The Taliban take over of Afghanistan raises questions about how the US would approach a Taliban-led government or if there will be any engagement at all. The New York Times reported that the sudden departure of former President Ashraf Ghani has the Biden administration facing the reality that the Taliban will be the dominant political force in the country.
On Monday, State Department spokesman Ned Price appeared to lay out some conditions for what it would take for the US to recognize a government that emerges from the Taliban victory.
“A future Afghan government that upholds the basic rights of its people, that doesn’t harbor terrorists, and that protects the basic rights of its people, including the basic, fundamental rights of half of its population — its women and girls — that is a government that we would be able to work with,” he said. “The converse is also true — that we are not going to support a government that does not do that.”
Price declined to say if the US still recognizes Ghani as the president of Afghanistan. “So this is something that we are working on with the international community,” he said. Recognizing an exiled president would be nothing new for the US. In Yemen, the US still recognizes Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi as president despite the fact that he fled the country in 2015 after being ousted by the Houthis.
But Yemen is different than Afghanistan. The US has neighboring Saudi Arabia to bomb and starve Yemen in the name of reinstating the Hadi government. With Afghanistan, neighboring countries and regional powers seem prepared to recognize a Taliban government if it maintains stability.
As Western countries were evacuating their embassies over the weekend, Russia said there is no need to abandon its diplomatic post in Kabul. On Monday, Russia’s Tass News Agency reported that the Russian ambassador to Afghanistan said the country is better off under the Taliban than Ghani. “I judge by the first day of their control of Kabul. The impressions are good. Now the situation in Kabul is better than it was under Ashraf Ghani,” said Ambassador Dmitry Zhirnov.
China’s embassy in Kabul also remains operational, and Beijing is signaling it is ready to develop diplomatic ties with a new Taliban government. “The Taliban have repeatedly expressed their hope to develop good relations with China, and that they look forward to China’s participation in the reconstruction and development of Afghanistan,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on Monday.
“We welcome this. China respects the right of the Afghan people to independently determine their own destiny and is willing to continue to develop … friendly and cooperative relations with Afghanistan,” Hua added.
The Taliban is currently involved in discussions in Doha, Qatar, on what the new government will look like. Former Afghan president Hamid Karzai formed a council to work with the Taliban on the transfer of power that is reportedly on its way to Doha.
Last Friday, The New York Times reported that US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad was leading a negotiation effort in Doha to stave off a Taliban assault on the US embassy in Kabul, which is now fully evacuated. According to the report, the US was using potential future foreign aid in the future as leverage for the negotiations, a sign that Washington might be ready to recognize a Taliban government sooner than expected.