The Taliban backpedaled on Thursday after FBI-wanted terrorist and Afghan “Interior Minister” Sarajuddin Haqqani threatened the United States if Washington did not recognize the Taliban as a legitimate government.
Haqqani made the remarks in a televised interview with Al Jazeera that aired as a Taliban delegation negotiated with several foreign representatives in Oslo, Norway, including a representative from the administration of President Joe Biden.
The Taliban seized control of Afghanistan in August after Biden announced that he would break an agreement brokered between the White House and the Sunni jihadist group before he came into office. The Taliban responded to Biden’s announcement, which extended the U.S. presence in Afghanistan beyond the agreed-upon May 2021 deadline, by waging a rapid and extremely successful war against the former Afghan government. The Taliban seized Kabul on August 15 after then-President Ashraf Ghani fled the country via helicopter. No individual or group has presented a significant challenge to the Taliban’s claim of being the government of Afghanistan since Ghani fled.
Given the status of the Taliban as a terrorist organization with little regard for human rights, however, it has failed to convince a single sovereign state to recognize it as the formal government of Afghanistan. This has resulted in governments and institutions like the World Bank freezing funds belonging to the Afghan government, depriving the Taliban of resources it would need to keep itself in power. Taliban leaders have pleaded for months with Washington and other foreign powers and institutions to subsidize it to ensure the success of a Taliban regime.
In his Al Jazeera interview with weekend, Haqqani — a member of the notorious Haqqani network that ties the Taliban to al-Qaeda — urged America to recognize the Taliban as a legitimate government and give it the tools to succeed, threatening violence if this does not occur.
“America has signed a peace agreement with us in Doha, and we abide by our commitments in this agreement,” Haqqani said, referring to the deal Biden broke. “They asked us to make sure that Afghan soil is not used to launch attacks against others, and we agreed and abided by this [commitment]. They must also abide by their commitments in the agreement.”
“Once we receive recognition, we will not pose a threat to anyone. But refusing to recognize us, while dealing with us in an informal manner, and preventing the international community from dealing with us – this is unacceptable,” Haqqani continued, according to a translation by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI). “Only the recognized government can guarantee these commitments. Refusing to recognize [our government] means keeping the gates of hostility against the Afghan people wide open.”
The Ministry of the Interior that Haqqani runs issued a statement on Thursday condemning MEMRI and others who reported on the translation of the interview, denying that Haqqani had ever made any such statements.
“Some media published wrong reports from the interview suggesting he said that if the Islamic Emirate was not recognized it would pose a threat to the US,” spokesman Aqel Ozam said in a statement, according to Afghanistan’s Tolo News. “However, the Minister of Interior did not say any threatening words toward the US or the international community.”
Haqqani issuing threats appears to undermine the message other Taliban representatives were attempting to deliver in Oslo, where Norway was brokering a meeting uniting the jihadists with representatives of several Western governments including the United States. Reports from Oslo suggest that the Taliban spent much of the time in the meetings — which were held in a closed-door format, making exact reporting on the discussions impossible — urging the participants to unfreeze financial assets that once belonged to the defunct Taliban government.
“The Taliban is seeking international recognition and release of billions of dollars in Afghan central bank assets frozen by the US following the group’s return to power on August 15, 2021,” according to Al Jazeera. “The country also found itself cut off from international financial institutions after the group’s return, triggering a banking crisis and fears the war-battered economy will collapse.”
Norway faced some negative press for hosting the Taliban to plead for money and resources, which it responded to on Thursday by insisting that hosting the Taliban for official talks does not translate into recognition for the Taliban as the official government of the country.
“Let me stress that facilitating talks such as these in no way represents a legitimization of the de facto authorities in Afghanistan. Nor does it represent any change in Norwegian policy,” Norwegian Foreign Affairs Minister Anniken Huitfeldt said in a statement. “We know the Taliban will actively defend their own interests – and are seeking legitimacy. That is one of the reasons that I, as Minister of Foreign Affairs, did not meet with them.”
Huitfeldt applauded her country for hosting an “in-depth political discussion with with women activists and other opinion leaders in Afghan society,” the first the Taliban has allegedly agreed to.
“Face to face, in a safe place, they were given a clear message: legitimacy must come from the Afghans themselves, and it requires reconciliation and a more inclusive form of government,” she said.
While insisting that Norway does not recognize the Taliban as the government of Afghanistan, Huitfeldt referred to the jihadists as the “de facto authorities in the country” and insisted that dialogue with the group is necessary.