Regional Countries Mulling Simultaneous Taliban Recognition, Pakistani Envoy Says

FILE - Taliban flags fly at the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sept. 9, 2021.
FILE – Taliban flags fly at the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sept. 9, 2021.

Afghanistan’s neighbors, along with Russia, are sustaining ties with its Taliban government under an “understanding” that they will grant it formal recognition simultaneously if certain conditions are met, a regional diplomat said Thursday.

Asif Durrani, Pakistan’s special representative on Afghanistan, told an international seminar that the regionally developed approach has helped sustain the crisis-hit country economically.

“There is an understanding among the immediate neighbors of Afghanistan and Russia that we will recognize the Taliban regime simultaneously and not unilaterally,” Durrani said at the annual Margalla Dialogue organized by the state-run Islamabad Policy Research Institute.

He noted that the regional consensus enabled these countries to enter into “bilateral trade, currency swap, and barter trade agreements” with de facto Afghan authorities. Durrani said if this were not the case, there would likely be 10 million people fleeing poverty-stricken Afghanistan and seeking refuge in Pakistan.

“The positive thing in Afghanistan is that there is less corruption, and [the Taliban] have raised their revenues. There’s security in the country, and … drug or opium cultivation is at its all-time low,” the Pakistani envoy said, citing international observations and recent U.N.-backed studies.

Durrani dismissed suggestions that Pakistan would be better off dealing with terrorism threats emanating from neighboring Afghanistan by granting diplomatic recognition to the Taliban.

“We should be part of the consensus because here we’re talking about just not Afghanistan, we are talking about the region and it will also have an impact on your regional policy,” Durrani cautioned.

He said that Pakistan is not alone in expecting the Taliban to meet conditions such as lifting the ban on Afghan women’s right to education and employment opportunities.

“They say it is Islamic. It is not Islamic. It may be the [Afghan] tribal or cultural [practice], but it is not Islamic,” said the Pakistani envoy.

Under its strict interpretation of Islamic law, the Taliban have forbidden female education in Afghanistan beyond the sixth grade and barred women from most public and private sector workplaces, including the United Nations and other aid groups. They have rejected criticism of their policies, saying they are aligned with Islamic law and Afghan culture.

While Russia, Iran, and some other regional countries have urged the Taliban to give representation to all Afghan groups in their government to make it more inclusive, Pakistan and China have been stressing the need for allowing women to have a role in the war-shattered country’s development.

The hardline Taliban reclaimed power from an American-backed government in Kabul two years ago, but no country has recognized their men-only administration over human rights concerns, including restrictions imposed on Afghan women’s freedom.

A recent independent assessment commissioned by the United Nations has also linked the recognition of the Taliban to compliance with the country’s international treaty obligations and commitments, requiring them to remove all curbs on Afghan women’s rights immediately.

Terror threat

Pakistan complains that fugitive militants sheltering on Afghan soil have intensified terrorist attacks in the country since the Taliban returned to power in Kabul two years ago, killing and injuring thousands of Pakistanis, including security forces.

Taliban authorities reject the allegation, saying they are not responsible for internal security challenges facing Pakistan, nor are they allowing anyone to use Afghan soil against other countries.

The standoff over terrorism-related concerns has prompted Islamabad to unleash a crackdown on hundreds of thousands of Afghans they say are residing unlawfully in Pakistan. The move has fueled mutual tensions, with the Taliban demanding a suspension of the deportation plan or more time for refugee families to enable them to organize their return.

Durrani, in his talk Thursday, anticipated bilateral tensions would take time to subside, cautioning that it would be a long and drawn-out process, but that Pakistan is determined to sustain engagements with the Taliban.

“If you talk about the recent spat between the two countries, that would continue,” he said. “We have to bear with all kinds of ups and downs as far as [the relationship between] Afghanistan and Pakistan is concerned. So, don’t expect miracles coming anytime soon.”

Pakistan was long accused of covertly supporting and sheltering Taliban leaders while they were directing insurgent attacks against the U.S.-led international forces in Afghanistan and their local allies for nearly two decades until they withdrew in August 2021.

The Taliban’s return to power had generated hopes in Pakistan that the power shift in Kabul would deter fugitive anti-state militants from seeking refuge on Afghan soil and launching cross-border attacks.

However, those hopes have since evaporated, with Pakistani officials reporting a 60% rise in terrorist attacks in the country and a 500% increase in suicide bombings. They have blamed Taliban-allied outfits operating out of Afghanistan for the deadly violence, killing more than 2,300 Pakistanis, including security forces.

Regional Countries Mulling Simultaneous Taliban Recognition, Pakistani Envoy Says