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We have no choice but to work with the Taliban

Two Taliban fighters in Kabul. Wakil Kohsar/AFP/Getty

It’s time for the US to formally recognise Afghanistan’s Taliban government, say Javid Ahmad and Douglas London in Foreign Policy. That’s not easy for us to admit, as a former Afghan diplomat and an ex-CIA regional counterterrorism chief. Many will see it as a “painful betrayal”. But the alternative – idly watching the country’s “dangerous descent into a hermit kingdom” – would be far worse. The mullahs’ “ironclad grip” on Afghanistan is undeniable, as is the threat it poses to its own people, its neighbours and the West. Today, Washington has two options: try to wipe the Taliban off the face of the earth, which didn’t go too well last time, “or work with it”.

The status quo is the worst of both worlds. The US is by far the country’s biggest aid donor, but with no diplomatic presence officials are blind to what’s going on and powerless to influence change. International organisations are no good – a recent UN-led conference of 21 nations seeking “constructive engagement” with Kabul produced no results. Meanwhile, the Taliban foreign minister Mawlawi Amir Khan Muttaqi has travelled to Islamabad to meet with his Pakistani and Chinese counterparts, whose governments are steaming ahead on “wholesale economic, political and security cooperation” with the regime. If Washington has any hope of achieving its objectives in the region – which are not merely humanitarian, but also include targeting IS and al-Qaeda – it needs to find ways to cooperate with the mullahs. Because its enemies aren’t waiting around.