Historically, in Islam, the world is divided into two: the Islamic and non-Islamic worlds. Today, Muslim countries have to balance this Islamic concept and their pragmatic interests with the world’s anarchy. But here, we can ask a substantial, less researched question: Does the foreign policy of Muslim states distinguish between non-Muslim and Muslim states? This article aims to investigate this question by using the new Taliban regime (the Taliban 2.0) in Afghanistan as a case study. The article examines the Taliban 2.0 foreign policy toward Muslim states (Pakistan and Iran) and non-Muslim states (United States, China, and India) to find notable differences between them. Surprisingly, the analysis indicates that the Taliban did not act in a specific way toward each group and focused mainly on strategic interests in its foreign policy, regardless of the country.

Keywords: Foreign policy, Taliban, Afghanistan, religion, politics.



Dār al Islam is one of the most talked-about concepts of Islam since the reformation of modern Muslim states. In short, it means that the goal of Islam is to gain control all over the world, whether by conducting jihad (religious war) against the non-Islamic world, also known as dār al-ḥarb (house of war) or by converting the population to Islam.[1] Although this is not the place to dive into the controversies and interpretations of each concept, it is essential to understand that historically they represented a basis of Islamic foreign policy—hostility toward non-Muslim countries and regimes. Despite this concept that dates back to the period of the Prophet Muhammad, the reality of Muslim countries shows some different approaches. A substantial number of Muslim states enjoy a wide range of diplomatic and economic relations with their non-Muslim counterparts. Furthermore, some Muslim states have even signed peace treaties and maintained relations with countries that have ongoing conflicts with Islamic society, such as Israel, India, and China.[2]

So, how is Islam implicated in the foreign relations of a Muslim state? Recent studies indicate that the answer is not black and white, in reference to the level of religiosity, the Islamic rivalry between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, and the ideology of the leaders or parties in each state. The modern Muslim or Islamic state faces many challenges that force it to play between the religious and the pragmatic.[3] For example, Hamas, a semi-state Sunni actor that took control of Gaza in 2006, wrote in its charter back in 1988 that “the Arab states bordering Israel are required to open their borders to the jihad warriors belonging to the Arab/Muslim nations.”[4] Although neither Jordan nor Egypt, both neighboring Israel, opened their borders to jihad warriors, Hamas nonetheless maintained diplomatic relations with them and enjoyed their economic, diplomatic, and humanitarian aid. In another example, Saudi Arabia, a Sunni-led state, had engaged in security and military cooperation with the United States against Muslim actors, such as Iran and the Islamic State (ISIS).[5] In those examples, both Hamas and Saudi Arabia preferred to act rationally or pragmatically to achieve strategic or financial support over adhering to Muslim values or ideology. Hence, we can conclude from various past cases that Islamic state actors intend to balance Islamic values and foreign policy to compete in the international arena.

But here, a question arises that has hardly been studied: Would a Muslim state’s foreign policy distinguish between Muslim and non-Muslim state actors, or do strategic, economic, and security issues take precedence? To answer this question, this short article will focus on Afghanistan under the Taliban 2.0 as a case study. [6] We can assume that the Taliban 2.0, as a Sharia-led Islamist Sunni group, will be an excellent case study for examining the role of Islam in the foreign policy of a Muslim state. It will analyze the Taliban’s foreign policy toward Muslim states, such as Pakistan and Iran, compared to non-Muslim states, such as India, the United States, and China. This article focuses on a period of two years, between August 15, 2021, when the Taliban 2.0 retook control of Kabul, and October 7, 2023, when Hamas invaded Israel, starting the war in Gaza, which has had unconfirmed consequences on the Islamic world in general and the geopolitical arena in particular. The analysis will employ qualitative research focusing on fundamental aspects of the Taliban 2.0’s foreign policy, including formal statements and condemnations by Taliban officials, meetings and dialogues, and agreements with relevant countries.


