Leading Article: Recognise, but don't approve, the Taliban

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The Independent Culture
THE TALIBAN, whose Islamic zealotry has carried them to a string of military victories over the past month, are on the brink of re-unifying Afghanistan after 25 years of fratricide and destruction. It is time for the rest of the world to become hard-headed about its attitude to this regime, whose antics in the name of religion have been as dismissive of human rights as they have often been Monty Python-esque in tone.

Yes, the Taliban's attitude to women is despicable. Since 1996 they have been kept away from school - a denial of a most basic human right - and confined to the home and the veil. But they are also the regime that banned bananas because they are an aphrodisiac, decreed that all men should grow beards and announced that television is the instrument of Satan.

Less funny is their attitude to the cultivation of opium. An estimated 200,000 opium farmers are being plied with $16.4m of the UN's money over four years to grow a more wholesome crop. Yet this year production increased by 25 per cent and it is estimated that 95 per cent of the UK's heroin originates there.

Not to recognise the regime, though, would be a mistake. In any situation, to disengage completely is to relinquish influence. And in this case the regime's loathing for Western culture means that any residual powers of persuasion we have are purely economic.

We can privately loathe the values espoused by the Taliban. But the policy should be one of recognition without approval. In this instance the "ethical" thing to do is look forward to a time when Afghan women can return to their educations and do everything in our power to bring that day about.