Why engaging the Taliban is the only way forward

Why engaging the Taliban is the only way forward

Increased engagement with the Taliban is the only path forward for Afghanistan. (Reuters/File Photo)
Increased engagement with the Taliban is the only path forward for Afghanistan. (Reuters/File Photo)
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The UN’s Doha Conference on Afghanistan, which took place in February, was somewhat of a setback for both the international community and the de facto Taliban authorities. One would have expected some kind of constructive dialogue during the two-day event if the Taliban had attended. But the Taliban’s stance that they would refuse to attend the event unless given legitimate status to represent Afghanistan was unrealistic, given the fact that they have no official international recognition. The de facto authorities have done more damage to themselves than to the organizer of the event. This would have provided them with a platform to speak to an international audience representing diverse stakeholders.
Ever since the return of Taliban rule to Afghanistan, the people have eagerly awaited the beginning of every Afghan New Year (falling on March 21), which is also the beginning of the school year, to hear some good news about girls being allowed to attend schools and colleges. March 21, 2024, was another disappointing day for Afghan girls above Grade 6, as they again found the school doors closed for them.
It is hard to understand the politics behind the Taliban’s policy on female work and education. When asked, they never deny women’s and girls’ right to education and work and instead come up with pretexts of not being prepared to do so. They have kept the entire nation busy with the hope that the preparation of guidelines and procedures is underway to reopen schools and colleges for girls. Yet, in reality, nothing seems to be moving forward in that direction.
The ban on female education and work is the key point of contention between the international community and the Taliban authorities. The Taliban claim to have established a model state that is in full compliance with Shariah. However, Islamic principles emphasize keeping one’s word, which the Taliban have consistently failed to do by not delivering on their promises.
It is time for Islamic scholars from around the world to intervene and seek to convince the stubborn rulers of Afghanistan to give permission for female education and work. They can raise their voice in the media and visit the country as they make efforts to convince the Taliban of the proper interpretation of Islamic principles on seeking knowledge, which is compulsory for both men and women.

Any further sanctions or isolation of Afghanistan will only come at great cost to the country’s 40 million people. 

Dr. Ajmal Shams

There is no harmony among Afghans who are opposed to the Taliban’s policy with regard to the female role in public life, including their right to education and work. One group wants more international pressure, including greater isolation and harsher sanctions on the Taliban. There are some moderate voices that call for increased engagement and dialogue through a mix of diplomatic and political efforts aimed at convincing the radical group to make its government more inclusive. There is also a minority group that wants to topple the Taliban through armed resistance.
Given the current geopolitical environment, the best way to convince the Taliban to change their hard-line stance on women is increased engagement, diplomacy and the involvement of religious voices in the overall efforts. Any further sanctions or isolation of the country will only come at great cost to the country’s 40 million people, 90 percent of whom are already living in poverty, as per the UN.
There are also divisions within the Taliban leadership on their thinking on the status of women in society and the necessity of modern education. Some progressive voices seem to exist among the radical group. For instance, a viral video on social media features Mullah Yaqub, the Taliban defense minister, emphasizing the indispensable role of doctors, engineers and pilots for the country alongside the importance of religious scholars in shaping society.
Yet, the Taliban’s supreme leader seems to be the major hurdle. The reclusive leader, who is reluctant to appear in public, has consistently hindered any efforts to reopen employment opportunities and education for women and girls. Such obstinacy is a major stumbling block that is stifling the international community’s efforts to move forward on any potential recognition of the de facto authorities.
There must also be an increasing realization among the Taliban that their continued policy of authoritarian rule is not sustainable in the long run. Afghans’ patience will eventually run out if the group continues with its policy of exclusion without any hope for opening up.
The UN and the rest of the global community understands the gravity, complexity and delicacy of the situation in Afghanistan. Any move or policy regarding the country must be well calculated if any positive outcomes are to be expected. Isolating the country any further from the global political and economic system will only give the de facto Taliban authorities further reason to make their policies for ordinary Afghans even harsher. Increased engagement is the only path forward.

  • Dr. Ajmal Shams is Vice-President of the Afghanistan Social Democratic Party. He served as a Deputy Minister in the former Government of Afghanistan. X: @ajmshams
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