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Afghanistan Under the Taliban: Enduring Challenges, Evolving Responses


Shivam Shekhawat, Ed., “Afghanistan Under the Taliban: Enduring Challenges, Evolving Responses,” ORF Special Report No. 223, March 2024, Observer Research Foundation.


In mid-February 2024, United Nations (UN) Secretary-General António Guterres led an international conference in Doha to discuss and frame a coordinated approach to Afghanistan. Those who gathered at the meeting included special envoys for Afghanistan from 25 countries, members of Afghan civil society organisations, and representatives from regional organisations such as the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation, the European Union, and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. It was the second such conference organised by the UN in a year, following the first one in May 2023. The meetings have sought to discuss engagement with the Taliban and work on the recommendations made by the UN Special Coordinator for Afghanistan on the appointment of a new UN Special Envoy for the country.

Representatives from the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) under the Taliban were not invited for the first conference in May 2023, and this year, the IEA’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs declined the invitation. While this may seem inconsistent with the Taliban’s expressed effort to be included in conversations on Afghanistan, it also reflects the Emirate’s current position of relative influence, two and a half years after the fall of Kabul.

In a statement released on X,[1] the Ministry of Foreign Affairs under the control of the IEA stated that their participation in the meeting could only be “beneficial” if they were regarded as the “sole official representative of Afghanistan” and given a platform to hold talks with senior officials of the UN. It also urged the UN to take into account the current situation in the country and “rebuff pressure from a few parties”—a reference to the consistent calls from the international community for a more inclusive government.[2] It also dismissed any prospect of progress in talks with the regime unless the international community ceases their “pressure and coercion tactics”.[3]

Since coming to power in August 2021, the Islamic Emirate has been expanding its relations with the countries in the region as well as with the United States, advocating for its de jure recognition. At the time of writing, no country has officially recognised the Islamic Emirate even as they have increased their diplomatic and economic engagements with the group. Many countries, including China, Russia, Iran, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan, have allowed the Taliban to take over the country’s embassy within their borders. This is despite the Emirate’s regressive policies on women and girls, the state of the minority religious and ethnic groups, and the curbs on freedoms such as those of the press and media.

Two and a half years since the Taliban returned to Afghanistan, the emergence of new theatres of conflict in other regions has perhaps pushed Afghanistan to the periphery of global focus. While calls for forming an inclusive government have persisted, the countries in the region, and the United States, have attempted to secure their interests by establishing a communication framework with the Emirate. While daily fightings have reduced in Afghanistan—with anti-Emirate resistance groups facing bleak prospects, unlike in the 1990s—terrorist groups like the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) have escalated their activities in the country.[4] They have been targeting both the Taliban and their functionaries, as well as the minority Shia community and civilians. The UN Secretary-General also raised concerns about the resurgence of Al-Qaeda in the country, as the Taliban continue to provide the group a haven, and the possibility of similar groups proliferating and expanding their operations.

This report refocuses the attention on developments in Afghanistan and provides an understanding of how the countries in the region, and the United Sates, view the security challenges posed by Afghanistan. Our contributors explore how the responses of these countries have evolved in the past two and a half years, specifically on the question of the degree of engagement and outreach with the IEA, and economic cooperation and the incremental normalisation in ties. The articles also ponder how the situation in the country could change in the near future.

In the first chapter, Shanthie Mariet D’Souza highlights India’s evolving policy towards the Islamic Emirate following the fall of Kabul, from an ad-hoc approach to incremental engagement. India’s aim is to secure its strategic interests while forging a regional consensus and putting pressure on the Taliban to create a more inclusive and representative government. In the second chapter, Antonio Giustozzi explains how China’s engagement with Afghanistan is guided by two primary concerns: the threat of foreign militant groups, and keeping the Western powers, especially the US, at bay.

Aleksei Zakharov, in the third chapter, outlines the three phases of Russia’s Afghanistan policy post-August 2021: the initial enthusiasm with the departure of the US; soon followed by concerns about the deteriorating security situation with attacks on the Russian Embassy in Kabul in September 2022; and finally, Moscow’s current efforts to increase its economic presence in the country. Amira Jadoon then assesses the declining leverage that Pakistan now has in Afghanistan, in the backdrop of the deteriorating bilateral relationship between the two countries amid the growing attacks by the TTP and Taliban’s refusal to take action against the group.

For the Central Asian Republics, as explained by Hamza Boltaev in the fifth chapter, the considerations about economic cooperation with the Islamic Emirate have taken priority. Similar to other countries in the region, Iran has also continued to engage pragmatically with the Islamic Emirate, as Vali Golmohammadi explains in the sixth chapter. However, historical differences between the two countries on issues such as water sharing and refugees, along with the additional security concerns in the aftermath of the Taliban’s resurgence, will put the relationship to test in the future.

In the final chapter, Elizabeth Threlkeld and Sania Shahid explore how the US’s moderate engagement with the group could be influenced by certain factors—the outcome of the 2024 elections in the US and the possible return of a Trump presidency; the state of the Afghan economy; a persistent fall in humanitarian aid and assistance; and the breakdown of the global consensus on non-recognition of the Taliban.

It is our aim that the seven articles in this report provide readers a deeper understanding of how countries are navigating the security challenges posed by the Taliban while protecting their stakes in Afghanistan.

Read the report here.

[1] Ministry of Foreign Affairs- Afghanistan (MoFA_Afg), “Ministry of Foreign Affairs statement concerning Doha meeting on Afghanistan,” X Post, February 17, 2024, https://twitter.com/MoFA_Afg/status/1758843304441950288/photo/1

[2] Afghanistan, “Ministry of Foreign Affairs statement.”

[3] Afghanistan, “Ministry of Foreign Affairs statement.”

[4] Amira Jadoon et al., “The Enduring Duel: Islamic State Khorasan’s Survival under Afghanistan’s New Rulers,CTCSentinel, no. 8 (2023).

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Shivam Shekhawat

Shivam Shekhawat

Shivam Shekhawat is a Junior Fellow with ORF’s Strategic Studies Programme. Her research focuses primarily on India’s neighbourhood- particularly tracking the security, political and economic ...

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