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Bring back Saarc: A quick Afghan reminder

  • Published at 11:01 am August 18th, 2021

If political sense prevails, Delhi and Islamabad should call for reforms within Saarc to allow for bilateral talks between countries, which can significantly ease political differences

The much-predicted fall of Kabul calls to mind the inglorious fall of Saigon in 1975 and a return to the history that the British and the Soviets left for the Asians. 

The coming weeks will judge who was right and who will be the wrong, but the fact is, the Taliban are going to be here as the state-maker, and as the geo-strategic game-changer. 

I summarized this to my Afghan friend by saying: "The Taliban moves in; the West moves out, the East checks in, the South sucked in, the Afghans ruled out -- that’s Kabul. Welcome to the renewed catastrophic heartland of world politics, my friend."

As a neutral observer of the Afghan crisis, I see that any instability within the intra-Taliban political eco-system will have a catastrophic impact on the region where Bangladesh sits. While Bangladesh believes that the Afghan population should retain the power to re-build their country and decide the course of the future themselves, the Taliban too must allow its regional neighbours to assist in stabilizing the political process.

Peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan will depend on unity within the Taliban as a unified party, access to and fairness in law and justice delivery, empowerment of women as a key development priority, and political growth that the new generation of youth already aspire to see.

An indefinite delay in delivering development and stability will only challenge the legitimacy of the new dispensation, ironically renamed the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan on August 15, 2021.

Also Read - OP-ED: South Asia needs a replacement for Saarc

The operational art of Taliban 2.0 exposed their ability to integrate military and non-military tools of power, and diplomatic outreach in pursuit of its political, strategic, and public objectives. 

At this existential moment, Beijing, Islamabad, and Moscow showed that the support for Taliban won’t necessarily be military. 

Qatar has set the precedent since 2014, and of course Donald Trump crystallized it on February 2, 2020 when his office signed a preliminary peace agreement with the Taliban that set the stage to end America’s longest war. 

What the regional countries missed out, particularly the ones in the south, is the necessity to cope with these changes. Nonetheless, better now than never, for it is never too late. Bangladesh still can take a quick lead. Revive the Saarc. Connect the Saarc with the Central and Eastern Asians. The honourable prime minister of the country is the senior-most state leader in Saarc who can call for a summit-level meeting once the dust settles in the Afghan theatre.

If political sense prevails, Delhi and Islamabad should call for reforms within Saarc to allow for bilateral talks between countries, which can significantly ease political differences -- something much needed. 

Is there any other alternative to Saarc other than letting the Taliban spin out of control and into the orbit of extra-regional powers.

Shahab Enam Khan is Professor of International Relations, Jahangirnagar University, Bangladesh. 

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