US Says ‘It’s Too Early’ to Consider Recognition of Taliban

The United States says no foreign government is contemplating legitimacy for Taliban rule in Afghanistan, even as the insurgent-turned-Islamist group next month will mark the first year of its return to power in Kabul.

“I think there’s actually a global consensus to include Moscow and Beijing and Iran, that it’s too early to look at recognition,” Donald Lu, U.S. assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia, told VOA in an interview.

“Yes, some countries are beginning a very slow process of normalization of relations. No one is talking about formal recognition,” Lu said.

The U.S. diplomat noted that international discussions instead were focused on seeking an engagement with the Taliban that can help improve the situation on the ground in Afghanistan in terms of the rights of women and girls, and security.

“We, as partner countries, should also be working with authorities in Afghanistan to create a better world for Afghan people … to try to influence what is happening in Afghanistan for the betterment of the people of Afghanistan, but also a stable region.”

The Taliban seized power last August when U.S. and NATO partners withdrew their final troops, ending almost two decades of foreign military intervention in the country.

The hardline group installed an all-male interim government, which has placed restrictions on women, limiting their access to work and education. The Taliban have disallowed teenage Afghan girls from returning to secondary school education in breach of their repeated pledges.

“It’s critical that all of us work together to try to encourage the Taliban onto a constructive path,” Lu said. He emphasized the Islamist group “now has to get to the business of governance.”

Washington has made it clear repeatedly that no legitimacy is possible unless and until the Taliban reverse their restrictions on women and induct representatives of other ethnic Afghan groups into the government.

Lu cautioned the Islamist rulers that the investment made by the global community over the past 20 years “will shape the future” of the country, and they “cannot merely impose their own will” on millions of Afghans.

“They have grown to expect certain freedoms in life, a certain standard of living with the economy. Those demands will help to shape the policies of the Taliban going forward,” he said.

The Taliban, who call their government the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, defend restrictions on women and other policies, saying they are strictly in line with Afghan culture and Sharia, Islamic law — claims that scholars in other Muslim countries dispute.

The Taliban’s reclusive supreme leader, Hibatullah Akhundzada, said last week he would run the country in accordance with Sharia and would not compromise.

He renewed his resolve Wednesday in a message he issued in connection with this week’s Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha.

“The Islamic Emirate is committed to upholding all the rights of its citizens, as Islam commands us to grant and protect the rights of all people. And within the framework of the Sharia law, the rights of women will be ensured,” Akhundzada said.

“Within the framework of mutual interaction and commitment, we want good, diplomatic, economic and political relations with the world, including the United States, and we consider this in the interest of all sides,” the Taliban chief argued.

Neighboring and regional countries, including China and Pakistan — which shares a long border with Afghanistan — have kept their diplomatic and trade contacts open with the Taliban government, citing dire humanitarian and economic emergencies facing the country’s estimated 40 million population.

But these nations also are pressing the Islamist group to rule the country through a politically inclusive administration, ease curbs on women and desist from cracking down on dissent before they decide to consider the Taliban’s call for a formal recognition of their government.

“We hope Afghanistan to be stable, peaceful, pursues a moderate policy and to meet the expectations,” said Wang Yu, China’s ambassador to Kabul, while addressing a rare news conference Tuesday in the Afghan capital.

ISIS threat

Lu told VOA that Central Asian countries also are worried about security threats coming from Afghanistan. The U.S. is talking with them about how it can help with cross-border security and “facilitate conversation with this very unusual Taliban government,” he added.

The regional affiliate of the self-proclaimed Islamic State terrorist group, known in South and Central Asia as the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISIS-K), has stepped up attacks in Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover.

Additionally, the group claims it has launched rocket attacks against military targets in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan from Afghan soil in recent weeks.

“Central Asian governments, the United States and other partners can talk to the Taliban about how we work together against a common threat of ISIS,” Lu said, using an acronym for Islamic State.

On Tuesday, the Uzbek government reported that five shells were fired into its territory from Afghanistan, although they did not explode and caused no casualties. The Foreign Ministry statement said there was “minor damage” to houses near the Afghan border.

There were no immediate claims of responsibly for the attack.

In April, ISIS-K claimed it had carried out a rocket attack on Uzbekistan from an Afghan terror base, but authorities in the neighboring country said at the time the claim was false.

Akhundzada reassured Afghanistan’s neighbors and the world at large Wednesday that the Taliban would not allow anyone to use their territory to threaten the security of other countries.