Colombo, October 5:

The Taliban regime in Afghanistan is likely to get international economic support if not de jure diplomatic recognition, sooner than generally expected.

Indications of this are seen in two recent events: (1) the proceedings of the Russian-led conclave held at Kazan in Russia on September 29, on what is called the “Moscow Format for Consultation on Afghanistan”. (2) China’s sending an Ambassador-rank envoy to be stationed in Kabul.

Given the gathering geopolitical competition to acquire Afghanistan’s resources; the Taliban’s doggedness in sticking to its ideology; and its ability to stay in power; at least a section of the globe is seriously considering the establishment of a de facto relationship with Taliban-ruled Afghanistan if not a de-jure relationship with it.

An important reason for interacting with Taliban-ruled Afghanistan is its rich resources. It has copper, gold, oil, natural gas, uranium, bauxite, coal, iron ore, rare earths, lithium, chromium, lead, zinc, gemstones, talc, sulphur, travertine, gypsum and marble that were collectively valued in 2010 at US$ 3 trillion, according to Reuters.

The second reason is the Taliban’s rootedness. They cannot be dislodged in the foreseeable future. The third factor is their determination and ability to stick to their social and political values and enforce them not matter how powerful the opposition. And the fourth factor is that Afghanistan is still home to the ISIS and other terror groups which threaten the region and the world.   There is a crying need to bring it in line.

A Taliban-ruled Afghanistan is a fait accompli. It cannot be wished away. A relationship with it has to be negotiated not imposed because the chances of the Taliban implementing the social and political reforms that the world has stipulated will not be implemented in the foreseeable future.

In this context, a meeting of key non-Western nations held at Kazan in Tatarstan, Russia, on September 29, is of great importance. Special Representatives and senior officials from China, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan participated in what is called the “Moscow Format for  Consultation on Afghanistan”.

The Kazan conclave was the fifth in the series since the launch of the Moscow Consultation in 2017. The main goal has been to promote the process of national reconciliation in Afghanistan and the early establishment of peace there in practical ways.

Representatives of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Turkiye were also at Kazan as Guests of Honour. Significantly, the Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs of Afghanistan was also present.

After reiterating the well-known pleas made to the Taliban by the international community on social and political reforms, the Moscow group proposed the establishment of close relations with the Taliban-run Afghanistan. If implemented, this would amount to de-facto if not de-jure recognition of the Taliban regime.

The joint communique issued after the Kazan meeting stated the downside first.  The Taliban were urged to prevent the country from being the home of terrorism and a launch pad for cross-border terror strikes. It demanded a stepped-up fight against the ISIS.  It also stressed the importance of the Taliban’s continuing their anti-drug campaign, which has so far brought down poppy cultivation by 80%. .

However, the Moscow group regretted that there had been no progress in forming a truly inclusive government reflecting the interests of all ethno-political groups in Afghanistan. While some individual representatives of various Afghan ethnicities have been taken into the administration, there is still no “political pluralism” as the decision-makers are all Pashtuns.

The Kazan conclave demanded respect for fundamental rights and freedoms and expressed concern over the restrictions on women’s employment and girls’ education. It urged the Taliban to promote modern education in schools conforming to international standards.

The delegates noted the UN Secretary General’s efforts to coordinate actions between international and regional partners on Afghanistan but pointed out that this will be possible only if the US-led Western coalition is reined in.

The US-led West’s “20-year actions led to the current crisis in Afghanistan,” the delegates said and asked the West to shoulder responsibility for the reconstruction of the war-devastated country.  They demanded that the US-led West “unfreeze Afghan national assets and lift unilateral sanctions, immediately.”

The Moscow-led group wanted Afghanistan to be an independent state and stressed the unacceptability of the deployment of military infrastructure facilities of third countries in Afghanistan or its neighbouring states “under any pretext.”

The delegates expressed opposition to attempts at politicizing humanitarian assistance. They noted Iran’s proposal to strengthen regional cooperation on Afghanistan by establishing a “regional contact group”.

