Pakistan’s Ambassador to Kabul: ‘Engagement Has to Continue’ With Taliban Government

Mansoor Ahmad Khan tells FP Afghanistan is more stable now, and he denies any Pakistani support for the militant group.

October 11, 2021 (Foreign Policy)—Afghanistan is careening toward becoming a failed state, as the Taliban rulers who took control less than two months ago show little aptitude for governance amid growing economic and humanitarian crises.

Instead of rule of law, Afghanistan now has rough justice and extrajudicial killings. Education has been decimated in favor of religious studies, with most girls excluded from school. Women are being forced out of work and back into their homes. Even lip service to human rights is a thing of the past.

The onset of winter threatens to bring starvation to millions, while around $10 billion in financial assets remains frozen by the United States, so the interim government cannot pay its bills and ordinary people cannot access their bank accounts. Residents of Kabul and other cities report that Taliban operatives continue to search door to door for people who worked for the previous, internationally supported government, and many say they fear for their lives. 

By any definition, this is a catastrophe. For Pakistan’s ambassador to Kabul, Mansoor Ahmad Khan, however, peace, stability, and security in Afghanistan are the priority—and, he said, all three have improved under the Taliban. And while Khan said Pakistan supports human rights, women’s rights, and inclusion of all ethnic and religious groups in Afghanistan, none of these issues is being used as a bargaining chip for diplomatic recognition or unfreezing of financial assets.

In an interview with Foreign Policy, Khan said most of Afghanistan’s 35 million to 40 million people support the Taliban government, that trade between the two countries is flowing and even increasing, and that diplomatic recognition for the Taliban government will be coordinated between Afghanistan’s neighbors and the international community for the benefit of global peace and security. 

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Foreign Policy: What is the security situation in Afghanistan now?

Mansoor Ahmad Khan: Since the Taliban entered Kabul on Aug. 15 and took de facto control and later formed their government, the security and law and order situation has been relatively peaceful. There have been no major security-related incidents, except some attacks by [the Islamic State]. Generally, calm and peace have prevailed in Afghanistan.

FP: So Pakistan is safer and more secure now that the Taliban are in control of Afghanistan? 

MAK: Pakistan has no favorites, in terms of what kind of government should be in Afghanistan. Our emphasis has always been that the government in Afghanistan should be a stable government, should be a government expressing the will of the people, according to the aspirations of Afghans, and should be a government having control over the entire Afghan territory, so that no terrorist groups, no militant groups can have space or safe havens or sanctuaries in Afghanistan. 

FP: How is Pakistan being impacted by the economic and humanitarian crises in Afghanistan?

MAK: Since the Taliban have taken control, Afghanistan has been facing a severe humanitarian crisis because there was a change of government. Since there was no agreed political transition arrangement, there was a kind of vacuum. We not only saw a huge evacuation process, but also the United States has frozen their dollar reserves, which is causing them difficulty meeting some of their basic needs. Therefore, there is pressure on their economy, on their banking transactions, and as a result of that you see a shortage of supply can occur. This could be aggravated as the winter sets in.

So far, supplies have been there, humanitarian assistance provided by many countries and organizations, including the United Nations, World Food Program, and World Health Organization, has kept the situation relatively calm and sustainable. If supplies continue through these organizations, and if there is relatively sustainable international engagement with Afghanistan, it will be relatively easy for them to overcome these challenges. But if the Afghan government and the humanitarian organizations are not able to meet demand in coming months, the situation will be aggravated. 

FP: What is your prediction? Can the Taliban meet demand before people begin starving to death?

MAK: I think they’re making serious efforts, they are keeping their neighbors engaged. A number of diplomatic missions are here in Kabul and their governments are trying to assist.

But it will also depend upon how their engagement develops and progresses with the international community, and this will be a broad-based engagement in terms of dealing with issues of inclusivity, human rights structure including women’s rights, women’s education, and other related issues. It will have to be seen in that context. I would say that at this stage, the Afghan government, the Taliban government, has been making serious efforts to ensure they are able to meet the needs of their population. And therefore, until now the movement of refugees and the movement of people across the border has been quite manageable. We have not seen a massive exodus of people; that will only happen if there are serious shortages of supplies here.

FP: You talk of inclusivity, human rights, women’s rights, women’s education. The Taliban do not appear to be prioritizing these issues. What are you seeing that I am not? Are these issues bargaining chips for diplomatic recognition and the release of financial assets?

MAK: When the U.S.-Taliban agreement was signed [in February 2020] and the peace process proceeded, there were two main issues: the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces from Afghanistan and the intra-Afghan agreement on a future political framework. While there has been a reasonable degree of understanding on the withdrawal of U.S./NATO forces, progress could not take place among the Afghan parties on an intra-Afghan agreement on inclusivity, human rights, and other issues. We believe that now this engagement has to continue between the Taliban government and the international community in order to ensure that the Afghan state is not isolated. If Afghanistan is isolated, it will not be good for Afghanistan itself, nor will it be good for international peace and stability, because there has been a threat of so many terrorist and militant groups in Afghanistan.

Neither the international community nor the Afghan government should be using these issues as bargaining chips. We believe that the United States should not have frozen the $10 billion of Afghanistan’s money, because it is now causing serious humanitarian issues. Similarly, we believe the Afghan government should be very open-mindedly engaged with the international community in addressing the issues that are important to the international community: inclusivity, human rights, women’s rights, rule of law. There are different perspectives, and these should be solved and progress needs to be made through constructive dialogue.

FP: Why hasn’t Pakistan recognized the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan? 

MAK: Recognition will be part of a process in consultation with other neighboring countries. The day the announcement of the new government took place, Sept. 8, Pakistan hosted a meeting at the foreign minister level of all the neighbors of Afghanistan. We adopted a joint communique for a coordinated approach with regard to engagement with Afghanistan in the coming months and future. Our decision will be for ensuring economic and humanitarian engagement with Afghanistan, for ensuring the engagement of the Afghan government with the international community. The decision of recognition will be taken as part of this process, in consultation with other members of the international community, including particularly the neighbors of Afghanistan. 

FP: Pakistan provided sanctuary and support for the Taliban for almost 20 years. So is the Taliban’s victory in Afghanistan a victory for Pakistan?

MAK: It is not true that Pakistan provided any financial or material support to the Afghan Taliban. The way the Afghan Taliban took over indicated there was no political support of the people for the past regime. We believe we have to work for lasting peace and stability in Afghanistan. The government in Afghanistan should be based on principles of inclusivity, human rights, and rule of law, and therefore we should remain engaged with the new government of Afghanistan and the people of Afghanistan for achieving those goals.

After Aug. 15, most of the people here in Afghanistan, even those who were associated with the previous Afghan regime, have preferred to look to Pakistan. That is an indication of the cultural and religious connectivity between the two countries.