United States: From the Doha Accord to Ayman al-Zawahiri

In 2001, following the 9/11 terrorist attack in the United States, President George W. Bush announced the country’s invasion of Afghanistan. Although the main goal of the invasion was to fight al-Qaeda, the United States found itself also fighting Afghanistan’s ruler at the time and an ally of Al-Qaeda, the Taliban. After almost two decades of hostility between the Taliban and the United States, they signed the “Doha Agreement” on February 29, 2020, which was supposed to bring peace to Afghanistan. The agreement compelled the Taliban to cut ties with all terrorist organizations and move toward “intra-Afghan dialogue and negotiations” with the pro-American government in Kabul at that time, while the United States led the coalition to withdraw from Afghanistan.[7] Despite the agreement, on August 15, 2020, the Taliban completed the conquest of Afghanistan.

Following the Taliban’s violent occupation of Afghanistan, the United States decided to freeze $7 billion of government funds belonging to Afghanistan held in its banks. This action elicited a calculated policy from the Taliban toward Washington. Initially, the Taliban used the plight of the Afghans as leverage, appealing to the Americans to release their funds. For example, in November 2021, the Taliban’s Foreign Minister, Amir Khan Muttaqi, sent a letter to the American Congress, stating that, “I request the government of the United States of America take responsible steps toward addressing the humanitarian and economic crisis unfolding in Afghanistan so that doors for future relations are opened, assets of Afghanistan’s Central Bank are unfrozen, and sanctions on our banks are lifted.”[8] A few months later, after an earthquake struck southern Afghanistan in June 2022, the Taliban engaged in discussions with an American envoy in Doha, which led to $55 million in humanitarian aid for earthquake victims, the release of Afghan assets, and the lifting of US sanctions. It also paved the way for continued engagement between the two governments in pursuit of a stable Afghanistan.[9]

However, the Taliban’s foreign policy took a decisive turn after the United States assassinated al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in the heart of Kabul in July 2022. This incident indicated that, despite the Doha Agreement, the Taliban still had connections with al-Qaeda. The Taliban chose to deny any knowledge of al-Zawahiri’s location and ironically blamed Washington for a “violation of international norms and the Doha peace deal.”[10] From that point onward, the Taliban continued to urge the United States to release funds and lift sanctions against it as a form of formal recognition for its government. However, this time they used a more accusatory tone, blaming America for the Afghan economic crisis. Nevertheless, Taliban 2.0 did not differentiate between the United States and other non-Muslim states. Instead, they opted for a measured diplomatic approach to pursue their strategic and economic interests.[11]


China: The (Belt and) Road to Afghanistan

On January 7, 2023, a special event took place in Afghanistan—the first international agreement since the Taliban regained control of the country. This 25-year deal, known as “The Amu Darya oil project,” was signed with the Chinese company Xinjiang Central Asia Petroleum and Gas Co (CAPEIC) and aims to bring $150 million of Chinese investment to Afghanistan, a critical boost for the struggling state.[12] This agreement marked a breakthrough in the Taliban government’s relationship with Beijing, with several more deals expected, including a Chinese Lithium mining deal that could create “120,000 direct and a million indirect jobs in the country,” according to the Ministry for Mine and Petroleum in Afghanistan. These deals demonstrate the significant Chinese presence in Kabul since August 2021, reflecting the mutual interest in economic investments. Unlike Western countries, the Chinese government claims to have no interest in interfering in Afghanistan’s internal affairs, paving the way for cooperation with the Taliban regime.[13]

The strengthening of economic relations between Beijing and Kabul has also affected diplomatic relations. Despite not officially recognizing the group as the country’s sovereign ruler, China was one of the few countries that kept its embassy open in Kabul. One positive outcome of this was the resumption of direct flights between Afghanistan and China in May 2023, after a three-year suspension. The Taliban deputy minister for transport and civil aviation stated that this “would directly impact enhancing economic, political, and commercial ties between the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and China.”[14] In March 2022, Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi visited Kabul “to discuss various issues, including the extension of political relations, economic, and transit cooperation.” Following this meeting, China played a more significant role in the Taliban’s foreign relations. For instance, a trilateral dialogue between China, Afghanistan, and Pakistan about political, commercial, regional, and security issues was held in Islamabad in May 2023. One purpose of this meeting was, among other things, for China to mediate between the two Islamic regimes, considering that Pakistan had been dealing with terrorist groups operating from Afghanistan, such as the Pakistani Taliban (TTP).[15] Since the Taliban regained power, several economic-focused delegations of Taliban officials and Afghan traders have visited China, as well as parallel Chinese delegations to Afghanistan.[16] Interestingly, the Taliban have not accused China of mistreating the Uyghur Muslim population, despite UN reports indicating otherwise.[17] Moreover, the Taliban have even removed Uyghur militants—believed to be part of the Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP)—from the Afghan–Chinese border in order to advance its relations with Beijing.[18]


