pointed to Afghanistan’s enormous mineral wealth that could be tapped into to overcome its fiscal problems.

While the US continues to sulk, nursing grudges because of its military defeat, the only options left to it are to continue to freeze Afghanistan’s $9.5 billion assets that are exacerbating the already dire humanitarian crisis, and to carry out terrorist acts through its Daesh proxies. This was evident in the two blasts at Shi‘i mosques on two consecutive Fridays—October 8 and 15—in Kunduz and Qandahar respectively. The aim was to instigate sectarian conflict in Afghanistan.

Events are moving in a direction that are making the US totally irrelevant to Afghanistan and the broader region. If Afghanistan can be integrated into the broader region, this will lead to not only stability but also give hope to the long-suffering Afghan people.

Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov alluded to this when he said: “We plan to engage our capabilities, including the capabilities offered by the UN, the SCO, the CSTO and other multilateral entities… Importantly, both the SCO and the CSTO have a special mechanism that was created many years ago, which is dedicated to interacting with Afghanistan, and identifying ways to promote stabilisation in that country… We are content with the level of practical cooperation with the Afghan authorities… We will continue building business relations with Kabul with a view to resolving urgent bilateral issues.”

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