Political interests: who wants what in Afghanistan?


Status: 10/27/2021 11:33 a.m.

A conference on the future of Afghanistan begins today in Tehran – without the Taliban. Not only Iran has its own goals in the neighboring country. The strategies of the states are different.

Iran: Against the USA, against IS

The Tehran political scientist Ali Bigdeli calls the relationship between Iran and Afghanistan “obscure”. It experienced a low point in 1998: alleged Taliban fighters penetrated the Iranian consulate in Mazar-i-Sharif in northern Afghanistan and killed several diplomats and a journalist. At that time it almost came to war.

The USA has a major influence on relations between the two countries. According to the motto: the enemy of my enemy is my friend. According to Bigdeli, there has been a secret cooperation between Tehran and the Taliban, especially in the last six or seven years – they have been given financial support and weapons.

Tehran has three goals: First, to fight the Sunni terrorist militia IS. She repeatedly carries out attacks on the Shiite minority in Afghanistan. Second, to gain more influence in the neighboring country – strategically and economically – and thirdly, to drive the US armed forces out of there.

Even before NATO left Afghanistan in mid-August, the Taliban made visits to Tehran. Some circles see the Taliban today as moderate and no longer shaped by Sunni Islamists. Others consider the contacts a strategic mistake.

Karin Senz, ARD-Studio Teheran

Russia: concern about Islamist fighters

Russia is watching political developments in Afghanistan with concern. President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly expressed the fear that Islamist fighters disguised as refugees could infiltrate into the Central Asian ex-Soviet republics and also into Russia. For this reason, the Russian government itself held talks in Moscow last week – with the aim of promoting joint efforts by all states in the region to combat terrorism and drug trafficking.

Russia is also concerned about the domestic political situation in Afghanistan. Before the conference in Moscow, Putin criticized the composition of the Afghan government and accused the Taliban of not reflecting the entire diversity of Afghan society. It will be observed what happens to the Taliban’s promises to resume normal work of government agencies and hold general elections. Russia hopes to be able to contribute to more stability in Afghanistan through such discussion formats and to reduce the number of refugees from the country.

Moscow does not recognize the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan, but sees no alternative to a dialogue with the new rulers. Russia continues to maintain its embassy in Kabul.

China: Demonstrative proximity and appropriation

China’s state and party leadership has been demonstratively seeking proximity to the Taliban for a long time. A few weeks before the change of power in Afghanistan, she rolled out the red carpet for the Islamists, in the truest sense of the word: Foreign Minister Wang Yi received a large delegation from the Taliban at the end of July, including the then political head of the group, Abdul Ghani Baradar, who is now the self-proclaimed deputy head of government of Afghanistan.

When the Taliban marched into Kabul in mid-August, the People’s Republic of China was one of the first countries to de facto recognize the new Afghan rulers. Since then, China’s leadership has been exploiting the Taliban’s takeover of power in Afghanistan, primarily for propaganda purposes: The state-controlled media in China emphasize that the overthrow of the previous Afghan government proves that the West has failed with its foreign policy.

What is kept secret in China is the fact that the state and party leadership has benefited for around 20 years from the fact that the USA ensured a certain stability in neighboring Afghanistan. Maintaining this stability – especially keeping it safe on the border with the western Chinese part of Xinjiang – is the primary interest of the Chinese government. In addition, China also has economic interests in Afghanistan. In reality, however, they play a much smaller role than is assumed by some Chinese media.

Steffen Wurzel, ARD Studio Shanghai

Pakistan: country of origin with the closest connections

The connections between Pakistan and parts of the Taliban movement are inconceivable without one another: The Taliban originated in Pakistan, in the 1990s, in Koran schools. When the Taliban were in power more than 20 years ago, Pakistan was one of three countries that recognized what was then the emirate.

When the US and NATO invaded Afghanistan and brought down the Taliban rule, many leaders went to Pakistan and rebuilt the movement from there. The Pakistani government denies that the Pakistani secret service has a hand in this. But neither the people of Afghanistan nor international secret services have any doubts that Pakistan maintains the closest contacts with individual Taliban and supports them with money and weapons.

For Pakistan, the takeover of power by the Taliban is also a danger because even more Islamist terror could spread in Afghanistan, which could also endanger the neighbors. In the regional power game in South Asia, however – and especially against the archenemy India – the takeover of power by the Taliban is a great advantage for Pakistan, as Islamabad hopes that it will now be able to exert a much greater influence on Afghanistan.

Silke Diettrich, ARD Studio New Delhi

India: The development is underestimated

New Delhi has invested around three billion dollars in building a secular, democratic Afghanistan over the past twenty years. Kabul owes a parliament building to the Indians, for which the Taliban no longer have any use.

The takeover of power by the radical Islamists was also a strategic setback for India. The Taliban are sympathetic to India’s archenemy Pakistan, which has made their return possible and has trumped India in the regional power game. The Indians now fear an increase in Muslim terrorism in the region and in their own country, including in controversial Kashmir.

Nevertheless, India did not seem to have been aware of the consequences of the end of Western intervention for a long time: the government did not contact the Taliban until late. In Moscow, a delegation met the Islamists formally for the first time in October. In November India itself will host a conference – New Delhi’s first international Afghanistan initiative. Recognition of the Taliban emirate is not up for discussion for India.

Sabina Matthay, ARD-Studio Neu-Delhi

Tajikistan and Uzbekistan: stay vigilant, build bridges

Tajikistan has been on high alert since the Taliban came to power in Afghanistan. 20,000 reservists were mobilized and the Russian military base in the country was upgraded. Joint maneuvers in the border region are no longer the exception, but the rule.

The Taliban’s assurances that Afghanistan will not pose any threat are only trusted to a limited extent. After all, experience has shown that a deterioration in the security situation in Afghanistan often also had a negative impact on economically troubled Tajikistan. There is great concern that Islamic terror groups will infiltrate the country and that old drug routes will be revitalized. Official border traffic is therefore further restricted.

Quite different to the neighboring country of Uzbekistan: Here, instead of isolation and deterrence, the political leadership relies on direct talks and intensive trade. For some time now, goods have been able to be transported back and forth freely via the Termiz border point in the south of the country. Afghanistan is an important trading partner, also in terms of transit. Good business, this is the pragmatic approach in Tashkent, is also a good basis for peaceful coexistence.

Christina Nagel, ARD Studio Moscow


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