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Taliban Recognition: What stands in the way?

Prior to their inevitable Taliban takeover, the incumbents had given the impression that they will adopt a more moderate approach once they take control of state affairs. However, the first few months of the new regime in Afghanistan have not instilled much confidence in the Afghan public and the international community.

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The aftermath of US withdrawal from Afghanistan is unsurprisingly chaotic. The new government in Kabul is faced with many challenges and they do not seem to have come prepared. The economy is crashing and human security indicators are also sliding downwards. Prior to their inevitable takeover, the incumbents had given the impression that they will adopt a more moderate approach once they take control of state affairs. However, the first few months of the new regime in Afghanistan have not instilled much confidence in the Afghan public and the international community.

Formally, no country has recognized the Taliban government and only a handful have taken measures to normalize relations with them. In international relations, one cannot choose its neighbors and thus countries such as Pakistan and China had to extend their support to the new government for the sake of regional stability. For the Western countries, the case to recognize the Afghan Taliban as the legitimate rulers of Afghanistan is rather a week and contradicts their liberal ideology.

Read more: Last of the Afghan Sikhs torn over leaving and staying in Afghanistan

Afghanistan: A hotbed for proxy wars?

Foreign intervention and the rise of militancy have shattered the social landscape while the political turmoil has dismantled the governance structure. The previous term in the power of the Afghan Taliban was extremely brutal and its links with other terrorist organizations were a source of frustration for the West and in particular the United States.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States became the sole superpower in the world. After dealing with the threat of Communism, the United States wanted to ensure that democratic values and liberal ideology is spread throughout the world. The argument for this approach was that democratic countries do not go to war with other democracies. After 9/11, the United States intensified its strategy and even resorted to using of force to establish a new world order. Despite placing a friendly government in Kabul, it hardly managed to spur nation-building in Afghanistan.

After taking charge, the US-backed government and international institutions failed in providing economic prosperity to the people of Afghanistan. With the passage of time, the US strategy started falling apart as violence continued to rise and the standard of living in the country rapidly depleted. Most of the development projects during the US presence fell short due to widespread corruption and poor oversight.

The turmoil that the Afghan Taliban inherited in August 2021 is not only down to them. The US-backed organizations operating in the country fell short of expectations and their inability to foster economic and social wellbeing in the country paved the way for the Taliban to gain more strength and popularity. In 2007, a discussion paper underlined that ‘corruption comprises one of the main obstacles to state-building and development in Afghanistan and, indeed, threatens the overall success of the ambitious program of political normalization, reconstruction, and development now underway.’As years went by, these suspicions turned out to be true and by the time of US withdrawal all such efforts turned out to be futile.

Moving forward, the West must take responsibility for the chaos in Afghanistan and accept the fact that it will have to work with the present leadership to deliver relief to ordinary Afghans. Unfortunately, it is quite hard for great powers to admit their failures and recognizing the Afghan Taliban’s rule in Afghanistan for Washington would be an acknowledgment of defeat in its longest-ever war. In addition, the US and its allies are wary of the fact that accepting Taliban would embolden other outfits fighting against Western forces in other parts of the world.

Read more: How international engagement with Taliban can prevent humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan?

Another major obstacle in the recognition of the Taliban government

It is the lack of unity among Muslim states. Their political interests continue to differ in the country and the Taliban government is not perceived favorably by many of them. The US influence and growing ties between Middle Eastern countries and Israel will also make it more challenging for the Taliban to secure recognition in the global community.

Perhaps the biggest challenge for the Taliban in this quest would be to gain trust and acceptance in Afghan society. Once the Afghan public starts receiving some sort of relief and hope for a better tomorrow under the new regime, the international community would be pushed to back the government in its efforts.

Signaling out the Taliban as the main reason for destruction in Afghanistan will not make matters any further. There are indeed plenty of lessons to be learned from this entire episode and efforts are required to create awareness about the local dynamics of the country. A deeper understanding of Afghanistan’s history, culture, societal values, economic potential and geographical significance will go a long way in bridging the gap between Afghanistan and the rest of the world. The Centre for Research and security studies in Islamabad has proven to be a meaningful platform for promoting cultural, political and economic ties between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Read more: How will 2022 look like for Afghanistan?

Moreover, its Beyond Boundaries Track 1.5/2 Initiative has been engaging relevant interlocutors on governmental and policy levels to discuss and suggest solutions for the problems since 2015. The regular youth engagement and efforts for women empowerment on such platforms is an encouraging sign and the Taliban government must open its ears to such voices in order to prove that they are worthy representatives of the present and coming generations.

Ali Haider Saleem has worked with the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI) and National Defense University (NDU). His research interests lie in sustainable development, regional integration, and security cooperation. He has studied public policy at Queen Mary University of London and economics at NUST, Islamabad. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.