Afghanistan Taliban’s Government: Chances of International Recognition and Economic Assistance
Brigadier (Retd. Dr. Ahsan ur Rahman Khan
(Published on 6 September 2021)
Currently the most discussed aspect, relating to the future of post–US/NATO Afghanistan, is whether Afghanistan Taliban’s likely to be formed government be able to get international recognition and the much needed economic assistance. Though in that regard the stances of regional powers (China, Russia) and countries (Pakistan, Iran Turkey, Central Asian States) appear favourable; yet clarity about the stances of European Union (EU) and US are still awaited. Hence, prospect of that aspect is still difficult to be gauged with surety.
However in that context certain pointers provided by the media, reflecting the now prevailing public opinion and the developing mindset of the governments in EU and US, do provide assistance in discerning the possibility/possibilities.
Pointers Relating to International Recognition
About the Public ‘pulse’ in EU Countries
Latest reports/articles from EU countries, published by euorotopics (1) as European Press Roundup (dated 30 August 2021) clearly reflect the ‘pulse’ of the European countries’ people in this regard.
Out of about ten reports/articles in this press roundup only one article, authored by the journalist Maria Gal, published in a social-democratic Hungarian language newspaper NEPSZAVA(HU, conveyed negative opinion relating to international recognition of Afghanistan Taliban’s government: “The question now is whether the Taliban will be left sitting in the dark back rooms or whether it will be accepted into the club of the civilised world without further ado. If so, that would be tantamount to the West capitulating to the Islamists.” (2)
None of the other reports/articles conveyed any opposition to official recognition of Afghanistan Taliban government; rather some conveyed, with varying degree of assertion, the need to accept the ground reality in Afghanistan which leaves no option other than granting official recognition of the being formed government of Afghanistan Taliban. Very brief excerpts from some of those reports/articles are (3):-
- Romania’s daily newspaper ADEVARUL (RO) published the opinion of international politics analyst Cristian Unteanu in Adevărul who mentioned the uncertainty about the future conduct of Afghanistan Taliban, by opining “To be frank: nobody has even the faintest idea about the real scale of the crisis now, never mind what lies ahead. Absolutely nothing is known about the measures that the future Taliban government will implement”.
- Netherland (Dutch) newspaper NRC HANDELSBLAD (NL) informed about the current mindset of Spain’s government under Prime Minister Rutte. It asserted, “The Rutte government is not exactly accommodating towards migrants either, even regarding children. … All too often politicians adopt a negative attitude to refugees and migration. Evacuees from Kabul are fortunate that our politicians felt a sense of responsibility for them”.
- Spain’s general and local information newspaper 20 MINUTOS (ES) does not oppose official recognition of Afghanistan Taliban’s government, but cautions, “Any negotiations on recognising the government and releasing cooperation aid must include stemming the flow of heroin from Afghanistan”.
- Italy’s daily newspaper LA STAMPA (IT) also does not oppose official recognition of Afghanistan Taliban’s government. However, it does point out to the required clarity on the issue, “First and foremost is the question of whether the Taliban are willing to negotiate with the governments they’ve been fighting. Are they interested?—– Secondly, regardless of formal recognition by other states, we need to get a better idea of whether the Taliban can guarantee a degree of control over territory and essential state institutions which meets the minimum requirements for a government”.
- Ukraine’s non government and nonprofit media organisation HROMADSKE RADIO (UA) has conveyed the opinion of ILiya Kusa who is a Kyiv–based author and analyst of international relations with the Ukraine’s Institute of the Future. He has highlighted “a distinct possibility of Western states recognising the Taliban government: ——– In the West, this will be more difficult in view of public opinion, opposition and criticism. … But if the Taliban retain power and keep the promises they have made so far, that may already be enough for them to be recognised by Western countries and gain at least partial legitimacy abroad”.
- UK’s Sunday newspaper THE OBSERVER (GB) has captioned its article “Cooperation unpalatable but unavoidable”; and has clarified, “There is no alternative to talks with the Taliban—–Taliban co–operation is also needed to suppress the ISKP and to prevent them and foreign terrorists from using Afghanistan as a base for waging international jihad. It’s unpalatable but unavoidable”.
- Italy’s daily newspaper LA REPUBLICA (IT) has gone a step further in opining that “Islamic countries will play the key role in influencing Afghanistan”. And that Qatar (the host of US–Taliban peace talks) and Turkey (the only NATO country that can operate concretely in Afghanistan) can take act effectively in that regard.
