The Irish Times view on dealing with the Taliban in Afghanistan: engagement the only option

The existence of a working relationship with Kabul should not in any way dilute western pressure on issues such as women’s rights, education and inclusive government

Taliban forces check people on a roadside checkpoint in Kabul, Afghanistan on Tuesday. Due to a humanitarian and socio-economic crisis, the EU promised €1 billion in emergency aid to Afghanistan during the G20 virtual summit this week. Photograph: EPA/Stringer

Taliban forces check people on a roadside checkpoint in Kabul, Afghanistan on Tuesday. Due to a humanitarian and socio-economic crisis, the EU promised €1 billion in emergency aid to Afghanistan during the G20 virtual summit this week. Photograph: EPA/Stringer

 

When it comes to dealing with the Taliban, the world has no good options. To establish a working relationship, even a limited one, with the violent extremists who now run Afghanistan risks conferring international legitimacy on them and strengthening their grip on power while undermining what little organised opposition remains in the country. Yet to shun the Taliban entirely would be indirectly to contribute to the worsening of a serious humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan.

Drought, a hard currency shortage, a banking system in disarray and the collapse of exports have brought economic paralysis to the country, creating a dire need for assistance just at the moment when most international aid, including that of the European Union, has ground to a halt as a result of the Taliban takeover.

Given the unconscionably high cost of disengagement, therefore, there are clear signs that world powers have accepted that they have no option but to deal with the Taliban if they are to get aid to the Afghans who need it. That was the emerging consensus from a meeting this week of G20 leaders and ministers, who agreed to step up their assistance to a country that the International Rescue Committee estimates is 75 per cent dependent on foreign aid.

Political recognition for the Taliban is a separate question, and one that western powers will not yet countenance, but as Italian prime minister Mario Draghi observed, “it is very hard to see how you can help people in Afghanistan without involving the Taliban”. The EU is to increase its aid to the country to a total of €1 billion. The IMF and the World Bank will also assist.

Optimists hold out hope that the world can use the contact that the delivery of humanitarian aid requires to influence the Taliban and perhaps even to moderate it. That’s wishful thinking, at least in the short-term. But it is important that the existence of a working relationship with Kabul should not in any way dilute western pressure on issues such as women’s rights, education and inclusive government.

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