Talking to the Taliban

Published November 13, 2021

IF Thursday’s 15-point joint statement, issued after a meeting on Afghanistan, indicates anything, it is that the Troika Plus comprising Pakistan, China, Russia and the US share a common view and understanding of the latest situation across our western border. It was followed by an extended Troika meeting with a delegation of senior Afghan Taliban leaders headed by the acting foreign minister, Amir Khan Muttaqi.

That the Troika Plus is finding the platform useful for holding discussions and working together to address the complexities arising out of the Aug 15 takeover of Kabul by the Afghan Taliban is also evident in the fact that this was the 10th meeting of the group.

Interestingly, just a day before the Islamabad moot, New Delhi had convened its own Regional Security Dialogue on Afghanistan, that included senior security figures from Russia, Iran and five Central Asian republics. It came up with a 12-point joint statement of its own. Pakistan and China had declined India’s invite. The Afghan Taliban were not invited, while the US was conspicuous by its absence, which makes the Troika Plus meeting all the more important in terms of both its representation and clout.

There has been no official word on the discussions held between the Troika Plus and the Taliban delegation on the sidelines but it is safe to assume that both sides must have listened to each other’s viewpoint carefully and addressed each other’s concerns. Foreign officials privy to the meetings describe the engagement as ‘productive’. And the joint statement reflects the mood.

From the Afghan Taliban’s standpoint, there were several positives. The moot expressed its concern over the humanitarian and economic crisis in Afghanistan and welcomed the Taliban’s commitment to allowing the safe passage of those who wished to travel to and from Afghanistan. It also “agreed to continue practical engagements with the Taliban to encourage the implementation of moderate and prudent policies that could help achieve a stable and prosperous Afghanistan as soon as possible”, and reiterated respect for the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of an Afghanistan free from terrorism and drug-related crimes.

The Taliban seem to have made progress in certain areas, including allowing girls’ schools to function in some provinces. Much, however, remains to be done. For instance, the Taliban have yet to respond to the international demand for an inclusive and representative government. It appears that differences still exist over the interpretation of what exactly an ‘inclusive and representative government’ means. Kabul’s hard-line rulers have also yet to show their commitment to cutting off ties with terrorist groups and not allowing their soil to be used against any country.

It is important for the international community to continue to engage with the Afghan Taliban but without compromising on the core principles of human rights and an all-inclusive government with women representation.

Published in Dawn, November 13th, 2021

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