With the Taliban running over Afghanistan all over again, it is deja vu for many Afghans. They are reminded of the ghosts of 1996 when the Taliban took over Afghanistan, then ruled it for five years with absolute barbarism and brutality. But a lot has changed over the past 25 years. Apart from the terrorist State of Pakistan, the Taliban doesn’t have any recognition or legitimacy in 2021. No one wants to engage with the Taliban this time. For instance, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia. In 1996, the UAE and Saudi Arabia were the only countries, apart from Pakistan, to recognise the Taliban government in Afghanistan, or the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, as legitimate. However, this time around, the UAE and Saudi Arabia have seemingly very different plans.
The United Arab Emirates is hosting Afghanistan’s former President Ashraf Ghani on “humanitarian grounds”. In a brief statement, the UAE Foreign Ministry said, “The UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation can confirm that the UAE has welcomed President Ashraf Ghani and his family into the country on humanitarian grounds.”
Now, it is a big message if the UAE is readily and willingly hosting Ghani. He is the former President of Afghanistan’s civilian government, which was the Taliban’s main enemy in the wartorn country. The UAE may not be expressly opposing the Taliban, but one thing is clear that it hasn’t chosen the Taliban either as it did in 1996.
Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, hasn’t reached to Taliban’s resurgence warmly either. The Muslim Kingdom has asked Taliban terrorists who have seized Kabul and other territories in Afghanistan to preserve lives, property and security as stipulated by “Islamic principles”.
More importantly, Riyadh is still backing a solution by “Afghan people”. The Foreign Ministry of Saudi Arabia said, “The kingdom stands with the choices that the Afghan people make without interference.” The ministry added, “Based on the noble principles of Islam…, the kingdom of Saudi Arabia hopes that the Taliban movement and all Afghan parties will work to preserve security, stability, lives and property.”
All that the Taliban has managed to extract from Saudi Arabia, the undisputed leader of the Muslim world, is a word of caution and a promise of non-interference with the choices that the people of Afghanistan make.
Notably, neither the UAE nor Saudi Arabia has shown any impulse to celebrate the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan or any desire to cooperate with Pakistan. It is obviously in stark contrast to how the two Arab countries perceived the Taliban when it seized control of Afghanistan in 1996.
Both Saudi Arabia and the UAE have their reasons for not supporting the Taliban. The UAE has taken a progressive turn in the recent past and has shown tolerance towards non-Islamic minorities.
Synagogues, Churches and Temples, the Emiratis are welcoming all religious denominations with open arms. The UAE wants to promote coexistence, and the Taliban doesn’t go in line with its transformation.
Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, values its alliance with the US especially in the context of increasing hostility with Iran. It simply doesn’t want to bother Washington by embracing an enemy of the United States of America.
Moreover, the UAE and Saudi Arabia are India’s close allies today. And they have no intention of hurting New Delhi’s regional interests by cooperating with Islamabad. After all, the Arabs find engagement with India more fruitful than with Pakistan.
Finally, the UAE and Saudi Arabia understand that supporting the Taliban is a huge gamble, which can backfire at any moment. China and Pakistan have already made this mistake, and the Arabs won’t make this mistake now. The reluctance of Saudi Arabia and the UAE is crucial, as many Muslim nations will maintain a safe distance from the Taliban simply because the UAE and Saudi Arabia aren’t accepting it.
Taliban might have taken over Afghanistan, but the cold attitude from the UAE and Saudi Arabia will keep it in check.