A meeting of foreign ministers of member-states of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), which was scheduled to be held on September 26 on the sidelines of the 76th Session of the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York, was called off over the question of the participation of the Taliban regime in the meeting. With most SAARC member states opposed to the Taliban’s participation and Pakistan unwilling to go ahead with the event sans the Taliban, the meeting was called off.
The question of extending recognition to the Taliban regime in Afghanistan is one that many countries across the world are grappling with.
In an interview with BBC Bangla, Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister Dr. A.K. Abdul Momen laid out the principles that would determine Bangladesh’s decision. A “people’s government” that comes through a political and democratic process where the people’s will and desires are reflected will have Dhaka’s full support, Momen said.
“Bangladesh always decides its foreign policy independently and according to its interests,” he added.
Historically, Bangladesh has sided with countries where political groups galvanized mass support for independence and freedom from oppression. For instance, Bangladeshi leaders have often reiterated support for Vietnam’s struggle for “emancipation from the clutches of imperialist powers.”
Academic literature suggests that democratic states feel some kind of solidarity toward other democratic states. For instance, democratic countries might find themselves drawn to support and ally with Taiwan. Even though the People’s Republic of China was recognized and secured U.N. membership in 1971, Taiwan’s allies see it as a flag-bearer of democracy in the region, as a counter to Chinese hegemony. Another study finds post-colonial solidarity to be a significant factor in diplomatic recognition.
Often states fear that recognizing a regime that came out of an armed struggle or an independence movement, even if in in another part of the world, might leave them vulnerable to similar demands at home. Following Kosovo’s call for independence in 2008, for instance, Spain, Armenia, and Indonesia were among several countries that refused to recognize the new state. Spain’s decision stemmed from concerns regarding its problem with domestic independence movements in Galicia, Basque, and Catalonia. Indonesia was one of 51 countries that voted against Kosovo’s bid to join Interpol. The archipelago has long struggled with problems of secession, the most notable case being the independence of Timor-Leste in 2002.
On the contrary, countries whose independence was preceded by protracted struggles for freedom have usually received recognition from Bangladesh. Dhaka was among the first to recognize South Sudan. Although it had good relations with Sudan – Bangladesh was part of U.N. peacekeeping missions there – it did not hesitate to support South Sudan’s emergence as an independent state. Bangladesh saw South Sudan’s arduous and protracted struggle for freedom as an important commonality between the two countries.
In the Middle East, the Palestinian struggle for an independent state is the main driver behind Bangladesh’s longstanding relationship with the Palestinians and its international lobbying for Palestinian statehood. Their strong bond is based on their shared struggle against oppression, so much so that Dhaka is yet to extend recognition to the state of Israel.
In 1991, Bangladesh became the 13th country in the world to recognize Azerbaijan after it declared independence in October that year. Since then, Bangladesh has staunchly supported Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabakh war against the Armenians. When then-Foreign Minister of Bangladesh Dipu Moni visited Nabiyev in 2013, Bangladesh went so far as to stand by Azerbaijan’s position on the Khojaly massacre.
In all these instances, Bangladesh’s support for independence movements fighting against tyranny and for inclusive freedom is strikingly clear. According diplomatic recognition to a country then boils down to whether or not a “people’s government” followed that protracted struggle – whether the upheaval galvanized an inclusive government popularly backed by the nation.
What does this mean for the Taliban regime?
Wars of liberation and struggles for freedom open up space for the setting up new democratic governments, granting hard-fought rights, and consolidating support and recognition for a liberal democratic order. However, the Taliban, given their undemocratic outlook and ideology, are increasingly moving in the opposite direction.
The Taliban regime has not met the criteria laid out by the international community for diplomatic recognition. In fact, it has pushed back against global demands for the setting up of an inclusive government.
On September 17, the U.N. Security Council unanimously approved a resolution calling on the Taliban to establish an inclusive government that has “the full, equal, and meaningful participation of women” and upholds human rights. Taliban spokesperson and Deputy Minister for Information Zabiullah Mujahid categorically rejected the calls. No other country has the “right to ask the Islamic Emirate to form an inclusive government,” Mujahid said.
In the context of the Taliban’s non-inclusive interim set-up and its continued use of violence to shut down expression, protest, and a free press, statements like the one issued by Mujahid will only make it more difficult for the Taliban regime to get international recognition.
Divisions between the political-moderates and military-hardliners in the Taliban have erupted to the fore. Apparently the political elements led by Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar are in favor of establishing an inclusive government. It is apparent that the Taliban are still a long way from forming an inclusive, encompassing people’s government in Afghanistan.
Does this mean Bangladesh has closed the gates of diplomatic recognition on the Taliban? It is still too early to tell.
On August 17, the top European Union (EU) diplomat, Josep Borrell, called for dialogue with the Taliban to prevent crises. While clarifying that the EU isn’t going to recognize the Taliban as yet, Borrell pointed out to a news conference after a meeting of EU foreign ministers that engaging the Taliban was inevitable. “We have to talk with them for everything, even to try to protect women and girls. Even for that, you have to get in touch with them.”
Talks with the Taliban have been initiated by the U.N. and the EU, and Bangladesh is joining in. “The UN and EU have asked us if we want to be a part to the dialogue. We have agreed to it,” Shahriar Alam, deputy minister for foreign affairs told reporters recently.
It does seem that Dhaka’s criteria for according diplomatic recognition are poised to expand. It can be expected to mirror the EU’s definition of inclusivity.