The Afghan crisis is still on the front pages of the world media; politicians, diplomats, public figures and experts talk about it, and think tank conferences, multilateral negotiations and consultations are held. But this wave will soon subside, since the Afghan crisis is undoubtedly long and serious, but not of a global scale, writes Konstantin Khudoley, professor at the Faculty of International Relations at St. Petersburg State University.
The Taliban (banned in Russia) managed to seize power, but the question of how durable their power is remains open. The situation in the country and the position of the regime will be influenced by at least four groups of contradictions. First, there are contradictions within the Taliban itself, which is not monolithic. Within it there are various political factions and leaders who are constantly competing with each other. The very fact that the announcement of the government’s composition was postponed several times shows how strong the contradictions are. Now, riding a wave of military success, radical extremist circles have achieved clear predominance in the government, but in the future the situation may change.
Second, there is a tension between the clear intention of the Taliban to establish a full monopoly on power and the desire to make other political circles continue their activities. The Taliban need them only as decorations. Third, the contradictions between Kabul and the local elites, which have always been strong, will intensify. In some cases, the Taliban will be able to reach an agreement with the local elites, but in many others their hard line could lead to discontent and even armed clashes. Fourth, serious contradictions will undoubtedly arise between the regime and the urban population, which has grown used to life in a secular state.
Many city dwellers, especially the educated strata, justifiably fear for their lives. The situation of women is of particular concern. Even according to the statements of the Taliban, which are considered moderate, they will give to women significantly less rights than during the times of King Zahir Shah and President Daoud. The Taliban were able to seize power by relying mainly on the rural population. However, it is doubtful that they will be able to establish a state apparatus which works effectively and bring about a return to normal life in the absence of qualified specialists, meeting passive and, in the long term, active opposition among the urban population.
At the same time, these and other contradictions will develop against an extremely unfavourable background for the Taliban: the coronavirus pandemic (the scale of which in Afghanistan cannot be calculated), food shortages, and a lack of financing, since almost 80% of the local budget was comprised of foreign aid. While discontent is unlikely to develop into a nationwide resistance movement capable of overthrowing the Taliban, divisions at the top and discontent below will constantly destabilise the regime.
What are the consequences of the emergence of the Taliban regime in the international arena? At the first stage, the Taliban will strengthen their power within the country. Any attempt to expand outside could cost them dearly, since it will cause a negative reaction from all neighbouring states. It will also deprive the Taliban of any chance at international recognition or foreign aid. Therefore, they can do this only in two cases: if the regime is on the verge of collapse and it needs an external enemy to rally the population around itself, or vice versa - the regime feels so sure that it embarks on a path of external expansion. Neither of these options is likely in the foreseeable future.
There is no doubt that the flight of many thousands of people who do not want to live under Taliban rule will continue. At this stage, only several countries have agreed to accept a limited number of Afghans, while most, especially the EU, fear a new wave of refugees. Obviously, the most expedient answer would be international assistance for those refugees who would prefer to stay in neighbouring countries that are ready to receive them. In general, the impact of the refugee problem can be localised, as was done, albeit with great difficulty, with refugees from Syria.
The most difficult question is how much the Taliban regime is ready to support terrorism in other countries. Now it is hardly possible to answer unequivocally. The Taliban have freed prisoners, including those convicted of terrorism, opened prisons, and a number of its government members are known for their ties to terrorists. Therefore, no one can feel completely safe. However, given their great interest in international recognition and foreign aid, the Taliban are unlikely to sponsor terrorist attacks against the five permanent member states of the UN Security Council. But India, Israel and some Muslim countries will undoubtedly be targeted.
A number of countries are now establishing working contacts with the Taliban regime. However, its international recognition and exclusion from the list of terrorist organisations would lead to a certain de-legitimisation of the entire fight against terrorism as it has taken shape in recent decades, both internationally and nationally. The most radical and extremist circles of the Taliban, who would perceive this as weakness and move on to more aggressive policies, would benefit from it. Providing financial assistance to an unpredictable regime is hardly rational. The implementation of large economic projects in Afghanistan is also politically too risky. Humanitarian aid to Afghanistan and refugees, apparently, is needed, but only under the aegis of international organisations.
The strengthening of the Taliban is not in Russia’s interests. The reception of refugees in Russia is hardly advisable, except for one category - graduates of our educational institutions, both military and civil ones. Refusing to help people who are oriented towards Russia and whose lives are in real danger could make a negative impression on our friends in other countries. Of course, additional security measures are needed, including on the Russian border, to counter the possible infiltration of terrorists, drug dealers and other criminal elements.
Thus, the impact of the Afghan crisis can be localised in the future, as it has already happened with a number of similar crises in the Middle East. However, the phenomenon of extremists coming to power 20 years after they were defeated and condemned by the entire world community