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Neighboring nations of Afghanistan at serious security risk

China, Russia, Afghanistan, United States, CIA, India, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia

Counterterrorism

Neighboring nations of Afghanistan at serious security risk

While it is indicated that the Biden administration may re-send troops to Afghanistan and request it Western allies in doing the same, under the rogue rule of the Taliban, this South Asian nation is posing serious security threat to countries such as India, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, the Middle East, Iran, China and Russia.

Last year, Joe Biden during his final speech defending his decision to end America’s longest war, point to an indisputable geopolitical reality for the United States said: “If we had been attacked on September 11, 2001, from Yemen instead of Afghanistan, would we have ever gone to war in Afghanistan—even though the Taliban controlled Afghanistan in 2001?”

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According to Tanya Goudsouzian, a Canadian journalist who has covered Iraq and Afghanistan for over fifteen years and is a former Opinion editor of Al Jazeera English Online:

American assault on Al Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri in July 2022 which had resulted in elimination of this terrorist has proved the capabilities of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to conduct narrowly-tailored over-the-horizon counterterrorism missions against high-value targets without a permanent forward military presence. But instead of doing so, for more than two decades the United States sacrificed trillions of dollars and thousands of lives pursuing broad counterterrorism and state building missions that neighboring power with a greater stake in Afghanistan’s security regime should have been doing themselves. Today, the United States should keep passing the buck.

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Since the US retreat, various regional powers have developed a cautious approach to Afghanistan to insulate themselves from security threats and avoid exacerbating the deteriorating humanitarian situation. Foreign direct investment in Afghanistan is negligible and, other than outside actors looking to exploit its rare earth metal composites, there is unlikely to be substantial interest in cultivating long-term projects. For all the talk of Chinese diplomats swooping into Kabul to add Afghanistan to its client network, Beijing has wisely refrained from what would be a misguided commercial adventure in a landlocked, undeveloped, and dangerous frontier state. Rather, Chinese engagement with the Taliban is, in the succinct determination of scholar Jennifer Brick Murtazashvili, “not a luxury, but a necessity”.

More specifically, Murtazashvili noted in her May 2022 testimony to the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission that Chinese officials fear a “potential spillover of Islamic extremism from Afghanistan into Western China and the Xinjiang Autonomous Region”, where over one million Uyghur Turkic Muslims are incarcerated in internment camps. Chinese diplomatic outreach to the Taliban, therefore, is largely based on Beijing’s interest in limiting the activities and influence of the separatist East Turkestan Islamic Movement along its western border with Afghanistan.

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Russia harbors similar concerns about instability in Afghanistan. After the September 11 terrorist attacks, President Vladimir Putin was the first foreign leader to call President George W. Bush and offer support for U.S. counter-terrorism goals. No doubt many members of the Russian foreign policy establishment vividly remember the high-profile Chechen terrorist attacks of the early 2000s that killed hundreds of Russian civilians. Given its diverse multiethnic, multireligious, and multinational composition, separatist political movements pose a risk to the stability of the Russian state. Accordingly, calls for regional autonomy, as independence-seeking Chechens learned three decades ago, will be answered with overwhelming Russian military force. Likewise, Russia’s bases in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan are primarily aimed at fortifying its southern periphery and demonstrating its primacy as a security guarantor for members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization. In Moscow’s view, cross-border terrorist activities emanating from Afghanistan could negatively affect regional stability and foment political disintegration in young post-Soviet states.

Iran is hardly enthusiastic over the Taliban’s military victory in Afghanistan. Aside from long-running religious differences and concerns over drug trafficking (which will be less of an issue given the Taliban’s recent ban on poppy production), an increase in refugees and border disputes have aggravated relations since last summer. There are, however, incentives for Iran to find a modus vivendi with the Taliban, and Tehran’s diplomatic outreach to the group precedes the fall of Kabul. First, Iran is Afghanistan’s largest trading partner. Even amidst the turmoil last August, trade continued largely uninterrupted. Second, both Iran and the Taliban view the Islamic State-Khorasan Province (ISIS-K) terrorist group as a threat.

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Iran’s cooperation with the Syrian and Iraqi governments to combat ISIS was driven by the fear that the growth of an extremist Sunni statelet pursuing regional preeminence could topple friendly neighboring governments in Damascus and Baghdad. The prospect of facing the same outcome in Afghanistan means that Tehran will support Taliban efforts to keep the group’s activities in check. Finally, Iran wants the Taliban to control cross-border refugee flows to help minimize humanitarian costs and domestic political-social instability. It might have a willing partner in the Taliban, who are seeking to avoid any further “brain drain” and social capital losses that would hinder Afghanistan’s political and economic reconstruction.

Pakistan will continue to maintain a complex and difficult relationship with the Taliban. Whether Islamabad can induce the Taliban to pressure or limit the activities of the (unrelated) Tehreek-e-Pakistan Taliban (TTP) remains to be seen. Yet, more than any other neighbor, Pakistan has the greatest stake in Afghanistan’s political development. The depth of Islamabad’s cooperation with the Taliban will be contingent on internal security developments and how tolerant its leaders will be of other separatist and terrorist organizations operating on Afghan soil that target Pakistani interests. 

