Last week, we looked at four of the common types of diplomatic approaches towards the failed early efforts in the Afghan peace process. This week, we examine the recent diplomatic engagement approaches towards Afghanistan and the Afghan people inside and outside the country. There is some hope now among Afghans that diplomats are hearing the voices of those marginalized during the previous peace talks.
Since the fall of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan in August 2021 the diplomatic world has been trying to determine the best approach towards the terrorist regime that currently occupies the country. Of major concern for Western diplomats has been how to best help the Afghan people avoid a total economic collapse and humanitarian crisis, while sustaining their limited leverage over the Taliban-Haqqani regime.
The terror regime for the most part has been trying to get international recognition as a government without changing any of their hardline ideological positions, which include close partnerships with international and regional terror groups. Meanwhile some regional diplomats from Pakistan, China, and the Arab Gulf have been less concerned about any legitimacy they might give the terrorists when it comes to talks. Those regional diplomats are also not pushing the Taliban-Haqqani leaders on decreasing human rights abuses.
Criticism of past Diplomatic Approaches
Many Afghans and allies of Afghans have been critical of the Western and regional diplomatic approaches because the envoys have been giving too much soft recognition to the terror regime by meeting with them frequently and in public settings that allow the Talban-Haqqani leaders a propaganda tool. Meanwhile the regional states that are happy to work with a terrorist regime have been asking the Western diplomats to conduct even more face-to-face business with the Taliban-Haqqani regime and to ultimately recognize them as a government.
A New Approach?
The last couple months have shown that diplomats may have been listening to Afghans and their allies as they reshape their diplomatic approaches. There has been an uptick in meetings between U.S., EU, UN, and NATO-state diplomats with marginalized Afghans inside Afghanistan, with new Afghan refugees, and with other Afghans in the Diaspora. This is a good sign for those seeking to marginalize the terror regime and strengthen and unify the Afghans outside and inside Afghanistan.
Tomas Niklasson, the Special Envoy of the European Union for Afghanistan, spoke this week about the clear evidence of backsliding on human rights by the Taliban-Haqqani regime, based on recent floggings of Afghans for so-called crimes. He reminded the terror regime that their new punishment methods are “prohibited under the Convention against Torture” and the 1996 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). He further stated that “Afghanistan is a state party to both” international codes, and “as de facto authorities, the Taliban are bound to uphold them.”
Niklasson attended the Herat Security Dialogue this week with many Afghan diaspora members and their allies in Dushanbe Tajikistan. The event was hosted by one of the key Afghan civil society “think tanks,” The Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies (AISS).
Special Envoy Niklasson said there “that if the Taliban doesn’t change,” he could see the European Union using the International Criminal Court to take action against the regime and that “imposing more sanctions against this group” could be added to the EU agenda.
Karen Decker, the Chargé d’Affaires of the U.S. Mission to Afghanistan, just wrapped a visit to Pakistan where she held a “series of meetings with Afghans to hear their ideas about the future.” She noted that “Afghans have the skills and the talent to work for what they want” and that although the conversations are often difficult, “they are necessary, and I am ready to have them.”
Right after that set of meetings with Afghans that are not hostage to the Taliban-Haqqani regime, Decker also attended the Herat Security Dialogue “to exchange views on the situation in Afghanistan with representatives from Afghanistan, Tajikistan, regional countries, and the EU.”
She stated this week that she “welcomed the common position of the world” pushing “the Taliban regarding the establishment of an all-inclusive government.” This is in line with the statements of many Afghans at the Herat Dialogue. The more Afghans that can get organized to share their views with western diplomats like Decker, the more chance they have to counter the narratives coming from the current regime in Kabul, who do not seek any diverse views in the future government.
The Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies was established in October 2012, aiming to create an intellectual space for dialogue. These types of organizations provide useful space for diplomats to engage with Afghans that believe in full human rights protections for all Afghans.
Afghan human rights and freedoms
The emergence of vocal and unified Afghan civil society groups who have representatives in the Afghan diaspora are one of the reasons that diplomats are now speaking to more non-Taliban persons. As Mina Sharif mentioned this week, “Diaspora” does not have the negative connotation that it once had. Those Afghans who are outside the country are mostly advocating for human rights and better conditions for Afghans held hostage by the Taliban-Haqqani terrorists. The Afghan Diaspora is very focused on lessening the food crisis and housing/heating issues faced by Afghans due to natural disaster, job loss, or internal displacement due to Taliban-Haqqani violence and mistreatment. Diplomats have been looking for more alternatives when it comes to talking to Afghans about their future. It is a positive trend to see more Afghans organizing groups that can speak to diplomats.
The Taliban-Haqqani regime leadership, echoed by their backers in Pakistan, have been more vocal in their desire to have diplomats meet with them, and only them, in Kabul. The terrorists and their supporters have also been critical of any Afghan or Afghan group outside Afghanistan that is meeting with diplomats to discuss the future of Afghanistan and the needs of the Afghans trapped under the terror regime. In my 20-year study of the Taliban-Haqqani leaders, anytime they are angry at what the diplomats and other Afghans are doing—you have evidence that your actions are helping advance Afghan human rights, and weaken the terrorists’ positions. Diplomats should continue to meet with Afghans and their allies to find creative ways to work around the terror regime and help Afghans find a better future.