Asia and Eurasia
Afghanistan and the Crisis in Europe: Kabul’s Prospects for Peace

By all accounts, the global security setting has been shifted from South Asia to Europe, and even the most devastating crises in the Middle East and Asia have been deprioritised in the Western list of major conflicts. Despite changes in the strategic objectives of the US and NATO, the current situation in Afghanistan is once again aggravating: ISIS is increasing the frequency of its attacks on both Sunni and Shia Muslims.

The intricacy of the situation is being compounded by a complex international monetary and diplomatic impasse because most of the world's countries refuse to recognise the Taliban-led government amid concerns that they have not been fulfilling their side of the deal, i.e., promises to respect human rights. However, it is also true that the US hasn’t released funds, and has turned its attention to Ukraine and the European crisis. The Taliban government, on the other hand, is demanding that the US and NATO member states comply with the Doha agreement and insisting that they shouldn’t absolve themselves from their intervention policies.  

On March 17, 2022, the United Nations Security Council decided to extend the mandate of the United Nations special political mission in Afghanistan for one year, shifting its priority tasks to better align with the evolving reality on the ground. On March 31, 2022, Moscow joined China, Pakistan and Turkmenistan when it accredited the first diplomat from Taliban-led Afghanistan. At a gathering in the eastern Chinese city of Tunxi, Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov remarked, “We are convinced that the international community should actively cooperate with Afghanistan’s new government, encouraging steps aimed at its official recognition by the UN and all its participants.” 

One of the lethal aspects of the Afghan crisis that would endanger international security dynamics concerns the inconsistent Afghanistan policy of the US and NATO member states. Instead of complimenting the Afghan Taliban to stabilise and engage all stakeholders, the ideological battles are being waged on sectarian grounds. A new product of transnational terrorism is in the making. How this will impact the countries of the region, including Pakistan, Iran, Russia, and China, must be a matter of serious concern. This makes it more likely that ISIS, after destroying Afghan peace, might be deployed beyond the region because ISIS and other militant outfits have been used as a “peace disrupting” tool in different conflict zones. The current and future conflicts may well be supplied with more recruits from Afghanistan, Europe and the Middle East.

“New Hybrid Cold War”: A Threat to Global Peace

The most important assessment is that the US and other Western nations diverted their military and monetary resources from Afghanistan to Europe after Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine. The Ukraine conflict is embedded into the historical opposition by Russia to NATO’s eastward expansion, hence it offers a “new hybrid-Cold-War” narrative for Americans and Europeans. The strategic argument to garner support and consolidate NATO’s operational bases in proximity to Russia poses dangers in terms of its scope and immediate threat to peace between Russia and Europe. Impending economic and security challenges can be expected if NATO furthers broad-based military support to Ukraine. Moreover, a shift in resources for humanitarian aid and refugee assistance from Afghanistan to Ukraine has already been taking place. According to reports, an estimated 24 million of Afghanistan’s 38 million people require urgent humanitarian assistance, pushing the United Nations to make a record-breaking appeal for $4.5 billion in humanitarian and $3.5 billion in development assistance for this year. Will Western donors divert the huge need of Afghanistan to Ukraine, and if so, how would Afghan refugees, who are waiting to be processed and settled in Europe and in the US react? The basic doctrine of conflict management also needs a consensus to act beyond the nation’s respective geo-strategic objectives. It may appear a political fantasy, but for the global peace to be settled, one must learn from the history of war. Currently, Europe needs to focus on its economic future rather than indulge in another war.
An economic and energy crisis in Europe is looming; the activation of NATO military resources will certainly negatively impact the strategic planning for the next generation of technological development because the progress made since the industrial revolution faces great risk if the war reaches European countries.

ISIS fighters and the Risk of Terrorism in Eurasia  

Ironically, the global strategic impact of the Russia-Ukraine conflict on Afghanistan is very difficult to assess because before the Ukraine crisis, Russian and US goals in Afghanistan were largely aligned, especially regarding a more inclusive Taliban government. Despite the growing tensions between Russia and NATO over Ukraine, the US, Germany, China, and Russia remain largely supportive to a stable Afghanistan.  However, it is also a fact that in the years leading up to the Doha peace talks and formation of the Taliban government, Russia managed to develop “special” relations with the Taliban, which did antagonize the US. It is assessed that the reason Russia has leverage over the Taliban is related to the fact that Russia hopes that the Afghan republic would remain intact and prevent drug/human trafficking and prevent ISIS from transporting mercenaries into Russia and Central Asia. Ultimately Russia would never allow any drug cartel or syndicate of terrorists to undermine its sphere of influence in Central Asia. 

It is assessed that there is a growing risk of transporting more mercenaries into Ukraine from the conflict zones in proximity to Eurasia to present a formidable challenge in the ongoing conflict and beyond. Militarily, this operational strategy is flawed because in every conflict and war, the emerging role of foreign fighters might hurt a potential peace plan and, consequently terrorists might expand their operations in Europe. Whether such a scenario would further deepen the gulf between Russia and Europe remains to be seen. For Russia, it is meaningful to continue to engage the Taliban and seek further international legitimacy. However, any prolonged military engagement might impact the way Russia wants to counter NATO’s belligerent policies. The UN and Europe should assume a more responsible role and call for both sides of the conflict to resolve the crisis through dialogue and peaceful means.

Conflict and Leadership
Après Nous, le Deluge? Afghanistan after the Withdrawal of US Troops
Andrey Sushentsov
It is becoming obvious that after the “Afghan exodus” a real war of compromising materials began in Washington. The State Department blamed the Pentagon, the Pentagon — intelligence, and intelligence agencies blamed the White House. Together they blame former President Donald Trump: he was wrong to make an agreement with the Taliban, organised the negotiation process poorly, etc. However, it was Joe Biden who turned Afghanistan into one of the most critical problems literally from scratch, Valdai Club Programme Director Andrey Sushentsov writes.

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.

Global Governance
European Strategic Autonomy in Action? The EU’s Role as a Security Actor in Central Asia in the Wake of the US Withdrawal from Afghanistan
Fabienne Bossuyt
Can we expect the European Union to contribute to safeguarding regional security in Central Asia now that Afghanistan is back in the hands of the Taliban? One thing is for sure, it is in the interest of the EU to have a stable, secure and prosperous Central Asia. As security concerns eminating from the crisis in Afghanistan have multiplied over night following the Taliban’s return to power, the region has made a dramatic resurfacing on the EU’s radar.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.