Having established their administrative and military control over Afghanistan, Taliban might have expected immediate political and legal recognition from regional as well as global powers that negotiated the deal to pave the way for western withdrawal last summer.
Ironically, however, Taliban have not been formally recognised by any country of the world. Pakistan has accorded a de facto political recognition to the Taliban rule, which has enabled the latter to resume ambassadorial work in Islamabad. Pakistan has maintained a cautious diplomatic stance on the recognition issue.
In past, Pakistan was the key actor, which not only recognised the Taliban rule but also convinced Saudi Arabia and UAE to grant them recognition. Islamabad has adopted a different option this time around due to certain reasons.
Pakistan had tensed ties with the US post-9/11. Though Pakistani military leadership opted to work with Washington on the War on Terror yet it did not completely abandon its traditional stance on neighbouring Afghanistan.
Although Pakistan has been urging the regional and global powers, including the US, to formally recognise the Taliban rule, it has not formally recognised Afghanistan — to avoid global repercussions.
The US approach to Taliban has remained aggressive and non-cooperative post-withdrawal. Pakistan’s civil-military elite has, along with China, Russia and Iran, emphasised on an “inclusive” political setup which contains representatives from other ethnicities as well. An inclusivity-oriented stance would, arguably, make Pakistan’s position not only pluralist and egalitarian but also reflect non-reliance on only one Afghan stakeholder.
Diplomatically, this seems like a well-articulated policy, which has not raised any reservations regionally or internationally. Nonetheless, the Taliban leadership so far has not shown any signs of taking the regional and international input meaningfully. The Taliban representatives in talks with China, Russia and the US have stressed on establishing an inclusive government. The Biden administration has repeatedly urged Taliban to fulfil their commitments, which they agreed in the deal with the US in February 2020. For example, Taliban were supposed to treat women and minorities in equitable terms; they were to ensure effective law and order; they were not supposed to let a non-state actor such as ISIS to plan terror attacks on unarmed and innocent civilians, both local and foreign. The Taliban have fumbled at achieving the stated goals in the past 15 months.
Pakistan’s civil-military elite has, along with China, Russia and Iran, emphasised on an “inclusive” political setup which contains representatives from other ethnicities as well. An inclusivity-oriented stance would, arguably, make Pakistan’s position not only pluralist and egalitarian but also reflect non-reliance on only one Afghan stakeholder.
Consequently, the US led by President Joe Biden has not only hardened its diplomatic stance in terms of non-recognition of Taliban but it has also encouraged its key allies not to establish diplomatic ties with the Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. Little wonder, the western governments have criticized Taliban for their failure to ensure good governance and a stable economy. Nonetheless, despite the US and EU’s hard stance on Taliban-controlled Afghanistan on account of stated factors, Pakistan has been busy in the past 15 months, pursuing regional and international powers and other stakeholders such as civil society associations and multinational corporations (MNCs) to take a holistic view of Afghanistan, which has witnessed (civil) wars, armed conflicts, extreme poverty and chronic diseases in the past 40 years.
Pakistan is finding itself in a perplexed situation. It desires to formally recognise the Taliban as a legitimate government in Afghanistan, yet owing to international implications such as a tougher diplomatic and economic stance by the US, Islamabad is walking in tandem with both regional and global stakeholders, and has strived to build a China-Russia-Pakistan forum to help Taliban get regional recognition.
However, it seems both Beijing and Moscow are not yet unanimous owing to their respective calculations. The Chinese would watch what the US does in the coming months since a purely China-led initiative regarding Taliban-recognition would carry geopolitical and commercial challenges for the former vis-à-vis the US and its key European allies. Similarly, Russia would safeguard its own regional interests. It still maintains close strategic and commercial ties with India.
Russia has strategic stakes in Central Asian states (CAS) that are deeply engaged with India. Importantly, when Pakistan hosted an “extraordinary” OIC summit on Afghanistan in December 2021, the foreign ministers of all the CAS attended an India-led session on Afghanistan. This reflects divergence of interests and strategies not only between arch-rival India and Pakistan but also Pakistan and the CAS.
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