Only a few weeks have passed since the militants of the radical Taliban movement came to power in Afghanistan, but the international community has already lost all interest in the country. Nevertheless, many countries, especially India, have every reason for concern.
The victory of the radicals after 20 years of failed US attempts at “state-building” set an example for other Islamists and undermined the stability of the region’s geopolitics. To be convinced of the destabilizing impact of the fall of Kabul, it is enough to look at how Afghanistan’s neighbours reacted to it.
For example, the reaction of Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan – particularly his statement that the return to power of radicals is like throwing off the “shackles of slavery” – underlines what was already known: Afghanistan under the rule of Islamists will be a creature of Islamabad. When the country was in the hands of the Taliban from 1996 to 2001, their “Islamic emirate “existed, in fact, as a direct appendage of the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency. Pakistani control is not expected to be so absolute this time around, but that didn’t stop the head of the ministry, Faiz Hamid, from going to Kabul immediately after its seizure by the Taliban and triumphantly attending the formation of a new government headed by the Taliban.
Less obvious, but more important in this situation, was the reaction of China. China has tried to make the best use of this situation. The Chinese side has invested $ 62 billion in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the largest project under the Belt and Road Initiative. Beijing does not want Taliban militants to jeopardize this transport artery. More importantly, in July, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi officially received a delegation from the Taliban.
Afghanistan has a favourable environment for achieving economic and strategic goals, so China has announced that it will do business with the radical movement. Beijing strives to gain access to significant untapped reserves of minerals, primarily rare earth, and to resume work at the Mes Aynak copper mine. In addition, there is talk of extending the CPEC to include Afghanistan.
The friendly steps are reciprocal. Thus, Deputy Prime Minister of Afghanistan Abdul Ghani Baradar called China a “reliable friend “, despite the persecution of the Islamic minority in the PRC. Beijing’s priority in Afghanistan is to get the Taliban not to support or harbour Uyghur dissidents from Xinjiang and in no way interfere with the work of the CPEC. Given that the Taliban regime desperately needs international patronage – the previous government’s budget of $ 5.5 billion was 80% covered from external sources – China is ideally suited for this role.
These dynamics in a region where Islamabad and Beijing are increasingly converging should be cause for concern for New Delhi. Pakistan is a longtime adversary of India, which has actively financed and incited armed resistance to the Indian state, including harbouring the organizers of the terrorist attack in Mumbai, which killed 175 people in 2008. China, meanwhile, is India’s systemic adversary and poses an economic, military and strategic threat to it. The emergence of any axis Afghanistan – Pakistan – China, within which the countries will coordinate their course, is a significant risk for India.
The capture of Afghanistan by the Taliban gives Pakistan the “strategic depth” to which its armed forces have long sought in the confrontation with India and a convenient platform for recruiting new militants and terrorists in case the ISI again wants to use them as weapons. The last time the Taliban was in power, India, together with Russia and Iran, actively supported the uprising of the Northern Alliance in the Panjshir Gorge led by the late Ahmad Shah Massoud. However, this time Moscow, which is increasingly pro-Chinese, has taken a neutral position on the problems of Afghanistan with India.
Iran, led by its new president and hardliner, And Brahim Raisi, seems willing not to oppose the newest Islamic emirate as long as the Taliban refrains from persecuting Shiites – violence against them was typical a feature of the rule of radicals in the past. If the Taliban do not repeat their violent policy towards Afghan Shia Hazaras, Tajiks and Uzbeks under the influence of the Persians, Iran can remain neutral. In any event, both Iran and Russia are pleased that the United States has been rebuffed in Afghanistan.
Despite its recent denial that its foreign minister met with the Taliban in Doha in June, India could attempt to reach out to the new government in Kabul. Of course, former Indian diplomats have kept in touch with officials of the radical movement and two of these individuals – Baradar and a cadet at the prestigious Indian Military Academy (IMA) – Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, deputy foreign minister – are part of the new Afghan government.
Baradar had spent eight years in a Pakistani prison, and it can be assumed that he does not like his jailers very much. But while some Taliban officials spoke reassuringly about their desire for good relations with India, others said their Islamic emirate would stand up to protect Muslims in India, especially in Kashmir.
Pakistan cannot afford to be calm about the victory of the Taliban. The emergence of the Pakistani Taliban, who seek to overthrow the country’s government for the fact that the country’s authorities are pursuing an insufficiently strict Islamist course, and the Islamic State of Khorasan, which committed a terrorist attack at the Kabul airport – all of this should cause concern in Islamabad. Moreover, the end of the US presence in Afghanistan reduces America’s logistical dependence on Pakistani security forces, depriving ISI of support and resources.
Under the Prime Ministership of Dr Manmohan Singh, India had invested $ 3 billion in Afghanistan – dams, highways, power grids, hospitals, schools and even a parliament building. Now that all this is in the hands of the Taliban, Indian politicians can be forgiven for feeling discouraged. The current Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has not done well with its consistently anti-Muslim rhetoric and domestic policies that raise concerns across the Islamic world.
The partnership in the Quad Security Dialogue, which includes India, the United States, Japan and Australia, appears to strengthen India’s maritime presence in the Indian Ocean. But the country’s main security threats lie on its land borders with China and Pakistan, where QUAD is unlikely to be of much use.
Today, India finds itself in a situation where the Taliban regime is northwest of it, in the west – a nuclear state supporting terrorism, and in the north – northeast – a hostile superpower. In addition, the state faces constant threats to its territorial integrity. Against this backdrop, maintaining national security and regional stability will be an unprecedented challenge for Indian diplomacy in the months and years ahead.