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Bridging Divides: Finding a Regional and International Consensus for Afghanistan’s Future

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Bridging Divides: Finding a Regional and International Consensus for Afghanistan’s Future

Collaborative efforts among regional and international actors can pave the way for a stable and peaceful Afghanistan.

Bridging Divides: Finding a Regional and International Consensus for Afghanistan’s Future
Credit: Depositphotos

Afghanistan’s tumultuous landscape has been further shaped by the return to power of the Taliban in August 2021. The return marked a pivotal moment in the country’s history. Since their resurgence, the Taliban have imposed stringent policies that have significantly impacted the sociopolitical fabric of Afghanistan. The evolving dynamics of the narcotics trade and the rise of extremism and terrorism under Taliban governance highlight the interconnectedness of regional and international actors in shaping Afghanistan’s political future. The importance of regional and international consensus in fostering stability and peace in Afghanistan amidst a complex geopolitical landscape is more crucial than ever.

Since August 2021, the Taliban have imposed policies restricting the basic rights of the Afghan people. The Taliban’s policies have been characterized by exclusivity and repression, leading to escalating grievances within the Afghan populace across various sectors. These policies have significantly altered Afghanistan’s sociopolitical fabric, posing a direct threat to the civil and political rights of Afghans, rights safeguarded by the constitution established in 2004. Furthermore, the Taliban’s policies have precipitated severe economic consequences. Under the Taliban’s regime, Afghanistan’s economy has been in a state of decline, resulting in the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs and a surge in malnutrition rates.

Additionally, the narcotics trade in Afghanistan has seen significant changes. According to a United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime report, since the Taliban’s takeover in 2021, opium cultivation in Afghanistan surged by 32 percent to 233,000 hectares in 2022, the third-largest area recorded. Despite a ban announced in April 2022, opium prices soared, and farmer income from opium sales tripled to $1.4 billion in 2022, representing only a fraction of the total revenue. Despite efforts to curb trafficking, seizures of opiates indicate continued rampant trafficking, as Afghanistan still supplies 80 percent of the global opiate demand. The Taliban’s intention and ability to combat the drug trade are uncertain and questionable. Consequently, the narcotics trade, especially the production of opium and methamphetamines, is flourishing under Taliban rule.

The Taliban’s close ties with terrorist groups including al-Qaida are another significant cause for concern. The relationship between the Taliban and al-Qaida is not merely ideological; it is also tactical and operational. Taliban-controlled Afghanistan now serves as a haven for al-Qaida, providing them with a secure base of operations from which to plan and launch international terrorist attacks. Afghanistan’s rugged terrain and remote locations make it an ideal hideout, complicating international efforts to monitor and counter al-Qaida’s activities. Furthermore, the Taliban’s control over Afghanistan could potentially provide al-Qaida with access to resources and recruits, further enhancing their capabilities. This potential alliance poses a significant threat to global security and underscores the importance of international cooperation in combating terrorism.

Other regional and international terrorist groups actively operating in Afghanistan include the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement, Islamic Jihad Group, Khatiba Imam al-Bukhari, and Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. These groups have varying relationships with the Taliban and other state and non-state actors. The dynamics between these groups can significantly impact the security situation in Afghanistan, the region, and beyond. Additionally, the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) is active in Afghanistan. The group has conducted numerous high-profile attacks in Afghanistan, including a suicide bombing in August 2021 that killed 13 American military personnel and at least 169 Afghans in Kabul during the U.S. withdrawal from the country. Recently, ISKP claimed responsibility for a deadly attack in Russia. The group is considered a major threat to the Taliban’s ability to govern Afghanistan.

The current complex context in Afghanistan necessitates an immediate political process to address the country’s pressing issues, with key regional and international actors. Regional actors have a pivotal role in the Afghan conflict, influenced by their geopolitical, economic, and security interests. These actors encompass neighboring countries such as Pakistan, Iran, and Central Asian states, along with wider regional powers like Russia, China, and Turkey. They have participated in peace diplomacy and intra-Afghan peace dialogues, facilitated by nations including Qatar, Germany, Pakistan, Russia, and China. Their involvement extends from backing various factions within Afghanistan to facilitating political dialogues.

