Afghanistan’s current leadership must show pragmatism, should find a way to provide common sense with global and regional powers, and hope and wait for the financial aid they desperately need to revive the war-battered country’s economy.
The leopard never changes its spots, they say. A year after the Taliban assumed power in Afghanistan, the jury is still out on whether the outfit—a militant movement during its first stint in power—has mellowed enough to handle the pulls and pressures of leading a country constantly under the world’s spotlight.
Some commentators and analysts claimed that the Taliban had changed and evolved but they were wrong in many ways. One aspect in which the Taliban are particularly still the same is their pursuit of international recognition. The Taliban in the ’90s had approached the United States and the United Nations to be recognised as Afghanistan’s legitimate government. Yet, their actions even then undermined their own cause. The past year of their rule has been a repeat of history.
Spokespeople of the Taliban have been reiterating the Montevideo Convention criteria for statehood, but the conditions for recognition are different. While it is true that the Taliban control a population, govern a defined territory and have a government capable of entering foreign relations, these conditions were met by Afghanistan even in the 18th century. Recognition by other states, which implies that they see the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan, would require the current leadership to meet certain other conditions while countries like the US handle humanitarian issues in an unpolitical way and release the frozen funds.
The Taliban could either convince individual countries to recognise them and hope that it creates a domino effect of other countries falling suit, enact a mechanism such as a referendum or a localised ‘jirga’—an assembly of leaders—that officially announces them as a legitimate government of Afghanistan or meet the obligations of the UN charter and be handed Afghanistan’s seat at the General Assembly.
Though the Taliban as a whole demands recognition, only some among them understand that it is conditioned on meeting certain international standards. Those among the Taliban who take issue with the hypocrisy of the US and others recognising governments that far outdo the Taliban’s brutality are correct in their assessment. The difference is that those governments are either ruling powerful states themselves or are part of a powerful politico-military bloc. The Taliban do not fit into either category.
The Taliban’s closest friends seem to be hesitant in recognising them without the blessing of the US. The release of Afghanistan’s frozen assets to the Taliban might be the first step of the US, as the hegemon of the world, informally recognising the Taliban as the government of Afghanistan.
The Taliban have time and again got close to having the frozen assets released, resources that are desperately needed to help the economy find its footing. The initial challenge was to find signatories to the funds that could legally sign off on what ought to be done with the funds. Different sectors of the US government held meetings with Afghan stakeholders to address that challenge.
It was in late February and early March that the Biden administration, after holding half of the assets pending the 9/11 victims’ claim on the funds, got close to formalising a mechanism for the release of the other half.
Though the internal issues and the recent targeting of the Al Qaeda chief in Kabul have complicated the matter of the funds release, the sanctions imposed on Afghanistan have had devastating effects, and very little genuine efforts have been made by the US to establish trust or to communicate issues directly to the Taliban. Hopelessness regarding any positive outcomes from engagement with the US is finding strength among some of the Taliban.
While the US chooses to be a difficult partner for the Taliban, the group has other countries that could potentially help them through this difficult phase. Afghanistan’s enormous natural resources reserves has attracted the attention of China and cities of the war-ravaged country are currently swarming with possible investors. The Taliban would have to be mindful of possible resource deals, since the country still operates in a legal vacuum and agreements struck without local laws and regulations will only be exploitative.
Other partners that have been helpful in providing platforms to the Taliban to engage with the global community have been Qatar and Türkiye. However, Qatar being a close ally of the US may not stray from Washington’s policy towards the Taliban too much, but it can still be a useful interlocutor and guide for the Taliban as they open to the world.
Türkiye has been one of the few countries to call for a recognition of the Taliban government. They have challenged the current framework of creating another aid-dependent Afghanistan. Türkiye’s diplomatic presence in Kabul and the scale of aid they have provided to the country is a model that other Islamic and regional countries should follow.
The Taliban would also have to perform the impossible balancing act of maintaining positive relations with both Pakistan and India. Balance will be key.
The necessity of engagement has to be recognised by the Taliban and the international community for it to produce results.. The US has no alternative to the Taliban to counter international terrorist groups operating within Afghanistan nor can they hope to replace the Taliban in any cost-effective way.
The Taliban would have to realise that the failure to meet the demands by the US would eventually make them pariahs. The Taliban can rely on regional and international partners to stabilise the current politically and economically volatile Afghanistan but it would ultimately have to find its recognition soon.
The Taliban and the international community would have to adjust their expectations and not expect too much too quickly from the engagements. Establishing trust is necessary and providing feedback on more micro-goals agreed upon would be the first steps toward a possible recognition of the Taliban.
At the core of it all, the Taliban have to acknowledge that external recognition is linked with internal legitimacy. The more they lose the Afghan population’s approval, the further they will be from recognition abroad.
The war in Ukraine and the fast-changing global political space means the window for the Taliban and Afghanistan to stay relevant or important is fast closing.
Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of TRT World.
We welcome all pitches and submissions to TRT World Opinion – please send them via email, to email@example.com