The dust has yet to settle from America’s hastily withdrawal from Afghanistan and instead of engaging with the Taliban to maintain some semblance of influence in the country, the U.S has completely removed itself – allowing regional players to fill the void. Suffering humiliation is one thing, but the inability to accept the reality of a new normal and adjust accordingly is another sign of weakness. The Taliban blitzkrieg in Afghanistan took over Kabul in a matter of 10 days, which is a sheer testament to the U.S and its allies achieving zero progress. This can be demonstrated by their collective failure to uplift the human condition for the people of Afghanistan and prevent them from siding with the Taliban. After all, many cities fell to the Taliban without a shot being fired by the Afghan National Army, who surrendered even before a challenge was put before them. This was most evident in Kabul, where security check-posts were abandoned, allowing free passage for the Taliban to take over.
The U.S has taken up the same strategy that it implemented in the 1990s against the Taliban. This involves freezing financial assets of the country, creating barriers to trade and ultimately threatening the international community from recognising the regime. What it fails to realise is that its distinguished position as the sole superpower after the collapse of the Soviet Union is no more. The world has progressed leaps and bounds to a more democratic power-sharing arrangement in global politics. This is due to the rise of China and support by Russia who are increasingly asserting themselves in the global arena.
The fall of Kabul in such a spectacular fashion for Beijing has helped to reaffirm its belief in “Western-style democracy” as a failed concept of governance, especially on those who are culturally distinct from the Western world. Another layer which can be brought forth to this argument is that democracy as a form of governance is not a universal value which can necessarily bring harmony and prosperity to a population. America’s failure in Afghanistan provides a once-in-a-generation opportunity for China to use its build-for-peace programme initiatives to usher in economic investment into the country. This will allow China to have another state within its orbit as its tussle grows with the U.S on the world stage. We have seen this with Pakistan, another country which was firmly aligned with the U.S, breaking away and shifting its focus towards China. The key difference between the two is that China fosters investment in Pakistan helping to uplift the country out of poverty, whereas the United States, through sanctions and isolationist strategies, inflicts heavy damage to Pakistan’s economy; crippling its population’s quality of life. Afghanistan is a country which has nothing to show despite 20 years of Western presence and would be an ideal state for China to implement its ethos of being an alternative; and putting on display its no-strings-attached policy for economic cooperation. With the Taliban courting China and Russia, it will add to the trifecta of countries in South Asia and the Middle East (Iran 1979, Pakistan 2013 and now Afghanistan) who have gravitated away from the United States. This realignment essentially locks out the U.S from the region and prevents its containment of Russia and the Central Asian states in the north, as well as overseeing western China.
Russia, the other global player who has courted the Taliban, kept its embassy open at a time when Chinook helicopters were reenacting scenes reminiscent of America’s evacuation from Saigon. Russia has been developing relations with the Taliban since 2015, knowing very well of their potential to outlast adversaries, especially from its own misadventure in the 1980s. Russia’s stance on the issue of Afghanistan is deeply rooted in realpolitik, as Russian President Vladimir Putin stated in a press conference “ The Taliban movement currently controls virtually the entire territory of the country, including its capital. These are realities […] And we should act based on these very realities, not allowing the Afghan state’s breakup.” Such statements indicate that Russia is firmly behind the Taliban, due to the mettle they have shown against US and NATO forces. This provides the region an affirmation that any resistance groups which could emerge will not be supported by Russia. This is based on assurances by the Taliban that their territory will not be used by groups to infiltrate countries to their north, as any destabilisation in Afghanistan will inadvertently engulf Central Asian states as well. Russia uses these states as a defensive buffer to prevent any potential security threats which may emerge from Afghanistan.
A secondary motive for these two countries is to eject the U.S from Afghanistan, which was geostrategically positioned at the crossroads of Central Asia, South Asia and the Middle East. The past forty years have seen a steady decline in U.S influence within the region, which was once firmly in its grip. Iran, Pakistan and Turkey were allies or closely aligned with the U.S in the region. These countries formed the bulwark against Communism and aided America’s ideological fight on the global stage.
Sighting the ever-changing landscape of global politics, the Taliban are aware of the power they possess in leveraging Russia and China, both from an economic and security standpoint. Both these elements are complimentary to one another, as Afghanistan’s untapped mineral resources have yet to be excavated due the country’s prevailing security situation.
The dire need for basic infrastructure affords China and Russia a free hand to develop the country and fill the void left by the United States.
The writer is a Defence and Political Analyst with a Masters in International Relations from Deakin University, Australia. Specialising in Asia-Pacific regional dynamics and Conflict & Security studies, Sameed Basha can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org