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Engage with the Taliban without reservation

August 22, 2021 at 1:24 pm

Taliban patrol in Herat city after took control in Herat, Afghanistan, on August 18, 2021 as Taliban take control of Afghanistan after 20 years [Mir Ahmad Firooz Mashoof/Anadolu Agency]

Dramatic changes in Afghanistan have surprised the Biden Administration and almost everyone else. According to some reports, the Taliban themselves did not expect to take over the country so fast. What is more surprising is that the Taliban are restraining them from taking revenge for the treatment that they had received when the US invaded the country and ousted them from power. The US did not treat Taliban prisoners kindly either. Yet the Taliban do not seem to be taking revenge. One glaring example of this is the treatment they gave to Ismail Khan, the former governor of Herat and a cabinet member in the Karzai Administration and known for his anti-Taliban stance. Some reports even suggested that they had dispatched him to negotiate a peace deal with the Kabul government. According to some latest reports, the Taliban leaders are meeting the former government leaders including Hamid Karzai and other minority leaders about forming the next government.

It is also significant that in spite of capturing huge arms and ammunition they are not attacking or interfering in US evacuation efforts. All these look like goodwill gestures on the part of the militant group. Therefore, in our view, it will be wise to engage more seriously with the Taliban to discuss the future of the country and secure US interests.

Why should the US talk to the Taliban? The answer is simple. We have made mistakes: we have misjudged the situation in Afghanistan, we were at war with the truth and the stakes are very high. Therefore, we need to develop the courage the face reality.

18 million Afghans, half the country, need humanitarian assistance and roughly 3 million are internally displaced - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

18 million Afghans, half the country, need humanitarian assistance and roughly 3 million are internally displaced – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Scenes at the Kabul airport indicate the fear, fright, and frustration of the people trying to get out of the country. They include foreign diplomats, NGO workers, volunteers, and the Afghans that supported the US action for the past two decades. The Taliban seem to be keeping their promise not to intervene in evacuating those who want to get out of the country. In fact, ground reports are suggesting that they are trying to keep order in the streets and highways to the airport and facilitating the evaluation process. Unreserved negotiations, expectantly, will be useful.

In my view, one of the main reasons for the Taliban to be able to capture territories very fast is that Taliban field commanders negotiated with their rivals independently. And this has been possible because the Taliban have declared that they would follow Qur’anic guidance in their dealings. In principle, the Qur’an allows considerable independence for individuals in dealing with their particular circumstances. The US may take advantage of the same approach: Hold the Qur’anic principles as a guideline and negotiate directly with the Taliban leadership beginning with the imaginary immediate humanitarian catastrophe. However, US negotiators must be familiar with Qur’anic universal principles.

Although the Taliban have demonstrated their hardline behavior and narrow understanding of Islam and Muslim history, they have also demonstrated their straightforwardness and simplicity in their dealings. I can confidently suggest that they will not play any Machiavellian or Kautilya-stained Social Darwinist racist politics. I do not have the privilege of having classified information, but I believe in 2001 the international community could have persuaded the Taliban not to destroy Buddha statues in Bamyan by engaging Muslim leaders. The Taliban seem to have learned from their past mistakes in dealing with girl’s education and women’s role in society.

That is why perhaps they are assuring their commitment to the issue repeatedly.

READ: US to expand evacuation flights from Kabul to Europe

To complicate the situation, the US has frozen Afghan Central Bank’s reserves worth more than 9.5 billion dollars. The IMF has followed by freezing its more than 450 million dollars that were scheduled to be delivered early next week. These are not good signs: In fact, the Taliban may not need international financial support at least immediately. According to some social media reports, they have found cash dollars along with abandoned arms and ammunitions in various parts of the country. Moreover, the Taliban are known for their simple lifestyle. This approach of trying to punish the Taliban will only be counterproductive at a time when we need to cultivate trust with them.

China has already offered the Taliban assistance for the reconstruction of the country after the US withdrawal. Any delay in undertaking a fresh initiative in Afghanistan may cost the US very dearly.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.