Do the right thing: talk with the Taliban and lift sanctions on aid

Humanitarian assistance cannot depend on whether the insurgent group forms a government or what it looks like.

The Taliban have yet to announce a formal government despite rumors of an announcement this week. Now critical government functions and Afghanistan’s relations with the world and even its neighbors remain in limbo. The cause of this delay may be rooted in factional disagreements within the Taliban over how much power should be allocated to figures from different wings of the group. Today the director of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Lieutenant General Faiz Hameed arrived in Kabul likely on a quest to act as a mediator.

So far the Taliban appear to agree that the government will be led by Haibatullah Akhundzada as Emir and Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar as the day-to-day executive, but even the latter is not set in stone and many additional posts remain up in the air. So far all indicators point to a Taliban government that will not be inclusive of outside voices and assurances of amnesty are dubious at best. This presents a problem for the new government since it lacks the human resources to manage day-to-day governance. A return to the Emirate is unlikely to reassure former government employees that it is safe to return to work. The absence of women in any government posts will also be a forfeiture of talent and technical expertise that the Taliban desperately needs to govern effectively and one that will further alienate it from the international community. 

The Taliban need to determine whether they will remain an insurgency or become a functioning government. They cannot be both. 

Recognition of a Taliban government should depend on its behavior going forward. But the goal of U.S. diplomacy should be to engage with the people — not just the leaders — of Afghanistan. Afghanistan is quickly descending into a humanitarian disaster with rapid inflation and dispensation of cash from ATMs coming to a grinding halt. It is largely reliant on development and humanitarian aid provided by the United States and other Western countries. All indicators suggest that China does not view Afghanistan as an attractive opportunity for investment or one that is immediately beneficial to its Belt and Road Initiative in the short-term. China may publicly pledge to invest heavily in Afghanistan but past projects have stagnated and progress is likely to be measured in years.

Thus it is incumbent upon the world to find a way to provide humanitarian and development assistance even if it means working with the Taliban. In some cases the latter may be used as leverage to influence the Taliban’s behavior but the former should continue regardless. This will require some dialogue with the Taliban whether we like it or not.

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