The Taliban and International Diplomacy

The Taliban regime in Afghanistan is approaching international recognition. Although it may not happen at an official diplomatic level in the short term, there is a clear trend towards this direction.

The Taliban regime in Afghanistan is approaching international recognition. Although it may not happen at an official diplomatic level in the short term, there is a clear trend towards this direction. The growing number of states are reducing restrictions on contacts with the Taliban and deepening the quantity and quality of ties with the leaders of the unrecognized Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

The US State Department recently published a document called “Integrated Country Strategy Afghanistan,” which reveals the country is cautiously exploring the possibility of reopening a consulate in Afghanistan. One of the main messages of the diplomatic document was “With the Taliban, we advocate for consular access, transparency, and accountability for Americans; we also support the work of the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs to obtain the release of Americans unjustly detained.” The document further notes that “to support the relocation of eligible Afghans, we engage the Taliban on freedom of movement for properly documented Afghans and we process Afghans for both Special Immigrant Visas and Immigrant Visas.”

It is worth noting that the US embassy in Kabul was closed abruptly in August 2021 due to the rapid withdrawal of American soldiers from Afghanistan. Since then, the US embassy in Afghanistan has been operating from Doha, and its consular services are also available in neighboring countries. At the same time, Thomas West, the US special envoy for Afghanistan, has previously stated that Washington is the primary and biggest humanitarian supporter for Afghanistan. “Even as – and for as long as – the United States does not recognize the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan, we must build functional relationships that advance our objectives and further our understanding of the Taliban’s readiness and ability to fulfill their commitments to us. At the same time, we meet Afghans where they are – including but not limited to Pakistan, Central Asia, Turkey, and the UAE – coordinating with U.S. missions in those countries, on private sector engagement, education initiatives, and a future political process among Afghans,” the document said.

At the same time, the significant criticism of the Taliban, which is contained in the US official document.  It was said that “Two years after the Taliban takeover in August 2021, Afghanistan now suffers under an extreme form of religious authoritarianism that uses military force and its secret police as governance instruments of choice. Its people are starving. Many Afghans are ripe for radicalization and face horrific choices: sell their children or their organs to feed their families. Joining ISIS-Khorasan (ISIS-K) is a third horrific option; ISIS-K threatens Taliban credibility, Afghanistan’s security, and, if unchecked, the wider region.” The main goal of the United States is: “U.S. engagement prevents the territory of Afghanistan from being used to conduct terrorist attacks on the United States or any other country.”

The intention of the United States to open a consulate in Afghanistan, of course, will be a major victory for the Taliban regime. Zabihullah Mujahid, the official representative of the unrecognized Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, has already stated that any country, including America, that wants to resume its diplomatic activities in Afghanistan, can do so. The leadership of the IEA expresses their gratitude for this initiative and is prepared to cooperate in this direction. “If any country contacts us, we will take all necessary measures to ensure security. There is every opportunity for a country to reopen its embassy and consulate in Afghanistan. We have not faced any difficulties, and the situation is improving for the establishment of close diplomatic relations between countries, which will be beneficial for both nations,” said a Taliban spokesman.

At the end of last year, Kazakhstan decided to exclude the Taliban from the list of banned organizations. Aibek Smadiyarov, the official representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan said that Astana regularly audits its national list of banned terrorist organizations in order to update it. According to Smadiyarov, as a part of this process, Kazakhstan decided to exclude the Taliban Movement from this list “by 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.

In turn, the Taliban leaders have repeatedly stated that they have no intention of implementing any reforms that contradict “Afghan traditions and norms of Islam”. At the same time, almost all major powers and regional players demand serious reforms, an inclusive government, and regime liberalization from the Taliban. As a result, it can be said about a certain failure of Western efforts to pressure the Taliban towards a more liberal and tolerant regime. This is particularly evident when analyzing the increasing influence of the most conservative and powerful factions within the Taliban, particularly the Haqqani Network, which is backed by the Pakistani military.

In other words, a comprehensive strategy is needed to normalize the situation in Afghanistan. It should include the willingness and desire to engage in dialogue with the Taliban, especially those factions that are committed to dialogue with the outside world and seek international recognition. As for the most odious and conservative groups and their sponsors, pressure must be exerted on them, which will imply solid rewards for transforming their destructive strategies.

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