PARIAH regimes are those shunned globally as they violate global norms. With the Afghan Taliban’s win in war but loss in diplomatic recognition, it’s critical to understand the history of and world reaction to such regimes to analyse Taliban prospects.
Pariah regimes differ from hermit and rogue ones. While there is no consensus definition, the hermit ones go into self-reclusion, like Bhutan. Pariah regimes seek global ties yet are widely shunned as they break global norms internally, eg huge citizen rights abuse, like South Africa earlier or Burma now. Finally, rogue regimes break global norms externally too, like exporting drugs or terror. The US calls Iran one though many rightly accuse US of being one too and of wrongly labelling all its opponents as rogue.
The Taliban don’t want a hermit state. They need aid badly. Yet, one month on, they still lack recognition from not only the West but even Russia, China and Iran that had shown openness towards them. Even the Taliban’s eastern neighbour and close ally, which is, unfortunately, actively marketing them globally and seems very keen to recognise them, fears doing so unilaterally given the universal cold shoulder.
So the Taliban’s is already a pariah regime as the world sees with ire not just an exclusive Taliban ‘cabinet’ but one hogged by its most hawkish Haqqani faction, with reports of the more moderate Mullah Baradar being sidelined and even injured in an internal feud. Sharp tongues are wagging loudly that the hawks won due to the visit by the chief sleuth of a neighbour. Then there are numerous reports of human rights abuse against women, media and opponents. Much abuse happened under the Ashraf Ghani regime but in war between and by two foes. One foe, the Taliban, is now inflicting abuse alone even without war. In fact, if they fail to rein in terrorists and eradicate the drug trade from its soil, Afghanistan may even be seen as a rogue state soon.
The world usually struggles to tame even real pariah and rogue regimes.
The world usually struggles to tame even real pariah and rogue regimes. The usual actions are sanctions and arming resistance groups covertly. Direct army action has been rare, Iraq being an exception and Afghanistan itself. But still licking its deep wounds sullenly, the US will not do that or even use aerial forays (that subjugated Serbia) against the Taliban.
Sanctions bore fruit in South Africa, Sudan and Serbia. But North Korea, Burma, Iran, Eritrea and Cuba still survive after decades of sanctions. Yemen, Syria, Somalia and Libya face ongoing violent chaos due to unwise help by major or regional powers to armed groups. And then there is the arrogant US itself that actually thrives despite its repeated rogue acts globally. But imperialist overreach and old age are finally taking their toll now.
So all must pause from aiding armed groups now as it would up Afghan misery spread over 40 years already. Yet Taliban abuse is already so high that recognition should be refused pending proof of deep change. Sanctions must be used. Nevertheless, massive relief aid must roll in to end Afghan suffering via UN and aid agencies and not the Taliban to curb misuse and avoid giving them leverage.
While there are many pariah/rogue states now, many involved in much internal abuse, they at least accept some tenets of modernity. The Taliban are by far the most obscurantist in almost entirely rejecting it. They want to drag Afghans further back than they were even decades ago under monarchy. It is also much weaker than other such states due to its acute need for aid. Thus, the need and chance for applying pressure is much higher than elsewhere.
Will the Taliban buckle under such pressure? Some such states have survived long via aid from Russia, China etc. They may also support the Taliban if it curbs terrorism against them. Yet they don’t give budget aid that the Taliban badly need. But then, the Taliban don’t follow normal materialistic logic and have earlier withstood huge pressure, especially their hawks. Still, external pressure could strengthen moderate factions, civil society (that is already out in street protests) and political opposition. Serious Taliban infighting is possible too. Afghans, the region and the world are better off without a hawkish Taliban regime. The region will likely stay unstable with it and hopes of more regional economic flows may remain unmet.
Due to unwise policies, Pakistan is already creaking under the weight of its own economic, political, external and security problems that are fast increasing. It is in no position to carry the heavy burden of such problems for the Taliban too. It is time for it to focus on its own problems and let the Taliban fend for themselves. But it must consider hosting Afghan refugees and helping aid flow into Afghanistan.
The writer is a political economist with a PhD from Berkeley.
Published in Dawn, September 21st, 2021