The US withdrawal from Afghanistan ensured the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul at an astounding speed. The Taliban government in Afghanistan needs international support in establishing a strong and stable government in the country. The regional powers – China and Russia – also covet a stable and peaceful neighbor so they can focus on their global rival, the US.
These interests are likely to get the Taliban and the aspiring global powers closer to each other. Afghan Taliban and Pakistan also enjoy good relations which is evident from the fact that the latter coerced the Taliban to negotiate a peace deal with the US at the request of the former US President Donald Trump. These factors seem to add more power to the Beijing consensus.
On the other hand, the Taliban government could prove inimical for the Indian aspirations of becoming a regional hegemon. The Taliban’s take over in Afghanistan has astonished the whole world but Indian policymakers are the ones who are most worried about the post-America Afghan situation.
India has made huge contributions to the development of Afghanistan in pursuit of its dreams to promote its soft power in the country and also to reach Central Asia but all their investment seems futile due to the Taliban takeover and because of India’s anti-Taliban role and its support to the US-backed Afghan government.
It is assumed that the Taliban government in Afghanistan will prove instrumental for Pakistan as the country will have a friendly government in its western neighboring country and will abate Indian proxy attacks which were being conducted erstwhile by India using Afghan soil. It will assist Pakistan to focus on its eastern borders but this, too, seems unpragmatic given the close ties of the Afghan Taliban and Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). All this indicates that a new paradigm shift in the global balance of power is inevitable.
A New Addition to Beijing Consensus?
China and the U.S are ensnared in a Thucydides Trap and both countries are in search of new allies to counterbalance each other. China’s quest for new allies and the Taliban’s search for international recognition and a patron to assist economically have brought them closer. Although many believe that the US withdrawal was a strategy of the US to destabilize the region to contain China, this seems to be a mere fallacy given the rising ties between the Taliban and the regional powers.
The recent meeting between the Taliban delegation and Chinese officials portends that China has officially recognized the Taliban as a major regional power. The Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson has stated that China respects the will of the Afghan people. This denotes that China is ready to recognize the Taliban government in Afghanistan.
In the recent meeting between the Taliban delegation and Chinese officials, the former has promised that they will not let the Afghan soil be used against any regional country. China has also urged the Taliban to end their ties with all the terrorist groups – especially the anti-China East Turkistan Islamic government which supports the separatist movement in the Xinjiang province of China.
Furthermore, the Taliban spokesperson, Sohail Shaheen, has also stated that China can contribute to the development of Afghanistan. A strong economy is imperative for ensuring a stable and viable government in any country and there could be no better economic patron than China for the Taliban. All this delineates that both are interdependent to achieve their regional and global interests and they are likely to enjoy a strong coalition in the future.
Renewed Relations with Russia
Russia, the former Soviet Union, was defeated in Afghanistan by the Taliban, then known as Mujahedeen, with the assistance of the US. The Taliban were provided training and arms by the US against its arch-rival the USSR but as only change and interests are perennial in the international relations, not the allies and foes, the former allies turned against each other.
Russia allegedly used the same Taliban to take revenge on its rival, the US. Among many reasons for Russia’s pursuit of strong ties with the Taliban, the threat of ISIS in the region is the most significant one. The Taliban government in Afghanistan can act as a buffer zone for Russia against ISIS and other such terrorist organizations.
It will be incumbent on the Taliban to ensure the fulfillment of their commitments to the neighboring countries to have cordial relations with them which are crucial for a sustainable government. Russia also supports the Taliban because it does not want a US-backed government in its backyard.
The recent statement of the Russian ambassador to Kabul in which he stated that Kabul seems safer under the Taliban than it was under the Ashraf Ghani government depicts the tilt of Putin’s administration towards the Taliban regime. It also portends the future trajectory of the relations between the two.
The Taliban government in Afghanistan can spur the agitation among the insurgent groups in Tajikistan which could be detrimental to Russian interests. Both sides aspire cooperation as the Taliban are aware of the eminent position of Russia in the global arena and the latter also needs the Taliban on its side to counter ISIS.
Against Common Foes
Iran and the Taliban have also developed good relations following the notion that the enemy of the enemy is a friend. The only thing common between the two is their animosity towards the US. They both had bitter relations in the past due to sectarian differences, but Iran’s desire to reach the Central Asian market and the Taliban’s desire for having more allies have resulted in the rapprochement between them.
