Pakistan Reader# 209, 21 September 2021
As the Taliban seeks global recognition, Pakistan may be one of the first countries to legitimise the Taliban government by its recognitionAbigail Miriam Fernandez
On 19 September, Jamiat Ulema-e Islam Pakistan chief, Maulana Fazlur Rehman urged Islamabad to immediately recognise the Taliban government, arguing that though that stability will be achieved in Afghanistan. He said, “We should recognise the Taliban government at the earliest to cooperate in efforts being made for ensuring a peaceful country and a stable [governance] system in Afghanistan.” Further, he said that recognising the Taliban government is like recognising Afghanistan and that helping the Taliban required an immediate recognition of their government, stating, “We have historic relations with the Afghan people and we should help them in introducing peace and a stable system there.” Previously on 15 September, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government extended full support for recognising the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. The provincial Housing Minister said, “We (Pakistan) should recognise the Taliban government and give them full support,” urging the federal government to recognise and support the Taliban government, claiming that the “Afghans have welcomed” the Taliban.
On the government front, Prime Minister Imran Khan stated that Islamabad has decided that it would not recognise the Taliban government unilaterally but with the consent of regional and international powers. This was made clear by the Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry who said, “Pakistan would take a decision about recognising Taliban government in Afghanistan in consultation with regional and international powers, especially China, Turkey and the United States of America.” On 21 September, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi stated, “I don't think anybody is in a rush to recognise at this stage and the Taliban should keep an eye on that,” adding, If the Taliban want recognition, “they have to be more sensitive and more receptive to international opinion.”
Meanwhile, National Security Adviser Moeed Yusuf rejected what he termed as ‘wait and watch’ policy on recognising Afghanistan's Taliban government, stating that this approach would push the country towards an economic slump. He said, “If the world is interested in this conversation, it needs to happen directly with the new government. For influencing and moulding governance in the way the world wants, it should have a conversation with them. Without engagement that would not be possible.”
On 5 September, Chief of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Lieutenant General Faiz Hameed met Taliban leaders and Hezb-e-Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar in Kabul. This was the first visit by a senior Pakistani official since the Taliban took over. During his visit, DG ISI said that the purpose of his visit was to seek “peace and stability” in Afghanistan. On 20 August, Inter-Services Public Relations director Maj Gen Babar Iftikhar stated that Pakistan was satisfied with the assurances extended by the Taliban regarding peace and security, he said, “The Taliban have reiterated on several occasions that no group or terrorist organisation will be allowed to use Afghan territory for any terrorist activity against any country, including Pakistan. We have no reason to doubt their intentions, and that is why we are in constant touch with them to protect our national interest.”
Pakistan’s Afghan strategy with the Taliban ruling
It is no secret that Pakistan has weighed its support more towards the Taliban than the previously Afghan government. The last time the Taliban were in power, Pakistan was one of only three countries, along with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which recognised the Taliban and was also the last country to break diplomatic ties with the group. With the Taliban’s takeover, Pakistan has joined the international community in calling for an inclusive government in Afghanistan, however, Pakistan’s Afghan policy continues to be pivoted around the goal of a peaceful and stable Afghanistan and seeks global engagement by highlighting the interests of the Afghan people.
The question of recognition
The Pakistan government’s statement regarding the recognition of the Taliban is significant because not only is Pakistan one of the closest allies of the Taliban in the region, but it also shows Islamabad’s apprehensions over Taliban rule. So what has changed this time? First, the fear of isolation. While other countries are taking their time to see what the Taliban’s new rule would look like, Pakistani policymakers understand the significance of unilaterally extending legitimacy to the Taliban could leave Islamabad isolated. Second, Pakistan’s concerns with the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The TTP which is said to have sanctuaries in Afghanistan is another reason for reluctance, Islamabad is likely waiting for some clarity and guarantee on the issue.
However, there still lacks clarity from both the civilian and military leadership on the question of recognition. This can be seen in a speech by PM Khan where he called for recognition of the Taliban government against the previously stated policy of not going acting unilaterally. An opinion in Dawn states, “It’s a free-for-all with ministers airing their own views on a sensitive foreign policy issue, often contradicting each other,” adding, “There is a mad race to claim credit for the change in Afghanistan to the point of embarrassment.” The opinion states, “Discretion that is the essence of diplomacy is in short supply here. It’s a lethal mix of populism and mediocrity that defines our current approach to foreign policy.” Additionally, the fact that it is the military that has taken the responsibility of briefing political leaders on developments in Afghanistan highlights where the decision will ultimately come from.
This said, Pakistan does not seem to be in a rush to recognise the Taliban’s rule given that the circumstance and situation is unlike that past, however, it would be one of the first countries to recognise the Taliban government. Thus, Pakistan would have to develop a national consensus on their Afghan policy before taking the next steps.
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