Less than one week since the Taliban swept into Kabul, governments are starting to consider the thorny question of when and if they should recognize the Islamist group as Afghanistan’s legitimate governing power.
A U.N. Security Council-designated terrorist group since 1999, the Taliban have been a pariah for more than two decades.
When the Taliban emerged from the ashes of the Soviet Union’s nearly 10-year-long failed war in Afghanistan and rose to power in the mid-1990s, only three countries formally recognized their control over the country – Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
As capitals now debate the risks and benefits of recognizing the group, they are unlikely to rush to decide and may wait to let other governments go first.
The U.S. State Department this week noted that “there has not been a formal transfer of power” in Afghanistan and has avoided saying who it recognizes as the governing power.
Countries like Russia and China are eyeing the regional security vacuum left by the U.S. withdrawal and are more likely to recognize the Taliban as a means to expanding their own influence.
“Ultimately, while Western members of the Security Council are focusing on issues like women's rights, Russia is most interested in regional security and the drug trade,” said International Crisis Group U.N. Director Richard Gowan. “China and Russia have good reasons to be pragmatic in dealing with the Taliban, given their immediate regional concerns.”
“There is no point in panicking,” said Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia at an emergency meeting of the Security Council on August 16, a day after the Taliban seized Kabul. He said Moscow’s embassy would continue to operate as normal.
“As regards our further official steps regarding the Taliban, we will determine them while proceeding from concrete developments and the Taliban’s specific actions,” the Russian envoy said.
China urges encouragement
China recently hosted nine Taliban leaders in the northern city of Tianjin, and on Thursday called on the international community to “encourage and guide” the Taliban in a positive direction, instead of exerting more pressure.
Pakistan, which has long been a safe haven for the group, said it was making “active efforts” to promote an inclusive political settlement in Afghanistan.
Western nations could also take a group approach to the recognition issue. Next week, officials of the Group of Seven leading industrial nations will meet to discuss developments. Leaders could agree a list of benchmarks the Taliban would have to meet before they would consider diplomatic acceptance.