September 30, 2022

Emerging humanitarian situation post return of Taliban in Afghanistan demands international attention: Experts at 13th SAC

New Delhi: Two-day 13th South Asia Conference (SAC) on “Return of the Taliban in Afghanistan: Implications and Way Forward”, organised by the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (MP-IDSA) concluded on December 17 with the experts and scholars from different parts of the world unanimously agreeing that the emerging humanitarian situation following the return of Taliban in Afghanistan demanded international attention, but the Taliban will have to moderate their position and bring in an inclusive system for countries around the world to help them in an uninhibited manner.  

Describing the Taliban as essentially a faith-based organisation, Director General Manohar Parrikar IDSA, Amb. Sujan R. Chinoy, while chairing the concluding session on “Way Forward in Afghanistan”, cautioned that a religious approach to a solution, in times of crisis, would be inadequate and that it was important that humanitarian assistance to the Afghans gets through with transparency.

Speaking on the future of Afghanistan and South Asia, Prof. C. Raja Mohan, Director, Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore, said it remains to be seen if Afghanistan can breakout of its relationship with Pakistan which largely sees it as a ‘security buffer’. Unless Afghanistan poses a threat to the world, there would be limited criticism for the internal structure of the Taliban regime, he added.

Delving deeper into the perils of Legitimisation of Afghanistan, Prof. Ajay Darshan Behera, Director, MMAJ Academy of International Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia, noted that the international community is willing to deal with Afghanistan because of the unfolding humanitarian crisis, and that the de-legitimisation of the Taliban is crucial to de-legitimise all jihadi groups worldwide. Dr. Ashok K. Behuria, Senior Fellow, MP-IDSA, outlined the three approaches that international community can adopt while dealing with the Taliban – ‘Accept and Engage’, ‘Reject and Disengage’, or ‘Stay Indifferent’.

During a session on “Regional Perspectives”, Prof. Pervez Hoodbhoy, an Islamabad-based physicist and writer, while describing the impact of Taliban’s emergence in Afghanistan on Pakistan as ‘a heavy geopolitical cost’, said the return of Taliban has led to souring of Pakistan’s relations with the US and has reinvigorated and emboldened various jihadi groups within the State.

Giving the Chinese perspective, Dr. Wang Shida, Deputy Director and Associate Professor, Institute for South Asian Studies, CICIR, Beijing, while insisting that the security interaction between China and the Taliban is still ‘work-in-progress’, hoped that the regime would abandon extremist techniques and embrace inclusiveness.

Dr. Akram Umarov, a Fulbright Visiting Scholar with University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, highlighting the Central Asian perspective, emphasised upon the need for the Taliban and the entire world to work towards a stable Afghanistan, which can act as a land-bridge between Central and South Asia, without which connectivity in the region would be difficult.

Dr. Alexey Kupriyanov of IMEMO, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, highlighting Russia’s concern over drug smuggling emanating from Afghanistan, along with radicalism and arms proliferation threats, said Russia was ready to engage the Taliban but hoped that they would adopt a moderate position in the conduct of their internal, as well as external policies.

Earlier, chairing a session on “Perspectives on Afghanistan” Amb. Ashok Sajjanhar, Member, MP-IDSA, Executive Council provided a broad picture of the new Taliban regime, describing the current group as a fractured group, unlike the first edition of the Taliban in the 1990s, that was more unified.

Delving into the US’ future policy in Afghanistan, Michael Kugelman, Deputy Director and Senior Associate, Woodrow Wilson Center, Washington, DC, said the Biden Government’s interests lie outside of Afghanistan and the emphasis currently is on climate change and its competition with China, for which the US was unlikely to intervene in future unless, of course, there was any attack on the homeland emanating from Afghanistan.

Offering the Central Asian perspective, Dr. Irina Zvyagelskaya, Head, Centre for the Middle East Studies, IMEMO, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow observed that Central Asian countries still prefer to see Afghanistan not only as a threat but also as an opportunity and that most countries except Tajikistan would be willing to collaborate with the Taliban in lieu of regional stability.

Brucce Spanier of REFRL held that most of the Central Asian neighbours were likely to adopt a neutral position vis-a-vis the Taliban government, except Tajikistan, which fears challenges from internal Islamist groups, which it thinks could be inspired by the success of Talilban in the neighbourhood.  

The Conference was being attended by experts from Afghanistan, Pakistan, US, Russia, Bangladesh, Iran, China and India.

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