The value of any potential deal with the Taliban is apparently not entirely clear to Russia, China or any of the Central Asian countries. As a rule, they combine active diplomacy towards Afghanistan with active military preparations, writes Valdai Club expert Vasily Kashin.
The defeat and abrupt withdrawal of the United States from Afghanistan, coupled with the instant collapse of the regime it had built in that country, has raised the issue of ensuring security, both for Afghanistan’s immediate neighbours and for countries with serious interests in the region.
The alarming uncertainty surrounding Afghanistan is likely to last years or decades. During this time, the Afghan factor will have a decisive influence on regional security, pushing the states of the region to cooperate not only in the military sphere, but also in the economy and politics.
The structure has several leaders comparable in strength and influence, with their own armed formations and their own resources; each of them having own ties with foreign powers.
If history is any guide, one can hardly expect the construction of a stable state administration capable of controlling Afghanistan with such a distribution of power. Rivalry between different leaders and clans, the de facto autonomy of the country’s regions and periodic armed clashes seem inevitable. The resumption of a full-scale civil war cannot be ruled out either.
The situation is further complicated by the threat of famine after the curtailment of foreign aid programmes to Afghanistan and the termination of its ties with Western countries.
Consequently, the new government of Afghanistan, even if it wishes, will not be able to guarantee the absence on its territory of armed groups attacking neighbouring countries or conducting subversive activities.
It is the prevention of these threats that external players, including Russia and China, are mostly interested in.
Both countries have a long experience of interaction with the Taliban, they have held a considerable number of negotiations with them and secured certain guarantees from the Taliban side. Comments by representatives of the movement on relations with Moscow and Beijing were very positive in recent weeks.
But the value of any potential deal with the Taliban is apparently not entirely clear to Russia, China or any of the Central Asian countries. As a rule, they combine active diplomacy towards Afghanistan with active military preparations.
In recent months, the Chinese media reported a lot about new shipments of modern weapons to the Xinjiang and South Xinjiang military districts, as well as major exercises being held there. Russia has stepped up joint exercises with Central Asian partners and is sending new weapons to its military base in Tajikistan.
The collapse of the Afghan army and security forces caused by the United States left in the hands of the Taliban a huge stockpile of small arms, as well as many light armoured vehicles and lorries, communications equipment, and aircraft.
At the same time, all these weapons supplied by the Americans to Afghanistan for the counter-guerrilla war do not provide the Taliban with any real chance of successfully invading adjacent territory. There they will have to face powerful regular armies without relying on massive support from the local population.
The main threat is the use of Afghanistan as a base to destabilise adjacent territories. Given the evidently low level of centralisation of the new Afghan state, this could happen in spite of Kabul’s intentions.
To minimise these risks, all countries in contact with Afghanistan will have to participate in the Afghan situation to one degree or another. A combination of diplomacy, aid, economic cooperation, military pressure and special operations will be needed to minimise risks to the internal political stability of Afghanistan’s neighbours. At the same time, the most important factor determining the success of this work will be access to high-quality intelligence information.
The interaction of the Central Asian countries, Russia and China in addressing the Afghan security problem promises to be long-term and may become a factor that will determine the entire structure of relations in the region.