15 August marks two years since the Taliban returned to power in Afghanistan, with the country and its people facing a myriad of challenges.
Observers believe Afghanistan’s persisting problems are rooted in a political “standoff” that stems from differences in the value systems – those of the Taliban and the international community.
However, issue-based cooperation could be a window of opportunity for the Taliban and the world to work together for the betterment of Afghans, according to Graeme Smith, a senior consultant for the International Crisis Group’s Asia Program focusing on Afghanistan.
“Taliban have to make a peace deal, make a compromise, to integrate the other side. If you don’t do so, you will be isolated like North Korea,” he said.
Apart from a broken administrative system and a weak financial structure, the interim Taliban government has not had any international aid to help rebuild the war-torn nation, which is facing what many have described as one of the biggest humanitarian disasters.
The Taliban’s return materialised after years of peace negotiations in Qatar’s capital, Doha, which led to all foreign forces exiting Afghanistan in August 2021.
“The Taliban won militarily, (but) now the country is isolated,” said Smith.
He said there was no plan for “how to integrate Afghanistan back into the international system”.
“The countries that have isolated the Taliban have not made a pathway or roadmap to get the government recognised,” he told Anadolu.
“The issue is to see how Taliban-controlled Afghanistan government could get recognised … escape sanctions (and) get a seat at the UN.”
‘Ban on women the biggest issue, but not the only issue’
Since the US left Afghanistan and the Taliban took control of Kabul, Washington has blocked around $7 billion of Afghan foreign currency reserves.
Other Western countries have been against recognising the Taliban or cooperating with them in any capacity, citing several reasons, with the roll-back of women’s rights and the lack of inclusivity in the administration being primary factors.
Over the past two years, women have been barred from education and excluded from employment, while a June report by UN-appointed rights experts warned of systematic “gender apartheid” and “gender persecution” under the Taliban.
The Taliban argue that their policies are based on Islamic law.
They rejected the report, accusing the “United Nations and some Western institutions and governments” of spreading “propaganda that does not reflect reality.”
As for the inclusivity concern, the group says it has welcomed back officials in the bureaucracy, police and military who worked for the previous governments and even fought against the Taliban.
“For any access to assistance from international financial institutions, there needs to be a mechanism … a plan, which does not exist,” Smith said.
“There has to be a set of demands that would make it possible for Taliban to make a deal … Ban on women is the biggest issue, but not the only issue.”
Smith said the Taliban have their own plan “of changing their society” but that is “in clash with what the international community wants.”
“It would be a very, very unpopular thing for Western democracies to work with an administration that discriminates against half of the population,” he said, about the curbs on women’s rights.
He, however, pointed out that the Taliban have support in rural areas of Afghanistan, where people “think they are doing the right thing … (that) they have the right to set social policies which are domestic in nature.”
Given all these factors, “both sides are very unlikely to compromise,” said Smith.
According to the Crisis Group analyst, there is the possibility of cooperation between the Taliban and the outside world “on security and economic issues”.
“Make things better, even if the politics remain bad … there is a need to separate some of the security and economic issues from political issues,” he suggested.
Recalling that American security officials sat down with the Taliban both before and after their return to power, Smith said some regional countries have also been engaging with the group on security issues.
He said there have been “some signs of cooperation,” especially against the Daesh terror group, but there is still a “lack of trust”.
Smith said there used to be a UN monitoring team based in New York that focused on Afghanistan.
“It would be a good idea if the UN monitoring team comes back, as there is a need to keep everybody on the same page against the terrorism threat,” he said.
Through this cooperation, he said the Taliban could gain other things, such as equipment, training and other forms of assistance.
“It is in everyone’s interest,” he emphasized.
‘Afghans need to eat’
For the benefit of the Afghan people, Smith said there was a “need for regional customs integration and cooperation in civil aviation with Taliban, even if they are still an unrecognised government.”
“Progress on politics would be slow, but Afghans need to eat. Progress on economics should be faster,” he emphasized.
“We are dealing with a poverty crisis. Economic growth will rid Afghanistan of poverty.”
He said the Taliban administration also needs a better technical system at the Central Bank, as well as expertise in budgeting.
“These are issues where a helping hand can be extended,” he said.
The Taliban announced their first budget of 231.4 billion Afghanis ($2.7 billion) last year in May, but faced a deficit of around 44 billion Afghanis (over $520 million).
According to a July report by the World Bank, inflation in Afghanistan had been negative over the previous two months.
“The supply of goods has been sufficient, but demand is low. Over 50 per cent of Afghan households struggle to maintain their livelihoods and consumption,” read the report.
However, it added that both job creation and revenue generation have seen improvements.
“There are projects worth more than $2 billion which remain unfinished in Afghanistan. Investors should do this, not as a reward to Taliban, but because it will help the people of Afghanistan,” said Smith.
Another area of potential cooperation is climate action because that affects everyone, he said.
“That is why the Taliban should be invited … to COP28 in the UAE to seek solutions to such issues,” he added.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.