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Since the withdrawal last year, U.S. officials have begun to emphasize that Afghanistan is not just Washington’s problem anymore. This was always the case, and the unwillingness of the U.S. foreign policy establishment to act according to this basic geopolitical reality was a gross policy failure that culminated in the embarrassing termination of a bankrupt war.

According to Daniel R. DePetris, a fellow at Defense Priorities and a foreign affairs columnist at Newsweek:

Roughly a year ago, the Taliban was at the top of its game. The organization that sustained an insurgency against the world’s most formidable military power for two decades, losing tens of thousands of foot soldiers in the process, was basking in the glory of victory. Flush with billions of dollars in US weapons meant for the Afghan government, which the Taliban kicked out of power in a ten-day blitz across the country, the group’s fighters were now posing for photographs inside the very aircraft Afghan pilots once used to bomb Taliban positions. “This victory belongs to us all,” Taliban chief spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid bellowed at Kabul International Airport.

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But just as President George W. Bush learned after Saddam Hussein’s army was vanquished in a matter of weeks during Operation Iraqi Freedom, the Taliban is now realizing that declaring victory is a lot easier than actually achieving it. The Taliban may be running a government and doing its best to project a sense of force and legitimacy, but the last year of Taliban rule hasn’t been particularly great for the movement. The United States, meanwhile, is still attempting to figure out how to approach the new Taliban authorities, what its policy on Afghanistan actually is, and whether Al Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri’s presence in Kabul merits a reevaluation.

To date, one gets the notion that the United States and the Taliban don’t have much of a plan. Policy is being made on the fly, and the Afghan people are forced to endure the hardships that result.

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… A formal diplomatic relationship with the Taliban is a non-starter in Washington and will remain so. The fact that Zawahiri was located next to a home owned by Sirajuddin Haqqani, the Taliban government’s interior minister, will reinforce the doubt in the minds of U.S. policymakers that a business-like relationship with the Taliban can be (or should be) forged. The US position is unwavering: until the Taliban reverses its social restrictions on women, brings ethnic minorities and non-Taliban elements into the government, and clamps down on human rights abuses, the organization will remain ostracized. The possibility that the Taliban will do any of this in the foreseeable future is unlikely, to put it in the most charitable terms.

According to Muhammad Amir Rana, a security and political analyst and the director of Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS):

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One year after taking power in Afghanistan, the Taliban are struggling on almost all fronts including governance, rebuilding the economy, ensuring internal security, and improving their domestic and international credibility. Besides the pledges they made in the Doha agreement, they have also been making tall claims about their renewed outlook and behavior. The international community has taken these claims cautiously. But as far as peace and security are concerned, the Taliban regime could establish a “muscular peace” in a country that has long been affected by war and conflict.

The Islamic State-Khorasan (ISIS-K) has become a critical challenge for the Taliban. Since the signing of the Doha agreement by US and Taliban representatives in February 2020, ISIS-K has intensified its attacks inside Afghanistan. The Taliban have launched a deadly crackdown against the group, but the threat level is still gradually rising.

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Just a few days before the first anniversary of the Taliban takeover, the death of Al Qaeda chief Ayman Al-Zawahiri in Kabul has brought another embarrassment for the Taliban. The credit for Zawahiri’s killing goes to the Biden administration, which has been advocating an “over the horizon” counter-terrorism strategy to defeat terrorists since U.S. troops withdrew from Afghanistan. This counter-terrorism approach is also subject to criticism on the premise that a war cannot be won through limited force when the United States could not first defeat the Taliban with more troops and assets in Afghanistan.

The Taliban regime has its own shortcomings. It appears less visionary and may not be able to perceive complex ideas concerning the economy, institution building, internal security, and countering the threats posed by the groups like ISIS-K. Instead, the Taliban is a guerilla force that is better at mounting an insurgency challenge to the government.

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Muhammad Amir Rana asked,Can the United States or NATO assist the Taliban in countering the threats related to global terrorism?”

The answer is negative, due to the lack of credibility of the Taliban regime. It would be disastrous to trust them again as any help from the United States and the Western nations would further strengthen the terrorist capability of them. It is also understood that the Taliban may not distant themselves either from Al Qaeda or Tehreek Taliban Pakistan. They may make false promise with the US and the West of doing it, but in reality, it won’t ever happen.

Meaning, for the Taliban, once the current financial challenges grow further, it would rather deepen relations with Al Qaeda, Tehreek Taliban Pakistan and other regional and global terrorist entities, including those jihadist groups in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, in further boosting the transnational narco-trafficking activities as well as funding terror.

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An internationally acclaimed multi-award-winning anti-militancy journalist, research-scholar, counter-terrorism specialist, and editor of Blitz. Follow him on Twitter Salah_Shoaib

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