EDITORIAL: The Kremlin’s envoy to Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov hit the nail on the head during talks in Moscow the other day when he said “Not everyone likes the new government in Afghanistan, but by punishing the government, we punish the whole people”. The Taliban, too, knew how to make sense and their deputy prime minister, Abdul Salam Hanafi, was also spot on when he pointed out that “The government in Afghanistan is ready to address all the concerns of the international community with all charity, transparency and openness”. That is why they were able to win the backing of the 10 participating countries - Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran, India, and five former Soviet central Asian states - for the idea of a UN (United Nations)-backed donor conference that would address the country’s financial and diplomatic isolation.
President Putin also made a lot of sense when he implied that the Taliban were the most formidable bulwark against the threat of the so-called Islamic State (IS) spreading through the region, especially central Asian states that surround Russia. It’s a shame that America did not attend, a fact not lost on the hosts, since all participants blamed it in one way or another for the humanitarian catastrophe that is now unfolding in Afghanistan. Still, even though everybody is saying all the right things, nobody’s yet willing to formally recognise the Taliban government. And despite displaying a lot more political and diplomatic maturity this time than was expected of them, the Taliban did take one step back after taking two forward when their interior minister, Sirajuddin Haqqani, appreciated suicide bombers and called them “heroes of Islam”.
Surely, they must understand that nothing spooks western countries, especially those with the kind of cash that Kabul so desperately needs right now, than glorifying the suicide bombing way of life. There’s no doubt that they defied all sorts of odds with their long war effort and swift takeover of Kabul, but they must be very careful lest their landmark victory allows an element of hubris to creep into their thinking. Running the country is a very different ballgame than winning it back. And since it was not a standing army but everyday fruit- and vegetable-sellers comprising Taliban forces that defeated the might of the US on the hills and plains of Afghanistan, a bit of confidence on their part can be justified so long it does not mutate into over-confidence. Because without money, of which they have none and therefore must go asking for it, they will not be able to pay salaries or run hospitals and schools, even the government itself. So it would be a good idea for somebody to talk to the likes of Haqqani and Co about the kind of statements they should issue, at least for the time being.
The Moscow talks also go to show how Russia and China are claiming the space for regional influence that has been vacated by the US. Yet even as they cajole the new government in Kabul, they are in no hurry to officially recognise it. Pakistan is still shouting for it, perhaps even louder than the Taliban themselves, because of the long, porous border and the threat of more refugees bringing more militants and subsequently more violence here. This is one point that the Russians are beginning to understand because they fear IS might make inroads into central Asian states and make trouble for Moscow as well to avenge the losses it has already suffered at the hands of Russian military in the Syrian civil war.
Even though regional states are doing what they can to accommodate Afghanistan, the key to restoring its aid, unfreezing its assets abroad and diplomatic recognition by other states lies with the Taliban. So the sooner they make up their minds about the kind of rights women and minorities would enjoy under the new dispensation, and also how diverse the new government is going to be, the sooner everybody can come to a decision about recognition and everything associated with it. Just like the Taliban government is a fact that everybody will have to accept sooner or later, the Afghans must also realise that conditions put forward by other countries are also a reality that even winning such a big war can do very little about. Meantime life isn’t getting any better for millions of Afghans sitting in their homes and worrying about their future. Therefore, whatever has to be decided must be decided quickly; otherwise even more funds will be needed to meet the humanitarian disaster that is getting worse by the day.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2021