Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, shown here at the United Nations Headquarters after the UN General Assembly meeting on May 20, 2021, in New York, is a key player in the future of Afghanistan. Photo: AFP / Selcuk Acar / NurPhoto

Pakistan has decided to move from subtle nudging and pleading to openly coaxing the international community into exploring ways to recognize the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. On Sunday, Islamabad will host a grand jamboree around the 17th extraordinary meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Council of Foreign Ministers (CFM).

Irrespective of its outcome, three things already make this meeting – formally convened by the current OIC chair, Saudi Arabia – historic. Yet it is very unlikely to break any ice between the Taliban and the international community that refuses to recognize their government.

First, this will be the largest international gathering ever convened on Afghanistan, ostensibly to mobilize resources to avert an impending humanitarian crisis of gigantic proportions.

According to the World Food Program, 98% of the 38 million Afghans are not eating enough; seven out of 10 families are already resorting to borrowing food as the abrupt end of foreign assistance has unleashed an avalanche of hunger and destitution that threatens serious security consequences far beyond the Afghan periphery.

Second, this will also be first multilateral meeting of this scale where the host nation, Pakistan, has formally invited the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan to present its story directly. 

As Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said at his December 4 press conference convened to announce this OIC CFM meeting, his government has invited a high-level Taliban delegation to the meeting with a clear understanding: “We want them to come and directly share the ground situation and their concerns with the participants.” 

Given anticipated concerns of participants over meeting with the Taliban delegation, Parliament House in Islamabad, which is where this large meeting will take place, has been closed and most of its employees sent on leave for a week to ensure extraordinary security so as to allow delegates to address this serious humanitarian crisis.

Third, this will also be first example in recent history of an Islamic collective coming to the forefront to address issues of Muslims in distress. These nations have been completely silent in the case of China’s Uighur Muslims. 

Spread over four continents, the 57-member OIC claims to represent the “collective voice of the Muslim World” and that it “endeavors to safeguard and protect the interests of the Muslim world” in harmony with various other communities. 

Moreover, besides representatives of the Taliban regime, this meeting has also invited a whole range of other delegations, including those from all five permanent members of UN Security Council, the World Bank and the European Union, as well as individual nations such as Australia, Canada, Germany, Japan and so on.

While any consensus-building in such a large and disparate gathering of nations is bound to be an uphill task, Kabul seems determined to piggyback the issue of “recognition” upon the humanitarian concerns. 

In an interview, the chief Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, has called on the OIC to recognize the government at the upcoming meeting of its Council of Foreign Ministers. Likewise, Waliullah Shaheen, head of the Center for Strategic Studies at the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was reported saying: “The economy, banking and normalization of Afghanistan’s relations with the world are the agenda items of the meeting.”

Meanwhile, the situation in Afghanistan continues to deteriorate beyond belief. The onset of winter is bound to aggravate this crisis of hunger and violence, threatening to make it the world’s largest humanitarian catastrophe. 

But the Taliban have so far continued to rely on making promises without showing any remorse or compromise. Experts also believe that being so disorganized, the Taliban top leadership hardly control the behavior of their cadres who are bound to become further disgruntled and indisciplined, creating grounds for foreign terrorists to take advantage of this growing instability.

Most countries continue to insist on the Taliban proving their credentials by setting up an inclusive government, showing respect for basic human rights and ensuring that they will not allow safe havens for terrorist organizations like ISIS-Khorasan, which continues to claim credit for bombings and killings, thus constantly undermining the Taliban regime.

It has been more than four months since the Taliban took power in Kabul, but not a single country, not even Pakistan, has recognized their regime. This is because the Taliban have failed to ensure inclusion of minorities and women in their caretaker government headed by Mohammad Hasan Akhund, who remains under UN sanctions imposed in 2001. 

It is not that the Taliban are not aware of their disjunctions and disadvantages.

Sayed Ishaq Gailani, head of the National Solidarity Movement of Afghanistan, was reported saying: “Many Islamic nations do not have good relations with Afghanistan. I hope these countries rebuild their relations and together make a decision on recognizing Afghanistan.” 

With such divergent expectations and disjunctions, Pakistan’s going ahead with hosting this jamboree betrays its desperation at not being able to help its foster child. The Taliban have been assiduously groomed by Pakistan, which sent direct military aid, even its military chief, during the last stages of the Taliban assault on Afghan cities.

But the United States and its European allies – which suffered thousand of casualties and spent billions of dollars in their 20-war against Taliban forces, only to leave propitiously without a fig leaf to save their pride – have continued with stringent sanctions on the Taliban and blocked their access to billions of dollars in Afghan foreign assets a well as development assistance.

Given that 80% of the budget of the former Ashraf Ghani government in Afghanistan was supported by foreign aid, this should have brought the Taliban to their knees. That they are coming to this meeting in search of “recognition” instead speaks volumes about their tenacity. This only reinforces the hopelessness that threatens to doom the Afghan masses.

Afghanistan’s neighborhood remains fully aware of what the rise of the Taliban during the early 1990s meant for each of them and what their return could entail for their stability and security. This deteriorating situation is bound to unleash an exodus of refugees, including of Taliban mercenaries. Many of these nations have, therefore, emphasized making a distinction between the issue of recognition of the Taliban regime and the urgent need to deliver food, medicines and other basic necessities to the Afghan masses. 

Running international aid through the Taliban, with or without extending recognition to them, is bound to empower their leaders and cadres against hapless vulnerable Afghan masses. Pakistan’s invitation of the Taliban to this meeting therefore is pregnant with counterproductive possibilities.  

By the way, in spite of being home to the world’s third-largest Muslim population, India has not been invited. If anything, this puts India at ease for not having to take sides. It also underlines Pakistan’s disregard of one of the major stakeholders in Afghan peace initiatives.

India has been part of various forums on Afghanistan and has already initiated a dialogue among national security advisers of stakeholder countries. India has also delivered 50,000 tons of wheat to Afghanistan, and more is in pipeline.

India, as always, would prefer this being discussed at the UN Security Council with a likely sanction of sending an international force to stabilize the situation on the ground, after which initiating delivery of aid should not take long, as most international aid agencies had already been operating in Afghanistan until recently.

The international community speaking in one voice led by the Security Council is perhaps the only way that the Taliban can be made to fall in line.

Swaran Singh

Dr Swaran Singh is professor of diplomacy and disarmament at the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi; adjunct senior fellow at The Charhar Institute, Beijing; senior fellow, Institute for National Security Studies Sri Lanka, Colombo; and visiting professor, Research Institute for Indian Ocean Economies, Kunming (China).