EXPERT’S PERSPECTIVE – The international community is under increasing pressure to recognize the Taliban and release Afghan funds held by the IMF or risk a humanitarian crisis over the winter and a resurgence of international terrorism.

As Afghanistan moves into winter, the desperate need is to avoid a humanitarian crisis. The World Food Program has launched a call to feed up to 23 million people and Doctors Without Borders has followed suit in healthcare. Fortunately, distribution mechanisms are in place within Afghanistan; what is needed is for the international community to ensure that UN humanitarian programs are fully funded. This will require Western capitals to overcome the shock of their recent defeat. It goes without saying that hunger and health should not be used as political leverage.

Meanwhile, it is becoming increasingly evident that the Taliban do not have the skills to administer a country that is far more complex than Afghanistan in 1996, when they entered their previous and disastrous period of rule. They will need international assistance to stabilize the economy, get people back to work and, over time, continue the progressive infrastructure improvements that have been underway since 2002. China will no doubt be willing to help in some areas, but Beijing has already made it clear that it is taking a cautious and gradual approach. However, indications are emerging that the hardline views of the Taliban are beginning to relax; such as their approval of the polio vaccination program and their willingness to work with UN humanitarian agencies.

The Taliban will also need outside help to defeat the Islamic State threat from Khorasan Province (ISK). The Taliban already have a hard time countering similar asymmetrical tactics they have used so successfully against Western forces. This is probably one of the topics that CIA Director William Burns discussed with the Taliban during his August 24 visit and on which there is a mutual interest.

What can the international community (not just Western) expect from the Taliban realistically, after the sensational victory of the militant group? Maximalist demands will inevitably get little attention.

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First, the Taliban should form a more inclusive government. According to several sources, the Taliban intended to form such an administration if Ashraf Ghani did not flee the country on August 15. I am skeptical that this was ever their intention, but former president Hamid Karzai and former reconciliation chief Abdullah Abdullah may have remained in Kabul with this understanding and Fatima Gailani, a former negotiator, insists this was the case. intention of the Taliban.

An inclusive government should include women and non-Taliban representatives from the Hazara, Uzbek and Tajik communities. It need not include the failed politicians and bloody warlords of the past, much less Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Abdul Rashid Dostum. It is certainly time for a new generation of more technocratic Afghans to get involved in the government. Some may be persuaded to return from abroad, but they will need guarantees for their safety.

Second, the international community should insist on restoring women’s education at all levels and for women to play a fuller role in society. The Taliban will hesitate about this, but they only have to look to Pakistan, where women play an important role in an openly Islamic, if not Islamist, society.

Third, all neighboring countries, as well as the rest of the world, want Afghanistan to commit to removing all terrorist bases and terrorists from its soil; not only ISK and Al-Qa’ida, but also the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, the Pakistani Taliban (TTP), anti-Iranian and anti-Indian groups and Central Asian militant movements including the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.

Fourth, the Taliban should pledge to allow people to join their families in exile if they wish, and also cease the continued search and punishment of those Afghans who have served the Afghan government and Western allies since 2001.

In an ideal world, there would also be a fifth demand: to remove members of the Haqqani network from the Taliban administration. However, that pass was sold when US negotiator Zalits Al-Qa’ida connections. Pakistan is already using the Haqqanis to bring the TTP to the negotiating table. It remains to be seen how successful this will be. It is doubtful that the Haqqanis would be willing to take military action against a group from a similar area in the tribal borderlands. However, the Haqqanis could be useful as intermediaries, if not as enforcers.

Meanwhile, the wider Taliban, usually referred to as the ‘Kandaharis’, are increasingly exasperated by the entryist Haqqanis. Although they have worked together, there was never much love lost between the two. The Kandaharis have always distrusted the Haqqanis’ proximity to the Pakistani military. Since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, Mullah Abdul-Ghani Baradar, whose willingness to negotiate with the Kabul government in 2008 and 2010 earned him eight years in a Pakistani prison, has been sidelined. There will doubtless be a reckoning

A lasting regret of the US’s careless withdrawal is that Washington did not conclude a broader settlement for Afghanistan involving China, Iran, Russia, India and the Central Asian Republics. From now on it is essential to include all the neighbours in the discussion of recognition and the conditions required. But first the Afghans must be helped to survive the winter.

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