Taliban: Which way forward?

Amina Khan
Monday 20 Dec 2021

Taliban has not only inherited weak institutions but a nonexistent economy and now a looming humanitarian crisis – in short, the group is struggling as it attempts to consolidate its power, formulate policies towards Afghan institutions and ensure that a humanitarian catastrophe does not occur.

Since the Taliban takeover and subsequent US withdrawal in August 2021, circumstances in Afghanistan have drastically evolved. In the absence of a negotiated settlement, it was clear that while a military takeover by the Taliban was expected, the manner and the speed at which the group took over was certainly not anticipated.

Now that the Taliban are in power, even within the confines of their current interim set up, recognition for the government may not necessarily depend on inclusion, but whether they can deliver in terms of governance, human / women rights, political freedom, regional peace and stability and more importantly Counter Terrorism assurances.

Domestically, the Taliban has not only inherited weak institutions but a nonexistent economy and now a looming humanitarian crisis – in short, the group is struggling as it attempts to consolidate its power, formulate policies towards Afghan institutions and ensure that a humanitarian catastrophe does not occur.

Hence the real test for the group has only just begun - which is by no means restricted to securing power, but is more about legitimacy and performance.

With every passing day, Afghanistan is inching closer towards a humanitarian crisis with its economy rapidly collapsing due to financial sanctions on the Taliban, which have paralyzed the banking system, affecting every aspect of the economy.

While no country has recognized the political dispensation, the Taliban have been extensively engaging with the international community through Doha and directly with the regional countries, and it appears that at this point, the group may not be looking for recognition but engagement (which is de facto recognition), humanitarian and financial assistance.

While the provision of humanitarian aid to Afghanistan by certain countries has been reassuring , it is not enough to sustain the Afghan population.

Hence in such dire circumstances, it is important for the international community to move away from politics and push towards a consolidated effort to ensure that Afghanistan does not collapse in to a humanitarian disaster.

If the Taliban are not able to consolidate their position, and ensure some semblance of stability, the fear is not so much of a civil war emanating but rather of transnational terrorist elements taking advantage of the situation and filling in the vacuum, after all since the Taliban assumed power in August 2021, there has been a major spike in attacks by the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) and this sentiment has been echoed by the UN Special Representative for Afghanistan, that ‘‘the continuing deterioration of the Afghan threatens to heighten the risk of extremism.’’

Therefore, the biggest threats to Afghanistan are domestic constraints, such as the economy and humanitarian crisis but equally the concern that Afghanistan could fall prey to transnational terrorist elements.

Therefore, engagement is imperative - let us not forget the Taliban did not come into power by force but through the Doha agreement with the US and primarily on the premise that Al -Qaeda has been defeated and an assurance that the Taliban would not entertain any terrorist elements on its soil - yet by refusing to engage with the group, denying necessary economic assistance, and freezing assets, how is the group expected to perform and deny space to such elements – these are important questions that need to be viewed through a broader lens and not limited to politics.

It is important for the international community to come to the forefront and ensure that the country does not collapse - and thus remain engaged with the Taliban by providing much needed humanitarian aid and economic assistance.

Afghanistan should not be viewed as a regional issue but rather a global and collective responsibility that needs a consolidated approach.

In this regard, it was heartening to see Pakistan hosting a special session of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation/Countries(OIC) Council of Foreign Ministers on the situation in Afghanistan, convened at the initiative of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as OIC Summit Chair, marking the first and largest international/multilateral gathering on Afghanistan post-Taliban takeover.

Representatives from fifty-seven member states from the Muslim world, including Afghanistan, and participation from the US, China, France, Russia, UK, European Union, the World Bank and representatives of United Nations relief agencies, the meeting focused on finding solutions to the dire situation in Afghanistan.

Secretary General of the OIC, H.E. Mr. Hissein Brahim Taha called for promoting the role of the OIC Mission in Kabul, providing it with financial, human and logistical resources to enable it to deliver its full responsibility of coordinating humanitarian and development aid operations within Afghanistan, urging member and non-member states and OIC institutions to provide humanitarian assistance through the OIC Mission in Kabul.

The OIC moot also agreed upon the formation of a Humanitarian Trust Fund, under the aegis of the Islamic Development Bank, the launch of an Afghanistan Food Security Programme as well as the appointment of Assistant Secretary General for Humanitarian, Cultural and Social Affairs Ambassador Tariq Ali Bakheet as the OIC’s Special Envoy on Afghanistan.

While a number of countries agreed to provide much needed aid, Saudi Arabia announced to provide one billion riyals in aid to Afghanistan.

From the onset, Pakistan has been a staunch advocate of a peaceful solution to the conflict which has revolved around a negotiated settlement with the Taliban, - it is unfortunate that it has taken more than two decades of bloodshed and wasted resources for the international community to realize this.

Moreover, Pakistan has been at the forefront to avert a humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, and has made repeated calls to the international community not to ‘abandon’ the people of Afghanistan, provide humanitarian and economic assistance and engage with the political dispensation in Afghanistan to avert a collapse of the state.

On its own, apart from already hosting over 3 million refugees, it has provided humanitarian assistance and pledged five billion rupees ($28m) in assistance to Afghanistan.

During the OIC session, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi while urging the OIC to help Afghanistan presented a six point proposal, which includes; creating a channel within OIC to send immediate humanitarian and financial support to Afghanistan, increase investment in education, health, technical skills for Afghan youth, a group of experts comprising OIC, UN and international financial institutions be established to facilitate access to banking system and ease liquidity challenges faced by Afghan people, enhance food security of the Afghan people, invest in building capacity of Afghan institutions in countering terrorism and combating illicit drug trafficking, engage with Afghan authorities to help meet expectations of international community regarding inclusivity, human and women rights as well as combating terrorism.

While the OIC meeting is a much needed step in the right direction, and certainly reassuring , it is going to take much more to ensure that some semblance of stability returns to Afghanistan, where it can have a functioning economy.

Instead of shifting the onus, principle stakeholders need to stop shifting the onus but rather assume responsibility and focus on Afghanistan as a shared responsibility – and in this case the onus is more on the two principle stakeholders, that is the US and the Taliban.

It must be reiterated that the Taliban did not come into power in isolation, but as a result of the US-Taliban deal, therefore Washington has a responsibility to fulfill by ensuring that the Afghan state does not fall.

Similarly, now that the Taliban are the de facto representatives of the Afghan people, the group must realize that if they do not honour their pledges of reform, they will lose the support and recognition they so badly need from the international community, and more so from regional countries to legitimize their rule.

Therefore, one only hopes that better sense prevails amongst the Taliban - where focus is on a future political set up that is inclusive, responsible, accountable and lastly one that serves the Afghan people.

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