One year after the Taliban’s takeover, politics and diplomacy are of the utmost importance to deal with developments in Afghanistan, which stand in striking contrast to the expectations of a large part of the international community in the aftermath of August 15th, 2021. To different degrees, in the West, in the Central Asian region, as well as among other influential global players, there were many who believed the Taliban leadership would eventually adapt the ideology, social rules, and methods of governance of its previous regime to international standards for it to be accepted by the international community and multilateral organizations.
This, however, has not been the case: since the end of 2021, the progressive prevalence, within the Taliban composite movement, of the ultraconservative wing — headed by the Kandahar circle — has led to growing intolerance toward all forms of dissent. This includes repression against those who are not aligned with the regime, marginalization of ethnic and religious minorities other than the dominant Pashtuns, and the denial of human rights – such as the rights of women to education, employment, and freedom of movement, effectively preventing half of the population from playing an active role in Afghan society. Moreover, the Taliban leadership has never ceased to maintain close ties with Al-Qaeda.
This rapid regression clashes with the interest, largely prevalent amid the international community, in stabilizing Afghanistan and avoiding its economic and financial collapse. The repeated appeals from the United Nations, the European Union, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and other key players to create forms of government inclusive of ethnic and religious minorities have not been heeded by the Taliban leadership. In July of this year, the Ulema’s great assembly which gathered participants from all Afghan districts failed to provide different ethnic and tribal components with a voice, contrary to the Afghan tradition of the Loya Jirga. It was, in fact, an expedient to strengthen adherence to the political line carefully drawn by the Emir’s restricted circle.
In a country where tribal, ethnic, and territorial loyalties prevail over national belonging, refusing to allow minorities’ participation will provoke a more acute and widespread action by the National Resistance Front and other armed groups alongside new attacks by the Islamic State Khorasan Province. It is also likely to fuel divisions within the Taliban leadership among members of different orientations.
Against this backdrop, foreign policy and diplomacy face a twofold obstacle. First, Afghanistan’s uncertain political evolution. Second, the precariousness of current times, whereby contrasting interests and disagreements — aggravated by the war in Ukraine — hinder possible convergences among global players on the Afghan issue.
Nonetheless, some lines of action can be traced.
First, it is necessary to strengthen multilateral action through the full implementation of the UNAMA mandate, with the aim of increasing pressure for the cessation of repressive practices and to induce the de facto government to consider inclusivity, rule of law, and the respect of human rights as essential factors for Afghanistan’s stability and economic recovery.
Second, it is appropriate to continue focusing on the influence exerted on Afghanistan by Central Asian and other neighboring countries, which – albeit often motivated by divergent interests – are the first to suffer the consequences of Afghanistan’s instability in terms of terrorist threats, migratory flows, and drugs as well as human trafficking.
Furthermore, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation ought to continue playing a substantial role, as should those Islamic countries capable of detecting the contradictions of the Taliban’s radical ideology. Not only does the Taliban government’s doctrine go back to being a reference for terrorist organizations, but it also risks damaging the international standing of Islamic countries and, in turn, fueling Islamophobia.
To avert an even more devastating humanitarian crisis, as the upcoming winter looms closer, it will be essential to continue ensuring food and medical aid to the Afghan population through the United Nations, also by making use of Italian NGOs operating on the ground, particularly in vulnerable areas.
The possible extension of assistance to non-strictly humanitarian sectors – such as education, agriculture, and microenterprise, aimed at the resumption of economic and financial activities – should be linked to progress on inclusivity and the respect for human rights, primarily women’s rights and girls’ education.
In this sense, and with the aim of increasing pressure as well as reiterating expectations, some forms of engagement with the de facto Afghan government could be developed in coordination with relevant partners, without this implying any form of recognition of the Taliban government.
Furthermore, maintaining contacts with the pragmatic wing of the Taliban leadership, which is more aware of the international community’s expectations, such as restoring female education, could contribute to increasing their role vis-à-vis their more conservative counterparts.
Pressure on de facto authorities can also come from non-state entities, provided they are informed of the country’s dynamics and engaged, directly or remotely, in assisting the Afghan population. Likewise, a significant role in placing pressure on the Taliban leadership can be played by the Afghan diaspora, made up both of citizens who have been in Italy for some time as well as those who reached our country through the evacuation operations in August 2021. Since then, these operations have adopted different directions and are currently underway via humanitarian corridors. Many of these citizens are in contact with civil society actors still active in Afghanistan.
The mission for politics and diplomacy is particularly challenging in the face of Afghanistan’s regression over the past year. Ultimately, the aim is to continue supporting the Afghan people so that spaces to exercise their rights can be regained gradually.