The Russian Presidential envoy for Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, said that US influence in Afghanistan is limited to “manipulation of  its  assets, freezes and threats.” The US “fled” Afghanistan and “stole” its assets worth US$ 7 billion, and then euphemistically termed it as “freezing”, Kabulov said.

“American drones hang over Afghanistan and over Kabul, often threatening representatives of the Afghan authorities for their anti-American position,” he added.

However, Kabulov admitted that the participants did not achieve any breakthroughs on Afghanistan. “We are engaged in solving a problem, it requires patience. Our position implies a patient explanation that will convince our Afghan partners that they need to improve their system of public administration and think more about their people,” he said.

The Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that Western countries have inflicted “irreparable damage” on the Afghan people, and therefore, they must shoulder the main responsibility of reconstructing the war-torn country.

Lavrov voiced concern over attempts by non-regional players to re-establish their military presence. “We consider unacceptable the return of the US and NATO military infrastructure to Afghanistan and its neighbouring states, no matter what pretexts they may use,” Lavrov said.

The Taliban’s Acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi told the meeting that over the past two years, there has been an acceleration of the fight against insurgent groups, which, according to him, “were trained by the invaders (the US and NATO).”

The Taliban had also said that other countries should not dictate Afghanistan’s internal policies just as Afghanistan does not dictate the internal polices of those countries.

Turkiye’s  Ambassador to Russia, Mehmet Samsar said: “The Taliban’s relentless fulfilment of its obligations to combat terrorism on Afghan soil is very important. The threat of the Khorasan wing of ISIS (Daesh) is real. We must support the interim government in its fight against this organization.”

There is no love lost between the Taliban and the ISIS, and the Taliban are fighting the ISIS, though only with limited success.

Samsar recalled that Turkiye provided Afghanistan, US$ 3 million under the UN World Food Program, dispatched seven trains with 8,000 tons of humanitarian aid, and contributed US$ 3 million to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation Fund for Afghanistan. Samsar called upon international institutions to maintain humanitarian support to Afghanistan.

Turkiye asked the Taliban to take steps to ensure political inclusivity and education for girls. “We will continue to interact at a practical level with the Taliban in a constructive way,” Samsar said.

The Kazan conclave is determined to help Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. While it certainly wants the Taliban to shed its antediluvian and un-democratic policies, it is not making the eschewal of these policies a condition for international aid and economic cooperation. The Moscow-led group may not accord formal diplomatic recognition to the Taliban regime, but it will act as if it does not matter.

While the world is agitated over the Taliban, the Taliban are unperturbed. They are not enamoured of formal recognition. They do not think that for formal recognition they should give up their  cherished political and socio-religious creed, which is a Salafi Islam.

Seeing the writing on the wall, countries like China, Russia, Iran and India are ready to cooperate with the Taliban. China already has an Ambassador-rank envoy even without formal recognition.

Not blind to these prospects, Western think tank writers are asking their governments to have a de facto presence in Kabul short of having a formal diplomatic presence. In their piece in Foreign Affairs entitled: The world has no choice but to work with the Taliban (August 11, 2023) Graeme Smith and Ibraheem Bahiss say: “After spending several months in Afghanistan speaking to Taliban officials and the foreign dignitaries who negotiate with them, we concluded that, even though Afghanistan’s re-entry into the community of nations remains a distant prospect, there are substantial practical steps that the outside world can take in the service of peace, stability, and security (in Afghanistan).”

In their paper in Foreign Policy (May 23, 2023) Javid Ahmad, a former Afghan Ambassador, and Prof.Douglas London of Georgetown University who is a former CIA officer, called for a US diplomatic presence in Kabul.

“Establishing diplomatic relations might be perceived as a painful betrayal to many, but the alternative—allowing Afghanistan’s dangerous descent into a hermit kingdom and forsaking the insight and means to influence or shape events—would mean more dire consequences for all,” Ahmad and London said.