Iran also wants to coax the Taliban to ensure the safety of the Shia Hazara community in Afghanistan who faced thousands of executions because of sectarian differences. Ties between them and stability in Afghanistan can help China to expand its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) project to Afghanistan and can assist in connecting Chahbahar to China via Afghanistan which can boost the Afghan economy.
It can provide the Taliban government with an opportunity to give jobs to the educated youth of the country. Hence, it will be apt to surmise that both, Iran and the Taliban, will have to cooperate with each other in order to pursue their goals. But, still, the future of the relations between the two largely depends upon the Taliban’s conduct with the Shia community of Afghanistan.
Third parties like ISIS and other actors which do not want stability in the South Asian Region would try to mar the cooperation between the two. Thus, the Taliban and Iran will have to take a calibrated approach toward their decisions relating to Iran-Afghan cooperation.
Pakistan has played a seminal role in peace talks between the US and the Taliban. Pakistan has always been blamed for the defeat of the Western countries in Afghanistan despite its heavy losses, in terms of financial as well as human life losses, in the US-led war against terror.
The economy of Pakistan has long since carried the burden of this war. Pakistan has always tried to appease the US w.r.t. Afghanistan, but Pak-US relations are now feeling the strain of such accusations. Pakistan has always rebuked all such notions. It has always advocated a peaceful settlement of the Afghan issue which resulted in its good relations with the Taliban.
The relations between them are likely to be of cordiality and cooperation but not of masters and servants as many in the world perceive because the Taliban are not under the duress of international invaders and their diplomatic outreach has expanded manifolds. This has limited Pakistan’s influence over them which is evident from a recent statement by Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan.
The cultural harmony and the sense of Pakistan being a Muslim brother country could result in close relations between the two. The tilt of both towards the Chinese bloc is likely to further cement the ties between them. The continuity of operations of Pakistani, Chinese, and Russian embassies in Afghanistan despite the closure of almost all other countries’ embassies also indicates that the Taliban will be a part of the Beijing consensus in the future.
The recent statement of the Taliban spokesperson that TTP is Pakistan’s personal matter showS that the Taliban regime in Afghanistan will not be strict on TTP and this can lead to friction between Pakistan and the Taliban government. The Taliban will have to act prudently and distance themselves from all the terrorist groups and will have to guarantee human rights to maintain their cordial relations with neighboring countries.
The inclusion of the Taliban in the Chinese nexus will add more power to the Beijing consensus and will be inimical for the US allies. The Taliban will have to make sure that their land is not used against any of its neighboring countries in order to reap the fruits of the Chinese BRI project.
Ramifications for India
The relations between India and the Taliban have always been sour. India was the fifth-largest donor to the anti-Taliban US-installed regime in Afghanistan. India’s investment in building the infrastructure of the country amounts to $3 billion during the last two decades.
India was investing in Afghanistan to increase its soft power and also to strengthen its proxies against Pakistan. The latter has repeatedly blamed India for using Afghan soil to launch terrorist activities in Pakistan. The Taliban’s takeover in Afghanistan has proven a strategic setback for India as it has put all its investment in Afghanistan in jeopardy.
India has evacuated its embassies in Afghanistan and is scrambling for ties with the Taliban as the new situation has put its designs for reaching central Asian countries at stake. India is also anxious as the Taliban government in Kabul can support the insurgency in Indian Illegally Occupied Kashmir. The Indian human rights violations in Kashmir are also a bone of contention between the two.
Although the Taliban has welcomed India to finish its projects in Afghanistan, given the influence of China and Pakistan over the Taliban, the chances of a strong relationship between Afghanistan and India are slim. The absence of India in the Troika plus talks does not only indicate the future trajectory of Indian relations with the Taliban but also the shift in the regional geopolitics.
The most negatively affected by the current situation in the region will be India as it will now have to face a stronger enemy in the region. However, keeping in mind the previous track record of Indian policymakers it could not be ignored that India could use other insurgent groups, directly or indirectly, like resistance forces of Panjshir, ISKP, and other anti-Taliban factions to destabilize the Taliban government.
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