Recognition of the Taliban government; from de facto to de jure
It seems that the Taliban’s rule is the inevitable fate of Afghanistan. Although this government, as in the past, has adopted the medieval methods, and shows incompatibility with the legal principles and rules of the modern world, it has an important advantage and that is its uniqueness. There is no alternative for the Taliban that can gain an all-around governance and provide relative security by using the internal resources. At present, although a number of countries and international organizations are interacting with the Taliban government in a way that indicates the de facto recognition of this government, the de jure recognition of the Taliban government is very likely due to three inevitable issues, and as seen, some peripheral countries have already taken steps towards the de jure recognition.
By: Mir ahmad Mashal
The previous Afghan government collapsed despite widespread support from the international community and it no longer exists. According to the international law, the regime changes have no negative effect on the position and identity of a government as an international entity. Even the governments that have come to power by means of a revolution or coup, have nothing short of a recognized government or international entity. There are many examples in the international arena where a government has been overthrown and its successor has been recognized, just like the previous government.
But what would be the world’s approach towards the Taliban’s government which has come to power by overthrowing a recognized government and has not had a good performance in the past? Will the Taliban government be recognized by other governments as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan? What should the Taliban do in order to be recognized as the official government of Afghanistan? What inevitable issues can push the international community towards recognizing the Taliban? Is there any difference between the views of various countries towards the Taliban and the current situation of Afghanistan? And what kind of interaction will these differences shape between the Taliban and the world in the future?
The Taliban must meet two basic conditions in order to be recognized internationally as the official government of Afghanistan. According to the rules of the international law, they must first gain internal legitimacy both through gaining legal legitimacy and functional legitimacy. Secondly, it should show commitment towards its international obligations. In other words, at the domestic level, the Taliban must gain legitimacy through a supreme legislative body (which in Afghanistan usually done through a Loya Jirga) and then consolidate their functional legitimacy by providing public services. At the international level, the group should provide the ground for its recognition via accepting the universally accepted rules and principles, and fulfilling its international obligations and responsibilities.
However, after more than a month since the Taliban have taken the power in Afghanistan, the group seems reluctant to hold a Loya Jirga or anything like this to gain legal legitimacy. The words and deeds of Taliban leaders show that by calling their government an Islamic Emirate, which was established twenty-six years ago, they have created a religious and historical ground for their government, and thus feel no need to do anything else to gain internal legitimacy. The Taliban even spent no time on establishing an inclusive government - a condition that was put forth by other internal and external parties - and unilaterally created an exclusive government.
The Taliban, on the other hand, claim that they have succeeded to provide the Afghan people with a comprehensive security and peace, adding that this is a great mission that the previous governments could not accomplish even with the international support. But this alone cannot bring functional legitimacy for a government. If the Taliban want to gain legitimacy, they must follow the principles that are most important to other countries (such as protecting the human rights, giving political and social freedoms, especially to women, and creating a proper atmosphere for public participation in governance structures), while providing the people with a livelihood. But apparently the Taliban do not intend to move further in this direction at the moment.
If the Taliban want to form a stable and dynamic government, they must accept some of these conditions and comply with the wishes of the people of Afghanistan and the world. But it seems that the group first needs more time to do such things, and secondly expects more concessions from the world in return. Despite the constant reiteration of the spokesmen of this group that they respect the universally accepted rules as far as the Shari'a guidelines allow, what prevents public trust in the Taliban is their links with the terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda, their widespread violation of human rights and international rules in the past, their lack of transparency in these cases now, and even the possibility of repeating them in the future. As a result, it can be said that the necessary pre-conditions for recognition of the Taliban government have not yet been met by this group, and this situation has left the international recognition of it in a state of ambiguity.
