PRIME MINISTER Imran Khan has delivered an effective speech at the UN General Assembly session detailing the salient points of Pakistan’s policy on varied subjects like India, Afghanistan, Covid-19 and climate change. All these topics resonate with an international audience to differing degrees, but it is Afghanistan that is the centre of attention for obvious reasons, and more so the words of the prime minister of the country that arguably command the highest relevance in matters relating to Afghanistan.
The prime minister had a mixed bag of arguments in his speech. These are worthy of debate in terms of their utility for Pakistan. He was correct in saying that if the international community did not engage constructively with the Taliban government, the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan would become even grimmer with poverty rates shooting beyond 90pc in the near future. There is no doubt that unless urgent financial aid is provided to Afghanistan, the economy will struggle to sustain itself and the citizens would face the brunt of the hardships that ensue.
While Mr Khan may be sincere in urging the international community to lend a hand, the Taliban government is doing itself no favours by refusing to accommodate any demands of the international community, including Pakistan. Not only is the Taliban leadership showing reluctance to include other ethnicities in its governing set-up, it has flatly declined to entertain the idea of having women representation in government. To add insult to injury, the Taliban are cracking down on girls’ education and restricting women from working in offices.
This is contrary to what they had promised before taking over Kabul. At that time, many officials and other stakeholders from relevant countries and organisations had expressed the optimism that the Taliban appeared more pragmatic and flexible than they were in their previous stint in power. The initial statements from various Taliban spokesmen also gave the impression that they were desirous of joining the global mainstream. These hopes are now dimming with each passing day. In the latest regressive move, Taliban officials have declared they will start harsh punishments including executions and amputations. All this means that the Taliban are gradually reverting to their old ways and there is little chance that they will show flexibility to global demands.
This intractability may appeal to the Taliban hardliners but it will ensure that their government will not get the recognition they want any time soon. Pakistan should also not press for it if the Taliban refuse to bend. The international community is justified in using recognition as a pressure tool to extract some fundamental reforms from the Taliban. Pakistan should do its part to persuade the Taliban to see reason. Pakistan should also spell out for them in no uncertain terms that without recognition and financial assistance, the Taliban will struggle to sustain themselves in power.
Published in Dawn, September 26th, 2021