With the international community and Afghanistan at an impasse, a new policy report outlines ways to break the deadlock to allow aid to flow into the country.
The Taliban’s governance of Afghanistan is a challenge for the international community and will impose limits to what can be achieved, but it’s a reality the world should come to terms with for the sake of the Afghan people, according to a recent report about the conflict-torn country.
The report from the foreign policy think tank Center on International Cooperation (CIC) holds as a premise that despite its frowned-upon policies such as the restrictions on women and girls — which drew criticism from Türkiye, the US, EU, and more — the Taliban is a source of stability in Afghanistan and their collapse would worsen turmoil.
“The assumption or hope all along has been that the Taliban’s need for assistance would make them willing to agree to demands. However, for the last 18 months they have been proving wrong those who believed that the West had influence through the possibility of diplomatic recognition and economic assistance,” the report’s author Paul Fishstein told TRT World.
“Some observers continue to hold onto the belief that potential assistance is a source of leverage for the West. The more likely reality is that they are not likely to compromise on deeply held beliefs, the violation of which could put movement unity at risk,” he added.
So far, international aid to Afghanistan has mostly been dependent on the Taliban’s adherence to certain demands around human rights, governance, and more. But the Taliban has been reluctant to play according to the donor countries’ rules and conditions.
“The draconian restrictions recently imposed on girls and women, unfortunately, underline one of the paper’s conclusions – that Taliban leadership will pursue policies that reflect their theological worldview and their interpretation of Islamic law,” Fishstein said.
The international community is therefore faced with a challenge that it can no longer ignore, the author argues in the report: it must “walk the tightrope” to deliver the necessary help to the Afghan people and alleviate their suffering by moving past political concerns of “endorsing, legitimising or subsidising the Taliban.”
‘A moral imperative’
“Domestic politics in the West, especially the US but, as we’ve recently seen, also Germany, pose the main constraint to providing assistance to Afghanistan. I think the West will go to extraordinary lengths to avoid the risk of being seen to recognize or endorse the Taliban,” Fishstein told TRT World.
But such an approach also exacerbates the suffering of Afghanistan’s population.
“There’s a moral imperative to find a way to provide assistance that helps the Afghan people,” Fishstein said, adding that “one could make the intellectual point that any aid implicitly helps the Taliban, but that has to be weighed against the primary objective of helping the Afghan people.”
Nevertheless, he also suggested that “some accommodation seems possible” in the Taliban’s policies as the group is “not monolithic” and has been facing “some implicit criticism by some officials about policies on freedom of speech, female participation and other issues,” although a radical change would be unlikely.
That is crucial, since according to Fishstein “most observers believe that any changes in policy are more likely to be driven from internal pressures than external demands.”
The path forward
The report suggests that aid delivery could begin with interventions that target basic human needs which are more essential and easier to target compared to political objectives. It further proposes that these simple interventions could make way for dialogue on sensitive issues that would be met with opposition when brought up directly.
Increased engagement with the Taliban would also allow the international community to better monitor how the humanitarian assistance is carried out and give further leverage to the aid donors.
“Moreover, it is not automatically the case that aid benefits the national authorities,” and risks can be minimised, Fishstein said.
Effective aid would intercept mass migration as well, the report says, a major concern for Western countries.
It will not be smooth sailing, however, and relationship management with the Taliban will be a significant challenge for the international community, which will have to decide how it will react to “the Taliban’s inevitable transgressions of agreements or redlines,” the report states.
Thus, the path forward lies in the international community adhering to its core principles without “expecting the Taliban to negotiate flexibly about their core beliefs and worldviews,” as such an approach is counterproductive to effective discussions, the report suggests.
“This construct sets up a confrontational, win-lose dynamic in which one side has to publicly back down and concede,” Fishstein said, also emphasising the “immense distrust between the parties” that emerged during two decades of conflict.
Fishstein suggests that “finding a way for everyone to declare victory seems like a much more productive path.”