The hasty withdrawal of the United States (US) from Afghanistan after two decades left Afghanistan in a disarray. The US-led NATO alliance lost thousands of soldiers and billions of dollars without being able to effectively put Afghanistan on the path of sustainable peace and development. The erstwhile Afghan government failed to counter the Taliban onslaught and eventually collapsed. The Afghan government had been weakening over last few years and the Taliban becoming stronger. The Moscow and Doha talks were all processes acknowledging the shift in this direction. Countries like China, Pakistan, Iran and Russia were not antithetical to negotiating with the Taliban. Each of these countries had their own interest in doing so. However, after almost eight months of Taliban capturing power in Afghanistan, diplomatic recognition has still not been accorded by these countries.
What are the reasons that are stopping formal recognition of the Taliban?
During the Doha round of talks in 2020, China was supportive of the pact between the Taliban and the United States (US). On March 25 2022, Wang Yi, the Foreign Minister of China, paid a surprise visit to Afghanistan. Subsequently, Beijing also invited Taliban to send its representative to the meeting of Foreign Ministers of the neighbouring countries of Afghanistan held between 30-31 March 2022 in Tunxi, China. However, in spite of these visits and actively engaging with the regime, China has still not granted diplomatic recognition to the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate.
Peace in Afghanistan is critical to stability in China’s restive Uyghur dominated Xinjiang Autonomous Region. China has conditioned granting formal recognition to the Taliban, to it preventing terror spillover to Xinjiang and enabling Chinese companies to access the rich mineral deposits of Afghanistan.[i]So far, Chinese investments in the country have remained lukewarm especially in major projects like Mes Aynak Copper Mines and Amu Darya oil and gas mine. It seems that the security dimension trumps the economic interests and diplomatic recognition as of now. The terror attacks on Chinese nationals in Pakistan in July last year and on 26th April, 2022 have led to apprehensions in China that Taliban may not be able to stop extremist forces, which target China, like East Turkestan Islamic Movement which uses Afghanistan as a training ground.[ii]
Moving forward, China has also stated that it will not make recognizing the Taliban government a unilateral affair. China will move forward once there is consensus with countries like Iran, Russia and Pakistan. [iii] When and how this consensus is achieved remains to be seen.
Pakistan, the major patron of Taliban, has still not accorded diplomatic recognition to its government. Taliban’s non recognition of the Durand Line, the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, a continuation of old Afghan policy of previous governments, has turned out to be a major flashpoint between the two. The Taliban is interested in a soft border approach along the Durand Line and has maintained that it wants to settle the border issue politically. But the construction of a border fence along the Durand line has been important from the Pakistani perspective since it wants to prevent the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) from using its safe havens in Afghanistan. The TTP is a large militant organization seeking to overthrow the Pakistani government and establish an Islamic Emirate in Pakistan.[iv]
As per media reports, forty-seven people have died last month in the eastern Provinces of Khost and Kunar in Afghanistan along the Durand Line in fresh airstrikes carried out by the Pakistani Airforce[v]. This might cause a strain in relations between the Taliban and Pakistan. Afghan authorities highlighted that a large number of women and children have been killed in the airstrikes. This also has triggered protests by ordinary Afghan citizens against the Pakistani establishment.[vi]
Furthermore, Pakistan’s envoy to the United Nations (UN), Munir Akram said that Pakistan will take a call in recognising the Taliban when there is regional consensus among the countries.[vii] He further said that the country would discuss the matter at appropriate forums with countries like China, Turkey and the US.