- Yet another very significant aspect of ‘public pulse’ of EU countries has been reflected by the media group of Switzerland NZZAM SONNTAG (CH). It has highlighted that after US’ political and military debacle in Afghanistan opinion of EU public is turning sharply against US’ leading role in NATO affairs. The intensity of that public pulse can be gauged by the fact that NZZAM SONNTAG (CH) has captioned its publication as, “Europe must not let itself be bossed around”.
From these credible reports/articles, it is evident that majority population of EU countries is not opposed to granting official recognition to Afghanistan Taliban’s government. And, very significantly, public in certain of these countries is also demanding that the current dominant supremacy of US on EU in NATO decision making be refused and EU should take its own decisions irrespective of US.
About the Developing Mindset of European Governments and the Consequent EU’s Foreign Policy
It is evident from the currently appearing media reports that while majority of the EU governments have not shown aversion to developing working relationship (short of official recognition) with Afghanistan Taliban’s government, many EU powers have already announced intentions to open negotiations and working relations with that Taliban government.
According to a report dated 2 September 2021 by Germany’s DW, “Germany is looking for ways to deal with the Taliban. In order to save lives, it will be necessary to negotiate with Afghanistan’s new rulers”.—— “German Chancellor Angela Merkel is apparently counting on a willingness to cooperate on the part of the rulers in Kabul. “Our goal must be to preserve as much as possible of what we have achieved in terms of change in Afghanistan over the past 20 years,” Merkel told the parliament, the Bundestag, last week. “The Taliban are now a reality in Afghanistan,” she said. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas also called negotiations inevitable”.
Even EU itself as an organisation has now declared that it is going to have negotiations with the Afghanistan Taliban’s government, albeit withholding official recognition yet. The euronews report (4) dated 3 September 2021 has clarified, “European Union foreign ministers have agreed on the need to engage with the Taliban but stopped short of formally recognising the new government. At a meeting in Slovenia, EU foreign policy chief Joseph Borrell said that at this moment it is necessary and that a presence on the ground in Afghanistan should be re–established. “In order to support the Afghan population, we will have to engage with the new government in Afghanistan, which does not mean recognition, it is an operational engagement,” Borrell told reporters on Friday. According to the EU, cooperation is dependent on the Taliban meeting five conditions, including preventing the export of terrorism, respecting human rights, creating an inclusive government, allowing access to humanitarian aid, and allowing the departures of Afghan and European civilians who wish to leave”.
Since the Afghanistan Taliban leadership has already announced to meet these conditions, and is also continuously reflecting its resolve not to renege from these promises, there are clear chances of EU member countries gradually granting official recognition to Afghanistan Taliban government – probably commencing from EU powers like Germany and UK etc.
About the Public ‘pulse’ and Developing Mindset of US Government
Current media reports clearly show that US’ public is still in the state of deep shock that their mighty sole super power (US) has suffered such an ignominious political and military defeat at the hands of what they called the ‘ragtag’ militia of Afghanistan Taliban. Not only that, acknowledgement with praise by the world about the bloodless success of Afghanistan Taliban is further rubbing salt in the wounds US’ public’s vain pride. Obviously, with that state of mind of their masses, US government is not in a position to take any clear cut decision about official recognition anytime soon, though on ground US authorities are also engaged in ‘operational engagement’ with the government of Afghanistan Taliban!
Pointers Relating to Economic Assistance
Afghanistan Taliban government is facing immense economic challenge, besides other serious challenges.
One aspect of the economic challenge is that, as mentioned by John Sopko (the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction), about 80 percent of Afghanistan’s budget is funded by the United States and other international donors; and now not only that US government has frozen Afghanistan’s billions of dollars depriving the Taliban government of cash (5); besides that (according to US’ Foreign Policy Magazine dated 27 August 2021) “in the forums like the G–7 meeting chaired by the United Kingdom, conversations rapidly turn to the possibility of using funding as a means of pressure” (on The Taliban government) (6). (G–7 group comprises of US, UK, France, Germany, Italy, Canada, and Japan; headquartered at Cornwall, UK).
