Afghanistan’s neighbors see alternative and peril in Taliban takeover

2021-09-03 04:10:10

It’s not precisely a reprise of the “Nice Recreation,” the fierce competitors amongst nineteenth century empires searching for plunder and energy in Central Asia.

However the abrupt finish of the American period in Afghanistan has left the nation’s neighbors eyeing each other warily, sensing each alternative and peril.

“There’s a geopolitical scramble occurring,” stated Jason Campbell, a RAND Corp. researcher who focuses on worldwide safety. As regional powers akin to Russia, China, Iran and Pakistan joust and jostle, he stated, “everybody has pursuits to safeguard.”

Even damaged by many years of struggle, Afghanistan is seen as a prize, a significant strategic crossroads from historical occasions onward, its mountains and valleys stippled with largely untapped mineral and vitality assets.

But bordering international locations, in addition to some within the wider area, worry a Taliban-led state might pose a potent menace — as an exporter of extremism, or a fountainhead of refugee flight, or each. Afghanistan shares frontiers with six different international locations — Iran to the west, Pakistan to the south and east, a trio of former Soviet republics to the north, and a skinny hall abutting China.

Conscious that its internet hosting of Al Qaeda triggered the U.S.-led invasion almost 20 years in the past after the Sept. 11, 2001, assaults on the U.S., the Taliban motion now says it is not going to enable the nation for use as a haven for out of doors militant organizations.

Even when that pledge is honest, it might show troublesome to meet. One such militant group, Islamic State, has a foothold in Afghanistan and an avowed enmity towards the Taliban, which is within the strategy of forming a authorities after seizing management of the nation in mid-August. The US, ending a 20-year effort to subdue the militant group, pulled out its final forces late Monday, forward of a self-imposed deadline of Aug. 31.

Dealing with huge skepticism at residence and overseas, Taliban leaders are attempting to counter the direst expectations. They’ve urged Afghans to stay within the nation moderately than fleeing, promising its 38 million folks extra average insurance policies than throughout their harsh flip in energy a technology in the past. They insist they don’t have any quarrel with anybody.

“We don’t need to repeat any battle once more,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid declared days after the group took management of Kabul, the capital. “We wish to stay peacefully.”

Because the Islamist motion turns its focus from the sphere of battle to the halls of governance, Afghanistan’s neighbors ponder whether immense home challenges — a collapsing, aid-dependent financial system, a humanitarian disaster spurred by starvation and inside displacement — might set off social upheaval that spills throughout borders.

Whereas the West deliberates over how and whether or not to have interaction diplomatically with the Taliban, international locations in Afghanistan’s extra instant orbit have little alternative however to forge relationships of some type, nevertheless makeshift. And the brand new order is already altering the facility dynamic amongst close by states.

Whereas heavyweights akin to Russia and China are anticipated to attempt to fill the void left by the U.S. departure, different and generally a lot smaller actors are busily cementing ties with the brand new Taliban rulers.

The tiny Persian Gulf emirate of Qatar, a U.S. ally, is wielding outsized affect as a reliable middleman for Western governments and worldwide organizations to the Taliban, whose leadership-in-exile it hosted for years. The Qatari capital, Doha, was additionally the scene of U.S.-Taliban peace talks.

Qatar served as a key touchdown pad within the huge U.S.-led airlift that preceded the American army pullout, with cargo jets flying a near-constant loop between Kabul and Doha. Qatar is working to get Kabul’s airport up and working once more for business and help flights.

One of many Taliban’s extra difficult new-old relationships will likely be with Pakistan, which for 20 years engaged within the delicate minuet of formally allying itself with the U.S. whereas serving as a Taliban sanctuary. Al Qaeda chieftain Osama bin Laden was tracked down and killed in 2011 within the Pakistani garrison city of Abbottabad, though Washington by no means publicly accused Pakistan’s authorities of knowingly harboring him.

Many senior Pakistani officers rejoiced outright over the Taliban victory, and Pakistan’s highly effective spy company nurtured figures who might now play essential roles within the new Taliban-led authorities. These embrace Khalil Haqqani, a senior chief of a Taliban splinter group that bears the household title, primarily based within the tribal borderlands.

However Pakistan additionally has good motive to fret about its personal homegrown extremists, who could also be emboldened by the Taliban win. And tensions might worsen between Pakistan and its nemesis India, which had shut ties with Afghanistan’s now-deposed authorities and was deeply shaken by its fall.

Russia, which suffered its personal Afghan army debacle greater than three many years in the past, brazenly gloated from the sidelines because the People pulled out. Within the newest in a collection of broadsides, President Vladimir Putin declared that solely “tragedies and losses of life” had arisen from the American mission.

“The result’s zero,” he informed an viewers of youngsters within the Russian Far East on Wednesday.

The U.S. presence that Putin so derided, nevertheless, introduced a measure of stability to the previous Soviet republics of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan — states that border Afghanistan and are thought of by Russia as a defensive buffer. Analysts stated that at the same time as Russia seeks to place itself as a regional guarantor of safety, it is going to be watching carefully for indicators of strengthening Islamist actions within the Central Asian states on its southern flank.

Kate Mallinson, of the Russia and Eurasia program on the British assume tank Chatham Home, stated that whereas the collapse of the U.S.-backed Afghan authorities and the disorderly American pullout made for pungent Kremlin speaking factors, the long-term image for Moscow is way extra advanced vis-a-vis Afghanistan.

“I’d say that this sort of propaganda victory is extra Pyrrhic than triumphant,” she stated in a Chatham Home webinar this week.

As was the case in Russia, state-controlled media retailers in China issued a stream of caustic commentary about U.S. troops’ ultimate days in Afghanistan, jeering that American allies akin to Taiwan, which Beijing considers a rogue province, ought to fear about Washington’s trustworthiness.

China has some safety considerations of its personal, together with whether or not the small slice of Afghan territory bordering it might function a base for terror assaults by Muslim Uyghurs, a persecuted ethnic minority from Xinjiang, in China’s far northwest.

However above all, Beijing unabashedly views Afghanistan as a first-rate enterprise alternative.

Chinese language firms wish to the nation’s mineral deposits, together with lithium, a vital materials in batteries for laptops, smartphones and electrical automobiles. China additionally plans to reopen the large Mes Aynak copper mine close to the Afghan capital, and is raring to broaden its Belt and Street infrastructure initiative.

Even so, Taliban guarantees are prone to be seen with warning, stated RAND analyst Campbell.

“China actually sees alternative there, however the query is to what diploma it will probably belief the Taliban to ship,” he stated.

Afghans, for his or her half, are likely to harbor few illusions of altruistic motives on the a part of neighbors close to or distant. Many are profoundly mistrustful of an out of doors world that has sought for hundreds of years to use the nation and its folks.

The Scottish writer and historian William Dalrymple, who has written extensively about Britain’s disastrous army entanglements in Afghanistan within the 1800s, stated Taliban rulers, although indigenous, would now face the identical issues that international would-be subjugators as soon as did.

These embrace a fractious Afghan populace and “centrifugal” forces generated from throughout the motion, he wrote within the on-line journal UnHerd.com after the Taliban takeover.

“Because the Taliban transforms its army command right into a authorities for Afghanistan, alliances and tribal configurations … are already being examined,” Dalrymple wrote. “Solely time will inform if the motion stays united or splinters into regional Taliban fiefdoms.”

Instances workers author Nabih Bulos contributed to this report from Kabul.


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