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Kazakh President Explains Decision to Take Taliban off Terrorist List

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Kazakh President Explains Decision to Take Taliban off Terrorist List

The decision was announced back in December, but recently Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev remarked that it was made with “the understanding that this regime is a long-term factor.”

Kazakh President Explains Decision to Take Taliban off Terrorist List
Credit: Depositphotos

In late December 2023, when Kazakhstan removed the Taliban from its list of banned organizations, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs representative explained the decision to a Kazinform correspondent as being in line with U.N. practices.

In a June 3 meeting with parliament speakers from the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) in Almaty, Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev explained his government’s decision in more detail, commenting that “Kazakhstan removed the Taliban regime from the terrorist list, based on the importance of developing trade and economic cooperation with modern Afghanistan and the understanding that this regime is a long-term factor.”

Although more than 100 individuals associated with the Taliban – from deceased leaders like Mullah Omar to current ministers like Mullah Abdul Latif Mansour (previously Agriculture, now Energy and Water) and Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar – are named on the United Nations’ “Consolidated List,” the Taliban as an entity never has been. Likewise, the Taliban itself has never been listed as a “foreign terrorist organization” by the U.S. Department of State, although it was designated as a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT)” by a 2001 executive order

Kazakhstan added the Taliban to its list of “terrorist organizations” in 2005

Russia, which labeled the Taliban a terrorist organization in 2003, is reportedly moving in the same direction as Kazakhstan. 

Late last month, Russian Special Presidential Envoy for Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov commented to TASS, the state-run news agency, that “Without this [removal of the ban on the Taliban], it will be premature to talk about recognition… Therefore, work on this issue continues. All considerations have been reported to the top leadership of Russia. We are waiting for a decision.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov characterized the effort to de-list the Taliban as reflecting an “awareness of reality.” 

In a curious instance of following rules even as they disintegrate, TASS sent out a Telegram update on May 27 stating that “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation reported to Putin that the Taliban (the Taliban movement is banned in the Russian Federation) can be excluded from the list of prohibited organizations, Kabulov told TASS.”

Russian authorities invited the Taliban to attend the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF), scheduled to take place June 5-8. Kabulov confirmed that the Taliban’s labor minister and the head of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry would attend. 

“I expect that they and the accompanying Afghan business people will agree with Russian and other foreign partners on establishing cooperation,” Kabulov said. “I expect that the Afghan delegation will make the most of this chance to strengthen and expand cooperation both with Russian business and with other friendly countries.”

In the years since the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022, SPIEF – the “Russian Davos” – has seen attendance by Western figures, both business and government, dwindle. And so the “friendly countries” the Taliban may meet will swirl decidedly in the Russian sphere.

Both Tokayev’s comment and Lavrov’s – referring to the Taliban as a “long-term factor” and a “reality” – broadly illustrate government sentiment toward the group across Central Asia. From Uzbekistan, which has hosted countless Taliban delegations over the last three years, to Tajikistan, which is the region’s lone critic of the group and hosts former Afghan Republic officials and opposition, Central Asia broadly views its southern neighbor in pragmatic terms. There’s no changing the reality of the neighborhood, and so governments across the region have shifted toward engagement, with a strong emphasis on transit and trade.

Tokayev’s comments, which have sparked headlines despite the fact the news actually broke six months ago on Astana’s decision to de-list the Taliban, nevertheless mark the continued evolution of Taliban relations with Central Asia. The ongoing normalization of relations – remarking on the Taliban as a “long-term factor” and highlighting areas for cooperation – is a short hop and skip away from recognition, a notoriously squishy term.

The Taliban, as nearly every article about Afghanistan since August 2021 states, have not been “formally recognized” as the legitimate government of Afghanistan by any country. And yet, a number of countries – including most prominently China, but also Kazakhstan – have dispatched ambassadors to Kabul and welcomed Taliban-appointed ambassadors in their own capitals. More have allowed Afghan embassies to operate under Taliban direction. If it walks like a recognized government, and talks like a recognized government, and is welcomed to conferences and summits like a recognized government, at what point does the distinction cease to matter?