India and Pakistan—One Way or Another

India, the largest democracy in the world, has a long and tumultuous relationship with the Afghan regime over the years, largely dependent on the ruling party in Kabul. Given India’s proximity to the falling pro-American Ghani Afghan regime and its battle against Islamic militant groups on its borders, it was widely believed that India and the new Taliban regime would not be friendly. However, it was expected that the Taliban would maintain a cooperative relationship with its long-time ally and India’s strategic rival, Pakistan.

Surprisingly, the Taliban began to engage with India, while in parallel it had  multiple clashes—even violent ones—with Muslim Pakistan. On August 31, 2021, Indian and Taliban officials met publicly for the first time since the Taliban takeover, discussing “safety, security and early return of Indian nationals stranded in Afghanistan.”[19] A few days before, the Taliban’s spokesperson, Zabihullah Mujahid, in an interview for “India Today” even reassured India that “The Taliban won’t allow any other country to be endangered by us. We assure India that our side will not be a threat to them.”[20] Subsequently, the Taliban welcomed India’s economic and humanitarian aid, aiming to “help improve ties and trust between the two nations,” according to the Taliban’s former Negotiations Team Member, Suhail Shaheen.[21] The Taliban government also allowed India to continue its infrastructure development projects across the country and supported the Indian diplomatic presence in Kabul, while the Taliban maintained one in New Delhi.[22]

In contrast, Afghanistan’s relationship with Pakistan has become more challenging since August 2021. There are indications that the Taliban supported terror attacks into Pakistan from Afghanistan. Specifically, the TTP, which shares the same ideology as the Afghan Taliban, was responsible for most of these attacks. However, the Taliban denied any connection to these attacks and accused Pakistan of making false claims against it. This security and diplomatic tension led Pakistan to decide to expel all undocumented Afghans (about 1.7 million people) by November 2023, drawing condemnation from Taliban officials.


Taliban 2.0’s Relations With Iran

On May 27, 2023, a long-standing water dispute between Iran and Afghanistan reached a new level after a military clash occurred between the Taliban and Iran’s security forces.[23] The incident stemmed from the Taliban’s decision to continue construction on several dams and projects in the Helmand River, which could reduce the amount of water flowing into Iran from the border river. The Taliban used Iran’s water crisis as a diplomatic tool against Tehran and escalated the situation by making unilateral decisions and trading accusations.[24] Simultaneously, the Taliban held multiple meetings with Iranian officials, primarily discussing the water dispute, trade, immigration issues, and counterterrorism.[25] Based on statements made by the Taliban during those meetings, it appears that they aim to maintain a positive relationship with Tehran while also asserting their own political interests. For example, during a meeting between Iran’s ambassador to Afghanistan and several Taliban officials, the Taliban’s deputy prime minister, Mullah Baradar, assured the Iranian side “that Afghanistan does not interfere in other countries’ internal affairs and also doesn’t allow others to interfere in our internal affairs.”[26] In other words, the Taliban sought to benefit from their relationship with Iran while setting strategic boundaries and maintaining their own interests.



