Colombo, October 25 (Counterpoint): On the face of it, the conditions imposed by the international community on the Taliban regime in Afghanistan for recognition and for the release of US$ 9.5 billion seized funds appear to be reasonable from the humanitarian angle. With varying degrees of emphasis, the world (including Russia and China) want the new Taliban-ruled Islamic Emirate to form an inclusive multi-ethnic government and throw open the doors of education, work and political participation to women.
The October 20 conference in Moscow was the latest to make these demands, though in a milder way. The Moscow Format was attended by India, Pakistan, Iran, China, Afghanistan, and Russia. Afghanistan’s delegation was led by Deputy Prime Minister Abdul Salaam Hanafi.
The participants suggested that a collective initiative should be launched to convene a “representative international donor conference under the auspices of the United Nations at the soonest possible time.” However, it indirectly indicated that it is the bounden duty of the US to repair the damage it had done to Afghanistan. To quote the communique: “The core burden of post-conflict economic and financial reconstruction and development of Afghanistan must be shouldered by troop-based actors which were in the country for the past 20 years.”
Participants in the meeting called for the need of establishing relations with Afghanistan “irrespective of the official recognition of the new Afghan government by the international community.”
The participants reiterated their respect to the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Afghanistan and reaffirmed their commitment to Afghanistan “as a peaceful, indivisible, independent, economically developing State, free of terrorism and drug-related crime and respecting the basic norms in the human rights area.”
Being concerned about the activities of proscribed terrorist organizations in Afghanistan, the participants reaffirmed their willingness to continue to promote security in Afghanistan to contribute to regional stability. The participating countries urged the current Afghan government to adopt additional measures aimed at improving governance and forming a truly inclusive government, which will properly reflect “the interests of all major ethno-political forces in the country which will be a fundamental prerequisite for the completion of the national reconciliation process in Afghanistan.”
The participating countries said that they were pleased to note “the reaffirmation by the interim Afghan government of its previous commitments to prevent use of the Afghan territory against its neighbors, other States in the region and the rest of the world.”
Additionally, the participants called on the new Afghan leadership “to practice moderate and sound internal and external policies, adopt friendly policies towards neighbors of Afghanistan, achieve the shared goals of durable peace, security, safety, and long-term prosperity, and respect the rights of ethnic groups, women and children.”
Reasonable as these expectations and demands are, the question arises as to whether they are practical at the present juncture when the Taliban are just two months into power.
Have such urgent demands been made in the case of other new regimes before? Are the conditions based on the political realities of Afghanistan? Is it fair to expect the Taliban to share power with groups which had been roundly defeated and which had been abandoned even by their patron, the United States, in its bid to make a deal with the Taliban to quit Afghanistan by the August 31, 2021 self-imposed deadline?
Is it fair and politically realistic to ask the Taliban to give up their ideology immediately and at one go to get international recognition and secure the release of Afghanistan’s own money amounting to US$ 9.5 billion seized by the US?
Is it fair for countries which tom tom their humanitarian credentials to make such demands when 97% of Afghans are on the brink of starvation due to lack of funds and international aid? Every government across the globe is shedding copious tears about the plight of the poor Afghans but none wants to step forward to rush aid simply because the Taliban regime would not allow them to give aid directly to the people, by-passing it. The concession demanded from the Taliban regime will be rejected by any sovereign government, anywhere in the world.
Another question that is asked is: why the US cannot negotiate with the Taliban now when it had negotiated with them for long to help it make an exit from Afghanistan with the least possible damage to itself? What is the moral justification for shunning the Taliban after the safe withdrawal as planned in August, a process in which the Taliban had kept its word?
Can the world forget that the US Special Envoy to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, with the full support of Washington, had a big role in handing over Afghanistan to the Taliban by totally sidelining the US-backed and “democratically elected” government in Kabul headed by Ashraf Ghani?
The pointed to be noted is that the demands of the international community have not been rejected outright by the Taliban. Both in the Doha peace talks and after the takeover in August, they had agreed to form an “inclusive” government with those who opposed them. They had also agreed to continue female education. Afghanistan’s deputy PM Abdul Salaam Hanafi had assured in Moscow that Afghanistan’s soil will not be used to threaten other countries and that the government will be protecting international values. Hanafi asked the international community to recognize their government and seek positive interaction with the Taliban.
But the Taliban might not be able to deliver on these promises immediately after the takeover, as these pertain to their political interests, the ground situation, and their ideological orientation. If these interests and ideology are thrown to the winds and the regime bows to the diktats of the US-led international community now, the Taliban themselves will split. They will have walked into the “trap” set by the US.
It is clear that the aim of the US is to de-legitimize the Taliban, make them bow to the diktats of the international community and achieve what it could not achieve by military means for two decades. Worried about Afghanistan’s becoming a breeding ground and a launch pad for Islamic terror groups, even anti-US Russia and China are part of the international effort to dictate terms to the Taliban.
Ray of Hope
However, viewed from another angle, the international community is eager to help Afghanistan come out of the current humanitarian crisis and may be searching for ways to accommodate the Taliban regime.
The UN has said that it has set up a special trust fund to provide urgently-needed cash directly to Afghans through a system that taps into donor funds frozen since the Taliban takeover in August, according to a report by Al Jazeera. At the recent G20 meet, the EU pledged US$ 1.15 billion.
Achim Steiner, UN Development Programme’s administrator, said Germany, a first contributor, had pledged US$ 58 million to the fund. The UNDP has said that US$ 667 million would be need in the next 12 months. If aid did not reach quickly, “millions and millions of Afghans will be unable to stay on their land, in their homes, in their villages and survive,” Steiner said.
The International Monetary Fund said on Tuesday that Afghanistan’s economy is set to contract up to 30% and further fuel a refugee crisis that will affect neighboring countries, Turkey and Europe. With the US hanging on to US$ 9.5 billion of Afghan government funds, Afghan banks are running out of money, civil servants are not being paid and food prices have soared.
But there is hope that the US itself might relent. President Joe Biden has appointed Thomas West, a diplomat with long experience in dealing with Afghanistan, as special representative to Afghanistan. West had earlier served on (then Vice President) Joe Biden’s national security team and on the National Security Council staff. West’s appointment indicates the Biden administration’s desire to stay engaged with Afghanistan. West will work with Pakistan to persuade the Taliban to expand its government and include other religious and ethnic factions and political groups as well. He will try to convince the Taliban to respect human rights, reopen schools for girls and allow women to work. West will also be required to ensure regular humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan.