On Afghanistan, Nepal to pursue a neutral position at present, officials sayKathmandu has so far refrained from pronouncing Taliban officially and called for lasting peace and stability in Afghanistan, as it focuses on evacuating Nepalis there.
As major powers are divided and are in wait and see mode after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, one of the SAARC members, Nepal, the current chair of the bloc, has decided to maintain a “neutral” position.
The Taliban made a comeback on Sunday, 20 years after being ousted for supporting terror groups. The militant group’s return to power marks the end of the United States’ era in the war-ravaged country where many countries including India, China, Pakistan, Russia and Iran, among others, have major stakes.
At present Nepal’s focus is to rescue and repatriate its citizens from Afghanistan and it has not made any position on political issues, according to government officials.
A senior Foreign Ministry official said the government has already issued a statement on the recent situation in Afghanistan.
“The question whether Nepal will recognise the Taliban is premature at this point of time,” said the official who spoke on condition of anonymity. “Our people are still in the country and awaiting evacuation. We are in the process of rescuing them.”
Multiple officials the Post spoke to said at this point Nepal is pursuing a “neutral” position, as after the Taliban takeover, there is a power vacuum in Kabul and the country is in transition.
Home Minister Bal Krishna Khand on Wednesday evening told the parliamentary Committee on Law, Justice and Human Rights that Nepal is adopting a neutral position as the most pressing matter for Nepal at present is getting its citizens out of the country.
“We are closely monitoring the situation,” said Khand.
Major powers like the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, China, India and Russia also appear to be taking a wait and see approach as there is no clarity yet on how the situation unfolds in Kabul under the Taliban.
US President Joe Biden has said that the Taliban must decide whether it wants to be recognised by the international community.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov emphasized this week that Moscow was “in no rush” to recognise the Taliban as the new rulers of Afghanistan.
But he added there were “encouraging signals” of their readiness to let other political forces join the government and allow girls into schools, the Associated Press reported.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Wednesday made it clear that his country was yet to recognise the Taliban regime and that would not happen until government formation.
According to The Times of India, New Delhi will align itself with the responses of the democratic bloc of countries on whether the incoming Taliban regime can be recognised, and much depends on the conduct of the new masters of Afghanistan in the weeks ahead.
Two days after the Taliban takeover, Nepal’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Tuesday issued a statement urging all parties concerned to ensure the safety, security and wellbeing of the people [in Afghanistan].
The ministry refrained from mentioning the Taliban in the statement and called for safe and orderly departure of all those who wished to leave the country.
“Nepal broadly supports the call from the international community to respect and facilitate the safe and orderly departure of all those who wish to leave the country through roads, airports or border crossings and calls upon those in a position to do so for the protection of human life and property and the maintenance of peace, order and stability,” read the statement. “Nepal wishes to see lasting peace and stability in Afghanistan, a fellow member of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation and the continued progress and prosperity of the friendly people of Afghanistan.”
According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as of Thursday evening, 296 Nepali nationals have arrived in Nepal from Afghanistan and an additional 342, who were staying legally and illegally, have expressed their intent to return home.
“We have to assess a lot of things before making our position on the new regime in Kabul,” the Foreign Ministry official who spoke on condition of anonymity told the Post. “Safety and security of our citizens is more important to us right now.”
There have been calls from some quarters that Nepal should make its position clear as it is the current chair of SAARC, but given the charter of the regional bloc, there is no practice of speaking on any country’s internal matters.
Afghanistan joined SAARC as the eighth member in 2007.
Nischal Nath Pandey, director at Center for South Asian Studies, however, believes Nepal has an obligation towards regional cooperation, and the obligation is even bigger as it currently chairs SAARC.
The SAARC process, however, has remained stalled for over five years now ever since its 19th Summit slated for November in Islamabad was called off over India’s refusal to participate. The 18th Summit was held in Kathmandu. Ever since its establishment in 1985, SAARC has been under the shadow of India-Pakistan rivalry.
“Prime Minister Deuba can at least call heads of South Asian countries to discuss regional issues of importance,” said Pandey. “The Taliban's takeover will test peace in South Asia.”
As far as whether Nepal recognising the Taliban or not is concerned, Pandey quipped: “Taliban barely care.”
Nepal, however, has a history of vacillating on various issues in the region. Myanmar is an example. Nepal did not make any clear position when the military junta on February 1 this year staged a coup and seized power, overthrowing an elected government. In the past too, Nepal decided to abstain from voting at the United Nations on the issue of Myanmar Rohingya Muslims, who were being persecuted under Aung San Suu Kyi’s rule.
According to a Nepali official in Delhi who is looking after Afghanistan affairs, the immediate priority of the government of Nepal is to rescue and repatriate Nepali citizens.
“For Nepal, time is not ripe to make a position as the situation is still evolving in Afghanistan. We have to see how the government is formed, how other countries from across the world and the region respond,” said the official who did not wish to be named. “We have to set some benchmarks, like how the situation unfolds, how the peace process moves forward, how the new government accommodates various forces and how the new masters treat the constitution.”
“But one thing is clear,” added the official, “we are not in any power game and not in any power play as far as Afghanistan is concerned.”
Dinesh Bhattarai, who in the past has served as foreign relations adviser to Deuba, said Nepal’s position in the new situation in Afghanistan is almost clear.
“It will determine the people’s choice and people’s participation, and whether the new regime in Afghanistan will be inclusive, democratic and representative,” said Bhattarai, also a former ambassador who is currently advising Deuba on foreign relations issues in an unofficial capacity. “The question of legitimacy will come only after government formation. The entire world is watching each and every development inside Afghanistan.”
After returning as the in-charge of the country, the Tablian have tried to assure the world that they want to maintain relations with the world.
In a press conference, the militant group on Tuesday asked the world to trust them.
Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban’s longtime spokesman, in his first-ever public appearance, promised they would honour women’s rights within the norms of Islamic law. He, however, did not elaborate.
They sought to reassure that the insurgent group would bring law and order to Afghanistan and that the horrors of their previous rule would not be repeated.
"We want the world to trust us," said Mujahid.
Bhattarai said it won’t be easy for the Taliban to become unfriendly with the rest of the world.
“There could be a sanction by the West or the World Bank and International Monetary Fund,” said Bhattarai. “Some select nations cannot fund Afghanistan forever so there are several issues that we need to consider before taking a decision on a new regime in Afghanistan.”