This short article aimed to address whether a Muslim state, specifically Taliban-led Afghanistan, approaches foreign policy differently when dealing with other Muslim and non-Muslim states. The analysis in this case study demonstrates that despite the concepts of a divided world in Islam, the Taliban treats Muslim states no differently than non-Muslim ones and even maintained a firmer stance with them. The Taliban’s foreign policy has focused on pragmatic interests and attempts to downplay its diplomatic and economic crises. This approach has allowed them to engage with China and India on diplomatic and economic terms, while also maintaining lukewarm relations with the United States. In contrast, the Taliban has not shied away from conflicts with their Sunni Muslim neighbor, Pakistan, and with their Shiite neighbor, Iran. It appears that the Taliban’s foreign policy doctrine during the period of research aligns more closely with Realpolitik principles than purely Muslim ones. In conclusion, this article provides a different perspective on Muslim foreign policy, but further research is necessary to refine the main findings regarding the preferences of Muslim states in foreign policy.


[1] See, for example, Ahmad, Muhammad Mushtaq, “The Notions of Dār Al-Ḥarb and Dār al-Islām in Islamic Jurisprudence with Special Reference to the Ḥanafī School,” Islamic Studies 47, no. 1 (2008): 5–37, http://www.jstor.org/stable/20839104.

[2] About these peace deals and relations, see Sinem Cengiz, “Saudi Foreign Policy Towards China in the Post-Arab Uprisings Era: A Neo-classical Realist Approach,” Asian Journal of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies 14, no. 1(2020): 51–67, http://doi.org.10.1080/25765949.2020.1728971; Fatima Anjum, “India-UAE: Emerging Strategic Partnership,” European Journal of Social Sciences Studies 2, no. 5 (2017): 179–193, https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.834313; Karla J. Cunningham, “The Causes and Effects of Foreign Policy Decision Making: An Analysis of Jordanian Peace with Israel,” World Affairs 160, no. 4 (1998): 192–201, https://www.jstor.org/stable/20672528.

[3] Oliver Roy, “Foreword,” in The Foreign Policy of Islamic Political Parties: Ideology in Practice, ed. Mohamed-Ali Adraoui (Edinburgh University Press, 2018), vii–ix.

[4] Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center at the Center for Special Studies (C.S.S), “The Hamas Charter (1988),” (March 21, 2006), p. 32, https://www.terrorism-info.org.il/Data/pdf/PDF_06_032_2.pdf.

[5] Kylie Baxter and Kumuda Simpson, “The United States and Saudi Arabia through the Arab Uprisings,” Global Change, Peace & Security 27, no. 2 (2015): 144–149, https://doi.org/10.1080/14781158.2015.1019845.

[6] Taliban 2.0 is the common name used in the media and in academia for the new Taliban regime, which came to power in 2021.

[7] “Joint Declaration between the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the United States of America for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan,” February 29, 2020, https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/02.29.20-US-Afghanistan-Joint-Declaration.pdf.

[8] Rajab Taieb, “Islamic Emirate Calls on US Congress to Release Funds,” Tolo News, November 17, 2021, https://tolonews.com/afghanistan-175494.

[9] Ayaz Gul, “US, Taliban Agree to Continue Talks,” Voice of America, June 30, 2022, https://www.voanews.com/a/us-argues-against-pure-isolation-to-advancing-interests-in-afghanistan-/6639521.html.

[10] Shane Harris, Dan Lamothe, Karen DeYoung, Souad Mekhennet, and Pamela Constable, “U.S. Kills al-Qaeda Leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in Drone Strike in Kabul,” Washington Post, August 1, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/2022/08/01/zawahiri-al-qaeda-killed/.

[11] Mohammad Farshad Daryosh, “Stanikzai Asks US to Resume Diplomatic Presence in Afghanistan,” Tolo News, March 29, 2023, https://tolonews.com/afghanistan-182731; Ayaz Gul, “Taliban Rebuke US for Afghan Assets’ Transfer to Swiss-Based Trust Fund,” Tolo News, September 16, 2022, https://www.voanews.com/a/taliban-rebuke-us-for-afghan-assets-transfer-to-swiss-based-trust-fund/6750232.html.

[12] Catherine Putz, “Taliban Settle Oil Deal With Chinese Company,” The Diplomat, January 6, 2022. https://thediplomat.com/2023/01/taliban-settle-oil-deal-with-chinese-company/.

