The most important question for the newly-formed Taliban government in Kabul would be how to control or contain violence within the borders of Afghanistan and not to allow its leakage or spread into neighbouring countries. Answers to this question will determine the fate of the Taliban regime and influence the opinions in regional capitals about whether to support or oppose the newly formed government in Kabul.
Almost every neighbouring country of Afghanistan now fears the spillover of violence into its territory. At present, there are terror-militant and separatist groups using Afghanistan as a hideout who would be difficult to control and who have as their prime agenda the spread of violence into one or the other neighbouring country of Afghanistan.
The ostensibly different attitudes and policies of Western countries on the one hand and regional powers like China, Russia and Iran on the other hand, should not make Taliban complacent that they would be supported unconditionally by the regional powers.
While Americans were present in the region these regional powers were happy to support the troublesome Taliban to keep Americans on the tenterhooks. But with the US now gone, these regional powers are no less wary of Sunni militancy. They also perceive threats from Sunni militant/terror groups hiding in Afghanistan. Iran is extremely anxious about the rise of ISIS in Afghanistan. ISIS with its furiously sectarian ideology and terror agenda would pose a threat to Shia communities within Afghanistan. Similarly, Iran also fears that ISIS and its affiliated groups could penetrate deep into Iranian territory, bordering Afghanistan. There already are signs of Sunni extremist groups and ideologies penetrating into Iranian Balochistan, where separatist tendencies have deep and old roots.
Russians are also afraid of the rise of ISIS in Eastern and Northern Afghanistan—areas and regions close to Afghanistan’s border with Central Asian States including Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, all these three states Russia still considers within its security parameters. And these states have Sunni extremists groups operating within their borders and some of them are using Afghanistan as their hideouts. Russia has made their threat perception about the rise of ISIS in Afghanistan known to its regional partners including Pakistani military and intelligence services.
Chinese are fearful of the presence of separatist elements belonging to Eastern Turkestan Movement using Afghanistan as their hideout. When a Taliban delegation visited Beijing recently, a Chinese foreign ministry official made their concerns about these separatist elements known to Taliban leaders. This was reported by Chinese state media.
Pakistanis should be no less concerned about the rise of ISIS in Eastern Afghanistan and its linkages with Pakistani sectarian groups based in Afghanistan. Most sectarian attacks in and around Quetta in 2018 and 2019 were carried out by ISIS with the help of their Pakistani sectarian partners, according to Pakistani intelligence. No less of a headache for Pakistani security planners is the presence of TTP leadership and cadre on Afghan soil. Yet what we see in Islamabad’s power corridors are euphoric moments and not fear and anxiety over the fact that Taliban regained power in Afghanistan with the help of force emanating from the barrel of the gun.
The basic security question confronting the Taliban regime is whether they would be able to control and contain all these sources of violence within their borders. Do they have the technical wherewithal to manage this extremely complex security situation? And do they have the political will to stop these groups?
It is a known fact that Afghan Taliban are at loggerheads with ISIS—most of which consists of Taliban’s radical members who had defected from the mother organisation in recent times. But the UN monitoring team has recently noted in one of its reports that the Afghan Taliban had links with Al-Qaida. They also have links with the Pakistani Taliban. They have been hosting separatists from Chinese Turkestan during their last tenure and played host to Sunni extremists from Central Asia in the past.
The question is how far Taliban could go now go to prevent these groups from spreading violence into the neighbouring countries? And how far the neighbouring countries would tolerate the presence of these groups on Afghan territory. Would these neighbouring countries allow the Taliban to consolidate their hold on power even if they fail to immediately do something to control and contain violence within its borders?
These questions will determine the fate of the Taliban regime. We should keep in mind the fact that only with the military help of Afghan neighbours the local elements in Afghan society can resist and initiate a civil war in Afghanistan.
The question that boggles my mind is whether those in control of Pakistan’s foreign policy have anticipated a situation where Taliban would fail to successfully control and contain violence within its borders. This is the likely outcome of the present situation. But carefree giggles of those in power at Kabul Airport seem to indicate that Pakistanis are still enjoying the situation and it would take long before they start worrying about it.