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Afghanistan turmoil

Pakistan lobbies neighbors to push for inclusive Afghan government

Islamabad ready to offer recognition if Taliban forms multiethnic regime

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and his government have launched an ambitious diplomatic campaign aimed at stabilizing the region around Afghanistan. (Source photo by Reuters)

LAHORE, Pakistan -- Pakistan is lobbying four Central Asian nations that, like itself, share a border with Afghanistan in an effort to coordinate a diplomatic approach to the Taliban, the extremist Islamic movement which is solidifying its hold on the war-torn country, Nikkei Asia has learned.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who is on a three-day tour through Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Iran, intends to bring the nations together to pressure the Taliban to form an inclusive and broad-based government now that U.S. forces have all but pulled out of the country.

On Wednesday, Qureshi told Tajikistani President Emomali Rahmon that their countries would benefit immensely from a peaceful and stable Afghanistan, which he said would lead to enhanced economic cooperation and connectivity. He also underlined the importance of a coordinated approach to realize shared objectives, per a news release issued by Pakistan's Foreign Affairs Ministry.

A source linked to the Pakistani government told Nikkei that Prime Minister Imran Khan has decided in principle not to diplomatically recognize the Taliban until an inclusive government is formed in Kabul.

"Pakistan is using different channels, including Afghanistan's neighbors, to persuade the Taliban to form [an inclusive] government as soon as possible," the source, who asked for anonymity, said. The source added that Pakistan does not want a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan to be a "pariah state."

An inclusive government would represent Pashtuns, Hazaras, Tajiks, Uzbeks and other ethnic groups, and to convince the Taliban to form such a government Pakistan appears intent on leveraging the promise of recognition from five nations.

Since the Taliban took Kabul on Aug. 15, the international community has withdrawn its support for Afghanistan. The Group of Seven leading industrial nations has decided, at least for now, to hold off on recognizing the Taliban regime.

As nations balk at recognizing the Taliban, the World Bank has frozen aid to the country and the International Monetary Fund has blocked access to $440 million in monetary reserves. An IMF representative said there is a lack of clarity within the international community in regard to recognizing a government in Afghanistan.

The U.S., meanwhile, has frozen nearly $9.5 billion of Afghanistani central bank assets hived in the States.

Experts believe that without timely recognition from the global community, Afghanistan verges on becoming a pariah state.

"The international community should respect the will of the Afghan people and officially recognize this group which has taken over power in Kabul," Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said in a media interview.

"Sooner or later the international community has to recognize the Taliban-led government in Kabul," said Anwaar ul Haq Kakar, a member of the Pakistani Senate's Foreign Affairs Committee. Considering Taliban pledges that the extremist movement has reformed, Anwaar said that if the global community fails to recognize the new regime the country would once again become a launchpad for jihadi terrorism around the world.

Analysts believe the Taliban will not form a government until U.S. forces fully withdraw. In that regard, the Taliban has given the U.S. a Tuesday deadline.

The Taliban earlier this month declared themselves in charge of "the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan." According to Mosharraf Zaidi, a senior fellow at Tabadlab, a think tank based in Islamabad, this presents Pakistan with an "interesting" challenge. Pakistan "cannot, and I suspect will not, repeat its choices of the 1990s," Zaidi said. "If the Chinese and Russians don't recognize the government in Kabul, I don't think Islamabad will either."

Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were the only countries that recognized the Taliban when the movement controlled Afghanistan in the late 1990s.

James Dorsey, a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, says leaders of the former Northern Alliance of Afghanistan have visited Pakistan. "It's likely that Pakistan will press for the inclusion of these leaders in any future government led by [the] Taliban," Dorsey told Nikkei.

Traditionally, the Northern Alliance has opposed the Taliban.

Taliban fighters march in uniforms on the street in Qalat, Zabul Province, Afghanistan, in this still image taken from social media video uploaded Aug. 19.   © Reuters

Like Zaidi, Dorsey also believes Pakistan will remain in the diplomatic mainstream this time. "Pakistan will not put itself in an embarrassing situation like 1996 when it [was among] only three countries recognizing [the] Taliban," he said.

Pakistan's eagerness to coordinate its approach toward the Taliban comes out of self-interest, experts say. With the Taliban's takeover, a pro-Pakistan regime is in charge of Afghanistan for the first time in 20 years.

"Pakistan's only interest in Afghanistan should be the security and prosperity of the people of Afghanistan and the prevention of terrorism originating from Afghan territory," Zaidi of the Tabadlab think tank said. He added that Islamabad must press the Taliban to align with international expectations because that is the best way to serve the people of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

For the Taliban to receive diplomatic recognition, Dorsey believes, it must make good on its commitment to not allow groups like Al-Qaeda and the East Turkistan Islamic Movement to operate out of Afghanistan. "Twenty years ago," he said, "the Taliban regime was toppled due to their support of Al-Qaeda. In 2021 they will not repeat the same mistake again."

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