Should Pressure Be Applied When Engaging With the Taliban, or Not?
By: Shujauddin Amini
The United States Peace Foundation reported that the pressure applied to the Taliban has not been effective in changing their hardline stance on women’s rights since they took control of Afghanistan. Regional and international countries have adopted an engagement policy with the Taliban rather than exerting pressure. There is a game between regional and Western countries regarding engagement with the Taliban, with some countries neglecting the Taliban’s opposition and military resistance against them, and speaking in favor of the Taliban, calling the fight against them an internal war which is detrimental to Afghanistan and the world. Some countries do not view the Taliban as an ideologically radical group, but rather as a strong political power rooted in Afghanistan, and thus consider engagement with them a necessity. It appears that Chinese officials have been deceived by a misleading concept about Afghanistan, as they are attempting to ensure their relations with the Taliban, which would not be the case if they viewed them as a radical terrorist group.
The Taliban have consistently denied the efficacy of the international community’s pressure, cautioning that such a policy will no longer be effective. The Taliban deem the world’s imposition of pressure on them as an act of interference in their internal affairs, and back up their assertion by asking the world to cease such actions. The Taliban argue that if the world covertly and adeptly pursues its intelligence objectives while maintaining cordial relations and providing aid, it is not an interference in their internal affairs; however, if the world speaks about matters concerning human rights, that is an interference in their internal affairs.
Rather than denying the efficacy of exerting pressure on the Taliban, it is more prudent to state that interaction with the Taliban has been ineffective and has caused the group to become more reckless and arrogant in disregarding the demands of the world. The world has paid a heavy price to the Taliban. Accepting the diplomats of the Taliban, inviting the officials of this group and hosting them lavishly, providing aid to this group, and overlooking the arbitrary arrests, torture, and killings that this group perpetrates daily are the steps that have been taken by the world in order to interact with the Taliban. Consequently, the Taliban owe the world, not the other way around.
Now that the policy of engagement with the Taliban has not yielded results for nearly two years, it is time to take the next step of applying pressure, a policy that the world has not yet resorted to. However, the Taliban and some countries and organizations supporting them have declared this to be ineffective. Imposing pressure on the Taliban could involve the following options:
The first effective option is for the world to rely on the forces opposing the Taliban, or it should not act in a way that would lead to neglecting them. In response to the Taliban’s disregard for the world’s demands, the world should refrain from paying less attention to the groups opposing the Taliban and emphasize the urgency of their involvement.
It is unlikely to be true and justifiable that the opposing forces of the Taliban cannot come together under one umbrella. Even though these forces are dispersed, it should be noted that one of the reasons for this dispersion is the dissatisfaction of these forces with the way the world is handling the Taliban.
These forces believe that the world has submitted to the Taliban and will eventually recognize them. When discussing the world’s backing of the forces opposing the Taliban, this does not necessarily mean providing arms. For example, the world’s effective support for the Taliban opposition forces could be to invite them to regional and international meetings concerning Afghanistan, which could reduce the Taliban’s disregard for the world’s demands.
The second effective option is to refrain from officially inviting the authorities of the Taliban to regional meetings and from signing memorandums with them. Holding formal and luxurious ceremonies in some countries for Taliban officials has only emboldened them to ignore the demands of the world. A more effective step would be to impose a travel ban on Taliban officials, rather than to lift the restrictions. This would subject the Taliban to domestic and international trouble, leaving them with no choice but to comply with the world’s demands.
Some countries that have established diplomatic relations with the Taliban should consider cutting off this process, or at least issuing a warning to the Taliban. These countries should weigh the potential benefits and drawbacks of their relationship with the Taliban. In some cases, these countries have not seen any benefit from their diplomatic relations with the Taliban, and have even suffered losses. For example, the Russian Defense Minister’s statements at the meeting of the defense ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) member countries in New Delhi about the terrorists active in Afghanistan demonstrate this.
The fourth option should be that the world refrains from sending aid that is either directly or indirectly controlled by the Taliban. The humanitarian aid sent to Afghanistan should be managed in a manner that prevents the Taliban from exploiting it; a task that donor countries and institutions have yet to accomplish. The Taliban use military aid to bolster their military presence, instead of devising a plan to generate employment, eradicate hunger or enhance education in the country.
Having discussed the above points, the question arises as to whether the policy of exerting pressure on the Taliban can be effective. The answer is “Yes“. The Taliban are not a spontaneous group formed through free and transparent elections by the Afghan people, nor do they lead an independent government that is self–sufficient in all fields without relying on the world. If the Taliban were such a powerful entity and led such a government, the policy of pressure may not be successful. However, they are not, and are instead dependent on foreign countries. The Taliban would not be able to maintain their current state without the leniency and engagement of the world, particularly regional countries. If the countries supporting the Taliban cease to assist them, there will be an immediate shift in the Taliban‘s attitude towards the world. As has been experienced, engagement with the Taliban has not yielded results, and thus it is worth exploring the option of imposing pressure on this group. Before this policy is implemented and its results are tested, it is reasonable to question its effectiveness.
Hassan Abbas, the author of “The Return of the Taliban“, stated in an interview with a media outlet that if the foreign ministers of Turkey, UAE, Qatar, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and China visited Mullah Hibatullah and informed him that they would close their political missions in Afghanistan if he continued to keep girls‘ schools closed, then Mullah Hibatullah would reconsider his stance.