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EDITORIAL: The Taliban are pretty confident that their talks with the US government in Doha beginning next week will mark a “new chapter” in ties between the two countries. But the Americans don’t seem to have the whole thing quite so worked out just yet.

Besides, they’ve had such an exchange before, in October, and that didn’t make for any sort of new beginning. Instead, Washington just said what it said before, that for any progress the Taliban would first have to honour commitments that they made before the US withdrawal, also in meetings in Doha, and it’s already more or less telegraphed that it is going to stick to the same position this time as well. But all that has to do with formal recognition.

The good news is that the Americans, like the Europeans, have finally decoupled official recognition, and the conditions for it, from more pressing concerns like humanitarian aid, etc.

The Biden administration’s change of heart comes in the wake of serious warnings from the United Nations (UN) and other aid organisations about an impending humanitarian catastrophe in Afghanistan, including widespread famine, collapse of the banking system and possibly a large number of deaths from the harsh Himalayan winter cold. And, with its approval ratings already dipping because of the hasty exit from the country, another PR disaster is the last thing it needs.

Yet now that it is finally engaging with the Taliban with substantial assistance also on the table, it will have to answer questions about $9 billion of Afghan central bank’s money frozen abroad and biting sanctions that are preventing even legitimate aid money from getting into the country.

Countries closer to Afghanistan that have more to lose in case of yet another implosion in that country, like Pakistan, China and Russia, are already pressing the US to release all frozen funds and allow more financial aid into it before it’s too late. So, hopefully, the engagement in Doha will make Washington understand how volatile the situation really is, and how much of a difference its help can make. Yet it also needs to be pointed out that the Taliban are not doing all they can to help their own cause. It is surprising that they continue to disregard their own pledges about inclusive government, minority and women’s rights, etc., for no pressing reason at all.

In fact, their regime seems to be going out of its way to show to the world that its position about the place of women in society hasn’t changed much from the last time they were in power. And that they are making such announcements now, when they know the whole world is watching and weighing pros and cons of recognising them, also shows that are not bothered about how they are seen beyond a certain extent.

That is definitely not the most subtle way to handle such a sensitive situation. Winning the war was one thing; and there’s no denying that they shocked the whole world with their resolve, commitment and strength of spirit. But running the country is a completely different ball game. And it runs into much more serious money than arranging enough to grab weapons off the black market. Therefore, unless both the US government and the new Afghan government revise their stiff positions, next week’s meetings will also not help poor ordinary Afghans who are paying very dearly for this political deadlock in which they have had no part whatsoever.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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