Illegitimacy and lack of recognition; Two main deadlocks for the Taliban government
The history of Afghanistan shows that no government has managed so far to survive in Afghanistan without the support of regional and trans-regional countries, and no opposition military group has managed to defeat the central government of Afghanistan without the support of regional and trans-regional countries. The international community's explicit support for the current Afghan government would be possible only when the Taliban government gains international recognition. If the Taliban government gains recognition, then the diplomatic literature and media outlets of other countries will refer to the Taliban’s opposition parties as the insurgent groups, and this term will form a legal basis by the governments that recognize the Taliban. Otherwise, even if the Taliban can wield its military might all over Afghanistan's geographical territory, the Taliban’s opposition groups will manage to strengthen their political prestige on the international arena.
By: Abdulrahim Kamel
The developments of Afghanistan and instability of the governments over the past half of century have led the Afghan and regional experts to the conclusion that not only war is not a solution, but also military rule alone cannot solve the crisis in Afghanistan.
One of the main reasons behind instability of the governments in Afghanistan has been their over-reliance on military power and underestimation of Afghanistan's political and social needs. Perhaps the reason why the governments, especially the neighboring countries, have been reluctant to recognize the Taliban government so far is their deep awareness of Afghanistan's political and social needs as well as inadequacy of military solutions to manage these challenges.
There are some social and political factors and necessities in the Afghan society and fundamental norms in the international community that the lightning victory or the military rule of the Taliban cannot ignore them. If the Taliban government fails to resolve these fundamental issues through political means, they will turn into a political impasse for the development and consolidation of the Taliban government.
Despite a military victory, the Taliban government has failed to take the necessary political steps to overcome the political stalemates in the past nine months. The group faces the same challenges of the 1990s that eventually led to its overthrow.
Now, lack of internal illegitimacy and international recognition are two main deadlocks facing the Taliban. These two deadlocks are consecutive, with internal illegitimacy paving the way for lack of international recognition. In this article, these two issues are discussed.
The Taliban and the impasse of political illegitimacy
Nearly nine months have passed since the Taliban’s rise to power in Afghanistan, and despite some guerrilla warfare operations against the Taliban, they have retained their control over the entire territory of the country. Both the Taliban's rapid takeover of the Afghan territory and its preservation indicate the Taliban's military power.
However, the Taliban is no longer a military group and has become Afghanistan's main political power. Hence, military power alone can no longer be a solution for the Taliban.
The truth is that a government, as a political entity, cannot continuously use military means to solve its internal challenges. That is why the governments choose political and civil mechanisms as legal and low-cost tools to solve their internal challenges. The governments also choose the political mechanisms, in the form of diplomacy and diplomatic techniques, as the most fundamental way to solve their external issues with the regional and trans-regional countries instead of using military force.
In other words, the institution of government is a civil organization whose military power alone is not sufficient for its sustainment and it must also be based on legal grounds. These legal bases must also be in line with the accepted and fundamental principles of international law. Otherwise, the governments will face a stalemate in pursuing their political demands at the international level.
The Taliban's current problem is that they have ignored these legal and indisputable facts over the past nine months.
The Taliban consider the issue of political legitimacy as an ideological and internal matter and, according to their norms and beliefs, consider it as a definite fact. It is because of this kind of view that the Taliban expect the international community to respect their norms and beliefs.
But, the reality is that the governments, as members of the international community, cannot consider the issue of political legitimacy as a purely internal matter. It is true that the legitimacy of a political system is based on domestic norms and beliefs, but this never means that the governments are allowed to ignore the internationally accepted principles of political legitimacy.
Creating a proper context for the citizens to manage their collective destiny based on their own political will is one of the fundamental principles of international legitimacy, and even purely religious political systems respect this principle and apply it as one of the principles of religious democracy. Despite the demands and expectations of the regional countries as well as the international community, the Taliban government has failed to provide a theoretical mechanism for this issue over the past nine months.