The international inevitabilities for recognizing Taliban
Despite what has been explained, the international community is facing three major considerations that make the recognition of the Taliban or at least a constructive engagement with the group inevitable in the future. First, without exaggeration, it can be said that the Taliban is the only group that has been able and can provide relative governance and security across the entire territory of Afghanistan. This group may not have the slightest capacity for modern governance, but what really sets it apart from other groups and even governments in Afghanistan over the past few decades is its ability to create a relatively secure environment, albeit through strict regulation and intimidation. Although this is an internal matter, if the Taliban can maintain this safe environment in such a way that provides no opportunity for the terrorist groups to gather and operate in Afghanistan, then the international community would have no choice except for recognizing the group.
The second and most important issue is lack of an alternative for the Taliban. The Taliban had not completely overthrown the Afghan government in the 1990s, but ousted it from large parts of Afghanistan’s territory, including the capital. Nevertheless, the Islamic State of Afghanistan (ISA), headed by Burhanuddin Rabbani, while holding parts of Afghanistan’s territory, was recognized as the official government of the country by other countries in the world, and was the Afghanistan’s envoy to the United Nations. Although the same government lacked a nationwide governance in Afghanistan and was suffering from a severe civil war, it could be an alternative to the Taliban. But now, the Taliban have completely overthrown the official government of Afghanistan in a way that its fugitive president, Ashraf Ghani, no more considers himself as the head of government.
However, if he would have done it from Abu Dhabi, it would seem more stupid. Among all the figures of that collapsed government, it was only the first vice president who - after fleeing [to Panjshir]- declared himself as the successor to the president, which was not endorsed even by Ahmad Massoud, the leader of the so-called Resistance Front in Panjshir. In the meantime, the only hope of some people is the National Resistance Front. This front, which has been almost neutralized from the beginning and has become inactive, has not been able to create a resistance axis even at the local level, let alone the national level. Thus, the Taliban are currently the only group that other countries can engage with them. Because if we assume that the Taliban will be eliminated (except in a situation similar to 2001, when the group was eliminated by a large-scale global operation and its substitute appointed by the international community), what remains is another civil war among the groups whose leaders are currently on the run around the world.
In other words, if the Taliban, which now serves as the undisputed ruler of Afghanistan, disappear, different groups and militias will establish their own independent governments in various regions, just like what happened in the 1990s. In that case, the international community, which now faces a Taliban-ruled Afghanistan with its good and bad characteristics, will face an Afghanistan that would be the hotbed of various terrorist groups. It can be said that the Taliban's alternative will be chaos and civil war unless the United States and its allies decide to repeat the post-2001 experience, which is certainly unlikely.
The third issue is about the socio-economic situation of Afghanistan. If the current situation continues, the economic and social condition of the country will create a humanitarian catastrophe and will pave the way for the massive migration of the Afghan people. In fact, as long as the political and economic isolation of the Taliban government continues, its main pressure will be on ordinary people. Although some countries maintain that political isolation and economic pressure can be used as a leverage against the Taliban, it will lead to more emigration and loss of the civilian lives. Therefore, in order to avoid such catastrophes and prevent the Taliban from going to other directions, we expect to see some measures in line with recognition of the Taliban and constructive engagement with their government.
As a result of these three inevitable issues (the Taliban's ability to establish a unified governance; lack of a viable alternative to it; and preventing humanitarian catastrophes in Afghanistan and not forcing the Taliban to go elsewhere) the international community will be forced to recognize the government established by the group. Until now, a large number of countries have recognized the Taliban government as de facto ruler of Afghanistan and are interacting with the group; and according to international customary, this de facto recognition is expected to be a prelude to de jure recognition.
Different countries' approaches towards the Taliban
As mentioned before, the countries of the world will be forced to deal with the Taliban and recognize its government, either as de facto or de jure – which, of course, will be a time consuming but inevitable event. But the question is, what are the differences between the views of various countries towards the Taliban and the current situation in Afghanistan? And what kind of approaches may these differences create regarding the Taliban in the future?
