(CNSNews.com) – Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday laid out a pathway for the Taliban to achieve the “legitimacy and support” that, he says, it is seeking. His comments provided another indication that the Biden administration has not ruled out the possibility of recognizing a regime led by the radical Islamist militia.
“Every step we take will be based not on what a Taliban-led government says, but what it does to live up to its commitments,” Blinken said at the State Department, hours after the U.S. military-led evacuation mission in Kabul ended.
“The Taliban seeks international legitimacy and support,” he said. “Our message is, any legitimacy and any support will have to be earned.”
“The Taliban can do that by meeting commitments and obligations,” Blinken continued. “On freedom of travel, respecting the basic rights of the Afghan people including women and minorities, upholding its commitments on counterterrorism, not carrying out reprisal violence against those who choose to stay in Afghanistan, and forming an inclusive government that can meet the needs and reflect the aspirations of the Afghan people.”
On Sunday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson similarly suggested that recognition of the Taliban could be on the table, depending on its actions.
“If the new regime in Kabul wants diplomatic recognition, or to unlock the billions that are currently frozen, they will have to ensure safe passage for those who wish to leave the country, to respect the rights of women and girls, to prevent Afghanistan from again becoming an incubator for global terror,” he said.
Two days earlier, State Department spokesman Ned Price sidestepped an opportunity to offer a clear position on whether a Taliban regime should be handed Afghanistan’s seat at the United Nations.
“Should the Taliban get the Afghanistan seat in – at the U.N.?” a reporter asked during a Friday press briefing.
“These are not questions that we’re prepared to answer today,” Price replied. “And we are not prepared to answer them today precisely because we have heard a range of statements from the Taliban. Some of them have been positive, some of them have been constructive, but ultimately what we will be looking for, what our international partners will be looking for are deeds, not words.”
When the Taliban previously ruled most of Afghanistan, from 1996 until toppled by the U.S. in October 2001, the U.N. General Assembly’s credentials committee deferred a decision on whether the regime that called itself the “Islamic Emirate” should be given Afghanistan’s seat at the world body.
Because of the repeated deferrals, the Afghanistan seat was retained by the previous government – led by President Berhanuddin Rabbani – and the ambassador appointed by that government held onto the post.
For months Blinken and other administration officials have been saying that any government in Afghanistan that seizes power by force would be a pariah.
“The Taliban must hear from the international community that we will not accept a military takeover of Afghanistan or a return of the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate,” U.S. ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis told the Security Council as recently as August 6. “The Taliban will be isolated and an international pariah if they choose that path.”
The Taliban has been designated as a terrorist group by the U.N. Security Council since 1999. On August 3, the council’s 15 members said unambiguously that they “do not support the restoration of the Islamic Emirate.”
But after the self-styled “Islamic Emirate” seized power by force on August 15, the Security Council dropped that stance.
In a statement issued one day after Kabul fell, the “Islamic Emirate” reference had gone, although it did call for the establishment of “a new government that is united, inclusive and representative – including with the full, equal and meaningful participation of women.”
Since the Taliban took control of Kabul, its senior leaders have been engaged in talks with two prominent establishment figures, chairman of the high council for national reconciliation Abdullah Abdullah and former President Hamid Karzai.
It remains to be seen what the outcome of these discussions will be, but observers expect that at best the Taliban will agree to some token or technocrat posts for non-Taliban figures.
The previous Taliban regime was recognized by just Pakistan – which helped to establish the Taliban in the 1990s and remains its closest ally – and two other countries, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Although no government has yet publicly committed to doing so, 20 years on it looks likely that it will win broader recognition than last time.
Beijing is already implying that that the Taliban’s position reflects the “will of the Afghan people.”
For example, when asked on Monday about a French proposal for a U.N. safe zone in Kabul to facilitate the departure of Afghans who want to leave, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin noted that “the Afghan Taliban have reportedly refused the proposal of setting up a ‘safe zone.’”
“China believes that the international community should respect the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Afghanistan and the will of the Afghan people,” he added.
China and Russia on Monday refused to back a U.S.-drafted Security Council resolution that said the council “expects that the Taliban will adhere to” its commitments to allow foreigners and Afghans who want to leave to do so safely.
Both abstained, complaining that the text did not incorporate points they wanted included, such as references to the negative impact of the freezing of Afghanistan’s financial assets – a step taken by the U.S. days after the Taliban takeover – or the negative impact of a “brain drain” if highly-qualified Afghans emigrate.