Afghanistan’s search for legitimacy: Ancient tips for recognition

Since the return of the Taliban to power on August 15, the international community has kept close eyes on the new master of Kabul as they are in transition from the insurgents to the ruling elite of Afghanistan. Accordingly, the core questions involves on how the Taliban government which was formed a few days ago would effectively govern this war-torn country and, to that end, how they will approach the key issues of recognition by the international community.

Yet the scenario is not as promising as expected. Due to the previous record of harsh treatment of the human rights in Afghanistan, the United States and its allies have warned the Taliban which are now in control of the country to respect the fundamental human rights of the Afghan people and follow the established laws of international relations. On August 29, US Secretary of State Blinken said to his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi that the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) should speak in a clear and unified voice to show that the international community expects the Taliban to ensure the safe evacuation of all foreign citizens and the Afghan people’s access to humanitarian assistance, and guarantee that Afghan territory cannot be taken as a harbor of terrorist groups.

Echoing Blinken’s remarks, FM Wang put it that the situation in Afghanistan has undergone fundamental changes. Thus it is necessary for all parties to make contact with the Taliban for mutual understanding and confidence. Accordingly, the international community should provide Afghanistan with urgently-needed economic, livelihood and humanitarian assistance while assisting the interim government fairly and inclusively to run the new businesses, insure social security and stability, curb currency devaluation and inflation, and embark on the path of peaceful reconstruction at an early date. Considering the fact that the Afghanistan war never achieved the goal of eliminating terrorist forces in Afghanistan, the hasty withdrawal of all foreign troops is likely to open an opportunity to various terrorist groups to resurge in the country again. All major countries concerned and the neighboring countries particularly should work on the premise that they respect Afghanistan’s sovereignty and independence, and accordingly extend recognition to the new government of Kabul.

Yet in reality, recognition has been one of the toughest issues due to its confusing mixture of politics, law and mentality. According to the constitutive theory, any entity, both state and government, does not exist for the purposes of international law until it is recognized. Yet, this argument is opposed by the declaratory theory, according to which recognition has no legal effect, because the existence of a state or a government is simply a question of pure fact. This study comes to accept the doctrine formulated by Hersey Lauterpacht that any new state or government has an obligation to meet the criteria required to receive recognition from other member states of the international community. It is noted that once recognized, a new entity is eligible for being extended the legitimate rights and necessary assistances from the international community. In theory and practice as well, no state or government wants to be isolated from the world. The Taliban is no exception.

Now with the Taliban having announced the formation of an interim government, an urgent step was made towards restoring order and post-war reconstruction in Afghanistan. As one of the neighboring countries of Afghanistan, China has made it clear that Afghanistan is sure to make the right choice and find a development path that is suited to its national conditions. The international community should believe that the Taliban will learn lessons from history and unite all ethnic groups and political factions together to build a broad-based and inclusive political structure, pursue moderate and prudent domestic and foreign policies, protect the rights and interests of women and children, resolutely combat terrorist groups, and develop friendly and cooperative relations with other countries, not least its neighbours.

Since its recent takeover, the Taliban has demonstrated a rather practical ruling approach and seems to seek for a loose regional alignment with Pakistan, China, Iran and Russia through the multilateral platform of the SCO. Internally, the Taliban have declared the support for women to work and girls to be educated demonstrating an eagerness to reach peace agreements with other political actors, including the now deposed government of Ashraf Ghani. Externally, the Taliban have welcomed the UN Security Council to take responsibility for peace and reconstruction of Afghanistan by providing the people there with vital economic and humanitarian assistance. All indicate that it is the time for the people of Afghanistan to determine their own future, allowing in practice to realize “Afghan-led, Afghan-owned” process for national peace and reconciliation. Now that Afghanistan stands at a historic crossroads today, it is necessary to offer three tips for the Taliban in its search for recognition.

First, geopolitically Afghanistan needs to approach its neighbours to assure its security ring and economic assistance. Among them is China that is internationally-known for its infrastructure-building and the largest manufacturing country of the world. Iran and Pakistan are also well-established medium industrial countries. Along with other three central Asian countries, China-Pakistan-Iran are ready to keep ports open for Afghanistan and ensure the smooth cross-border flow of goods to facilitate Afghanistan’s access to external support, in particular the transport of humanitarian supplies, as well as to help Afghanistan strengthen economic and trade connectivity with the regional countries.

Second, financially the Taliban ruling elite should also approach the countries in the Middle East, such as Qatar, Turkey, Saudi Arabic and some others, because they have been linked with each other by shared culture, religion and ethnics. Compared to the neighbours of Afghanistan which are strong in energy, transport, communications, infrastructure and other projects, the countries in the Middle East are generally wealthier in finance and energies which are vital to the war-torn Afghanistan. Accordingly, it has to act legally to tackle the earnest monetary difficulties in Afghanistan primarily due to the freezing of Afghan’s overseas assets. As a matter of fact, the United States froze nearly $9.5 billion Afghan reserves belonging to the Afghan central bank in mid-August after the Taliban took control of Kabul. China insists that these assets belong to Afghanistan and should be used for Afghanistan, not as leverage for threat or restraints.

Third, diplomatically and morally the Afghan Taliban needs to appeal to the Muslim countries around the world which are supposed to have 57 countries. The Muslim World, also stated as the Islamic World, can be meant three different aspects related to those who practice Islam: religious, cultural, and geographical. Culturally, the term refers to Islamic civilization. In the geographic sense, which is perhaps the most commonly used, it refers to the countries and other political regions where Muslims make up the majority of the population. Today with a population of over 1.7 billion people, Muslims represent over 24% of the world population. The two major sects of Islam are Shia and Sunni, acting the dominant religion throughout the Middle East, North Africa, the Horn of Africa and Central Asia. Yet, advances in communications and transportations have shortened the geographic distance between the east and west or the north and south. Accordingly, the Islamic world can help Afghanistan integrated into the world economy, serve the well-being of the Afghan people, and call on international organizations and financial institutions to provide the necessary support for its nation-rebuilding.

Conclusion: strategically the Taliban would learn to expand its network of supporters by expanding its diplomatic outreach. Their office in Doha (Qatar) has played a key role and various geopolitical realignments brought them closer to the regional powers. Scholars have argued about the implications of the Taliban’s external relations on peace and stability in Afghanistan while pushing the US out of Afghanistan temporarily. It is self-evident that the Taliban has exhibited a readiness to align itself with erstwhile adversaries, such as Iran and Russia, and has built on mutually needed partnerships with Pakistan and China. The Taliban’s willingness to undertake these overtures is truly designed to enhance its credibility internationally and expand opportunities beyond its traditional links with Pakistan. Now China, Russia, Pakistan and Iran (Quad) are maintaining their diplomatic presence in Kabul and continue engaging with the Taliban in the post-America era. In so doing, Afghanistan under the Taliban leadership can’t be excluded from the international community in a short run and a long run as well.

Paul Wang
Paul Wang
Wang Li is Professor of International Relations and Diplomacy at the School of International and Public Affairs, Jilin University China.