“We acknowledge the importance of maintaining friendly relations with all countries and take their concerns seriously. Afghanistan cannot afford to live in isolation. The new Afghanistan will be a responsible member of the international community. The international community’s support will be crucial to stabilizing and developing Afghanistan. We are ready to work on the basis of mutual respect.”
The above excerpt has been taken from an op-ed written by Sirajuddin Haqqani for the New York Times in February 2020. Given the fact that Haqqani is one of the most influential leaders of the Taliban and has occupied the important portfolio of the interior ministry, his words should not be taken as words per se. These words are significant while analyzing the foreign policy of the Afghan Taliban as the said words are being reflected in the organization’s foreign policy since it took over in August of the last year. In contrast to its hawkish foreign policy in the 1990s which earned the Taliban the ire of the International community, this time, they sound more dovish in their foreign policy approach.
Afghan Taliban Foreign Policy
The said dovish nature of the Taliban’s foreign policy is well illustrated in the organization’s dealing with major powers and with those neighboring countries with whom the Taliban were at odds in the 1990s. This time, the group is even making an overture to its archrival, the United States with whom the former has fought for nearly two decades. To quote Haqqani again, “after the United States withdraws its troops, it can play a constructive role in the postwar development and reconstruction of Afghanistan.” In a separate statement, Haibatullah Akhundaza, the supreme leader of the Afghan Taliban also showed a desire to have good relations with the United States. In his Eid ul Azha messages, Akhundzada stated: “Within the framework of mutual interaction and commitment, we want good diplomatic, economic, and political relations with the world, including the United States.”
As aforementioned, the conciliatory approach of the Taliban is not confined to the United States as it is making overtures to other major powers such as Russia and China. When the Taliban assumed power for the first time in 1996, relations between the Islamic Emirate and Russia hit the bottom rock. The execution of President Najibullah by the Taliban and the Russian support for the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in the United Nations in 2001 served as thrones in the relations between the two. However, as time went by the dynamics of the relationship between the two changed. Reportedly, in 2017 Russia supported Taliban with the weapons and financial aid to fight against the US and ISIS. The said rapprochement, as it seems, made its way into the relationship between the two countries after the Taliban returned to power in August 2021. The said assertion can be validated by the fact that Russia is one of the few countries which has established diplomatic ties with the Taliban. In March, the Foreign Ministry of Russia accredited Taliban diplomat Jamal Nasir Gharwal as Afghan charge d’affaires in Moscow.
As far as China is concerned, of all the major powers, China happened to be one of the most favorable major power for the Taliban.
Given the fact that Afghanistan under the Taliban is going through difficult times on the economic front, China’s economic clout and its proximity to Afghanistan make it a perfect candidate for the Afghan Taliban to cooperate with. Thus, the said pragmatism has driven the Taliban to seek friendly relations with China. The appointment of a new ambassador to Beijing by the Taliban, the later lipservice to Chinese atrocities against the Muslims in the Xingyang province, and the revival of Chinese investments in Afghanistan bespeak the Taliban’s pragmatism.
Taliban & the Neighbouring Countries
The same conciliatory approach could be observed in the Taliban’s dealings with the neighboring countries. Consider the case of Iran first. Back in the 1990s relations between the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and Iran were strained owing to the killings of Iranian diplomats by the Taliban. Besides, Iran’s historic support of the Northern Alliance against the Taliban was another bone of contention between the countries. However, over time, hostility fade away and the two get closer to each other due to common animosity towards the US and the common threat both faced in the form of ISIS. Thus, when the Taliban took over in August 2021, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi welcomed the development: “America’s military defeat must become an opportunity to restore life, security, and durable peace in Afghanistan.” On the other hand, to mitigate Iran’s concerns for the Shia Hazara community, based in Afghanistan, the Taliban have recruited members of the Hazara Shia community in its rank to portray itself as a multi-sectarian, pluralistic organization.
Next in line is India. In retrospect, the relations between the Afghan Taliban and India remained hostile for most of history. India’s backing of the Najibullah regime, its support to the Northern Alliance, and the Taliban’s alleged support to the Kashmiri insurgents were some of the issues that put the two at odds with one another. However, this time both countries are making overtures and seeking normalization of relations. IEA’s defense minister, Mullah Yaqoob remarks in an interview with the Indian news outlet apropos of enhancing cooperation and sending soldiers to India for training bears testimony to the changing approach of the Afghan Taliban vis-a-vis India. Moreover, India also has re-established its diplomatic presence in Afghanistan by sending its technical team to Kabul.
To conclude, the Taliban’s rise to power in August 2021 gave impetus to a new debate: whether the Taliban have changed or not, whether it would be appropriate to brand them as Taliban 2.0, or is it a bit early for the said entitlement. To answer these questions, in light of the above discussion, it can be asserted that the Taliban have changed to a greater extent on the foreign policy front as evident from their conciliatory approach toward the nations with whom it had turbulent relations in the past. As far as the Taliban’s conduct in domestic affairs is concerned, it can be the subject of another detailed piece of write-up.
The article is originally published by Pak Observer. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of the South Asia Times.