It provided refuge to the terrorist organization Al-Qaeda, responsible for hijacking passenger planes and attacks on the Twin Towers of the International Trade Center and the Pentagon building. But all the efforts of the Americans over the past 20 years to build a nation-state in a country steeped in corruption, interethnic and inter-clan contradictions have gone down the drain. The Taliban are back in power, and the secular government, army, and police have crumbled like a house of cards, and their competitors have benefited from the US withdrawal from Afghanistan.
China's new partner
China has always been interested in good relations with the Taliban. The Chinese embassy continues to function in Kabul, in contrast to the diplomatic missions of Western countries. Even before the US invasion of Afghanistan, China signed an agreement with the Taliban government on economic and technical cooperation and established air links with Kandahar. Subsequently, Beijing maintained ties with the Taliban leadership, which was hiding in Pakistan, China's longtime partner in South Asia. Pakistani intelligence services are in close contact with the Taliban, which was one of the reasons for the deterioration of relations between Washington and Islamabad but benefited Beijing. China supported the decision of former US President Donald Trump to withdraw troops from Afghanistan and at first offered mediation in the negotiations between the Americans and the Taliban.
Until recently, there were fears that if the Taliban came to power in Afghanistan, they could provide support to Uyghur separatists in China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. The international community is outraged by the Chinese re-education camps, where the Chinese authorities are holding 2 million Uyghurs suspected of Islamic extremism. They are forced to work exhaustingly, to stop practicing Islam, and are beaten. In July 2021, during a meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Tianjin, the Taliban delegation assured that the movement did not pose a threat to neighboring countries and would not provide refuge to Uyghur extremists.
Islamic extremists are not organizing terrorist attacks on Chinese investment sites in Afghanistan, including the Aynak copper mine. Chinese companies are implementing projects in Afghanistan in the field of construction, energy and mining. Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid considers China to be the movement's main partner, as it is ready to invest in the development of Afghanistan. In his opinion, cooperation with China will make it possible to revive the ancient "Silk Road" that passed through the Afghan province of Badakhshan.
Part of China's Belt and Road Initiative includes projects such as the Peshawar-Kabul highway, the Landi Kotal-Jalalabad, Chaman-Spin Boldak railway lines, a dam for a hydroelectric power station on the Kunar River, a power line between Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, a highway from the Pakistani city of Peshawar through the territory of Afghanistan to the countries of Central Asia. In addition, there is the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-China (TAPK) gas pipeline project, which opens up the opportunity for the Taliban to earn money on the transit of Turkmen gas. The location of the Taliban costs money. In 2020 alone, Chinese firms invested $ 110 million in Afghan projects, up 158.7% from a year earlier.
It is not surprising why, in the opinion of Russian President Vladimir Putin, it is necessary "to introduce the Taliban into the family of civilized peoples." In July 2021, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced the interest of Russian companies to build the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline with a capacity of 33 billion cubic meters of gas. Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmoud Qureshi believes Afghanistan can earn $ 1 billion from natural gas transit.
Moscow benefits from the implementation of this project in order to thwart plans to bring Turkmen gas to the European market if the EU-supported Trans-Caspian gas pipeline project with a capacity of 30 billion cubic meters of gas per year is implemented. Turkmen gas supplies via Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey will compete with Gazprom in Europe. Therefore, the Kremlin plans to buy blue fuel from the fields of Turkmenistan and then export it to Europe through its gas transmission system, and fill TAPI with Russian gas. The same scheme is possible in the case of the construction of the TAPK gas pipeline with access to the Chinese market.
Position of other players
The rise to power of the Taliban in Afghanistan has raised concerns in neighboring Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan. First, these countries are facing the threat of an influx of Afghan refugees. In the summer, hundreds of Afghan soldiers illegally crossed the borders. Secondly, the secular regimes of the post-Soviet republics fear that the change of power in Kabul will be perceived by the extremist underground as a signal for active action. This is especially true of Tajikistan, where in the 90s there was a civil war between supporters of secular power and Islamists. It is not surprising why the Tajik authorities asked the Russian Federation for assistance in protecting the border with Afghanistan and sent weapons to the Panjshir rebels, led by the representative of the Tajik community, Ahmad Masud. Dushanbe insists on the inclusion of representatives of the Tajik community in the future government.
Iran and India, which left their embassies in Afghanistan, are not so hostile to the Taliban. Iranian President Ibrahim Raisi called the US defeat in the war in Afghanistan the basis for peace. At the same time, Iran has become a haven for refugees from Afghanistan, including opponents of the Taliban. Iran is home to a million Afghans. The relationship between Iran and the Taliban is darkened by the contradictions of the past. In the 90s, the Taliban killed Iranian diplomats and harassed local Shiites, Hazaras. The Iranian authorities supported the Northern Alliance in the war against the Taliban.
However, under the current conditions, Iran perceives the Taliban as a lesser evil than the United States. The Taliban also began to behave more pragmatically in relation to Iran, began to attract the Hazaras to their ranks and to leadership positions. It is possible that Afghan Shiites, along with the Pashtuns, will receive seats in the future government. The Taliban is not a monolithic movement and consists of various factions and clans, often competing with each other.
