Afghanistan: The Reality on the Ground
The reality on the ground in Afghanistan has significantly changed since the US and NATO withdrawal. Despite a very positive role by Pakistan, China and Russia, Afghanistan is seriously at risk of “civil war”-like instability. This assessment is linked with two interconnected aspects: a), due to the pace of disengagement of Western powers and systematic violence by ISIS, and b), due to the strategic nature of the Afghan conflict, China alone does not want to deal with the liability of the Afghan conflict. Over the past 30 years, China was a minor economic and political influencer. Most of its geostrategic objectives were served through its ally Pakistan. Also, since December 2001, India has enhanced its influence in Afghanistan, which in several ways was not a good development for China. However, now Afghanistan is under Taliban control, and they need significant economic and political support to strengthen their regime. One can expect China to work even more closely with Pakistan and Russia to achieve peace and stability in Afghanistan. It is also assessed that China will keep pushing for a more progressive and all-inclusive Afghan government.
Under the wave of intense violence and the assassination campaign ISIS has launched against Taliban’s security officials and mid-ranking leadership, Afghanistan has witnessed simultaneous operations by ISIS and the Resistance Front. The Taliban’s ability to counter terrorism is being challenged, and it has further eroded the Taliban’s authority and security arrangement. Therefore, the Taliban needs immediate training in the law & order and security areas. Ostensibly, a lack of international financial and political support, and the Taliban’s own classical framework of dealing with human rights, especially women’s right to education, has further created mistrust between regional and international stakeholders. Reportedly, in a recent incident, Mullah Hafiz Ullah, who was the head of the General Directorate of intelligence (GDI – previously NDS) wing responsible for western Kabul, was killed in the Afghan capital by Resistance Front (RF- Ex Northern alliance) assassins. Prior to this, a renowned police commander in Baghlan province was also assassinated by the same group.
Geopolitical Impact of Crisis in Europe on Afghanistan
It is only justifiable to argue that the Russian-Ukraine conflict has remarkably increased the value of stability, especially for Afghanistan’s northern Central Asia neighbours. Temporarily, Western economic sanctions have failed to enforce a pre-empted solution upon Russia, although short-term collateral damage is felt by Central Asia. Secondly, despite the desire of the Central Asian States (CAS) to facilitate peace in Afghanistan, they have relatively little influence over the Taliban and, thus cannot alter the security and economic fragility that is emanating from Afghanistan. This geopolitical dilemma indirectly contributes to the context of strategic competition between Russia and NATO.
Geopolitically, it can be assessed that cooperation between Russia, Pakistan, and China on an all–inclusive and stable Afghan state may build an atmosphere of mutual trust — although tensions between Russia, US and Europe over the Ukraine conflict is leading to an apparent breakdown of cooperation in Afghanistan.
It is then a fair conclusion that dimming the spotlight on Afghanistan has tremendously affected the refugee process system and international humanitarian support to the millions of children suffering from food shortages. It is more likely that ISIS would be boldened in its terrorist activities because Western policymakers are more focused on the crises in Ukraine and Europe. Moreover, the threat of civil war and international isolation of the Taliban government could once again allow a syndicate of international terrorists to renew their activities in Afghanistan and operate against Western strategic interests in South and Central Asia.
The most important conclusion is that Russia and the US must not demote Afghanistan over the Ukraine conflict. By relegating it from a top international security issue to a second-tier security threat, that is, the NATO members will spend less resources and effort supporting the Doha peace project. To avert the renewal of ISIS and other militant outfits in Afghanistan, Russia, the US, China, and Pakistan should continue to cooperate over Afghan peace. There is also an urgent need to take pragmatic steps to mitigate the risk of the expansion of war to Europe and ensure the negotiation of a peaceful settlement of the Ukraine crisis. It’s time to act with strategic prudence and patience and avoid a large-scale confrontation involving state of the art strategic weapons.