Russia began its ‘special military operation in Ukraine on February 24th 2022’[viii] and though currently it is preoccupied with Ukraine, Afghanistan and the Central Asian Region continue to hold strategic relevance for Russia. Moscow has its own misgivings about the Taliban. Some Russian analysts have questioned the Taliban’s capacity to control extremist groups targeting Central Asian countries like Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan from operating within its borders.[ix] The instability witnessed in Kazakhstan in January 2022 has further increased Russian apprehensions. Russia, while sending troops to Kazakhstan under the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) mandate during the latter’s political crisis in January 2022, concurred with Kazakh government’s point of view that foreign extremist outfits were involved in fueling the unrest. Though it is still unclear as to which outfits caused this. While, as recently as on 9th April, Russia accepted the diplomat appointed by the Taliban regime.[x] However, Russian Foreign Ministry categorically stated that accepting a diplomat is nowhere close to formal recognition of the Taliban government.[xi] The Russian Foreign Minister was quoted saying’ the agenda is not on the table currently.’[xii]
CENTRAL ASIAN COUNTRIES
Being immediate neighbours of Afghanistan, the Central Asian countries bore the brunt of Afghans fleeing the country during the Taliban takeover. The Central Asian countries are still trying to cope up with the changing regional security architecture. Although they temporarily relaxed border controls, they are strictly monitoring and controlling the movement of Afghan citizens, including the Taliban members. This may cause considerable straining in relations between Afghanistan and the countries of this region. Relations between Tajikistan and Afghanistan have not been the best in recent times. President of Tajikistan critisised the Taliban for discriminating against ethnic Tajiks in the country.[xiii]According to recent reports, “the minority Tajiks in Afghanistan have formed a new organisation named ‘Afghanistan Freedom Front(AFF)’ to fight the Taliban and free Afghanistan from the latter’s terror regime.”[xiv]The AFF has vowed to restore democracy and rights of women in Afghanistan. [xv]As per these reports, it is also believed that this organization consists of “former members of Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF) and cadres of various resistance groups opposed to the Taliban.”[xvi] The AFF is in addition to the already existing ‘National Resistance Front’ whose leader is also said to be in Tajikistan.[xvii] Cross border firing has also been reported along the border with Turkmenistan.[xviii] These developments seem to suggest that still there are several challenges to peace and stability in the region.
Despite holding a delegation level meeting on 10th January 2022, Iran has still not commented on granting any official recognition to the Taliban dispensation. Iran has conditioned the recognition based on the formation of an inclusive government by the Taliban.[xix] Taliban’s interim administration, which is currently largely Pashtun dominated, has a history of discriminating against the Shia Hazara minority. Such actions by the Taliban may encourage Iran backed groups like Fatemiyoun Division, comprising primarily of Shia Afghan refugees, of initiating resistance against the Taliban.[xx]
A border clash between the two countries in December last year also had a brief impact on the relations between Iran and the Taliban, which both of them claimed to have resolved later on. The two countries, since the Taliban takeover, have witnessed several border flare ups especially along the Afghan-Iranian border in Nimroz and Herat Provinces.[xxi] Temporary resolutions have been successful in resolving them but the long term persistence of this phenomenon is likely to complicate matters. Moreover, the worsening humanitarian and economic condition of Afghanistan could also lead to a fresh exodus of refugees into Iran, something which the latter might not like as it is already home to a large Afghan refugee population.
On a concluding note, it is observed that countries are still hesitant in granting recognition to the Taliban due to multiple reasons. However, the prerequisites for it are the creation of an inclusive government by the Taliban, stopping of discrimination against minorities, and controlling regional terror organisations. A regional consensus can only be developed after these measures are undertaken. However, going by Taliban’s previous track record and recent history; inclusivity, gender justice and reigning extremist ideology might be hard to achieve in the immediate future. Although the Taliban’s Supreme Leader has been urging the International Community to recognize the ‘Islamic Emirate’, the International Community is in no hurry to do so.
*Kaushik Nag is a Research Intern at Indian Council of World Affairs, New Delhi
Disclaimer: Views expressed are personal.
[i]Richard Weitz (April 1, 2022), The Taliban: Unrecognised and Unrepentant. Hudson Institute. https://www.mei.edu/publications/taliban-unrecognized-and-unrepentant. Accessed on 6th April, 2022.
