Regional powers, including Iran and China, have blamed the US for amplifying the chaos in Afghanistan with a careless exit from a 20-year occupation war. Now they’re looking for a new kind of relationship with the Taliban that could stabilize the country after more than 40 years of war.
In a Wednesday phone call, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to cooperate on addressing security threats resulting from the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan earlier this month. Both nations have been extensively coordinating a regional response aimed at ensuring a stable government remains in power in Kabul and doesn’t pose a threat to its neighbors.
The fear expressed by many nations is that the Taliban victory could spell a new period of greater upheaval, as the Islamist militant group has heavily financed its 18-year-long insurgency by taxing opium exports, turning Afghanistan into the world’s largest opiate producer, and because it has supported other terrorist groups including al-Qaeda and the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM). It is also feared that their repressive social policies, which during their previous period of rule from 1996 until 2001 included virtual deprivation of rights for women and the repression of Shiites and ethnic minorities, could also return.
However, the Taliban has made a number of promises that, if kept, could usher in a government that is more tolerant of minority rights and less tolerant of terrorist groups. Leaders in Beijing, Tehran, and Islamabad have worked tirelessly over the past month to ensure the Taliban understands that its hopes of diplomatic normalization and regional integration hinge upon its ability to keep those promises.
“China is ready to bolster dialogue on Afghanistan with Russia and other members of the international community,” Xi said, adding that China intends “to establish a political framework for open and tolerant interaction with all interested parties in Afghanistan.”
AFP 2021 / WAKIL KOHSAR(FILES) In this file photo taken on August 18, 2021, a Taliban fighter walks past a beauty salon with images of women defaced using spray paint in Shar-e-Naw in Kabul
On Wednesday, the Taliban named several figures representing the US-backed former Afghan government to a transitional governing council, including former Afghan president Hamid Karzai, former Afghan reconciliation chief Abdullah Abdullah, and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who wasn’t a government figure, but has opposed the Taliban since the civil war of the 1990s at the head of the Hizb-i-Islami militia.
The group also said they expect the Taliban to live up to its promises, including renouncing terrorism and protecting women’s rights, but also guaranteeing safe access to Hamid Karzai International Airport, where the US has airlifted out some 82,000 Americans, third-nation allies, and Afghan collaborators over the past 10 days, according to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday.
Earlier, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi cautioned his British counterpart, Dominic Raab, that being overly aggressive in pressuring the Taliban was likely to backfire.
On Monday, the Collective Security Council of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), the membership of which includes Russia and Tajikistan, held an extraordinary meeting via video conference on the challenges created by the Afghanistan situation as well. Tajikistan, an Afghan neighbor, is due to host the next CSTO summit next month in Dushanbe.
AFP 2021 / STRTajik border guards checking identification documents of people crossing the Tajik-Afghan border on a bridge across the Panj River outside the city of Panj
Dushanbe will also host a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) next month, with Afghanistan at the top of the agenda. The Eurasian political, economic and military bloc includes almost every country sharing a border with Afghanistan except Turkmenistan, and Kabul has been an observer since 2012 with ambitions of joining.
More recently, Chinese and Tajik forces conducted counter-terrorism drills in the immediate aftermath of the Taliban takeover last week. Dushanbe rushed 20,000 troops to its border with Afghanistan last month after thousands of Afghan civilians and soldiers fled across the border ahead of a Taliban advance, emphasizing the danger of a potential spillover of the war into a regional conflict.