At present, the political process in Afghanistan stands at a critical juncture, highlighting the significance of regional and international consensus. The escalating threat of terrorism transcends regional boundaries, necessitating cooperation among regional and international actors. The absence of such cooperation inadvertently benefits groups like the Taliban, fostering instability and strengthening terrorist groups in Afghanistan. Exploiting the lack of unity among international actors, the Taliban advance their agendas, leading to heightened violence and instability.

Efforts toward regional and international collaboration can significantly bolster the political process, aiming to establish an inclusive government in Afghanistan. Such a government would not only address the needs of its people but also tackle urgent issues like terrorism and narcotics. A unified regional and international consensus regarding Afghanistan’s political process would compel the Taliban to engage in intra-Afghan dialogue. Collaborative efforts among regional and international actors can pave the way for a stable and peaceful Afghanistan, contributing to regional stability and countering the global threat of terrorism. Hence, building a consensus among regional and international stakeholders is not just advantageous but imperative for Afghanistan’s political process.

United Nations Security Council Resolution 2721 (2023) outlines a framework to cultivate consensus in support of Afghanistan’s political process. Central to this resolution is the call for the appointment of a special envoy for Afghanistan by the secretary-general, emphasizing the urgent need for a comprehensive and inclusive political process led and owned by Afghans themselves. This emphasis on Afghan-led initiatives is crucial for restoring peace and stability in Afghanistan amid complex geopolitical challenges. Additionally, initiatives like the Doha conference in February 2024 underscore the necessity of international support to address critical issues facing Afghanistan, such as women’s rights and the country’s sovereignty.

Since August 2021, the international community, along with regional powers, has engaged with the Taliban, albeit without formal recognition. This engagement is viewed as a diplomatic effort, yet its effectiveness has been limited, underscoring the necessity for a conditional engagement strategy. A consensus among regional and international actors to restrict engagement with the Taliban could prove beneficial in initiating a political process. Through a conditional engagement approach, clear signals can be conveyed to the Taliban that formal diplomacy hinges on their commitment to addressing the conflict through inclusive political means involving opposition movements. Additionally, financial assistance should be tied to conditions aimed at preventing potential misuse by the Taliban.

The United Nations has allocated nearly $3 billion to Afghanistan since 2021, with the United States being the largest contributor, providing $2.6 billion to the humanitarian fund. For the U.S., adopting a condition-based approach to financial assistance is imperative, ensuring that aid aligns with the objective of kickstarting a political process in Afghanistan. Over the past three years, the Taliban have reaped the benefits of international aid without significant positive outcomes. Implementing stringent measures will safeguard aid from inadvertently bolstering the Taliban. This concern is underscored in a recent report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), John Sopko, revealing that a substantial portion of U.N. cash shipments to Afghanistan ends up in Taliban hands. While delivering life-saving humanitarian aid remains paramount, mitigating the risk of aid benefiting the Taliban is equally crucial.

In conclusion, the challenges posed by Taliban rule in Afghanistan are multifaceted and require concerted efforts from both regional and international stakeholders. The policies implemented by the Taliban have not only curtailed basic rights but have also exacerbated existing economic and humanitarian crises. The rise of extremism and terrorism under Taliban governance further complicates the path towards peace and stability. However, the collective resolve of regional and international actors offers a glimmer of hope for the Afghan people. Moving forward, it is imperative to prioritize inclusive political processes and ensure that international aid is effectively utilized to address the needs of the Afghan populace. By fostering a comprehensive approach that embraces dialogue, cooperation, and diplomacy, we can aspire to create a brighter future for Afghanistan, one that is free from the shackles of extremism and terrorism, and characterized by peace, prosperity, and stability.