During this time, the Taliban, instead of trying to reduce their verbal and behavioral inconsistencies with public opinion at the international level, have consistently raised and highlighted a series of issues that have even weakened the bargaining power of their supporters. After nine months of domestic and international demands, the Taliban are slowly and steadily move in the direction of their policies in the 1990s. If this political approach continues, any claim about the evolution of the Taliban’s ideology will turn into despair.
It is still unclear why the Taliban are trying to revive their strict interpretations of Islam in the 1990s. This comes as other countries in the region and the world expected the Taliban to respect the necessary minimum standards in terms of political participation, and role of people and different ethnic groups in the government.
So far, the Taliban have shown in practice that in their view, obtaining the opinion of the Afghan people to legitimize the religious leader of the government is not in accordance with religious teachings. According to the Taliban's religious approach, even at a lower level than the Amir al-Mo'menin, the will and opinion of the people have no place in the election of the head of state. Therefore, the principle of holding elections is ruled out in the Taliban political system. From the Taliban's religious point of view, the people cannot even contribute to the public affairs of the country through participation in passing the ordinary laws. That is why a parliament or an Islamic council is excluded from the political system of the Taliban.
Despite the complexity of the norms and rules of the international community, at least four principles have been accepted as the basis of political legitimacy, which are: Peaceful transfer of political power; rule of law; inclusiveness of the political system; and respect for the fundamental rights of social and religious minorities, and women.
The neighbors, regional countries and international community have somehow put forward these basic principles as their main demands from the Taliban and are still determined to do so.
Even after Sirajuddin Haqqani, the leader of the Haqqani network, stated in an interview with CNN that the United States is no longer the enemy of the Taliban, Washington once again emphasized on respecting women's rights, fighting against terrorism, and establishing an inclusive political system as prerequisites to recognition of the Taliban’s government. These basic demands of the international community from the Taliban were raised from the very beginning of the Taliban’s rise to power. The Islamic Republic of Iran was one of the first countries that emphasized over the establishment of a comprehensive government in Afghanistan as well as respecting the fundamental rights of all ethnic and religious groups in Afghanistan. Tehran also declared that the main principle in the Iran-Afghanistan ties is relations between the two nations.
The Taliban recently announced that they would form a Loya Jirga to find solutions to some of Afghanistan's problems. The initial impression was that this grand meeting will follow the model of Loya Jirga that was used to legitimize the transitional government of Hamid Karzai, in which a comprehensive plan would be presented for replacing the current interim government with a permanent one. The establishment of the Commission of Contact with Afghan Leaders and Their Repatriation (Commission Ertibatat Ba Shaksiat Hai Afghan Wa Awdat Anan) by the Taliban also reinforced this idea. However, now that some time has passed since the introduction of the idea of Loya Jirga, and the majority of opposition leaders have also rejected the plans of the commission of contact, there is a strong suspicion that this grand assembly will not be held, or even if be held, cannot provide the Taliban with an acceptable amount of political legitimacy in the international community. In that case, the Taliban will continue to be at the deadlock of political illegitimacy, and experience has shown that governments do not grow without political legitimacy.
Therefore, political necessity and wisdom require that the Taliban’s leadership use the past political experience of Afghanistan and resolve the challenge of their political illegitimacy through political means.
The Taliban and the impasse of international recognition
The experience of the collapse of governments as well as the ups and downs of military opposition groups shows that no government has managed to survive in Afghanistan without the support of regional and trans-regional countries, and no military group has managed to defeat the central government of Afghanistan without the support of regional and trans-regional countries.
If the Taliban government wants to survive, it should not ignore the experience of the previous Afghan governments.
The explicit support of the regional governments and the international community for the current Afghan government becomes tangible only when the Taliban government is recognized internationally. The basic premise for other countries to recognize the Taliban government is gaining internal legitimacy.
The issue of international recognition for a fledgling government is a matter of survival. Otherwise, that government is likely to lose its legitimacy in the international opinion at any moment. Conversely, if the international recognition is achieved, the political and military opponents of that fledgling government will lose their legitimacy in the international opinion.
