A new consensus on Afghanistan

If the period between August 15 and August 31 in Afghanistan was dominated by the shock of the Taliban’s victory, and the final exit of the United States (US), a new phase is now about to commence. The Taliban has won, and the international community has made peace with this fact, in varying degrees. The next phase will see intensified negotiations within the international community and between the international community and the Taliban. This is crucial, for it will determine whether Afghanistan will once again become a haven for terror groups, with State support, or a somewhat more responsible member of the global community.

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While the absence of a reference to the Taliban in a statement issued by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) was noted, a more important development was the UNSC resolution on the penultimate day of India’s presidency. The August 30 resolution categorically demanded that Afghan territory “not be used to threaten or attack any country or to shelter or train terrorists, or to plan or to finance terrorist acts”. This must be the basis of future international negotiations with the Taliban. The world has already witnessed the perils of letting an anarchic international system prevail — each major power was out to cut deals with the Taliban in the run-up to its eventual takeover, hoping to secure its own interests, while turning a blind eye to the group’s other actions. This helped the Taliban game the international system and emerge stronger. But even as State-specific geopolitical calculations are inevitable, all major powers — including Russia and China, which abstained at the UNSC — have an interest in ensuring that Afghanistan does not become a terror-exporting nation.

To do this, the international community has four levers left vis-à-vis the Taliban — the carrot of diplomatic recognition on a bilateral basis, the stick of withholding access to finances, the threat of sanctions, and the lure of a seat at the UN. There must be a renewed multilateral effort, with a unified international voice, which sends a signal to the Taliban (and its backers in Pakistan) that unless there is a clear commitment to crack down on terror groups, the world won’t give a despotic, medieval, fundamentalist regime a free pass. Irrespective of whether the Taliban can or will enforce these commitments, the first step is to force the new Afghanistan to abide by international norms.

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