Long Distance Diplomacy: A New Chapter For US-Afghan Relations

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On 16th August, the doors of the Presidential Palace in Kabul were opened for the Taliban, who, within a span of few days took over a majority of the 421 districts of Afghanistan in the wake of an abrupt US withdrawal, which for many seemed like an indication of perilous times to come. As the Taliban were knocking on the doors of the capital – having faced no opposition from the fully trained and equipped Afghan Security forces, on whom the United States spent $83 Billion for training and equipment – the question swiftly changed to: What will the rule of Taliban bring after 20 years of US presence? Looking at this as an event that apparently seems to take us back to square one may not be the right answer, for after all these are not the same Taliban that we have witnessed ruling Afghanistan in the past.

The question now turns to the future of the region in the wake of an established Taliban government and what implications this will have on US foreign policy in the Middle East and South Asia. The immediate concern however was humanitarian assistance to the people that stemmed from a sudden food shortage and requirement of medical supplies in order to prevent people from getting exposed to the Covid-19 pandemic. Islamabad acted as a bridge between the western world and Kabul as its airport became a hub for evacuees, humanitarian workers and diplomats.

Amidst all the humanitarian assistance and emergency evacuations, the question concerning the future of Afghanistan’s relations with the west looms in the horizon. Doha has been used in the past to hold talks between American representatives and the Taliban – due to the opening of Taliban’s political office in Qatar 2013 – most recently in 2020 where an agreement was reached to initiate US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. But now, in the current circumstances, the situation requires the US to take a stance that will not only uphold its previous stance it has taken in regard to Taliban rule, but also one that satisfies the people of the Afghanistan, who are the main stakeholders in this.  Doha is now of sorts a ‘proxy’ base for American operations and dialogues concerning Afghanistan. This however is not the first time such an event has occurred. As the US has previous moved its operations from Venezuela to Colombia amidst turmoil in the former state. As US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Doha to meet with regional leaders, any meetings with the Taliban were avoided, in order to keep consistent the US stance on Afghanistan, as the Secretary stressed the distinction between ‘engagement’ and ‘legitimacy’ when it comes to the Taliban.

The best step for the United States and other countries must be to attempt to negotiate and reconcile with the newly established government in Afghanistan. They should not attempt to tip the scales with the Afghan administration but instead work their way forward with a plan that promotes the development of Afghanistan. Progress has been made by the Taliban, with numerous sources claiming that life for women under Taliban rule will seem dreadful, this has not been the case. With women being given access to education and employment contrary to the claims of western media. The recognition of the Taliban government by China and Russia is a step in the right direction, as the Afghan government will seek to attract investment to overcome the economic hurdles that stand in its way. This cooperation may also extend to strategic support for Afghanistan and aiding in the removal of militant elements that still seek to topple the Taliban-led administration.

Time will tell whether the Taliban has learnt from 20 years of watching from the sidelines. The fact remains that they have taken into account global scrutiny and the voices of many that went unheard almost 30 years ago.

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