08.07.2022
Are the Taliban That Bad?
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Vasiliy Kravtsov

Military and political analyst,
specialist on the afghan crisis.

When the U.S. hurriedly left Afghanistan in August 2021, it nevertheless took care to leave a major hotbed of tension in the region. Critics of the Biden administration still recall the unpleasant details of the flight of the U.S. troops from Kabul.

Washington decided not to remove significant amounts of weapons and military equipment from the country, and in fact voluntarily handed them over to the Taliban[1]. At the same time, the Americans blocked access for the new authorities to financial resources abroad. Thus, the White House forced Kabul to deal with a whole “boiling pot” of social, humanitarian and economic problems and a starving population with no prospect whatsoever of improving the situation.

In addition to this tangle of difficulties, the United States has left the Taliban leadership with more substantial problems. Among them, by the way, is the notorious Al-Qaeda[2], under the pretext of the fight against which the Americans occupied Afghanistan in 2001. Over the 20 years of Western military presence, militants of ISIS[3], Pakistani Taliban, East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), Jamaat-e Ansarullah[4] and about 20 other terrorist groups have emerged and settled on the Afghan soil. It is noteworthy that Washington is trying to build the information picture in such a way that the whole world associates the current government in Kabul with the abovementioned terrorist groups.

For its part, the U.S. has started voicing support for anti-Taliban forces. So far, however, the support has been declarative in nature. The Americans seem to proceed from the assumption that the Afghan National Resistance Front should receive funding and logistical assistance from the poor Tajikistan. But Washington, of all countries, well knows how fuel a fire of destabilisation by someone else’s hands.

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One of the reasons for the current hesitation of the U.S. intelligence agencies is the traditional squabble among the leaders of the Afghan national minorities. The northerners do not have one common leader. This significantly limits the ability of the Biden administration to manoeuvre. It is believed that Ahmad Massoud, the son of the legendary Tajik warlord Ahmad Shah Massoud, does not have the charisma and qualities of a military leader at all. Some experts believe that he is likely to be replaced or a replacement might have been already found. One of the likely contenders is combat general Murad Ali Murad.

Attempts by former Northern Alliance warlords to recreate some semblance of it are doomed to failure. Regrettably, this is a fact. The May agreements in Ankara between Dostum, Massoud Jr. and more than 40 other ex-republican politicians are nothing more than empty talk. The new entity has no material, financial or human resources. In the near future, the insurgents could turn into uncontrollable, dashing gangs of Afghan brigands that create more problems not for the Taliban, but for the northern neighbours – Tashkent, Dushanbe, Ashgabat and, therefore, for Moscow.

We should not forget about another strategic goal of the Islamists – the creation of a fundamentalist Islamic state on the territory of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China. Incidentally, one of the leaders of the ETIM, the Uyghur Abdul Haq al-Turkestani, was recently spotted in the northern provinces of Afghanistan. The fact that the East Turkestan militant groups are virtually free to operate in Afghanistan does not add to Beijing’s desire to invest in Afghanistan’s industrial and infrastructure projects. However there have already been some attempts by Chinese business to enter Afghanistan’s market and China is still trying to do so.

The situation is the same with Pakistan. The current U.S. administration, like all previous and subsequent ones, does not really need an independent and most importantly safe Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

On the contrary, the White House badly needs the export of instability to this South Asian country and a permanent internal political crisis in Islamabad.

By the way, according to former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, the U.S. State Department and its representative Donald Lu were directly involved in his impeachment due to his over independent policy. It is unlikely that a politician of this calibre would make such accusations without good reason. And now, if we look at the situation in the region objectively, it becomes clear why the American contingent did not touch the Pakistani Taliban. These «fellows» are no less than willing to repeat in Pakistan the success of their «colleagues» – the Afghan Taliban. But The Taliban are considering Afghanistan their only sphere of influence, while the Pakistani Taliban are aiming to establish a caliphate in the entirety of Central Asia. This, of course, will sharply raise Washington’s profile on the Asian track, revitalizing American proposals to return the Pentagon contingent to the region under the pretext of protection against terrorism.

Now let’s turn directly to the new masters of Kabul, the Taliban. Yes, they used to resort to terrorist methods to fight the American occupation. However, not all of the members of the group. Only 1 or 2 of the Taliban
6 main councils (Shuras) which administer the whole movement are related to terrorists. But we should be aware that the Taliban of 2021 are not the Islamists we knew in the 1990s and 2000s. They have transformed into a generally monolithic movement that has managed to build a working social infrastructure and create a prototype for the future regular army of Afghanistan in a fairly short period of time.

One cannot but mention the foreign policy efforts of the newly-formed emirate which has shown the wonders of diplomacy succeeding not only in preserving the diplomatic missions of Russia, Iran, Pakistan and Central Asian states, but also in ensuring their security. The Taliban also managed to involve the UAE in the running of the Kabul air hub.

Such peaceful signals are positively perceived by Afghanistan’s neighbours. Tashkent has established an ongoing dialogue on economic issues with Kabul. Tehran intends to resolve water issues with the Taliban within the framework of the Helmand River-water Treaty of 1973 (this used to be a serious challenge for the Afghan-Iranian relations).

Russia, as you know, during the St Petersburg International Economic Forum received a delegation of pro-Taliban economic circles interested in reaching an agreement on supplying a number of Russian-made goods, as well as fuel and food to Afghanistan.

The reality is that apart from the Taliban, there is no real political force in today's Afghanistan with which to promote dialogue and economic relations.

Of course, no one will help Kabul to cope with internal destructive movements – neither Russia, nor Pakistan, nor Iran, nor Central Asian countries. But giving the Afghans an opportunity to even out the ethno-confessional balance on their own is quite possible and even acceptable. There is no doubt that the Taliban will do this quickly and effectively, as they are interested in gaining early international recognition.

What the regional powers should definitely do is help the interim government to deal with the humanitarian crisis. And this will primarily benefit the neighbours themselves as they are not interested in the influx of hungry refugees from Afghanistan.

Those who bet on the forces of resistance and Ahmad Massoud, probably, make a very serious mistake. The separatists have even less experience of state-building and governance than the Taliban. And the resumption of a bloody civil war is clearly not in the best interests neither of the Afghans nor Afghanistan’s neighbours.

To sum up, currently the issue of Russia recognizing the Taliban is not the main one on the agenda. What is more relevant now is that we can and have to provide the Taliban with effective economic assistance through the joint efforts of all regional states, giving them an opportunity to overcome the humanitarian crisis thus curbing threats like ISIS and Pakistani Taliban. After all, there are no other options for Kabul but to negotiate with national minorities and, through this, ensure the security of foreign investments.

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References

[1] The Taliban is under UN sanctions for terrorist activities. — Ed. Note.

[2] Banned in Russia. — Ed. Note.

[3] Banned in Russia. — Ed. Note.

[4] Banned in Russia. — Ed. Note.

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