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EXPLAINED: What Taliban Would Need To Do To Win Recognition For Their Govt In Afghanistan

The caretaker Taliban regime is headed by Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhund, who was a close associate of Mullah Omar. (Special arrangement)

The caretaker Taliban regime is headed by Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhund, who was a close associate of Mullah Omar. (Special arrangement)

The Taliban are eager for international recognition, but most countries are yet to warm to the group after it violently seized control of Afghanistan

Sending and receiving money and mail from abroad, being able to travel freely around the world, entering into business deals across borders, all of these are taken for granted by people in most countries. Yet the international recognition that permits these privileges cannot be taken for granted. At least not when you are a outfit that has just violently seized control of a country and have a reputation for preferring harsh laws that are seen as enabling the commission of atrocities and rights violations. So, as the Taliban get ready to inaugurate their new government in Afghanistan, the question of global legitimacy will be topmost on the minds of its members. Here’s what you need to know.

How Many Countries Recognise Taliban’s Govt?

Reports said that the Taliban regime sent out invites to six countries for attending the inauguration of their new government in Afghanistan: Pakistan, Qatar, Iran, Turkey, China and Russia. These are countries that have been in close contact with the Taliban and have had channels of communication open with the group. For example, China hosted a Taliban delegation led by Abdul Ghani Baradar — now the acting deputy prime minister of Afghanistan — in July, saying that the Taliban were a “pivotal" force in Afghanistan. Qatar provided Taliban the space to open a political office while Pakistan’s ties with the group are by now spoken of widely in the media.

The last time the Taliban had control of Afghanistan, only three countries recognised it: Pakistan, UAE and Saudi Arabia. But the latter two seem for now to not be on top of Taliban’s list of priority international partners. Considering that the Taliban are yet to formally inaugurate their government the question of recognition may be moot at the moment, but it’s a call that the international community would have to take sooner or later.

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“Recognition (of government in Afghanistan) is too early to say. Is any government or any governing structure officially available in Kabul now? Not yet," Russian ambassador to India, Nikolay Kudashev reportedly said in the first week of September.

What Have Countries Said About Recognising A Taliban Govt?

However, even with the countries it has reached out, recognition can prove a tricky issue. Two of them, China and Russia, are part of the BRICS grouping, which also includes, India, South Africa and Brazil. But reports said that the BRICS countries are circumspect about extending recognition.

“Until we are assured that the government, once it’s in place, intends to observe the prescripts of international law, we wouldn’t proceed with any form of recognition," South African foreign minister Naledi Pandor was quoted as having told a radio station following a virtual meet of leaders of BRICS states that was chaired by PM Narendra Modi.

“We’ve adopted a statement — that is a BRICS statement — very clearly articulating the view that we want to see the restoration of democracy and enjoyment of fundamental human rights by the people of Afghanistan," Pandor added.

The US, UK, European Union and a host of other countries have said that they will “wait and watch" how things unfold under a Taliban government before deciding on the level of diplomatic engagement.

The Doha agreement between the US and the Taliban — which paved the way for the exit of American troops from Afghanistan following an assurance from the Islamist group that it will not allow Afghan soil to become a safe refuge for terror groups — is carefully worded on the question of recognition. The agreement “for bringing peace to Afghanistan" is stated to have been drawn up between “the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which is not recognised by the United States as a state and is known as the Taliban and the United States of America".

Following the Taliban takeover, White House spokesperson Jen Psaki told reporters that “there’s no rush to recognition of any sort by the United States or any international partners we have talked to".

What It Means To Have Recognition?

Statehood and the acknowledgement thereof is a key pillar of international relations and specific grounds have been agreed for defining a state and according it with recognition. The key document in this regard is the Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States that was signed in 1933. It says that for being recognised as such, a state needs to have a defined territory, a permanent population and a government or authority that has the obedience of the people and is capable of entering into ties with other countries.

Seen from this prism, Afghanistan under Taliban rule meets the criteria for recognition as a state. The country has a defined territory and a permanent population while the Taliban now, for all practical purposes, are in control and have the ability to enforce their writ. However, it cannot be forgotten that the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan, led by Ahmad Massoud, has contested the Taliban’s hold on power and has urged the international community not to grant recognition to it.

Then there is Amrullah Saleh, the vice president under Ashraf Ghani, who has declared himself to be the acting president and claims the allegiance of what remains of the Afghan national forces reportedly fighting alongside the resistance in Panjshir Valley. So, there are arguably two centres of power now in Afghanistan and even though the Taliban have claimed that they have defeated them, the resistance forces maintain that they are still in a position to fight and that their leaders have not fled the country.

Experts in international relations say that many countries now follow a thumb rule wherein they recognise the state and the dispensation in power then gets de facto recognition. This approach implies that a state will be recognised as such from the geopolitical perspective, although the other concomitants of such recognition may not automatically follow. That is, a country may recognise Afghanistan as a country and Afghan people as residents of that country, but may not recognise the Taliban government and refuse to have diplomatic or trade ties with it. However, such a situation may not suit the Taliban in their second stint in power.

The Taliban have spoken of a prosperous Afghanistan and for that they will need significant help from foreign countries. After the Taliban’s ouster, a good part of the Afghan GDP had come from foreign donors and the acute humanitarian and infrastructural needs of the country, too, were met through international aid. Not being recognised could mean that access to funds is permanently cut off for the Taliban government. Although it may find a few friends, it is not a situation that would be conducive for Afghan growth.

A Brookings report on Kosovo, the southeastern European country that unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in 2008, says that with the country having had no international recognition initially, its “contested status create[d] challenges for its businesses, from difficulties of travel to complications in the exchange in goods and services".

“Access to essential business services like postal delivery and money transfers is regulated by legal agreements that often make such services available only to states officially recognized by the UN. The inability of businesses from Kosovo and other nations that are not universally recognised as states to access these services increases time and costs of trade and compromises their ability to engage in international trade," it said.

Are There Countries/Govts That Are Not Recognised?

Given the power-plays and the complexities of international politics, there are countries and geographical entities that claim sovereignty and yet do not enjoy universal recognition. And, there are no hard and fast rules for recignising a country and no yardstick or set criteria for concluding that such and such country is now recognised.

One touchstone can be acceptance as a UN member state, but as the organisation itself points out, “the acknowledgement of new state or a new government is an act that only the other states and governments can do. The UN, being neither a state nor a government, is not entitled to acknowledge a state or government". To become a UN member, a country has to apply to the UN Secretary General following which its application is vetted by the UN Security Council. The question whether a country should be inducted into UN is decided by a vote by its 193 members. The latest to have joined the UN was South Sudan in July 2011 after it broke away from the Republic of Sudan.

A country like Taiwan, which China claims as part of its territory, is not a UN member while there can be countries which are recognised but not their government, case in point being Venezuela. The US and some other states do not recognise the Venezuelan government led by Nicolas Maduro, instead recognising the government declared by Juan Guaido.

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first published:September 12, 2021, 11:32 IST