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Taliban Gets an Image Upgrade

© AP Photo / Khwaja Tawfiq SediqiFILE - Taliban special force fighters arrive inside the Hamid Karzai International Airport after the U.S. military's withdrawal, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 31, 2021. A year after America's tumultuous and deadly withdrawal from Afghanistan, assessments of its impact are divided — and largely along partisan lines.
FILE - Taliban special force fighters arrive inside the Hamid Karzai International Airport after the U.S. military's withdrawal, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 31, 2021. A year after America's tumultuous and deadly withdrawal from Afghanistan, assessments of its impact are divided — and largely along partisan lines. - Sputnik India, 1920, 29.05.2024
Two Russian ministries, namely the diplomatic and the justice ones, have submitted their opinion to the President Vladimir Putin, stating that it’s time to take the Taliban* off the national list of terrorist organizations.
There are (at least) two prominent columnists giving their ideas on that matter. One, Mr. Evgeny Krutikov, mostly dwells on the legal side of the matter. The problem is, he says, that Taliban is still under legal international sanctions. To remind, the legal sanctions are those that are imposed by the UN Security Council. The UNSC did just that in 2003, and Russia at that time was actively voting for putting Taliban on the list of international terrorists. The similar Russian list has, actually, been only a follow-up to the UN document.
Russian legislation precedes the international one, Mr. Krutikov reminds us. Meaning that if the Supreme Court of Russia decides that Taliban is not terroristic anymore, that decision supersedes any legal act passed abroad. But then, there has to be a good reason for that action.
And here we are facing a problem much wider than Central Asia. And most Russian commentaries on the matter of Taliban tend to be very cautious. Vladimir Putin is also cautious. That’s how he answered the relevant question during his recent visit to Uzbekistan: These are the people controlling the country, its territory; they are the power in Afghanistan today. We must proceed from reality and build relations accordingly. We stay in contact with many partners, including with many partners in the Central Asian region. We take into account each partner’s and friend’s opinion and will formulate this position together.
So, there is no clear position so far. But one thing is common to all opinions on the matter. Namely, we are facing a failure of decades of attempts to build up international consensus on what’s good and what’s evil, and base international legislation on that foundation.
My favorite example on that matter is North Korea, also under the UN sanctions for its nuclear and space programs. Russian experts are mostly in favor of Moscow’s exit from that sanctions regime, because it proved to be a fraud.
A fraud in what sense? The thing is, the sanctions against North Korea were a part of an international deal, an agreement of several powers like the US, China, Russia, Japan and others. There was a stick there, but also a carrot, as in you do not make your nuclear bomb, and we guarantee your safety. The big idea was to create a system of international cooperation in East Asia, making the region safe for Korea and for the rest, with the ensuing lifting of sanctions. That idea had been put on plenty of legitimate international papers and was supposed to be a reasonable alternative to North Korea scaring its neighbors with nuclear weapons. So, where are all these promises to build up, slowly, a network of cooperation in that part of the world? It seems that the Korean nuclear weapons stay the nation’s only guarantee of relative security. And, if so, the sanctions lose their original meaning and have to go.
Needless to say, the same situation has replayed itself in Europe, where Russia has been offering, again and again, to develop a security system for all, but got only growing military rumbles coming from Ukraine and from the West, backing Ukraine up. So, all in all, a concept of common and indivisible security has suffered a trust deficit everywhere in the world, as we can see, and even the UNSC sanctions are losing their meaning.
Going back to Afghanistan, there is a strong trend among Moscow pundits to note that people change, together with organizations and nations. Says Mr. Peter Akopov, columnist of the Russia Today agency: Everything has changed during two decades of the American occupation of Afghanistan. The Talibs not only kept their influence in the society, they managed to take power bloodlessly after the American retreat. And now these Talibs are responsible for all of Afghanistan, which has found itself, after decades of turmoil and occupation, in a dire social and economic situation. Economy is barely breathing, there is almost no foreign trade, hard currency inflow is minimal. They have to build up everything from scratch… The Talibs are learning the art of managing a nation, they destroy the poppy plantations, that used to flourish under the Americans. They want to build new relations with the Islamic world and with their neighbors, concludes Akopov, so they are not terrorists anymore.
Here we have a simple question: exactly why did the Russian society dislike that Islamist movement in the past, ever since 1990-s? It appears, the main reason was the activities of some Talibs in the Russian republic of Chechnya in the late 1990-s, when there was a jihadist insurrection at the time. But these times are long gone, and people in Moscow also noted strained relations between Taliban and ISIS at the times of the Russian operation in Syria. Simply speaking, the threat seems to be diminished.
But, still, there is that problem of the stubborn refusal of the current Afghani authorities to treat the nation’s women as equals. And here, again, we are facing a problem which may be significant in the new world that is emerging. True, there were plenty of ideas about international norms of all kinds, back then in the 1990-s. The problem was, some people got carried away with their conviction that they could dictate a huge and growing array of these norms to the whole world, and even punish the transgressors. They tried too hard, and they failed. So, today, it appears that we are getting back to the age of sovereignty. Simply speaking, you don’t dictate norms and rules to people of other countries, and you accept the local rules in foreign lands.
But that norm means, also, that nobody exports extreme jihadism beyond their borders. That naturally applies to Afghanistan’s rulers.
Let’s try to project what happens next. Russia’s Supreme Court may rather soon take Taliban off the list of terrorists. The possible legal reasons for that are being already listed in the Russian media. You are a terrorist if your organization have been created solely for sowing terror, or if you do acts of terror habitually. If you are a legitimate ruler of a nation, imposing domestically these or those norms, then you may be disapproved of, but not listed as terrorist.
If the SC does what’s expected of it, then we are going to get rid of at least one funny problem, like dealing with the Afghanistan delegation, expected at the oncoming St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. It is well known that both sides want to do business with each other, with some international projects in the pipeline. But, until the moment the Supreme Court makes its ruling, you are obliged to supply any written document mentioning Taliban with a footnote: this is a terrorist organization, activities of which are banned on the Russian territory. Yes, you have to do it even in a text of a possible business contract, too. And that would surely look too awkward.
Dmitry Kosyrev is a Russian writer, author of spy novels and short stories. He also did columns for the Pioneer and
*under UN sanctions for terror activities
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