- Web Master
- June 11, 2019
Multilateral talks in China this week shied from recognizing the Taliban, but Beijing is still playing ball.
By Lynne O’Donnell, a columnist at Foreign Policy and an Australian journalist and author.
Taliban figures meeting with their neighbors in China this week are not likely to carry home the coveted gift of diplomatic recognition as Afghanistan’s legitimate government, though their ears are likely ringing with promises of investment in transportation, trade, and communications to help rebuild the country and consolidate their hold on power. But countries weary of their excesses and ineptitude are also lecturing the Taliban representatives on human rights, education for women and girls, law and order, regional security, and their ties to terrorist groups.
China is hosting a series of multilateral meetings this week to discuss Afghanistan, where the economy has imploded and millions of people are on the edge of starvation. Since the Taliban won a protracted war and took control last year, an already dire situation has become catastrophic. The foreign ministers of Russia, Pakistan, Iran, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan ,and Uzbekistan, as well as the Taliban, are in China for the third meeting of the so-called Foreign Ministers of Neighboring Countries of Afghanistan. Indonesia and Qatar are also present.
This meeting—which the host, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi, said aims “to help Afghanistan achieve peace, stability, and development at an early date”—will be followed by another of the so-called extended troika of China, Russia, Pakistan, and the United States. Tom West, the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan, is scheduled to attend.
Afghanistan’s neighbors and the United States will use the meetings to tell the Taliban that they won’t get something for nothing and that’s time to start acting like a responsible government. Tempers flared around the world after Taliban officials last week reversed a decision to allow older girls to go back to school.
“Recognition is an important question and has been for some time. We keep on discussing it with them, but they need more time to settle in,” said an official in Pakistan’s foreign ministry, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Taliban figures see their attendance at international meetings as tacit acknowledgement of their legitimacy as Afghanistan’s government, and they talk privately about “silent recognition.” That’s a stretch, as recent actions by the Islamists have dismayed their neighbors, as well as the Western alliance, and led to retributive action just as the United States and the World Bank were considering easing financial sanctions on the Taliban and bringing Afghanistan back into the international community.
The confabs in Tunxi, in China’s Anhui province, come after the Taliban’s latest series of extreme edicts, including backtracking on girls’ secondary schooling, banning women from traveling alone by air, segregating men and women in public parks, forcing women to wear full-body coverings that cannot even show their feet, and ordering men to stop trimming their beards. Violent repression of dissent continues, with disappearances, detentions, beatings, and extrajudicial killings. There is no internal security or rule of law, and Taliban gunmen face regular firefights in a number of areas of the country.
The meeting “is likely to focus on the development, or lack thereof, of progress since the Taliban takeover,” said a senior advisor to Pakistan’s government, on condition he not be named. He said there will be a focus on the Taliban’s about-face on girls’ education.
“It is too early to be discussing recognition of the Taliban regime in the light of lack of progress on some key fronts,” he said.
While China and other countries may
withhold diplomatic recognition for now, Beijing is moving ahead with
efforts to boost another sort of recognition. A security source said
China has promised to provide the Taliban with surveillance equipment,
which Chinese authorities have developed and used with great effect to
tighten their grip on authoritarian power, especially in the Xinjiang
region, where millions of Muslim Uyghurs have been targeted for
“reeducation” in a campaign that has been labeled a genocide.