Azhar Zeeshan

WE acknowledge the importance of maintaining friendly relations with all countries and take their concerns seriously.

Afghanistan cannot afford to live in isolation. The new Afghanistan will be a responsible member of the international community.

The international community’s support will be crucial to stabilizing and developing Afghanistan.

We are ready to work on the basis of mutual respect. The above excerpt has been taken from an op-ed written by Sirajuddin Haqqani for the New York Times in February 2020.

Given the fact that Haqqani is one of the most influential leaders of the Taliban, his words should not be taken as words per se.

These words are significant while analyzing the foreign policy of the Afghan Taliban as the said words have been reflected in the organization’s foreign policy since it took over in August last year.

In contrast to its hawkish foreign policy in the 1990s which earned the Taliban the ire of the international community, this time, they sound more dovish in their foreign policy approach.

The said dovish nature of the Taliban’s foreign policy is well illustrated in the organization’s dealing with major powers and with those neighboring countries with whom the Taliban were at odds in the 1990s.

This time, the group is even making an overture to its archrival, the United States with whom the former has fought for nearly two decades.

To quote Haqqani again, “after the United States withdraws its troops, it can play a constructive role in the postwar development and reconstruction of Afghanistan.”

The conciliatory approach of the Taliban is not confined to the United States as it is making overtures to other major powers such as Russia and China.

When the Taliban first assumed power in 1996, relations between the former and Russia were strained owing to the execution of President Najibullah by the Taliban and the Russian support for the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

However, as time went by relationship between the two improved. Reportedly, in 2017 Russia supported Taliban to fight against the US and ISIS.

The said rapprochement has made its way into the relationship between the two countries after the Taliban returned to power in August 2021.

The said assertion can be validated by the fact that Russia is one of the few countries which has established diplomatic ties with the Taliban.

Of all the major powers, China happened to be one of the most favourable major powers for the Taliban.

As Afghanistan under the Taliban is going through difficult times on the economic front, China’s economic clout and its close proximity to Afghanistan make it a perfect candidate for the Afghan Taliban to cooperate with.

Thus, the said pragmatism has driven the Taliban to seek friendly relations with China. The appointment of a new ambassador to Beijing by the Taliban and the revival of Chinese investment in Afghanistan bespeak the Taliban’s pragmatism.

The same conciliatory approach could be observed in the Taliban’s dealings with the neighbouring countries.

Consider Iran first. Back in the 1990s relations between the Taliban and Iran were hostile owing to the killing of Iranian diplomats by the Taliban, and Iran’s support to the Northern Alliance.

However, over the course of time, hostility fades away and the two get closer to each other due to common animosity towards the US and ISIS.

Thus, when the Taliban took over in August 2021, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi welcome the development in these words, “America’s military defeat must become an opportunity to restore life, security and durable peace in Afghanistan.

” On the other hand, to mitigate Iran’s concerns for the Shia Hazara community, based in Afghanistan, the Taliban have recruited members of the Hazara Shia community in its rank to portray itself as a multi-sectarian organization.

Next in line is India. In retrospect, the relations between the Afghan Taliban and India remained hostile for most of history.

India’s backing of the Najibullah regime, its support to the Northern Alliance and the Taliban’s alleged support to the Kashmiri insurgents were some of the issues that put the two at odds with each other.

However, this time, both countries are seeking normalization of relations. Mullah Yaqoob’s remarks in an interview with the Indian news outlet apropos of enhancing cooperation and sending soldiers to India for training bears testimony to the changing approach of the Afghan Taliban vis-a-vis India.

To conclude, the Taliban’s rise to power in August 2021 gave impetus to a new debate. Whether the Taliban have changed or not, whether it would be appropriate to brand them as Taliban 2.0, or is it a bit early for the said entitlement.

To answer these questions, in the light of the above discussion, it can be asserted that the Taliban have changed to a greater extent on the foreign policy front as evident from its conciliatory approach toward the nations with whom it had turbulent relations in the past.

As far as the Taliban’s conduct in domestic affairs is concerned, it can be the subject of another detailed write-up.

(Courtesy Pakistan Observer)