Taliban tactical move
Offensive action at the front is a Taliban tactical move designed to raise the stakes in negotiations with the government in Kabul. With the mediation of Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, talks were held in Tehran on July 8 between Taliban leaders and an Afghan government delegation on the country's future development. The goal of the Taliban is to get from President Ashraf Ghani broad powers in governing the country. According to the Taliban spokesman Shahabuddin Delawar, the movement now controls 85% of the territory of Afghanistan. The Taliban are interested in restoring the theocratic form of government as during the existence of the partially recognized state of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan in 1996-2001. Then the country was ruled by the late founder of the Taliban, Mohammad Omar, and at the same time was considered the highest cleric. Islamic law (Sharia) was in force in the state.
The Taliban controlled all spheres of life, including the way of life and leisure of Afghans. For example, they were forbidden to play musical instruments, smoke a hookah, fly kites, watch movies, have fashionable haircuts, and shave their beards. Women were forbidden to take part in the political and economic life of the country, to get an education. Residents of large cities are not happy with the prospect of the second coming of the Taliban, as they are used to the secular way of life.
The Taliban used the violation of the terms of the 2020 Doha agreement by the United States as a pretext for the offensive. According to the document, the parties to the conflict had to comply with the ceasefire, and the foreign military had to leave the country by May 1, 2021. However, US President Joe Biden pushed back the deadline until September 11 (later, until August 31). It is possible to leave 650 US military personnel to guard the Kabul airport in the interests of diplomatic missions. In response, the Taliban refused to comply with the "silence regime."
It is possible that the Taliban will seize power in the country by force, as it already happened in 1996. The commander of NATO Operation Resolute Support, General Scott Miller, admits the start of a civil war in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of the US military. In any case, Afghan Defense Minister Bismallah Mohammadi called on citizens to take up arms and support the security forces in the confrontation with the Taliban. A confrontation may unfold between individual regional clans, despite the presence of a common enemy.
Still, overthrowing a secular government is not the best option for the Taliban themselves. Afghanistan may find itself under international sanctions, as it was in the 90s, which will exacerbate the difficult economic situation. Therefore, peace-loving statements are being heard from the lips of the political leadership of the Taliban. The Islamists claim that they do not aim to seize power in the country and admit that war is not a means of solving the problems of Afghanistan. To control the country, the Taliban need only concentrate the power bloc, education, and foreign policy in their hands.
Regional Security Challenges
The deterioration of the situation in Afghanistan will negatively affect the security situation in neighboring countries. The governments of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are failing to secure the border with Afghanistan. Under the onslaught of the Taliban, the Afghan military is retreating into their territory. For example, over the past week, 1,500 Afghan security forces have moved to Tajikistan. The Taliban reached the borders of Turkmenistan, capturing the Afghan village of Turgundi.
Part of the population from the areas occupied by the Taliban join the ranks of refugees. Iran found itself in a similar situation, where Afghan soldiers from the province of Herat are retreating. The Islamic republic hosts millions of refugees, including the Iranian-speaking Shia Hazaras. Afghanistan today is in a state of humanitarian crisis and over 18 million people are in need of assistance. Of these, 3 million children are malnourished. It is not difficult to guess that all this mass will rush in the direction of the countries of Central Asia and Iran, as well as in the direction of the EU.
The terrorist organizations ISIS and Al-Qaeda operate in the Afghan province of Badakhshan. John Godfrey, US Special Representative for the International Coalition against ISIS, fears that the influence of terrorists will increase after the American withdrawal from Afghanistan. ISIS's partner is the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan terrorist organization. Terrorists are interested in turning the Central Asian republics into a caliphate. In recent years, ISIS fighters have attempted to infiltrate Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, attacking tourists and engaging in shootouts with local border guards. The partners of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda are the terrorist organizations Islamic Movement of East Turkestan, which aim to create an Islamic state in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in China, Tehreek-e Taliban, which is active in the border regions of Pakistan...