In a macro-level classification, the countries’ approaches can be divided into two groups. The first group includes countries such as Russia, China, Iran, Turkey, Qatar and Pakistan, which consider the Taliban as an opportunity despite its shortcomings and inadequacies. The second group includes the western countries as well as India which see the Taliban as a threat. Each of these countries has also different motives. Russia, China and Iran have two major expectations of the Taliban, in addition to the economic issues. These three countries' views towards the Taliban stem from two main concerns: the presence of western powers in Afghanistan, and the growth of terrorist groups such as ISKP or al-Qaeda in the country.
The interesting point is that all three countries evaluate the presence of western countries equal to the presence of terrorist groups such as ISKP. They believe that the presence of the western countries, especially the United States, paves the way for the presence of ISKP, because this group is a US conspiracy against their own countries. Therefore, these countries, despite not explicitly recognizing the Taliban, have been in close contact with the group, and their embassies in Kabul are still active. In fact, the interaction of these three countries with the Taliban is aimed at preventing re-intervention of the West (especially the United States) and preventing expansion of terrorist groups such as ISKP in the territory of Afghanistan.
For Turkey and Qatar, the Taliban is an opportunity through which they can expand their regional role and have an active presence in the regional equations. For Pakistan, the issue is very clear. With the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan, Islamabad will achieve two of its long-held aspirations: One is the formation of an allied government in Kabul that acts in line with Pakistan’s political and economic goals, and the other is finding a supporter in the equations of South Asia, which can turn the tide of the Pakistan-India rivalry in favor of Islamabad.
Now, the main question is whether these countries have any conflicting views about Afghanistan? Although the answer is yes, the differences are not so great that can lead to a serious conflict among these countries in Afghanistan. Russia, China and Iran are pursuing common security goals in Afghanistan, and even if a terrorist group (especially ISKP) resurges, just like what happened in Syria, they will once again form an informal coalition to counter it. The political goals of these three countries are also similar. All the three countries, while not having a problem with the Taliban government, have urged the group to form as inclusive a government as possible to eliminate any possibility of conflict in the future. Between Qatar and Turkey, Qatar is trying to take on the role of the region’s Switzerland and turn itself into a bridge between other governments and the Taliban. At the second stage, Doha is seeking to gain more economic benefits in Afghanistan through its close relations with the Taliban government and take the place of Saudi Arabia and the UAE in the regional equations regarding Afghanistan.
In the case of Pakistan, it can be said that if it wants to use Afghanistan’s territory against another country, that country will be India. As can be seen, while there is no specific problem among these countries that could lead to a security incident in Afghanistan, there is even a kind of coordination among them in terms of interaction with the Taliban. Regarding the western countries and India, which are the main losers of the recent developments of Afghanistan, it can be said that most of the western countries, especially Europeans, are seeking to deal with the Taliban. What they want from the Taliban in exchange for opening their embassies, or at least their lower-level representation in Kabul, is adhering to human rights standards and creating a liberal political and social atmosphere.
Meanwhile, the United States is still pursuing its security and military aspirations, for which it is ready to act unilaterally. Meanwhile, the country has tried more than any other country to pave the way for recognition of the Taliban government and keeping the channels of communication with the group open. Regarding India, as the country that has lost the game in Afghanistan the most, it can be said that this country is struggling to keep itself safe from the Taliban’s threat as well as the group’s possible collusion with Pakistan (which, of course, will not be a very naked and obvious collusion). India can be the most isolated country in the political equations of Afghanistan in the future, and feeling of danger may put this country in another suffering.
In a nutshell, it seems that the Taliban’s rule is the inevitable fate of Afghanistan. Although this government, as in the past, has adopted the medieval methods, and shows incompatibility with the legal principles and rules of the modern world, it has an important advantage and that is its uniqueness. There is no alternative for the Taliban that can gain an all-around governance and provide relative security in Afghanistan by using the internal resources. At present, although a number of countries and international organizations are interacting with the Taliban government in a way that indicates the de facto recognition of this government, the de jure recognition of the Taliban government is very likely due to three inevitable issues, and as seen, some peripheral countries have already taken steps towards the de jure recognition.
Mir ahmad Mashal, is a researcher at the Institute for East Strategic Studies