Afghan Absence in Regional Meetings: What Are Society’s Priorities?

By: Mohammad Ali Nazari

At regional and United Nations-led negotiations, each country pursued its own interests. At the UN meeting in Doha, regional countries discussed terrorism and drug-related issues, while Western countries focused on human rights and women’s rights. At the meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in New Delhi, India emphasized the need to combat intimidation and terrorism, and Pakistan highlighted the importance of engaging with the Taliban. This situation is likely to remain unchanged, as countries continue to prioritize their national interests when formulating foreign policy. These interests are not always in the best interests of the people of Afghanistan. In these meetings, the interests of both hostile and friendly countries may conflict in relation to the issue of Afghanistan. Consequently, it is futile and unrealistic to expect foreign entities to determine and adhere to the priorities of the Afghan people. As the international community and regional countries have become increasingly aware of the situation in Afghanistan, the Afghan people and their political elites have no more time to waste. It is now time to make decisions and prioritize needs and interests. Since the people and political elites in exile are largely disconnected and unable to communicate directly, the media can serve as a bridge. A free media, whose content and agenda are not controlled by the Taliban, can assist in this process by emphasizing the priorities of the Afghan people. They can create and publish written and audio/video reports, analyze the situation, and draw a future outlook based on the lessons of the past.

Furthermore, the media can facilitate roundtables and online debates to better connect the demands of exiled political elites and the Afghan people within the country, or at least inform the politicians of the fundamental needs and demands of the society. In addition to hosting roundtables and inviting Afghan politicians and people on free-to-air television talk shows, audio platforms such as Twitter Space and Clubhouse or the Zoom video platform can be viable options for this.

The people of Afghanistan, both politicians and non-politicians, are the primary stakeholders in this country. If a future is to be planned for Afghanistan, it should be done so with the needs, priorities, and interests of the people of the country in mind. Currently, meetings are being held without the participation of Afghans and their interests and priorities are not being taken into consideration. Regional countries and world powers are not prioritizing the interests of the Afghan people out of humanitarianism. Therefore, in the midst of a wave of meetings and conferences, the priorities and interests of the Afghan people should be identified and a collective effort should be made to uphold them.

The Taliban’s construction of the “Islamic Emirate” in Afghanistan has failed to meet the needs of the people or protect the country from extreme international isolation. Even its supporters have not been satisfied. This military-based system has taken control of civilian administrations, the economy, and culture, and has caused the situation in Afghanistan to deteriorate day by day over the past two years. Security, which has been absent in Afghanistan for decades, is now the primary concern. People no longer feel safe in mosques, on roads, or in their own homes.

No one can anticipate the Taliban fighters and military commanders entering a civilian’s home with guns and committing acts of assault and rape against a woman or child. No one is safe from the Taliban’s mental and physical abuse for seemingly arbitrary and irrational reasons. No one is safe from being abducted by the Taliban fighters and either being released after a period of torture in exchange for money, or potentially losing their lives. People are still not safe from the terrorist groups, which are becoming increasingly emboldened under Taliban rule, launching attacks against civilian gatherings in mosques, roads, stadiums, schools, and causing bloodshed. This has left people in a state of perpetual fear. There is no longer any place in Afghanistan that is safe.

The country’s cultural and economic situation is not good. Those who claim to be the protectors of the culture are in fact working against it. They have undermined media culture by painting the Pol-e-Sokhta bridge in Kabul and inspecting the cleanliness of restaurants and confectioneries. By removing Persian words from posters, they are actively opposing the culture of a large portion of the Afghan people. By forcing people to break their fast and celebrating Eid Day against their will, they are weakening people’s religious traditions. Women are prohibited from attending public bathhouses by the Taliban, who instead wash their turbans and lay them on the bank’s work table to dry. Most importantly, they have distorted the curriculum in an attempt to make it worse than before. Consequently, the field of culture is in chaos.

The current state of the country‘s economy is dire. The people are struggling to make ends meet, while the Taliban, who claim to lead a simple life, have access to material resources and are even selling passports and National ID cards at inflated prices. Factories are in disrepair and domestic production has decreased, with the exception of opium. Foreign and international institutions have provided aid to the people of Afghanistan, but it is ultimately managed by the Taliban. The group takes a portion of the aid as ransom and gives the rest to its fighters under the guise of helping the needy. If any of the aid does reach the people, such as the World Food Program (WFP) flour distributed in Bamyan, Daikundi, and Ghazni, it is often spoiled or unusable. Additionally, it has been reported in Ghor province that the Taliban have taken donations from people’s homes by force.

This situation cannot be sustained indefinitely. The country is unlikely to progress indefinitely without proper governance. Eventually, the United States may cease to provide financial aid, resulting in a decrease in the Afghani currency rate. As the Taliban does not believe in reform andbeing peopleoriented and views power as a divine right, the political elites and the people of Afghanistan must assess their priorities based on the realities of the Afghan society and communicate them through the media, social networks, and direct negotiations with the politicians of the countries involved in the country‘s affairs.

The Taliban do not acknowledge the Afghan people, and if they do engage in negotiations, it is with foreign entities. Consequently, it is essential to consolidate the demands and prioritize the needs of the Afghan people in this context. This is not a simple undertaking, but it is an urgent one. This opportunity may not be available indefinitely, and if it is not taken advantage of, the people of the country will once again be subject to actions based on the interests of the warring countries. This challenging task must be undertaken now. Neglecting the interests of the Afghan people in regional meetings and disregarding their presence will only further exacerbate the situation and prolong the period of insecurity and suffering.

Consequently, the priorities and interests of the Afghan people should be identified and a future political and economic outlook should be established. These priorities and interests should be communicated by the media and politicians to the organizers of regional and international meetings, and they should be cautioned about the lack of representation and potential pressures should be exerted from various sources to guide the country in the right direction. These hardships must eventually come to an end, and without devising a plan and prioritizing the interests of the Afghan people and the political and economic landscape, there will be no resolution.