Asia and Eurasia
The Afghan Challenge: Is the Problem Decreasing?

The path of a new confrontation with the Taliban is an extremely ineffective exercise for any foreign policy forces. Based on the above, today the main global and regional players in the geopolitical space of our region have opted for a bad peace with the Taliban rather than a good war with them, Rustam Khaydarov writes.

The rise to power of the Taliban* in Afghanistan marked the end of many years of war. Today, peace has virtually returned to Afghanistan. The Taliban are consolidating their power and preparing for long-term rule there. Central Asia is in search of an acceptable model of interaction with the new government of Afghanistan. Today, de facto, there is not a single foreign or domestic political force that could interfere with the rule of the Taliban. The world community, tired of the Afghan problem, is choosing a bad peace over a good war with the Taliban.

Today, the Eurasian geopolitical landscape is experiencing strong tectonic shifts. Some conflicts give way to others and keep the whole world in suspense. Probably, with the demise of the unipolar world, the destruction of the outdated geopolitical structure is inevitable. At the same time, the modern world system of international relations will undergo optimisation. In this context, new hotbeds of conflict may arise, or frozen conflicts may be unfrozen. The Afghan conflict, in its active phase, continued until the withdrawal of occupying US forces from Afghanistan in August 2021. This development almost coincided with the beginning of the destruction of the unipolar world and Russia’s subsequent special military operation in Eastern Europe.

Afghanistan’s fall to the Taliban didn’t grab global headlines for long. The conflict in Eastern Europe has overshadowed the processes in the pro-Taliban Afghan society, which is now adapting to the austere rule of religious radicals in accordance with the Sharia prescriptions of Islamic law. It is obvious that state building in Afghanistan will now be based on religiocentricity, and at the same time, the logic and strategy for the development of Afghan society will largely depend on the Taliban’s interpretation of religious norms and texts, above all, of the surahs of the Koran. Today, the Taliban’s interpretation of religious injunctions regarding female education and women’s rights is fundamentally different from the interpretations given by theologians in Muslim countries in the Middle East.

Asia and Eurasia
Two Years After the Return of the Taliban in Afghanistan: The Experience of Sovereign Development
Ivan Safranchuk
The Americans left, but faith in their myths about the prospects for economic development and expectations of corresponding projects from foreigners have remained. In terms of belief in these American myths, the Taliban is no different from the leaders of the previous pro-American government. Moreover, the Taliban tends to ask their regional neighbours for the implementation of American myths, Ivan Safranchuk writes.

Now the Taliban rule confidently in Afghanistan. The Taliban’s second rise to power in Afghanistan differed significantly from their first arrival in 1996. The second time the Taliban began to behave more pragmatically, leaving an open platform for dialogue both with their neighbours and with global and regional powers. The rhetoric also changed, becoming more diplomatic. It is also important to note that by the day the Taliban came to power again in Afghanistan, the military-political field in this country was cleared of those forces that could compete with the Taliban. If during the first Taliban coming to power they were opposed by the Northern Alliance, consisting mainly of ethnic Tajiks and Uzbeks, then during their second coming to power in Afghanistan, the Taliban did not have strong opponents who could oppose them. In the wake of the Taliban’s current rise to power in Afghanistan, the war in that country has virtually ceased.

Various predictions that the non-Pashtun population of the country would create pockets of resistance and repel religious radicals have not come true. Today, not a single country in the world is ready or has the ability to create anything like the “Northern Alliance,” which was once successfully used and then eliminated by the United States and its allies in the region. Unity and consolidation of forces are not observed even among the current opponents of the Taliban regime.

The anti-Taliban groups that have now settled outside Afghanistan de facto lack a strong base inside the country, they are fragmented and do not have an authoritative leader who could organise and lead the movement of resistance to the regime in Afghanistan.

At the same time, the population, which today prefers to continue to live in Afghanistan, is already tired of many years of war and dreams of at least a fragile peace and relative stability, even under the banner of religious fundamentalists. Incidentally, the overthrown government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan did not have support among the majority of the country’s population, since it was too corrupt and the country’s economy was completely dependent on US financial assistance.

Now Afghanistan is experiencing a severe socio-economic crisis, which is the result of the former leaders’ ineffective government of the country. However, the Afghans are a patient and hardworking people. In our opinion, if peace is ensured in the country, enterprising Afghans will very quickly restore their economy and trade. Afghanistan in the future, while strengthening peace, ensuring stability and developing the national economy, will completely change the geopolitical and geo-economic alignment in the region.