Intersection of interests
For the Russian leadership, Taliban dominance in Afghanistan is a more acceptable alternative to the US military presence. The Russian Federation views the Taliban as a counterweight to ISIS. The Taliban declare that they will not provide shelter to terrorist organizations after the departure of the Americans and will continue hostilities with ISIS. Moscow is helping to legitimize the Taliban. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met on July 9 in Moscow with the political leadership of the Taliban. They agreed that the Islamists would not violate the borders of neighboring countries in Central Asia. The Russian Foreign Ministry confirmed that the Taliban control 85% of the territory of Afghanistan.
Lavrov has been meeting in Moscow with the parties to the conflict in Afghanistan since 2017. US intelligence agencies suspect the Russians of providing the Taliban with financial aid, small consignments of weapons, and even paying for the killings of the US military to fuel anti-war sentiment in the US. Initially, relations between the Russian Federation and the Taliban were difficult. Islamists hijacked the Russian crew of a transport plane with weapons and ammunition in 1996 in the skies over Afghanistan, sponsored Chechen separatists in 1999. In 2003, the Russian Federation banned the activities of the Taliban on its territory.
At the same time, the situation in Afghanistan is a challenge to Russia. The Tajik authorities have requested assistance from the CSTO amid the ongoing fighting near their borders. The largest foreign military base of Russia is located on the territory of Tajikistan. It recently hosted an exercise using attack helicopters. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that the military personnel of the base will take part in ensuring security on the Tajik-Afghan border. Russian border guards guarded the borders of Tajikistan until 2005. During the civil war in Tajikistan, detachments of Tajik Islamists and Afghan militants attacked the outpost of Russian border guards in July 1993. Of the 48 border guards, only 23 fighters managed to survive.
The Iranian authorities are building constructive relations with the Taliban. During the Afghan civil war in the 1990s, the Iranians supported the Northern Alliance, which opposed the Taliban. Then Iran began to perceive the Taliban as a counterweight to the American military at its borders. The Taliban leadership is also flirting with Iran, which has appointed the Shiite Hazara Mawlavi Mahdi Mujahid as the "governor" in the northern regions of Afghanistan. For fundamentalist Sunnis, this is nonsense. Iran has decided to take on the role of mediator in the inter-Afghan peace negotiations, as it is not interested in deepening the conflict and new waves of refugees towards its borders.
The United States is not going to leave the Central Asian region. In early July, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken met with the foreign ministers of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. They agreed to deepen their security and defense cooperation. The plans of the Americans to open military facilities in the countries of Central Asia in order to remotely provide military assistance to the Afghan government.
Given that Tajikistan is a member of the CSTO, and the republic's economy depends on remittances from Tajik labor migrants from Russia, the Americans are unlikely to open their base there. A more suitable option is Uzbekistan, where the US military used the military airfield at Khanabad in 2001-2005. The Americans can assist the Uzbeks in guarding the border with Afghanistan. Uzbekistan ended its membership in the CSTO in 2012.
The United States decided to maintain a military presence in Central Asia to contain China's influence in the region. The Celestial Empire buys oil from Kazakhstan, natural gas from Turkmenistan. Railway container routes from China to Europe run through the countries of the region as part of the Belt and Road Initiative. China is interested in a stable and peaceful Afghanistan, which is located at the junction of the regions of Central and South Asia, the Middle East, needs investments in infrastructure, where there are deposits of copper, gold, uranium, lithium, used in the production of batteries and in nuclear power. Hypothetically, Afghanistan could be the shortest route for the delivery of natural gas from Turkmenistan and Russia to South Asia.
Some experts, like Gordon Chang, do not exclude the participation of the Chinese military in stabilizing the situation in Afghanistan. It is unlikely that China will climb into this wasp hive without urgent need, given the negative experience of the USA, USSR, UK. China borders on the province of Badakhshan, where the camps of Islamic extremists are located and through which the Wakhan Corridor passes - a land route along which you can get from Afghanistan to the PRC on foot.
Afghanistan is a problem country for Ukraine. In 2014, President Hamid Karzai supported the results of the pseudo-referendum in Crimea. Then Ukraine did not withdraw its contingent of doctors, sappers, and instructors from Afghanistan. The current president, Ashraf Ghani, did not focus on this issue. Ukrainian diplomacy must play ahead of the curve and prevent Russia from imposing its agenda on Crimea on the new Afghan government, no matter who is in power.