As for India, like China, it has economic interests in Afghanistan, but less room for maneuver. The Indians are in contact with the Taliban through the mediation of Iran. However, long-standing opponents China and Pakistan will prevent them from gaining a foothold in Afghanistan. The continuing rapprochement with the United States in the military-political sphere plays not in India's favor. Delhi is perceived as America's new military-political partner in containing China in the Asia-Pacific region. The Taliban will not trade relations with the Celestial Empire for the sake of Indian investments. India's infrastructure projects in Afghanistan are systematically targeted by terrorist attacks.
Triumph of America's adversaries
The pragmatic perception of the Taliban by China, Russia, and Iran explains the fact that the authorities of these countries see Islamists as less evil for themselves than the presence of the American military near their borders. In fact, the war in Afghanistan ended with a reduction in US influence in Central Asia and the Middle East, which naturally led to an increase in the influence of these enemies of America in these regions. Fears that the Taliban pose a threat to neighboring countries, and the version that the United States has withdrawn its troops from Afghanistan in order to create a hotbed of instability for its opponents, do not correspond to the real state of affairs.
It makes no sense for the Taliban to follow Kabul to take Dushanbe or declare jihad on Moscow and Beijing just because their leadership is pragmatic and knows the value of money. The implementation of Chinese investment projects guarantees the Taliban leaders and their descendants a comfortable existence for decades. The sooner peace and stability come to Afghanistan, the sooner their implementation will begin. It is in the interests of the Taliban to deal with their rivals in the extremist camp as soon as possible, including the cells of the terrorist organizations ISIS, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and suppress the last centers of resistance of the remnants of the Afghan army and officials in the Panjshir province. The Taliban also promised to put an end to the problem of drug trafficking, to allow women to work and get an education.
Taliban leaders will have to reckon with the interests of their neighbors since in the current conditions this is the only source of funding on which they can count. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York has frozen the reserves of the Central Bank of Afghanistan. The IMF has blocked Afghanistan's access to $ 460 million in emergency financial aid. The allocation of $ 12 billion in financial assistance to Afghans from 60 countries for the next four years is in question. Afghans are not getting paid and the economy is in a state of collapse.
Another question is whether the Taliban will be able to provide comfortable working conditions for Chinese or other foreign companies. Afghanistan is a criminal country and racketeering is thriving there. It comes to the point that you have to pay to each local authority for the passage of commercial vehicles on the roads or for the development of deposits that are located on the lands of their clans. The real power belongs to the one who has the machine gun in his hands.
Biden's Afghan disaster
As it turned out, the actions of the American president are at odds with the foreign policy strategy. Biden called China the main competitor of the United States, formed alliances to contain its influence in the Asia-Pacific region, but in fact surrendered Afghanistan to the Chinese. Although his intentions were good. Biden hoped to stop pouring large sums of money into corrupt Afghanistan, where it had not been possible to build a national democratic state in 20 years. In the context of a colossal budget deficit, the United States needs large sums to overcome the crisis in the economy due to the coronavirus pandemic, to implement ambitious infrastructure projects and develop green energy. The war in Afghanistan cost the Americans $ 2.3 trillion.
Biden's pragmatic decision to stop containing the corrupt officials of Afghanistan looks in the understanding of Russia, China and Iran as a weakness of the United States and proof that their influence in the world is limited and is melting like Arctic glaciers. The Taliban defeated the state-of-the-art nuclear superpower of the United States in an exhausting guerrilla war and showed the world that the democratic model of development does not work in distinctive multi-ethnic Muslim developing countries.
The Biden administration was weak and shortsighted, prone to concessions and reckless decisions. US allies around the world saw the White House leave the Panjshir rebels. It was not possible to evacuate even the Afghan translator along with members of his family, who in 2008 helped Senator Biden during an emergency helicopter landing in one of the districts of Afghanistan. Such moments speak of the superficial attitude of the current US president to the fate of America's partners, who have provided assistance to the American military for many years.
The evacuation of the military and civilians from the Kabul airport, which the media has already dubbed the "Afghan catastrophe", led to image losses for the Biden administration. The ratings of the American president fell to 43%. About 61% of Americans negatively assess the way Biden carried out the evacuation, despite the fact that he fulfilled his election promise and ended the "eternal" war in Afghanistan. More than 100 people, including 13 US military personnel, were killed when ISIS launched rockets at an airport in Kabul. The panic, chaos at the Kabul airport reminded of the atmosphere during the evacuation of American citizens from Saigon in 1975, which the United States associates with the defeat in the unpopular Vietnam War.
In addition, the Americans left $ 85 billion worth of military equipment in Afghanistan, including C-RAM anti-missile systems, several dozen UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and military transport aircraft, tens of thousands of vehicles, including MRAP mine-protected trucks and Humvee SUVs, about half a million submachine guns, machine guns and pistols. Although the American command claims that military equipment and aircraft are disabled and not suitable for operation, even in this form, Russia and China will receive American military technology. We are talking about the time-tested and widely used weapons in the American army.
Weakness of the European Union
The events in Afghanistan call into question the EU's claims to the role of an independent center of power and a pole of influence in the world. The foreign ministers of the member states demand that the Taliban respect women's rights and create a government with the participation of representatives of all ethnic groups. EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy Josep Borrell invited Afghan officials to form a government in exile and mediate dialogue between the Taliban and the West.
However, Brussels, apparently, does not take into account that the Taliban may not want to play by the rules of the West, even in exchange for financial assistance, and their vision of state-building in the form of an Islamic emirate does not at all fit into the ideals of democracy. After all, now Afghanistan has other patrons who consider an authoritarian model of government more effective than democracy.