Should Pakistan recognize the new Kabul government?

Javed Hafeez

Pakistan and some other countries have already accorded de facto recognition to the Taliban government by engaging with it informally. Pakistan’s embassy is not only functional there but has been working around the clock to organize the orderly exit of thousands of Afghans and foreigners. It has sent three planes loaded with relief goods to Afghanistan. Border management between the two countries has been smooth and luckily there was no exodus of refugees into Pakistan this time.

So the question really is, when should Pakistan accord de jure recognition and in what fashion? Three possibilities could be weighed here. Pakistan becomes the first nation to give recognition, or it does so in concert with regional countries, or awaits recognition by the developed world as well. All three options have their up and down sides. By becoming the first nation to recognize it, Pakistan will earn the goodwill of the government in Kabul. But it may also earn the ire of non-Pashtun segments as well as some western countries for being impatient. Some important countries want to use the recognition ‘carrot’ to affect changes in Afghanistan that the Taliban have been promising of late.

 Recognition in tandem with China, Russia, Uzbekistan, Iran, Turkey and Qatar is the second option. There is a widespread feeling in the region that dire conditions in Afghanistan, which has witnessed the ravages of war for the past four decades, makes it incumbent on neighboring nations to play their roles for its political stability and economic salvation. Antagonists of this idea unnecessarily read too much between the lines. Some even see a new anti-west block emerging here. We live in a world where mistrust has permeated into international co-operative efforts as well. Neither Pakistan nor Turkey nor Qatar are ‘anti-west.’

The last option is vague and open ended. With a border of more than 2,000 km, Pakistan has to deal with Afghanistan on a daily basis. The current interest of NATO and EU member countries is confined to the safe evacuation of their citizens. Pakistan has played yeoman’s role in their orderly exit to their countries. This would not have been possible without close coordination with Kabul. Even the US government has engaged with Taliban, post August 15, for the safety and security of its citizens.

Pakistan has been badly affected due to continued turbulence, instability and wars in Afghanistan. Afghan soil has been used to play havoc with peace in Pakistan. One factor enabling these nefarious designs was a weak government in Kabul without a strong writ over the entire territory. It is in such an environment that militant organizations often prosper. The presence of warlords of all hues was an added attraction for the enemies of peace on both sides of the border. With the emergence of a strong government in Kabul now, Pakistan is hopeful that the Taliban-led government will ensure that no harm comes to it from across the border.

The international mood is vastly different this time than in 1996 when Taliban assumed power for the first time. Even the United Nations Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, has called for international engagement with the new Afghanistan government.

It is feared that without international help, this war ravaged and economically weak nation could relapse into chaos. That would pose threats not only to neighboring nations, but also to the world at large by providing safe havens to militant groups like Al-Qaeda and Daesh. Therefore, a strong government in Afghanistan, that is acceptable to the vast majority of Afghans, is still the requirement of the day.

Taliban have recently announced a 33-member interim government. It includes many old and dedicated leaders who have consistently struggled against foreign military presence. But this cabinet includes only two known non-Pashtuns and no woman, and therefore cannot be called inclusive. However, this is a first major step toward normalcy and fills the power vacuum created by the sudden exit of former President Ashraf Ghani. Important warlords have also left the country and the overall law and order situation has improved. These are encouraging signs but still very tentative. The new set-up needs economic and technical help in order to stabilize.

I think Pakistan should recognize the new government in Kabul with other regional countries and not alone. They should together demand inclusivity and respect for human rights. The Taliban are looking toward Beijing for badly needed financial help. Pakistan, Kabul’s window to the world right now, has appealed for the release of Afghan frozen assets. The Taliban too need to show a softer face to the world. They have to be in the international mainstream.

These regional nations should jointly tell Taliban to implement promises of inclusivity and human rights. The new Afghanistan must be salvaged and strengthened for regional prosperity through economic connectivity, and that will ensure international peace.