Following the Taliban’s takeover of power in Afghanistan, which no one expected to happen at such a rapid pace (at least not inside the Biden administration), the question of the geopolitical impact on the maltreated country’s immediate neighborhood has arisen. We take a look at the current developments.
Afghanistan borders six neighboring states, Iran to the west, Pakistan to the east and south, the three former Central Asian Soviet republics of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan to the north, and the People’s Republic of China to the far northeast.
Let us start with Pakistan, the so-called “most dangerous state in the world,” not because of its people, but because of the political instability of the nuclear power, which has far more inhabitants than Russia, flanked by high population growth.
The Afghan Taliban have always cooperated closely with the Pakistani Taliban; indeed, they would never have been able to survive and be as effective as they have been for so long without the retreats into Pakistani territory, especially in the border region of Waziristan, over which the Pakistani government barely holds dominion.
What is the difference between the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban?
The Pakistani Taliban have a different social network and political objective than their allies in Afghanistan. The Pakistani Taliban aim to establish an Islamist system in Pakistan. They have bases in Punjab, Sindh, and other regions of Pakistan.
The Pakistani Taliban has long since ceased to be composed solely of Pashtuns and has evolved into a national movement in which all ethnic groups can be found – in stark contrast to Afghanistan, where over 90 percent of the Taliban belong to the Pashtun ethnic group. The “Talibanization” of Pakistani society is well advanced, but unlike in Afghanistan, it is not taking place through territorial conquests, but through infiltration into the highest circles of the military and the government.
Saudi Arabia financed the Taliban
While the U.S. relied on Pakistan as a close ally at the beginning of the War on Terror, relations later cooled dramatically, a trend that continues today.
Washington would have been well advised to influence its close ally Saudi Arabia, because Saudi Arabia and Pakistan were the founders and driving forces of the Taliban regime after the withdrawal of Soviet troops. Without massive financial, ideological, and political-diplomatic support from Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, there would never have been a Taliban regime in Afghanistan.
Until today, not a single Afghan could be linked to the attack of 9/11, but therefore Saudi citizens, which did not lead to a rethinking in Washington, London or even Berlin, to at least question the relations and the armament of this reactionary kingdom. On the contrary, the rearmament of Saudi Arabia, flanked by fat dividends from the military industry, continues relentlessly, while Riyadh exports Wahhabism all over the world just like its oil. Saudi Arabia was also responsible for the financing and emergence of the Taliban from the beginning.
Meanwhile, Washington has turned its back on Pakistan and is trying to enlist India in the advance against the People’s Republic of China. In India, a Taliban takeover of the Pakistani arch-enemy would immediately lead to a military response. The consequences for Pakistan, due to the Taliban’s conquest of Afghanistan, are probably the most serious for world politics.
Basically, the Pakistani bomb is much more dangerous than an Iranian one ever would be.
The Khyber Pass, a strategic choke point between Pakistan and Afghanistan, will gain importance in the future.
The People’s Republic of China is also gaining influence over events through this pass, as Beijing has a strong presence in Pakistan through extensive infrastructure projects. Beijing has registered very closely the West’s failure in Afghanistan over the past 20 years – as well as the failure of the Red Army before that – and is only too aware of the saying about Afghanistan being the “graveyard of empires.”
The Chinese will therefore urge the Taliban to cooperate economically, in part to advance Beijing’s ambitious Silk Road project, without even sending one soldier from the People’s Liberation Army to march there.
In recent years, China has quietly become the largest foreign investor in Afghanistan. It has learned from the mistakes of the past and of the West. Cleverly and with strategic calculation, it is investing in infrastructure and cooperation just as it does elsewhere. The country is thus becoming another piece in the mosaic of the “New Silk Road” megaproject.
Russia marches into Central Asia
Moscow is looking anxiously at Afghanistan’s Central Asian neighbors, the former Turkic-speaking Soviet republics of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, and the Indo-Aryan, Iranian-speaking republic of Tajikistan. Afghanistan, right on the borders with the aforementioned states, is home to large minorities of Uzbeks, Tajiks, and Turkmen, which is why Russia fears a wave of refugees that could destabilize these states and carry the radical Islamic conflagration far into the Eurasian region.
Vladimir Putin will be wary of allowing his soldiers to become active in Afghanistan, but is eager to bolster the already existing Muscovite troop presence in the Central Asian border region with Afghanistan – a development that is already underway.
Mortal enemies Iran and the Taliban
In Iran, developments in the neighboring country are viewed with great concern, firstly because of the ever-increasing flow of refugees from Afghanistan, which has made the Islamic Republic the largest host country for refugees in the world for decades, but also, of course, because of the fact that the radical Sunni Taliban have established themselves directly on the border with Shiite Iran.
Cooperation between Iranian intelligence and the radical Sunni Taliban is not likely, as the Taliban and Iran were already mortal enemies when the U.S. used to do business with the Stone Age Islamists in the Hindu Kush in the mid-1990s.
By ‘fleeing’ Afghanistan on the eve of the 20th anniversary of 9/11, the United States has demonstrated its strategic vulnerability to the eyes of the world.
In Beijing, Moscow and Tehran, as elsewhere, the failure of the world power in the Hindu Kush has been carefully analyzed.
The geopolitical cards are being reshuffled, with the Europeans once again – or still – without a geostrategic concept, which seems not only defenseless but also rather pathetic.