In this context it is worth reminding that the 20 years war causing brutal human and material devastation in Afghanistan by US and its mentioned close allies has already brought immense human calamity to Afghan masses – the gravity of which can be grasped from UNO’s UN News report dated 1 September 2021. It mentions that Ramiz Alakbarov, Deputy Special Representative and Humanitarian Coordinator in Afghanistan, has informed that, “Even before the current upheaval, some 18 million people, or half the population, depended on emergency aid to meet their basic needs”; and, “For us to keep the current demand, we need at least $200 million only for the food sector, to be able to provide food to the most vulnerable”. (7)
Obviously, under these conditions, such further efforts of US and its mentioned allies to increase the ‘economic strangulation’ of Afghanistan clearly reflect the extremely inhuman character of the ruling elites of these powers – a fact which has to be kept in mind while assessing likely projected scenarios in Afghanistan and its region. It is also obvious that such continued severe economic deprivation of masses is bound to lead Afghanistan to violent public unrest, chaos, even infighting/civil war, and the consequent destabilisation of Afghanistan – and, it is also not beyond comprehension that instability of Afghanistan suits the real (albeit denied) geopolitical interest of the ‘spoilers’ (US, India, Israel) who want to somehow ward off Afghanistan becoming peaceful enough to allow opening up of China’s economic corridor (CPEC, BRI/OBOR) through Afghanistan.
These ground realities certainly present a gloomy picture relating to Afghanistan. However, there are some signs of hopes too. Some of those are:-
- The regional powers/countries around Afghanistan are fully aware of the fact that destability in Afghanistan is bound to give rise to terrorist forces (ISIS, TTP, IMU, etc); thereby creating serious security threat to these regional powers/countries, as also denying these powers/countries the chance of developing economic interaction with Afghanistan. It is for this purpose that Pakistan, China, Russia, Turkey, Iran, and certain Central Asian States are constantly working together to develop an economic–political arrangement to provide economic assistance to Afghanistan, as also supporting establishment of an inclusive government in that country. Many details are obviously not available, but the tone and tenor of the very recent statements of the representatives of China and Afghanistan Taliban clearly indicated that there is already some progress in development of an arrangement for China’s economic assistance to, and interaction with, Afghanistan.
- Pakistan is also playing a proactive role to diplomatically bring about a consensus politico–economic arrangement of these regional powers and countries to help Afghanistan in alleviating its economic distress, and getting international recognition of it’s ‘to be formed’ inclusive government hence becoming a useful member of the international comity. Recent visits of Pakistan’s foreign mister to those regional powers and countries, as also Pakistan’s prime minister’s continuing virtual and telephonic consultations with leaders of most of the powers and countries which have stakes in Afghanistan, clearly reflect the evolving success in that regard. Pakistan’s efforts for that purpose are continuing. Even yesterday (5th September) Pakistan’s Special Representative for Afghanistan also chaired a virtual consultation meeting of the Special Representatives/Envoys of the other immediate neighbours of Afghanistan (China, Iran, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan). The meeting deliberated upon “evolving a regional approach to address common challenges and to realise opportunities arising from a stable Afghanistan”—– All participants “agreed to remain in close contact”. (8)
- As for the urgently needed humanitarian aid for Afghan masses, Pakistan has also played a significantly helpful role by becoming the only country, despite the entailed dangers, to open and provide an air and a ground corridor for UN’s supply of food and medical items for the distressed Afghan masses. Pakistan’s airline PIA flew medical supplies to northern Afghanistan’s Mazar-e-Sharif airport, and about 600 metric tonnes of food items were delivered through the land routes from Pakistan. (9) Now that Pakistan has provided the air and ground corridors for supply of UN’s humanitarian aid to the distressed Afghan masses, according to US’ Foreign Policy Magazine of 3rd September 2021, “United Nations is preparing to send its staff back into the field to manage what is expected to be a major humanitarian relief effort” —–“The move comes as the United nation faces increasing pressures—–to resume humanitarian operations in Afghanistan”. (10)
From the foregoing elaboration of realities it is evident that the challenges for the ‘to be formed’ government of Afghanistan Taliban are daunting. However, four other undeniable ground realities also clearly show much higher chances of Afghanistan Taliban government successfully meeting those challenges – albeit gradually. Those ground realities are: (a) US’ marked inability to take any major military action in Afghanistan anymore; (b) serious loss of, and sharply questioned, US’ political/military leadership credibility in NATO/EU; (c) unremitting resolve of the global powers of the region (China, Russia) and countries (Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Central Asian states) to formulate a consensus political–economic arrangement, irrespective of US, to help Afghanistan in meeting its challenges; and (d) the well–proven politico–military superiority of Afghanistan Taliban.
It is difficult at this juncture to estimate the timeframe of Afghanistan Taliban government’s final success. However, what appears most likely is that during the current month (September 2021) Afghanistan Taliban government may get its official recognition, and start getting economic assistance/interaction from these mentioned powers/countries, as also much increased humanitarian aid from many countries under UN’s arrangement.
(7). https://news.un.org/en/story/2021/09/1098972 (Hereinafter cited as UN’s UN News).
(9). UN’s UN News. op. cit.