Taliban’s Refusal to Moderate Further Isolates Them

Salman Rafi Sheikh | 03 January 2022
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Organization of Islamic Conference backs away from aid

The most recent ‘extraordinary’ meeting of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) held in Islamabad on December 19, 2021 to develop an international response to prevent Afghanistan’s looming crisis produced nothing but rhetoric on aid – words that are neither enough, nor have substance that could avoid a human tragedy that has been brewing ever since the US withdrawal in August.

Unlike the 1990s, when the Taliban established their first emirate, no major Muslim country has recognized their second. Pakistan, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia, which were the first ones to recognize the first one, continue to follow the international politics of non-recognition of the Taliban.

While Pakistan has been keen to pave the way for the Taliban’s recognition, the utter lack of commitment to and fulfillment of the obligations they undertook through the 2020 Doha Pact has been a key reason for other countries’ refusal to extend recognition. As the Washington Post reported on December 31, the Taliban haven’t helped their case by taking new actions to restrict women’s freedoms and dismantle democratic institutions, defying the top two international concerns that have kept most foreign aid at bay as a cold winter looms for millions of destitute Afghans.

The powerful ministry for Islamic guidance has issued rules requiring women to fully cover their heads even in public taxis and to be accompanied by a male relative if they travel more than 45 miles. Taxi drivers are ordered to stop playing music because it is un-Islamic, posters of women’s faces at beauty parlors (above) are being defaced.

Even within the OIC, where the number of states sympathetic of the Taliban is not low, the disregard for inclusivity and the inability and unwillingness to take action against transnational jihadi networks is not allowing states like the UAE and Saudi Arabia to show the same enthusiasm they showed in the late 1990s.

As it stands, the Taliban’s retrogressive disposition no longer matches the massive modernization mission that the Saudi kingdom is undergoing to purportedly change its image as the center of Wahabism, which advocates an orthodox interpretation of Islam and supports fundamentalism. The UAE, which has already signed the Abraham Accords with Israel, and is already seeking ways to chart its path to regional leadership in the Middle East (in alliance with China) is unlikely to recognize a regime that is yet to take any meaningful action against the anti-China East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) or the ISIS-K, which has in the past expressed its intention to attack China in Xinjiang.

Both Saudi Arabia and the UAE are more in sync with China than the US. Whereas China is reportedly helping the kingdom set up a ballistic missile program, the UAE’s recent decision to suspend ongoing talks with the US over the sale of F-35 fighter jets in favor of China’s 5G technology shows the leading countries of the Muslim World are following a foreign policy that is more directly tied to Beijing than other international players. Their politics of recognizing the Taliban regime, and/or providing direct financial aid, is unlikely to produce any meaningful results unless the Taliban can satisfy China, which sees itself as the country most likely to be affected by the new wave of transnational jihad emerging from within Afghanistan.

Given the apprehensions caused by the Taliban’s lack of any meaningful action against the ETIM or the ISIS-K, the OIC’ ‘extraordinary’ session did not produce any meaningful outcome. Of the 31 points included in the final declaration, none addressed the Taliban regime directly, indicating how the politics of non-recognition is working currently.

Calling on “Afghanistan,” rather than the Kabul regime, the declaration reiterated the need to eradicate all forms of terrorism in the country, as well as ensuring that Afghan territory is not used against any other country.

While the Taliban have been meeting officials of many Muslim states, the declaration shows that they are not really seen as legitimate leaders. Even though Pakistan invited Taliban representatives to the session, the declaration tactfully addressed the “Afghan people in their quest for a peaceful, united, stable, sovereign and prosperous Afghanistan.”

It urged “Afghanistan to abide by the principles and purposes enshrined in the UN charter” and respect the commitments it made “under international agreements and convention.”

While it did appeal to international bodies like the UN to provide aid, and even decided to establish a “Humanitarian Trust Fund under the aegis of the Islamic Development Bank,” no concrete commitments were made with regards to the actual financial contribution that the OIC members states would make, let alone agreeing on the mechanism of transferring aid, both financial and otherwise, to Afghanistan.

On the contrary, the commitment to open a fund is followed by another commitment to “commence discussions with the UN system organizations to develop a road map for mobilizing actions” to “unlock the financial and banking channels” and “devise a mechanism for the disbursement of urgent and sustained humanitarian assistance.”

Thus, the list of commitments lacking a mechanism of implementation is tied to how the OIC, very much like Russia, China, the US, and the EU, see the Taliban regime as basically a retrogressive configuration that needs disciplining to suit the existing regional and international scenario.

Therefore, the fact that OIC, very much like other states, is insisting on providing aid to the “people, rather than supporting the regime, shows how the politics of disciplining the Taliban is being played as a form of lack of direct support for the regime.

As leading experts have pointed out, this politics of disciplining the Taliban could have serious repercussions for the very “people” the OIC, the US, and other states seem to care about.

There is hardly any gainsaying that the amount of aid being given to Afghanistan via NGOs is unlikely to offset the situation Afghanistan is facing. While aid could feed and provide shelter to the displaced families, this aid can do no magic to help Afghanistan’s teetering economy to recover.

The question of Afghanistan’s economic stability is, in turn, directly tied to the recognition of the regime that currently has power in Afghanistan.

Whether the Taliban can win recognition is in their own hands. A decision in favor of eliminating transnational jihadi networks and establishing an inclusive setup could create the context for wider international recognition

As it stands, a mere rhetoric of ensuring that the Afghan territory would not be used against regional and international states has, so far, produced only a matching rhetoric of support for the “people.”

Mr Salman Rafi, Writer. 

This article was originally published on Asia Sentinel.  
Views in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect CGS policy.