There is a growing concern that the Taliban would mitigate the prospect of becoming part of the international community by not fulfilling its commitment to protect human rights and respect international laws in pursuance of a ruling model that espouses a strict and inflexible sharia-based governance structure. Any attempt that Afghanistan makes to restrict its people from practising their rights in a legitimate and legal environment could send wrong signals about the Taliban’s intention to change, while jeopardising the confidence of the regional countries that had been ensuring the world that it will not be business as usual.
When China, Russia and Pakistan were demanding of the US and its western allies to soften their stance towards the Taliban, with the assurance that this new breed was different from the one the world had encountered in 1997, a volley of unpredictable decisions that included banning women from participating in sports, making veiling a compulsion, restricting women from working outside their home, beating journalists, using brutal force to quell protesting civil society began unfolding. The double down was the composition of the interim government with no women, all hardliners filling the top slots, and not a single person from outside the rank and file of the Taliban. It was in sharp contrast to their pledge to build a broad-based government. Though the Taliban’s spokesperson has assured a more inclusive government in the future, it was at the start of their rule that the willingness to change was expected to be demonstrated.
The memories of the unsophisticated, rustic and raw governance style of the Taliban’s first stint are still fresh in people’s minds. Not even the failure of the US in Afghanistan had done anything to remove those footprints. The only way to have the world forget the out-of-sync-with-the-modern-world history of the Taliban’s past is to replace it with better and good memories. So far, it is not being done, and the international community is practising the wait-and-see rule to ascertain the direction the Taliban take before taking it into its fold.
There is also a shift in the tone of Taliban-friendly countries, not to speak of the west, which had been largely reluctant to hand over the reins of power to the Taliban from the beginning. United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said there is “deep disquiet about what lies ahead”. At a 22-state virtual huddle, including the EU and NATO and chaired by Secretary Anthony Blinken, the standard demand and concern was to see the Taliban abide by their commitment to respect human rights, counter-terrorism and build an inclusive government. During the Security Council’s debate on Afghanistan on September 9, the US made it clear that “any legitimacy and support will have to be earned” by the Taliban, adding that “the standards the international community has set are clear”. According to its representative, the UK’s approach will be determined by “how the Taliban handle things”. While the Chinese built a case of constructive engagement with the new regime, it also pressed the Taliban to “learn lessons from history, honour its commitments, unite all ethnic groups, build a broad-based and inclusive political architecture, pursue moderate and prudent domestic and foreign policies, protect the rights of women and resolutely combat terrorist groups”. The Russians too spelled out concern of seeing a new wave of terrorism if the condition in Afghanistan diverted from the stated and promised path. Its envoy stated “the risk of militants infiltrating the region”. Only a stable Afghanistan, he reiterated, was in the interest of Russia and the region.
In his first public hearing on Afghanistan at the Congress, on September 14, Secretary Blinken had warned the world against giving legitimacy to the Taliban government without getting proof that it was not business as usual for them. He said, “What we have to look at is an insistence that every country, to include Pakistan, make good on the expectations that the international community has of what is required of a Taliban-led government if it’s to receive any legitimacy of any kind or any support.”
Taliban are in dire need to be recognised and brought out of the economic and humanitarian crisis ready to explode, especially when the US has frozen its foreign exchange reserves, the IMF and World Bank have suspended aid, and there is a mounting danger of food and cash shortage. In the quarterly report to the UN Security Council of September 2, Secretary General Guterres cautioned that along with internal displacement, “the combination of natural disasters, severe drought, flooding and the third wave of the pandemic have put nearly half of the population of Afghanistan in dire need of humanitarian assistance”.
The world is today united in seeing a stable Afghanistan. However, it is for the Taliban to keep this mood of the international community intact by exercising moderation, and rather than listening to their instinct, follow the international norms and ethics in building their country. The nation-state theory may not be the ideal one, but it is the only structure acceptable for a legitimate survival in the comity of the world nation.
The Taliban will have to understand that one, to be accepted is not equal to being recognised; and two, it is not the same world they left behind as they crossed Tora Bora in 2001.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 16th, 2021.