Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Towards a New Foreign Policy for the Taliban? A sneaky thaw in the Afghan Great Cold – Fair Observer

More than a year after the fall of Kabul to the Taliban, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) remains a diplomatically isolated political entity. Although the Taliban have significantly consolidated their grip on power, the regime still suffers from a serious lack of legitimacy at home and on the global stage.

The Taliban are largely considered outcasts by the international community. No country has officially recognized the Islamic Emirate as the legitimate Afghan government or normal diplomatic relations with it. As the Taliban seeks to address its severe credibility problem, the group remains largely out of touch with the basic needs of Afghans. The country is still grappling with major problems: half of its population is on the brink of famine and terrorist attacks targeting religious as well as ethnic minorities are a regular occurrence.

balancing past and present

Since capturing Kabul, the Taliban have sought to regain some credibility on the international stage by presenting themselves as the only force capable of stabilizing and uniting Afghanistan after twenty years of civil conflict. It is an old narrative that the hardline group propagated when they first came to power in 1996.

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However, since the current circumstances are unlikely to dust off the old playbook, the Taliban have shown interest in doing things differently this time around. Its foreign policy approach appears to fall somewhere between following old habits and shaping new patterns.

The Taliban still hold on to the idea of ​​isolating Afghanistan globally. The leadership believes that the country’s detachment is a viable tool for maintaining the stability and longevity of the regime.

In their previous regime experience, the Taliban had limited, rudimentary knowledge of international politics and showed minimal interest in establishing basic diplomatic relations with external actors. Their victory over Afghan regular forces and the experience of dealing with the US on equal footing in the Doha talks has further enthused the regime.

However, although the Taliban aim to maintain their separatism, the trauma of the regime’s collapse in 2001 and the subsequent two-decade-long foreign occupation has led them to evaluate alternative strategies for their agenda.

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For more than twenty years, the Taliban have demanded a return, and now that the Islamic Emirate has been re-established, the hardline group is determined to prevent a second coup. Recent events reflect a more mature, pragmatic foreign policy and one that makes greater use of diplomacy.

back to the drawing board

Since its takeover of Kabul, the Islamic Emirate has sought to build cordial diplomatic relations with a number of state and non-state actors. High-ranking figures in the Taliban hierarchy – acting minister of foreign affairs Maulvi Amir Khan Muttaki and acting deputy foreign minister Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai – are just a few examples.

In addition to meetings with foreign state officials, the Taliban is also holding talks with key humanitarian agencies. Recently, the Taliban held talks with Roza Otunbayeva, the head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), Richard Bennett, the UN special envoy on the human rights situation in Afghanistan, and the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross. ICRC) Delegation to Afghanistan Eloi Fillion.

These activities have a two-pronged goal: to clean up the Taliban’s tarnished image while building diplomatic credibility.

First, the radical group seeks to drive a wedge between itself and the wider perception of the Taliban as a movement driven by a rigid, strict Islamic ethos. Second, the Taliban aims to secure diplomatic capital and gain political legitimacy in the global arena.

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The Taliban aims to reshape its former image as a violent and extremist regime. By publicly demonstrating a willingness to play by the rules, the Taliban seeks to establish itself as a trustworthy partner in the eyes of the international community.

While it remains to be seen whether these efforts stem from a genuine spirit of cooperation or pragmatic calculation, it is undeniable that the Taliban’s diplomatic campaign has improved their international standing. net profits. Gaining control of Afghan assets frozen abroad and full travel mobility for senior Taliban leaders is one of the most sought-after rewards.

As of September 2022, the bulk of Afghanistan’s Central Bank’s reserves—$7 billion—were held by US-based financial institutions. Then, Washington transferred half of the frozen Afghan assets to a joint Swiss-Afghan trust fund, known as the Afghan Fund.

The fund was designed to support the Central Bank of Afghanistan and is inaccessible to the Taliban. However, the prospect of sending money into Afghanistan evading Taliban surveillance looks grim. Graeme Smith, a senior adviser at the International Crisis Group, wrote, “The Taliban have proven they will fend off attempts to topple their government, and aid experts warn that parallel structures cannot be a substitute for Afghan state institutions.” “

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The longest-lasting measures to rein in the group include a freeze on funding, an arms embargo and a UN travel ban on dozens of Taliban officials. Travel waivers were sometimes approved to allow the participation of high-profile Taliban representatives in third-country forums.

It was suspended due to a lack of consensus on the terms of extending the travel ban waiver for 13 Taliban officials. Whether the UN will use the travel waiver to persuade the regime to make meaningful concessions remains an open question. Although the Taliban have shown strong resilience against pressure to compromise, their ambition to keep their diplomatic machine going may be one reason for the change.

moment of truth on the horizon

While the Taliban have made some impressive gains, the Afghan political landscape is still in flux. The Taliban neither exercise capillary control in all rural districts nor do they have a monopoly of power over various non-Pashtun ethnic groups.

Pockets of resistance scattered across the country continue to contest the Taliban’s rule. Local leaders who sided with the Taliban to come to power are being ousted regularly. The result is a gradual weakening of the clout of the radical group and the thinning of its ranks. However, although some cracks are opening from within, he remains the most powerful actor on the ground.

Taliban-held Afghanistan a threat to global security

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Nations around the world still view the Taliban with suspicion, but practical needs have changed to prevent Afghanistan from once again becoming a hotbed of international terrorism, crack down on the drug trade, and provide humanitarian aid to the Afghan people. Have given. Taliban as an almost-inevitable actor. The radical group is banking on the fact that regardless of its position within the international community, regional and global powers will continue to seek its cooperation in dealing with these pressing security concerns.

However, two main problems remain. First, the Taliban have taken some steps to manage the country’s serious security concerns. Its verbal reassurances still ring hollow and the same distortions that tarnished its previous regime – such as targeted killings of Tajiks and Hazaras, enforced disappearances, and extortion practices – are still present today. As the United Nations recently highlighted, the Afghan humanitarian situation looks dire and the Taliban struggles to meet basic international standards for human rights and respect for minority groups.

Second, the end of the Taliban remains elusive. While it seeks to legitimize its leadership by adopting state-like rhetoric and currency, the regime’s long-term ambitions and foreign policy projections are difficult to predict.

While it is debatable whether the latest developments reflect genuine change, the Taliban appear determined to do whatever they can to prevent their new regime from suffering another failure. The old playbook based on a posture of neutrality and balance remains the basis of the Taliban’s foreign policy direction, especially when it comes to deflecting pressure from outside forces.

However, recognizing the heavy cost of diplomatic isolationism has prompted the hardline group to act differently this time around and garner minimal approval from foreign observers. While it is too early to tell whether the Taliban’s reassignment will help the regime’s credibility, it is clear that it has been able to adjust its foreign policy approach to better serve its evolving strategic interests.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Fair Observer.

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