After the announcement of the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan made by President Joe Biden, scheduled for August 31, Russia and China are working to occupy the space to avoid a generalized civil war.
Regional powers Turkey and Iran are also looking to establish more influence. The departure of US officials was brought forward by ten days. Last week, after 20 years, US forces evacuated the Bagram airbase, the country’s main one.
The United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001 to overthrow the fundamentalist Taliban group, which had ruled most of the country since 1996 and provided shelter to the al-Qaeda network, responsible for that year’s September 11 attacks against New York and Washington.
With President Joe Biden’s decision to end its presence in the country, the Taliban, which has never ceased to exist and has been gaining strength, is close to regaining power, by force or by agreements, as it participated in negotiations for the western withdrawal.
According to the Afghan government, 15 of the country’s 34 regional capitals are at risk of being taken over. Activity around one of them, Mazar-i-Sharif, brought Moscow to the Afghan chessboard 32 years after making its own retreat — the Soviets occupied the country for ten years.
Over the weekend, Afghan forces had to retreat from Taliban attacks near the border of Tajikistan, a neighboring country and Vladimir Putin’s main ally in Central Asia. About a thousand soldiers entered and left Tajik territory several times.
Moscow responded. “If Tajikistan is attacked, we will honor our commitments,” said Foreign Minister Serguei Lavrov. In this case, the ally’s territorial defense, under the terms of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a Eurasian entity led by the Kremlin.
He confirmed that Russia is expected to activate a base on the Afghan-Tajik border to strengthen local security. Moscow has 6,000 soldiers based in the former Soviet republic.
There are two factors to move Lavrov. First, the political opportunity to suggest the stabilization of a region and blame rivals the United States and NATO (Western military alliance), whose members are also leaving Afghanistan, for the confusion.
Second, the real need to see Tajikistan stable, as it integrates a vital frontier in the Central Asian chessboard, one of the areas that guarantee strategic depth to Moscow against China and radical Islamic elements.
Also on Thursday, the UK completed its withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan, where it lost 457 soldiers in 20 years of military presence — down from 2,300 Americans (plus 4,000 mercenaries) and a combined total of 160,000 people, according to Brown University ( USA).
More relevant, however, was the speech of Nick Carter, the British Defense Chief of Staff, who pointed to the obvious risk of civil war. According to him, “security forces can splinter along ethnic and tribal lines,” as occurred in the conflict after the Soviet withdrawal, which led to the rise of the Taliban.
The consideration is especially harsh for the US, which has invested millions to train and equip the Afghan armed forces, which even have Brazilian Super Tucano attack planes donated by the Americans.
This was all out of fear of the return of medieval practices of oppression of women and minorities that marked the Taliban regime that ended in 2001.
Defense of peace
In addition to Russia, other powers with interests in the region are mobilizing. On Thursday, China said the Afghan crisis is a problem that deserves its attention along with Pakistan, the neighbor who helped organize the Taliban in the 1990s because it saw the opportunity to have an ally in the west against rival India.
“[China and Pakistan] must defend regional peace together. The problems in Afghanistan are practical problems we face. China, like Pakistan, seeks to support the Afghan parties to find a solution through dialogue,” said Chancellor Wang Yi.
With the American exit, the Afghan crisis worries the communist dictatorship for being a factor of instability in a region where it has been expanding its economic influence, through the Belt Road initiative.
Pakistan is a customer of Beijing, having replaced Washington as the main arms supplier and integrated the neighbor into an economic corridor in the Indian Ocean. The US, on the other hand, has moved closer to India, which has serious litigation with the Chinese, having actually gone to blows in 2020.
The Taliban are resisting the Chinese, who have already drawn up plans to absorb Afghanistan into their sphere of influence, even promising a modern highway linking Kabul to Peshawar, the capital of the Pakistani tribal regions where the fundamentalist group sprang up.
It’s not just great powers eyeing the country. Turkey, in line with Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s expansionist policy, is negotiating to be responsible for security at Kabul airport. Turkish companies already have a strong presence there.
And Iran, which shares the language with the second main Afghan ethnic group, the Tajiks, maintains a strong influence in that community, dominant in the country’s northwestern region.
Source: with Agencies