Key Afghan stakeholders and senior officials from western countries are planning to meet in Norway’s capital Oslo this month to take stock of the developing situation in Afghanistan and review progress of the interim government regarding fulfilment of the promises made with the international community. It is good to see these engagement efforts take place, but perhaps a different tact is needed to push the Taliban to do more because thus far there has been little progress on areas of interest to the international community.
The upcoming meeting in Oslo is being viewed as the latest push by the international community to find ways to remain engaged with the interim Afghan government, even though there have been quite a few obstacles and disagreements when it comes to concerns surrounding inclusive governance and the rights of minorities and marginalised communities. However, there is no other option except for trying to find where both sides can agree on a path forward that centers the needs of the Afghan people.
Qatar has been particularly engaged in this regard, in addition to Pakistan and China. Earlier in May, the Qatari prime minister held secret talks with the supreme leader of the Taliban this month on resolving tensions with the international community. According to sources, this meeting that Haibatullah Akhunzada is known to have held with a foreign leader. The US and other international actors are in favour of elevating what have been unproductive lower-level talks in the hope of a breakthrough that could end the world’s only bans of their kind and ease dire humanitarian and financial crises that have left tens of millions of Afghans hungry and jobless.
However, doing more of the same may not be the best approach going forward. Sanctions and bans have not worked, and are only making the situation worse on the ground for innocent Afghan people. Therefore, the focus must be on better appealing to the incentive structure of the Taliban. Tying in economic interests could be a part of this, as the Taliban have expressed willingness to explore connectivity and trade initiatives during their tenure. It is also interesting to note that while the interim government has banned girls’ education and women’s employment, it still allowed workers of the UN to continue because of the funding that continues to pour in. Perhaps this may be too cynical an approach, but something different needs to be tried to break this deadlock.