[13] “New Journey of China’s Development, New Opportunities for China-Afghanistan Relations,” Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, November 13, 2022, http://af.china-embassy.gov.cn/eng/sgxw/202211/t20221103_10799850.htm.

[14] Ayaz Gul, “Afghanistan Restarts Direct Flights to China After 3 Years,” Voice of America, May 23, 2023, https://www.voanews.com/a/afghanistan-restarts-direct-flights-to-china-after-3-years-/7107359.html.

[15] “China, Pakistan and Afghanistan FMs Hold Talks in Islamabad,” Al-Jazeera, May, 7, 2023, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/5/7/china-pakistan-and-afghanistan-fms-hold-talks-in-islamabad.

[16] “Acting Head of Central Bank Meets Chinese Ambassador in Kabul,” Tolo News, June 12, 2023, https://tolonews.com/business-183789; “50 Afghan Booths to Feature in China-Hosted Trade Exhibition,” WE News, August 21, 2023, https://en.wenews.pk/50-afghan-booths-to-feature-in-china-hosted-trade-exhibition/.

[17] See, for example, “China Responsible for ‘Serious Human Rights Violations’ in Xinjiang Province: UN Human Rights Report,” UN News, August 31, 2022, https://news.un.org/en/story/2022/08/1125932.

[18] “Taliban ‘Removing’ Uyghur Militants From Afghanistan’s Border With China,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, October 5, 2021, https://www.rferl.org/a/taliban-uyghur-militants-afghan-china/31494094.html.

[19] “Meeting in Doha,” Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, August 31, 2021, https://www.mea.gov.in/press-releases.htm?dtl/34208/Meeting_in_Doha.

[20]Akshita Nandagopal, “India an Important Country, no Threat to Them: Taliban Spokesperson,” India Today, August 30, 2021, https://www.indiatoday.in/world/story/india-pakistan-taliban-spokesperson-threat-afghanistan-1847106-2021-08-30.

[21] “Afghan Taliban Government Welcomes Budget,” Economic Times, February 3, 2023, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/international/world-news/afghan-taliban-government-welcomes-budget/articleshow/97561107.cms; Kiran Sharma, “India’s Taliban Outreach Offers Afghanistan a China Alternative,” Nikkei Asia, June 20, 2022, https://asia.nikkei.com/Politics/International-relations/India-s-Taliban-outreach-offers-Afghanistan-a-China-alternative.

[22] Vinay Kaura, “India-Taliban Relations: A Careful Balancing Act, Driven by Pragmatism,” Middle East Institute, May 30, 2023, https://www.mei.edu/publications/india-taliban-relations-careful-balancing-act-driven-pragmatism.

[23] For more about the water dispute on the Helmand River, see Mohammad Nagheeby and James Warner, “The 150-Year Itch: Afghanistan-Iran Hydropolitics Over the Helmand/Hirmand River,” Water Alternatives 15, no. 3 (2022): 551–573 https://www.water-alternatives.org/index.php/alldoc/articles/vol15/v15issue3/672-a15-3-1/file.

[24] “Iran and Afghanistan Dispute Helmand Water Rights as Climate Change Deepens Crisis,” France 24. June 6, 2023, https://www.france24.com/en/asia-pacific/20230610-iran-and-afghanistan-dispute-helmand-water-rights-as-climate-change-deepens-crisis; Natasha Turak, “Water Wars: Afghanistan and Iran’s Deadly Border Flare-Up Spotlights Scarcity Crisis,” CNBC, June 18, 2023, https://www.cnbc.com/2023/06/19/afghanistan-iran-border-flare-up-spotlights-water-scarcity-crisis.html.

[25] “Taliban Foreign Minister Visits Iran for Talks Focused on Refugees, Economic Issues,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, January 8, 2022, https://www.rferl.org/a/taliban-foreign-minister-iran-visit/31645303.html.

[26] Nazir Shinwari, “Mullah Baradar Urges Countries Not to Interfere in Afghan Affairs,” Tolo News, September 3, 2023, https://tolonews.com/afghanistan-184934.