Much has been said about the current situation in Afghanistan, but few have answered the question of what comes next. At the time of writing, two months after the terrorist group seized Kabul and nearly a month and a half after the last U.S. troops left the country, the Taliban have all but taken complete control of Afghanistan. The unfortunate truth is that two decades of war have led us to the same place we were in to begin with. In a situation like this, it is easy to bemoan what we can’t control — namely, the countless dreams of young girls shattered in a heartbeat and the repression that will likely follow. No amount of bloodshed will stop that from occurring. What we can control is whether to give such a ruthless regime legitimacy. Beyond military or economic power, one of the greatest weapons the United States has is the ability to refuse recognition.

Recognition is the acknowledgment of a state as a legitimate power in the international theater. It is generally understood that for a state to achieve legitimacy, it must have centralized control over its territory and population as well as an agreement to uphold certain international norms. In upholding these norms, states are given new powers, the most important of which is the establishment of diplomatic relations and the ability to receive foreign aid.

As of now, most states have not fully recognized the new Taliban regime for that last point. The Taliban are known belligerents to human rights and international law. We know this because we have been here before. In 1999, during the first Taliban regime, unwarranted military offensives led to the United Nations (UN) Security Council condemning the organization and its practices. Among the charges were the deployment of 14-year-old child soldiers, providing sanctuaries for terrorists and participating in illicit drug trades. In a subsequent press briefing, the Security Council declared that it “deplored the worsening human rights situation in Afghanistan, and expressed alarm at the Taliban’s disregard for the international community’s concerns. It called upon all Afghan parties, and the Taliban especially, to adhere to international norms and standards, improve the human rights situation and, as an immediate first step, ensure the protection of civilians.” In the wake of the U.S. withdrawal of troops, Taliban soldiers are already going door to door executing those who have assisted Western countries. If recognition is achieved when states trust that a government will uphold basic standards of human rights, how can we, in good conscience, recognize a regime that has time and time again chosen to disobey?

If the United States were to recognize the regime, it would be nothing short of condoning this sort of horrifying behavior. Moreover, it would be giving the terrorist group what it craves most — respect. The idea that the Taliban can sit at the same table as the United States, other states at the UN and other international forums is the greatest propaganda tool the Taliban could ever hope for. By putting them at the same level as other sovereign nations, it implies that they are more benign than they are. It is then easy for the Taliban to make the argument that since the United States recognized them, “We must not be so bad.”

Likewise, in allowing the Taliban regime to be recognized, the group can use their newfound powers to strengthen their repression. Foreign aid can easily be stolen by corrupt leaders to buy weapons at the expense of their people. Similarly, official recognition from the United States would give the needed credibility for other countries to trade with the repressive regime, fueling their reign of terror.

In much the same way that recognition gives unwarranted powers to such a ruthless regime, the denial of such recognition by a country as powerful as the United States can be a crippling blow to the organization. As a preeminent economic and military power, any decision the United States makes is crucial to the well-being of our countless allies. The United States has around 800 bases abroad, ensuring protection for over 70 countries. This protection can and should be used as bargaining chips to restrict the recognition of the Taliban.

To see a similar example of such power in action, we need not look further than China. Since 1949, China has refused to recognize the legitimacy of Taiwan. Due to the rise of China, from 1969 to 2019, the number of countries that recognized Taiwan has dropped from 71 to just 15. In the past Olympics, Taiwanese athletes were unable to even compete under their name and flag. It was humiliating and dehumanizing, and exactly what is needed for the new Taliban regime. Even if we are unable to defeat them militarily, we owe it to those we lost and those that will suffer under the new regime to never give them the respect of a credible regime. It’s the least we can do.

Peter Levy is an undeclared freshman.