If the Taliban government gains recognition, then the diplomatic literature and media outlets of other countries will refer to the Taliban’s opposition parties as the insurgent groups, and these terms will gain a legal basis by the governments that recognize the Taliban. Conversely, if the Taliban fail to gain international recognition, the Taliban government will be promoted by opposition political and military groups as a terrorist group which opposes Afghan public opinion and the norms of the international community. In this case, even if the Taliban can wield its military might all over Afghanistan's geographical territory, the Taliban’s opposition groups will manage to strengthen their political prestige on the international arena.
This experience was objectively experienced in the 1990s. Although the Taliban had a dominant government and military presence in Afghanistan at the time, the Northern Alliance, with having less than 10 percent of Afghanistan's geography, managed to isolate the Taliban through its international prestige.
This shows that, contrary to the pessimistic views and despite the anarchic situation of the international system, the international community still has certain legal principles and foundations. There are now some countries that do not have a comprehensive political system and do not respect the rights of minorities, but they are still members of the United Nations and are recognized. However, this view should not mislead the Taliban government, because even those authoritarian states are recognized by some global powers in the international system. Even the recognition of the Taliban government by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Pakistan in the 1990s did not encourage other countries to recognize the Taliban, because those countries did not have much power in the regional and international environment. On the contrary, if Iran, China, India, or Russia recognize the Taliban government, the Taliban will have a great opportunity to be recognized by other regional and trans-regional countries.
Nevertheless, even if we consider the behavior of states in foreign relations as a function of national interest and "political decision," it still does not mean ignoring the norms and principles of international law.
According to a resolution adopted by the UN Security Council in March 2020, The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan was not recognized by the United Nations and the UN Security Council did not support the restoration of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. This resolution is currently the most important part of international law which is used by the opposition groups in the international arena against the Taliban.
The Taliban officials are forced to adapt themselves to the rules and necessities of diplomacy and pay attention to the undeniable realities of the international environment.
Recently, the Taliban officials announced the re-opening of embassies in Afghanistan, and tried to show the admission of their diplomats by some countries, including Iran, China, Russia and the Central Asian states, as the practical recognition of the Taliban government. The fact is that the Taliban cannot simplify the diplomatic norms through these political interpretations. The relationship between the majority of neighboring countries and Afghanistan has historical, cultural and social roots, and these countries cannot recognize the Taliban government without following certain rules and political foresight, especially in a situation that the Taliban government is suffering from lack of internal legitimacy.
It seems that the Taliban's view towards the phenomenon of government as well as the intergovernmental relations is still a military one. If this view does not change soon and turn into a political one, it will lead to more stalemates and frustration.
This military approach towards the phenomenon of government and sovereignty has created a simplistic view among the Taliban leaders towards the international relations. That is why the Taliban believe that the military control of a geographical territory and declaration of a government through military support must lead to international recognition.
My impression is that the regional and trans-regional governments, before considering this view as a simple and superficial one, have found it dangerous for the regional order, because each of the neighboring countries of Afghanistan is carrying the roots of political conflicts in their own territory since the era of colonization. These roots of conflict are highlighted from time to time by the great powers as a point of pressure. For this reason, the countries of the region do not want to recognize the Taliban as a legitimate state just because of its control over a geographical territory and its military power. Otherwise, a misunderstanding will emerge in the minds of militant groups that they can declare a state solely by gaining military control over a geography.
In the last nine months, the Taliban government could prepare the ground for a political agreement in Afghanistan through some political wisdom. An internal political agreement automatically creates the ground for national consensus as well as political legitimacy of the Taliban. The Taliban, however, missed this opportunity by adopting an unrealistic political approach.
Lack of internal illegitimacy and the consequent delay in the official recognition of the Taliban by other governments will impose extra economic and psychological pressure on the Afghan people.
Countries in the region and beyond cannot simply disregard the diplomatic principles and standards, and recognize the Taliban government without having internal legitimacy.
Due to their national and political interests, the governments of the region are likely to postpone the recognition of the Taliban government until it can adapt itself to the accepted standards of internal governance and good relations with the regional countries.