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Saturday October 23, 2021

Afghanistan’s future

September 21, 2021

The future of Afghanistan and its people has become a question that the world struggles to answer. At a summit in Dushanbe, organised by the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, leaders spoke about the need to seek Taliban cooperation and ask for an inclusive government in the country. Prime Minister Imran Khan, who attended the summit, said in a tweeted message that he had already initiated talks with the Taliban, seeking a more inclusive government with one that includes Uzbeks, Hazaras, Tajiks and others in its midst. At present, the new interim government announced by the Taliban in Afghanistan is essentially Pashtun-majority and consists of Taliban leaders, many of them connected to the Taliban government under Mullah Omar, which ruled Afghanistan till 2001.

The political realities have to be worked out. Pakistan has said an inclusive Taliban government may be recognised by it depending on other realities and human rights conditions. India has made it clear it would be reluctant to accept a government led by the Taliban. At talks taking place around the world and in statements by world leaders, it has been made quite clear that Pakistan, Iran, Russia, China, and other Central Asian nations will need to play a key role in determining the political future of Afghanistan. How they do this will depend a great deal on the attitude of the Taliban government and how it chooses to address matters. So far, its role has not been entirely encouraging, with secondary schools for girls being closed to them and women on the streets demanding rights from the Taliban regime. This is a concern that has been heard around the world.

But perhaps most critical of all is the plight of Afghanistan's people who have suffered endless torment for over 20 years. In the war, during which we heard essentially only of US casualties, over 47,000 Afghan civilians were killed along with at least 6000 security and police personnel. The suffering has been extreme. It now threatens to take economic form with Afghan accounts frozen by the US and the country in danger of sinking into poverty. The UN has decided to send its staff back into Afghanistan to try and deal with the humanitarian crisis developing there. How they will do so is not yet clear. There is no doubt that Afghan people deserve peace. This should be the outlook of all partners engaged in the Afghanistan question and seeking an outcome from what is happening there now. Pakistan can be a key player in this and as its distance from the US grows, the question is what alliances Pakistan will now strike and how much it can do to persuade the Taliban to ensure peace in Afghanistan and bring in place a government that is recognised by the world so that the international aid required by the Afghan people and the recognition they also need in order to live normal lives can continue.