Diplomacy and the Taliban

The main problem, which continues to be relevant until now, is the recognition of the Taliban and the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan at the official level and the initiation of diplomatic relations with this regime.

The Taliban’s victory put many countries in an awkward position. They encountered the dilemma, whether to recognize the reality and go along with the existence of the newly emerged radical and aggressive political regime, which had an extremely dangerous and sad legacy, or to enter into confrontation with it. The main problem, which continues to be relevant until now, is the recognition of the Taliban and the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan at the official level and the initiation of diplomatic relations with this regime. Today, this regime has not been recognized by any country in the world, notwithstanding that the high-level diplomatic contacts keep to be developed actively. The Taliban, in their turn, are making serious efforts so that to gain the official recognition from both the regional countries and the influential global players.

The consolidated position of many actors of the international politics is built on the following conditions: The Taliban may gain the official recognition if it reforms its regime, carries out a deep transformation of its internal policy towards the various national minorities and the human rights respect. Among those conditions, high importance is given to the problem of women, whose rights are violated by the Taliban on a systematical basis. Finally, one more important issue among the conditions is the Taliban’s fighting against the international terrorist structures that found a refuge on the Afghan territory. Both the entire world and the regional powers demand from the Taliban an uncompromising fight against the terrorists. In a case of the requirements observance, the international community would be ready to meet halfway, namely, to unfreeze the Afghanistan’s sovereign funds held in Western banks and to recognize the Taliban regime.

This diplomatic approach has a quite long history. Various historical cases show that this approach can be successful if both parties wish to come to an agreement and if from part of such revolutionary and radical forces, there is a desire to be integrated into the world politics. In the case of the Taliban, the ‘carrot and stick’ principle has not yet brought serious results. The fact is that actually the demand of the international community affects the fundamental issues underlying the radical organization’s spirit. They form the fundamental ideological basis of the Taliban. In such radical systems, a departure from these principles can result in their internal erosion. The Taliban leaders realize this perfectly well; so they strive in every possible way to dodge these requirements and not comply with them.

Upon that, the situation is complicated by the fact that it is possible that, due to own interests, a number of countries could de facto go towards the Taliban and thereby ignore their failure to comply with the requirements being put forward to them. This, in turn, could make the Taliban to conclude that they may achieve their goal, i.e., obtain the official recognition, without fulfilling of the requirements concerning the respect for human rights including female rights and the fighting against the international terror.

Recently, South China Morning Post published the interview with Yue Xiaoyong, Beijing’s special envoy for Afghan affairs. The Chinese special envoy’s comments reflect a growing engagement with the Taliban’s regime. Yue Xiaoyong said that China had “accurately grasped” the issue’s general trend in the Afghanistan issue. He added, “In the grand picture of our foreign diplomacy, our proactive position in Afghanistan and its neighboring South Asian region has been strengthened”. The China’s enhanced “proactive position” in Afghanistan over the past decade has helped to safeguard the security in the northwestern Chinese region, which borders its troublesome neighbor. Also Yue Xiaoyong said, Beijing has already defused various risks and maintained the strategic security of China’s northwest periphery.

A long-standing concern for Beijing is the potential possibility that its neighbor would harbor terrorist and extremist groups at its territory, which could pose a security threat, particularly to Xinjiang, the district, which shares border with Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the Taliban leaders assured Beijing that they regard the threats to China as seriously as a threat against their own country.While not recognizing the Taliban regime formally, China is one of the few countries – along with Pakistan and Russia – maintaining its diplomatic presence in Kabul after the chaotic withdrawal of the US troops from Afghanistan two years ago. Yue Xiaoyong’s comments came amid growing signs that China is continuing to step up with its engagement with Afghanistan, including the arrival in Beijing in November of the Taliban’s newly appointed ambassador Bilal Karimi. This fact puts China among only a handful of nations ready to host a Taliban’s ambassador since the Islamic fundamentalist group regained power in August 2021.

Late last month, the Taliban senior official met Liu Jinsong, the head of the Chinese foreign ministry’s Asian department. According to the ministry, the meeting was held for a “friendly and in-depth exchange”. In late December, China abstained from voting in the UN Security Council for the appointment of a special envoy for the war-torn country – following an independent assessment report issued in November. In the adopted resolution, it was noted that China was calling on UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to be cautious in dealing with the appointment. In an explanation of its vote, China’s deputy permanent representative to the UN said that a forcible appointment, which disregarded the Afghanistan’s views, could leave the special envoy to be “unable to discharge their functions at all”. Moreover, China announced US$3.8 billion Belt and Road expansion in Central Asia as Afghanistan holds strategic importance for the Belt and Road Initiative, the Beijing’s massive infrastructure project. The Central Asian country’s geographic position makes it a potential corridor connecting China with the Middle East and Europe.

The second country, which is moving actively towards establishing of the official diplomatic relations with the Taliban, is Kazakhstan. In particular, at the end of the last year, Astana decided to exclude the Taliban from the list of the banned organizations. This was stated by Aibek Smadiyarov, the official representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Kazinform agency wrote. Smadiyarov said that regularly Kazakhstan conducts an audit of its national list of the banned terrorist organizations in order to update this list. According to Smadiyarov, as a part of this process, Kazakhstan decided to exclude the Taliban Movement from this list “in accordance with the UN practice”. He refers to the resolutions of the UN Security Council that are mandatory; and according to the resolutions, the Taliban is not included in the lists of the terrorist organizations.

There is one more country, which pursues a policy of a strong support for the Taliban and makes its best for a prerequisites formation for the international legitimization of this radical organization. This is the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Pakistan’s actions also stand out against the background of the general efforts of the international community seeking to force the Taliban to conduct the needed reforms and take the certain actions in order to obtain the official recognition and the sanctions cancellation. As the founder, main sponsor and mentor of this radical movement, Islamabad seeks to integrate the Taliban regime into the international community. It lobbies actively for the recognition of the Emirate at the international level.

Upon that, it should be kept in mind that despite certain transformations in the public life of Afghanistan, the situation as a whole does not change yet. Indeed, some changes are observed towards less radical statements and greater responsibility for their words. And yet the Taliban are still extremely far from the state, which would allow considering their regime to be responsible participant in the international political process. As before, the above-said requirements are not fulfilled by the Taliban. That is why, the political actions of some countries, that, despite this, are going to deepen the diplomatic relations with them, do not accelerate this process. On the contrary, they create conditions, under which the Taliban would not apply reforms over the cruel and archaic practices established in the Emirate for centuries; instead, the Taliban would keep cherishing their hope for obtaining of both recognition and easing of sanctions without the reforms conducting. For the successful implementation of the policy of humanizing of the practices inside Afghanistan and for successful combating of the terrorist threat, some really joint and consolidated actions are needed from the part of all the responsible actors in the international politics.

Georgi Asatrian
Georgi Asatrian
Georgi Asatryan, associate professor, Lomonosov Moscow State University and Plekhanov Russian University of Economics.