The Taliban’s prime minister called on January 19 on Muslim nations to be the first to officially recognise their government, as aid-dependent Afghanistan faces economic collapse.
No country has yet recognised the Taliban, with most watching to see how the hardline Islamists – notorious for human rights abuses during their first stint in power – restrict freedoms.
Although the group has promised a softer rule in line with their interpretation of Islamic Sharia law, women are largely excluded from government employment and secondary schools for girls are mostly shuttered.
“I call on Muslim countries to take the lead and recognise us officially. Then I hope we will be able to develop quickly,” Mohammad Hassan Akhund told a conference in Kabul called to address the country’s massive economic woes.
“We don’t want it for the officials. We want it for our public,” he said, adding that the Taliban had fulfilled all necessary conditions by restoring peace and security.
Afghanistan is in the grip of a humanitarian disaster, worsened by the Taliban takeover in August that prompted Western countries to freeze international aid and access to billions of dollars worth of assets held abroad.
The country was almost entirely dependent on foreign aid under the previous US-backed government, but jobs have dried up and most civil servants haven’t been paid for months.
On January 19, the International Labour Organisation said half a million Afghans lost their jobs in the third quarter of 2021, and this was expected to rise to 900,000 by the middle of this year – with women disproportionately affected.
With poverty deepening and a drought devastating farming in many areas, the UN has warned that half the 38 million population faces food shortages.
The UN Security Council last month unanimously adopted a US resolution to allow some aid to reach desperate Afghans without violating international sanctions.
But there are growing calls from rights groups and aid organisations for the West to release more funds – particularly in the middle of a harsh winter.
“Our situation still depends on the Americans. It will only get better if they decide to stop the sanctions,” said Mohammad Moktar Nasseri, a former police officer who now sells vegetables at a Kabul market.
Donors face the delicate task of channelling aid without propping up the regime, with many members of what the Taliban call their interim government – including Akhund – on an international sanctions list.
The Taliban veteran was a close associate and political advisor to Mullah Omar, the founder of the movement and its first supreme leader.
The protection of women’s rights and an inclusive government that reflects Afghanistan’s ethnic groups are among the most important issues for the international community.
But Taliban Deputy Prime Minister Abdul Salam Hanafi told January 19’s conference that the government “would not sacrifice the independence of the country’s economy by bending to the conditions of donors”.
Last month a meeting of the 57-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) declined to formally recognise the government, and the new regime’s foreign minister was excluded from the official photograph taken during the event.