Aiding or Abetting the Taliban?

By Supriya Shekhar

Is it still called a military coup if the country’s forces succumb to the insurgents? Undoubtedly Taliban’s takeover of Kabul would not have been possible without their providential geo-political and international connections. With corruption oozing  in and out of Afghanistan; the right alliances have allowed the Taliban to successfully overthrow the Afghani government at an unprecedented pace. With the Taliban back in power, it is more important than ever to consider the geopolitical relationship between a Taliban led Afghanistan and neighboring countries.

Pakistan, the silent winner, has often had an unsteady relation with Afghanistan’s government likely due to widespread speculations of the Taliban working alongside the Pakistani government for the last decade. The 2670km border stretching between the two countries, is a regular witness of the Pakistani military harboring and catering to the militants. Sources have confirmed that children of Taliban members residing within Pakistan, do so with acres of land and complete provision of their education and any other lifestyle needs. Sheikh Rashid from Imran Khan’s cabinet even prompted that trucks filled with arms and ammunition were flowing through the Durand border along with healthcare services and military training. Wounded Taliban treated in Pakistani hospitals of Chaman and Quetta; rapid recruitment from jihadist schools across the border and members of Imran Khan’s cabinet welcoming this takeover as a new and reformed Taliban, together hint that Pakistan has a close relationship behind the scenes with the Taliban. To make matters more apparent, Taliban spokesperson, Zabihullah Mujahid, even recently stated that Pakistan was their ‘second home’

Getting backed from an Asian superpower such as China has also played an important role in this insurgence. China struck a development and supposedly national building scheme with the Taliban; a relationship which has benefited China by allowing easy oil pipelines through Afghanistan – not possible with the previous legitimate government. Under the Western backed government, the relations between both countries were frayed. Both countries have historically had a troubled relationship along the shared border – a narrow area called the Wakhan Corridor – with China demanding the removal of all Uyghur Militants from this geographical area. This outcome is much easier to envision under a Taliban regime; whose desire for recognition and financial help can be exchanged in return for achieving this goal. 

India has always been fearful of the China-Afghanistan-Pakistan consolidation. With it, they have adopted a wary eye on developments within the country to ensure their own safety. Over the years, India has spent billions in infrastructural development across Afghanistan (including Taliban ruled provinces). India has promised not to militarily interfere against the Taliban forces, while assuring a diplomatic and safe relationship with the Taliban government over the years. These new neighbors will surely be a cause of trouble for India in its Kashmiri provinces with an increased input of opium and extremist Islamist groups. India is yet to officially declare its recognition for the new Afghani rulers as granting legitimacy might reciprocate with domestic and international resistance and turmoil. 

During the Intra-Afghan negotiations, Iran had had a prudent position as a mediator between the Taliban and Afghanistan. Iran provided financial aid to Ghani’s government while simultaneously backing the Taliban’s military to the which smoothened its ties with both the Ashraf Ghani’s government as well as the Taliban. Iran’s backing and reconciliation with the Taliban is based on common enmity with the Islamic State and turbulent relationship with the US. Despite several allegations from Washington, Tehran refuses to publicly call itself a Taliban benefactor, however, it has been previously caught in the act of providing financial and military services to the insurgents. Iran connected Taliban to western world, which indirectly lead to us troops backing out of Afghanistan. Taliban’s success in clearing a path within Afghanistan towards Kabul, has been partly dependent on indirect ambiguous backing by Iran. 

In the north, Turkmenistan, and the Taliban have previously sat together to discuss matters such as Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) natural-gas pipeline, the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan (TAP) power line, and  connecting Afghanistan to Turkmenistan by railway. However Turkmenistan was left  disappointed in the Taliban. The same year of the promises made my Taliban to not hinder with Afghanistan’s infrastructural progress, power lines were cut, schools and projects were destroyed etc., Based on these talks, Turkmenistan and Taliban have had a historical rocky relationship with one another. However, the new regime in Turkmenistan have intended on maintaining diplomatic relationships with the Taliban government if their ongoing/completed economic and infrastructural projects are not impeded. Uzbekistan has been reluctant to accept refugees from Afghanistan, ever since the previous Taliban regime and has maintained “closed contacts” with the Taliban borders and just wants security for its own.  Last in the order, Tajikistan had offered a safe place for former president Ghani but has not delivered on that account. These northern neighbors are mostly concerned about the narcotics trade and each country has secured it border through military and trade restrictions. Central Asia is wary of their Talibani neighbors and require sufficient stability for their ongoing projects, which then requires them to maintain cordial relations with the Taliban. 

Much like countries, international organizations have been startled by the momentum of Taliban’s conquests; largely left ill prepared for evacuation and management. The UN Security Council and other UN committees have not left their posts in Afghanistan and are determined to continue to serve and protect human rights during this regime. They have called for an international community to speak with ‘one voice’ concerning the human rights violations and threat to female rights under Taliban rule. The UN has expressed that it will not support America’s decision to withdraw – which has allowed a Taliban takeover – stating that it will continue to negotiate for a more inclusive government in Afghanistan. Nations with powerful armies and economic systems with leverage over such insurgents still have the option to go with or against, however developing nations with troubles of their own would find it easier to not counter groups like the Taliban. 

The last few weeks has been extremely chaotic geopolitically for Afghanistan. The Taliban have expanded rapidly; controlling small portions of the country just a few weeks ago, to now ousting the government and taking charge. Compared to 20 years ago, – when they were last in power – it is abundantly clear that their political, financial, and militant resources have increased. This is heavily the result of geopolitics. Neighboring countries with different intentions have provided various degrees of support, aiming to capitalize on the recent turn on events within the country. In this sense, conducting a country wide analysis is important to understanding and analyzing the bigger picture in Afghanistan. Ultimately, each country is a piece of a larger jigsaw puzzle, making up the geopolitical fabric of the region.

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