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The Taliban wish to address the UN General Assembly. But will other nations recognize, let alone engage with them?
A government does not need full recognition from all UN member states to address the General Assembly. The UN credentials committee is currently considering whether or not to grant to Taliban this wish. It would mark a significant step in their quest to garner legitimacy, or at least reflect their desire to establish diplomatic ties with more countries. Indeed, after the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan, spokesman Suhail Shaheen announced, "we want good relations with our neighbors, countries in our region and the word." But what do different countries make of the militant Islamists?
Foreign Minster Heiko Maas made clear in late August that establishing diplomatic ties with the Taliban does not equate to recognizing them as a legitimate government. "Germany should reestablish a Kabul embassy if this is politically possible and provided the security situation allows for this," Maas said during a visit to Qatar, where the Taliban maintain a diplomatic presence. He clarified that this step does not entail recognizing the Taliban under international law. Instead, he said, this is about "addressing concrete problems" in the country.
After all, local Afghans who helped Germany's armed forces, foreign ministry, non-governmental organizations and media outlets are currently in grave danger. Germany has earmarked €500 million ($588 million) in aid to help Central Asian countries take in and support Afghan refugees.
In early September, EU foreign ministers decided to promote Afghan refugees receiving shelter in neighboring countries. The bloc plans to provide €300 million in aid until 2022 to further this objective. Germany will contribute one-third of this sum. The EU also intends to take in 30,000 Afghan refugees.
The Union's strategy will also focus on promoting human rights in Afghanistan and working to prevent terrorist groups like al-Qaeda, or "Islamic State" offshoots such as IS-K from gaining a foothold there.
In a speech at the European Parliament in mid-September, EU Foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said, "to have any chance of influencing events, we have no other option but to engage with the Taliban."
In 2001, the US chased the Taliban from power in Afghanistan in a matter of weeks. Over the next 20 years, however, Taliban insurgents and US-led NATO forces vied for control in country. In 2020, then US President Donald Trump decided America should stop policing the world and become less involved in other countries' affairs. His successor, Joe Biden, has largely maintained this new approach.
The US, however, fears terrorist organizations could regroup in Afghanistan to plan and coordinate attacks, with the Taliban largely unable to intervene and to stop them.
So far, the White House has signaled little willingness to engage with the Taliban. President Biden has not indicated whether his government aims to adopt a new Afghanistan strategy. It does, however, appear to be rethinking its stance towards Pakistan, which it may cease to treat as a strategic partner.
It is an open secret that Pakistan's ISI intelligence agency has been supporting the Taliban for decades. President Imran Khan even welcomed the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan as an act of liberation. Incidentally, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) were the only three countries to recognize the first Taliban government that ruled Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001.
Still, Pakistan's relationship with the Taliban is ambivalent. For years, it permitted Taliban fighters to come and go as they pleased, shuttling between their Pakistani stronghold of Quetta and Afghanistan, for instance. At the same time, Pakistan is reluctant to take in any more Afghan refugees as scores of citizens flee Taliban rule — nearly 1.5 million Afghans already live in Pakistan today.
Turkey is also eager to see the number of Afghan refugees streaming out of the country stemmed. Many Afghans believe they have a reasonable chance of reaching the EU from Turkey and Ankara, in turn, worries many Afghans arriving there may become stranded in its eastern Anatolia region. It has therefore already begun building a wall along its border with Iran. Ankara has also sought to establish diplomatic relations with the Taliban, who have suggested Turkey run the Kabul airport.
Qatar is concerned neither about the influx of refugees, nor the threat of terrorist attacks. The emirate on the Persian Gulf coast likes to think of itself as a mediator between East and West. Qatar's ruling Thani dynasty maintains ties with the Muslim Brotherhood as well as Palestinian terrorist organization Hamas.
The Taliban established a diplomatic presence in the Qatari capital Doha in 2013. At the same time, Qatar hosts one of the largest US military bases in the entire Middle East — one that played a key role during the US airlift out of Kabul in late August. Many observers therefore hope Qatar will urge the Taliban to chart a moderate course.
Even though Russia has engaged with the Taliban for years, it nevertheless classifies them as a terrorist organization. Recently, President Putin reiterated his call for cooperation with Afghanistan's new leaders. He said the Taliban should be urged to keep their promise to govern for all Afghan people.
Moscow worries the Afghanistan-based Islamists could gain influence in the former Soviet republics of Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, where Islam has traditionally been part of the culture. This fear was one reason behind the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, which turned into a fiasco.
Russia is also concerned that Afghan heroin production could be ramped up, as opium cultivation is a major source of income for the Taliban. Still, Russia is one of the few countries that has not shuttered its Kabul embassy. Some observers think the move may stem from Russia's interest in Afghanistan's natural resources.
For its part, China has shown great openness towards engaging with the Taliban. In late July, Foreign Minister Wang Yi welcomed Abdul Ghani Baradar, a Taliban founder and high-ranking leader, in China. Both sides are driven by economic interests with China intent on exploiting Afghanistan's natural resources and expanding its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in the country.
Nevertheless, China, too, is worried about the growing influence of radical Islamists in its backyard. Afghanistan, after all, borders China's Muslim-majority Xinjiang province, where calls for Uyghur independence in Xinjiang have been brutally suppressed by Beijing for years.
China also believes that several hundred radical Uyghurs have joined the Taliban — Beijing therefore views Afghanistan's leadership with some suspicion. Still, it expects large investments will win over the Taliban and convince them to abandon the Uyghurs.
This article was translated from German.