[iii]Yew Lun Tian (October 30 2021), China Will Not Be the First to Recognise Taliban Government. Beijing. https://www.reuters.com/world/china/china-will-not-be-first-recognise-taliban-government-scholar-says-2021-10-27/. Accessed on 14th April 2022.
[iv] Centre for International Security and Cooperation (January 31, 2022), Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, Stanford University. https://cisac.fsi.stanford.edu/mappingmilitants/profiles/tehrik-i-taliban-pakistan. Accessed on 10th April, 2022.
[v]Al Jazeera (17 April 2022), At Least 47 Dead in Afghanistan After Pakistan Attacks.https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/4/17/afghanistan-death-toll-in-pakistan-strikes-rises-to-47-official. Accessed on 20th April 2022.
[vii]Business Standard (March 19 2022), Pak Will Recognise Taliban Regime When There Is Regional Consensus https://www.business-standard.com/article/international/pak-will-recognise-taliban-regime-when-there-s-regional-consensus-122031900282_1.html. Accessed on 10th April 2022.
[viii] President of Russian Federation Vladimir Putin (February 24, 2022), Address by the President of the Russian Federation, The Kremlin, Moscow. http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/67843. Accessed on 8th April, 2022.
[ix]Richard Weitz (April 1, 2022), The Taliban: Unrecognised and Unrepentant. Hudson Institute. https://www.mei.edu/publications/taliban-unrecognized-and-unrepentant. Accessed on 6th April, 2022.
[x]ANI (April 9, 2022), Accrediting Taliban Diplomat Does Not Mean Recognition of Government, says Russia.
https://www.aninews.in/news/world/europe/accrediting-taliban-diplomat-does-not-mean-recognition-of-government-says-russia20220409200451/. Accessed on 14th April, 2022.
[xii]ANI (September 26, 2021), Recognition of Taliban not 'on the table', says Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
https://www.aninews.in/news/world/pacific/recognition-of-taliban-not-on-the-table-says-russian-foreign-minister-sergei-lavrov20210926042320/. Accessed on 7th April, 2022.
[xiii]Richard Weitz (April 1, 2022), The Taliban: Unrecognised and Unrepentant. Hudson Institute.https://www.mei.edu/publications/taliban-unrecognized-and-unrepentant. Accessed on 6th April, 2022.
[xiv]Kamal Joshi (February 5 2022), Afghanistan: Tajik Minority Forms New Resistance Front Against Taliban. Delhi.https://www.republicworld.com/world-news/rest-of-the-world-news/afghanistan-tajik-minority-forms-new-resistance-front-against-taliban-articleshow.html. Accessed on 7th April, 2022.
[xv]News Vibes of India(March 12 2022), New Outfit Afghanistan Freedom Front vows to end Taliban’s Tyrant Rule.
https://newsvibesofindia.com/new-outfit-afghanistan-freedom-front-vows-to-end-talibans-tyrant-rule/. Accessed on 13th April, 2022.
[xvii]Ahmad Massoud (November 1 2021), Leader of Afghan resistance front is now in Tajikistan — spokesman. Cairo.https://tass.com/world/1356393. Accessed on 7th April, 2022.
[xviii]Richard Weitz (April 1, 2022), The Taliban: Unrecognised and Unrepentant. Hudson Institute. https://www.mei.edu/publications/taliban-unrecognized-and-unrepentant. Accessed on 6th April, 2022.
[xix]Giorgio Cafiero (January 21 2022), What to Expect For Taliban-Iran Relations. TRT World.https://www.trtworld.com/opinion/what-to-expect-for-taliban-iran-relations-53928. Accessed on 8th April, 2022.
[xx]Hamza ( September 27, 2021), Taliban’s Oppression of Minorities Raises Spectre of Civil War. Kabul. https://afghanistan.asia-news.com/en_GB/articles/cnmi_st/features/2021/09/27/feature-01. Accessed on 9th April, 2022.
[xxi]TOLO News (April 24, 2022), Afghanistan-Iran Border Crossing Opens After Tensions https://tolonews.com/afghanistan-177723. Accessed on 24th April, 2022.