Taliban still struggling for international recognition

Group spent the last two years courting world leaders but has found it difficult to gain acceptance since taking power in August.

Mullah Baradar Akhund, centre, a senior Taliban official, seated with a group of men in this photo taken from a video released on August 16, 2021 [File: Social Media/via Reuters]

Kabul, Afghanistan – Since it took power in August, the Taliban has been on a desperate quest to have its Islamic Emirate recognised internationally as the official government of Afghanistan.

But so far, those attempts have yet to bear fruit.

It is not from lack of effort, though, the group’s leadership has been busy. It has been meeting with officials from the United Nations, who assured the Taliban last month that the body will continue its assistance programmes in the country.

However, the UN turned down the Taliban’s request to have its chosen envoy address the General Assembly.

The group has also met with representatives from the United Kingdom, who pushed them on ensuring that British nationals are allowed to leave the country. The UK also raised the issue of women’s rights in meetings with Taliban representatives.

The Taliban leadership, including figures appearing on international terror lists, also made sure to be present when aid shipments from Qatar, China, the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan and Uzbekistan arrived at Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport.

Frozen assets

But none of these nations have yet announced their formal acknowledgement of the Taliban as the rightful rulers of the country. That recognition is crucial, not only for the Taliban’s own legitimacy, but also because the nation continues to struggle after the United States, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund cut off Kabul’s access to more than $9.5bn in loans, funding and assets.

The Taliban’s diplomatic isolation is in contrast to the last 10 years, which saw the group making several trips across the region as part of their peace efforts with the US administration.

Since their 2011 arrival in Doha, the Taliban had held numerous direct and indirect talks with the representatives from different nations. Those efforts were ramped up over the last two years, when they embarked on official trips to Uzbekistan, Iran, Russia, Turkmenistan, China and Pakistan.

At the time, these visits were dubbed as the “Taliban’s world tour,” among certain circles in Kabul.

Today, however, even foreign capitals that once eagerly announced the Taliban’s visits to their nations have taken a harsh, even outright critical stance on the group.

Iran, which had long been accused of aiding and abetting the group, took a cryptic tone when speaking of the Taliban takeover of its eastern neighbour.

At an August 28 speech, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said, “The nature of our relations with governments depends on the nature of their relations with us.”

When the neighbours did finally meet earlier this week, it was to discuss the status of the Islam Qala border crossing and trade tariffs.

A former Afghan official, speaking to Al Jazeera on condition of anonymity, said foreign governments accepting the Taliban as a rightful government would be antithetical to diplomatic norms.

“A terrorist group has no business reassuring anybody,” the official said.

‘Taliban part of Afghanistan’s reality’

Janan Mosazai, a former ambassador to China and Pakistan, said that when these nations did engage with the Taliban before, it was a very different time.

In the past, Mosazai said, it was the actions of former US President Barack Obama that led other countries to seriously consider establishing ties with the Taliban as far back as 2011.

By the end of his first term, Obama had ordered a troop surge, approved the Taliban’s presence in Doha, and announced Washington’s first official withdrawal date.

“Countries in the region assumed that the US was leaving Afghanistan,” which Mosazai said compelled them to take one of the main belligerents in the Afghan war seriously at the time.

Mosazai says Iran, Russia and China first started to establish relations with the Taliban by the end of Obama’s first term in office.

Likewise, sources speaking to Al Jazeera at the time said officials from regional and Western states had established direct and indirect relations with the group shortly after their arrival in Qatar.

Mosazai says the Taliban used to be invited to Beijing, with their entire Doha team coming to China and even being given tours of the Beijing-Shanghai bullet train.

By bringing the meetings out into the public, Mosazai says these capitals, particularly Beijing, were sending a very specific message going forward: “The Americans are out and the Taliban are a part of the reality in Afghanistan.”

Mosazai says he met the Taliban in Pakistan in 2015 to try to start peace talks between the group and the government. But, he said, the Taliban delegation was cold and hostile in their tone and actions. “They read from very clearly prepared notes and never veered away from that, but they were very dismissive towards the government delegations.”

‘Don’t want to go back to 1990s’

Since taking over the country, the group’s leadership has been careful to take a more amenable tone, often speaking of press freedom, women’s rights and a general amnesty.

However, rights groups and Afghans on the ground say Taliban foot soldiers have been hostile and aggressive towards the Afghan people. In recent weeks, Taliban fighters have been accused of detaining and torturing journalists and killing and abusing protesters across the nation’s major cities.

This change in dynamics has also affected the stance of many countries towards the Taliban.

Moscow and Ankara, who, like Tehran, had hosted the Taliban for several peace talks, also said they would not acknowledge a Taliban-led government until they lived up to their promise to form an “inclusive” administration. Though Beijing has offered tens of millions in emergency aid, they too have not yet accepted the Taliban as an official government.

Sabawoon Samim, a Kabul-based analyst, says the group’s years of travels prior to its takeover of the country were a reaction to their treatment during their five-year rule when only Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the US recognised them as Afghanistan’s legitimate government.

“They don’t want to go back to the 1990s.”

Samim says the Taliban still wants to have solid relations with other nations and to get aid from them, including the US. In its last stint in power, the group was unable to assist millions of Afghans suffering from drought, famine and natural disasters due to a lack of diplomatic relations with major donor countries and the UN.

This, Samim and others said, is not a state of affairs the Taliban wants to return to.

In a statement issued to The Associated Press after their first official meeting with UK representatives, the Taliban hinted as much.

They began by speaking of normalising relations with all nations, before raising the issue of money. “In return, we want the international community to return the cash capital of the Afghan nation to our nation.”

But normalisation still seems a far way off.

So far, both Italy and France have pledged that they will have no diplomatic ties with the group. Last month, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian accused the Taliban of “lying” and said Paris “refuses to recognise or have any type of relationship with this government” unless the group can live up to its promises.

In an interview with French radio ahead of this month’s G20 summit in Rome, French President Emmanuel Macron said the entire G20 “must have a very clear message that we will set conditions for recognition of the Taliban”.

Macron’s description of those conditions seemed to echo what many other world leaders have been saying since the August 15 takeover.

“I believe international recognition should have a price, and the dignity of Afghan women, equality between men and women, should be one of the points on which we insist, and should be a condition for us.”

The former government official worries that giving the Taliban too much credit for their years of globe-hopping and the August takeover of a one-time democracy could set a dangerous precedent for other armed groups.

“A terrorist group acting as a proto-state harms the global state system. It sets a precedent for other groups to do the same thing under the alleged guise of peace.”

Source: Al Jazeera