Most of Afghanistan’s neighbours are also interested in having at least some kind of centralized power in this country, with whom, while maintaining a distance, limited cooperation can be conducted in all areas. At the same time, the Taliban movement, without changing its radical essence and showing rigidity in domestic politics, conducts a dialogue both with its neighbours and with other countries that have an interest in Afghanistan. Moreover, they conduct a dialogue on equal terms, not allowing themselves to be subject to external dictates. Today we can confidently predict that most countries in Eurasia that have contacts with the Taliban regime, in the coming years will institutionalize their relations with the current government in Afghanistan. Almost all countries that are in contact today with the current government of Afghanistan are guided solely by pragmatism. One of the main tasks of Afghanistan’s neighbours and partners today is to prevent a new civil confrontation within Afghan society and provide humanitarian support to the population of this country. In addition, economic and trade ties are developing between Afghanistan and individual Central Asian countries that are interested in promoting their goods, agricultural products and energy resources in the Afghan market. With the complete stabilisation of Afghanistan, it will also be possible to create new Russia – Central Asia – South Asia transport, logistics and trade corridors, with further access to Africa and Latin America.

China is also interested in a stable and peaceful Afghanistan; the transit potential of this country is an extremely important link in the global Chinese Belt and Road initiative. Obviously, both Russia and China have already established limited economic cooperation and are engaged in political dialogue with the current government in the Afghan state.

The power of the Taliban is strengthening every day in Afghanistan, and they are trying to solve the pressing socio-economic problems of Afghan society.

It is possible that the logic of solving various economic problems there will lead to a replacement of the “ideological” Taliban in the power structures with a “pragmatic” Taliban.

We can also assume that this transition period will take several years and we will witness a complete transformation of the Taliban military-political organisation into a full-fledged political party, and the armed structures of the Taliban will be integrated into the ranks of the regular army of Afghanistan. At the same time, in our opinion, both the heterogeneous Afghan society and neighbouring countries will adapt to the new realities. However, this will take time.

The main issue that interests not only Afghanistan’s neighbours today, but also the world community as a whole, is the issue of trust in the promises of the Taliban. It is important to understand: what is Central Asia for the Taliban? Do they want to live with us according to the principles of neighbourliness or will they become a threat to us? Will Afghanistan become a territory free of international religiously motivated terrorist groups such as al-Qaida* and the Islamic State*? The fact is that no one has written off the notion of Muslim solidarity in our region. No matter how the Taliban try to disassociate themselves from transnational terrorist groups that use Islam to achieve political goals, the Taliban are obliged to help their brothers in faith... even if they do not always conduct legal activities.

However, so far there are no clear and unambiguous answers to the above questions. It is possible that when the Taliban becomes stronger at the socio-economic and political level and receives international recognition, then they will be able to strictly control various international terrorist groups in Afghanistan.

The greatest concern among the countries of Central Asia today is also the problem of the ideology of religious and political extremism being exported from Afghanistan to our region. At the same time, the threat of militants from terrorist groups breaking out from the Afghan state into the territory of post-Soviet countries remains relevant. Therefore, the countries of Central Asia, while trying to establish trade and economic cooperation with the Taliban, are simultaneously busy strengthening their defence capabilities.

Now the Taliban movement is positioning itself as the liberator of Afghanistan from foreign occupiers, particularly from the United States. Moreover, as the winner, the Taliban will provide maximum resistance to any outside interference in the internal affairs of the country. Currently, we observe that any recommendations and wishes, for example, to improve women’s rights or take into account the interests of other ethnic groups in the country, are perceived extremely negatively or very painfully by the current Afghan authorities, although they often come from Muslim countries that always support Taliban. The new Afghan government perceives this as interference in the internal affairs of Afghanistan. As a result, the Taliban are further tightening their policy in relation to those areas where they are criticized by the international community... Thus, it will not be possible to negotiate with the Taliban in the language of ultimatums and threats, since this will further aggravate the military-political and socio-economic situation in Afghan society. A confrontational environment is the Taliban’s natural habitat. They withstood an exceptionally difficult ideological, military and political confrontation with the collective West, which lasted almost 20 years. 

Therefore, the path of a new confrontation with the Taliban is an extremely ineffective exercise for any foreign policy forces. Based on the above, today the main global and regional players in the geopolitical space of our region have opted for a bad peace with the Taliban rather than a good war with them.

*banned in Russia by court order

Asia and Eurasia
Will Afghanistan Pass the Test of Peace?
Ulugbek Khasanov
On July 25-26, Tashkent will host an international conference “Afghanistan: Security and International Development.” Valdai Club expert Ulugbek Khasanov writes why it is crucial to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a source of permanent threats for the neighbouring countries, to ensure the participation of all ethnic and religious groups in the country’s social, political, and economic life as a key pre-requisite for the completion of the process of national reconciliation.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.