“China Respects Afghan People’s Choice to Decide Future.” Chinese Foreign Ministry
“What is good for us is bad for Americans, what’s bad for us is good for Americans. Today the situation is bad for Americans and so it is good for us.” Arkady Dubnov, a political analyst and Central Asia expert in Moscow
“But if the situation in Afghanistan deteriorates… Afghanistan could become for Russia what Algeria is for France — a constant security threat.” Kirill Semyonov, an international affairs expert.
One of my favorite quotes of 2021 is the one I quoted a few weeks ago by an Afghan Warlord… “My enemy’s enemy’s friend’s enemy who was my friend is my enemy until he isn’t.” I think this best describes what is happening in Afghanistan today in the shadow of a catastrophic blunder made by the current US Administration. As history and physics have proven time and again, nature abhors a vacuum, and the Taliban are not the only group seeking a power grab in our wake. The situation surrounding the jockeying of nations to capitalize on this blunder is not only mind-bogglingly complex but also, in many ways, defies rationalization.
That is why this week I want to see if I can shed some light on things that will immediately cause one to go, “…hmmm,” if he or she does not understand the geopolitical nuances of what is happening in the region today. And the fact that Russia, China, and Iran are tripping over each other for a photo-op with Taliban leadership should absolutely give one pause. I think that Arkady Dubnov’s statement is a perfect reflection of the reality for not only Russia but also for China and Iran, three countries that, if not outright enemies of the US, are consistently antagonistic towards anything that might be good for the USA.
What makes this a curious juxtaposition is that only months ago Russia, China, and Iran had all listed the Taliban as terrorists and many of their leaders were on their terrorist watchlists and sanctioned by the United Nations. Now all three are somehow embracing the Taliban pseudo-government. One of the things that will come out is the language that is being used to justify this about-face. It is a democratic language. One Russian diplomat said that they only want what the Afghan people want as if some sort of referendum had been held and the Taliban were chosen by popular vote.
I can assure you, the tears that are being shed in Afghanistan today are tears of great fear and sorrow and not of joy and celebration. The Taliban have come to power in Afghanistan by sword and gun, not by a desire of the people to embrace some greater form of government and utopian society. Panic and suspicion rule the streets of Afghanistan today, not a sense of hope and prosperity.
The primary focus for this week’s More Than Meets the Eye is how Russia, China, and Iran are positioning themselves for the new competition in the heart of Asia. In essence, this is the beginning of another round of what Peter Hopkirk referred to as, “The Great Game.” These three nation-states have already begun vying for the affections of the Taliban, and the question every other nation should be asking is, “Why?”
The confusing thing to me in all these nation-state machinations is how countries like Russia, China, and Iran are justifying their about-faces in their own minds. They make no sense. What I will discuss in this section is why it makes no sense and how these leaders will have to perform enormous feats of infidelity in order to make it work. The only possible explanation is Arkady Dubrov’s statement, “Today the situation is bad for Americans and so it is good for us.” There simply is not a better, more genuine explanation that I can find than that. Here are some pretty obvious reasons that none of these countries ought to be courting this wayward mate.
“We hope that the Taliban of Afghanistan has united all parties and is establishing a political framework that meets the national conditions of Afghanistan and lays a foundation for long-lasting peace in Afghanistan,” said Geng Shuang, China’s deputy permanent representative to the UN.
Geng Shuang must not be reading the intel briefings. Mass murders, decapitations, forced marriages, forced growing of beards, and denial of education for women are all a part of the Taliban agenda. I am not sure what kind of peace Mr. Shuang is referring to. Chinese United Nations envoy Geng Shuang noted, “Afghanistan must never again become heaven for terrorists.”
In the rest of the Islamic world, China’s chief concerns are groups such as the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, which is composed of Uyghur fighters opposing Chinese repression in the northwestern Xinjiang frontier, where Beijing has detained an estimated 1million Uyghur and other Muslim minority peoples in internment camps. These same Uyghur fighters are living in the safety of Afghanistan today.
“The Afghan Taliban has the utmost sincerity to work toward and realize peace,” a Chinese statement released following the meeting said. “The Afghan Taliban will never allow any force to use the Afghan territory to engage in acts detrimental to China. The Afghan Taliban believes that Afghanistan should develop friendly relations with neighboring countries and the international community.”
Once again, there is a breakdown in communications here. It is common knowledge that the Uyghur live under the protection of the Afghan people. The Uyghurs are fellow Muslims and they are much more likely to live under the support of Afghan Muslims than the Chinese government that is trying to exterminate them. China’s goal is likely to be at least as much political as economic. Beijing aims to head off any potential support for Muslims in Xinjiang that could come from Afghanistan. This is a feat that they are not currently accomplishing.
The economic interests between Afghanistan and China are important but not decisive. At the end of the day, Afghanistan is an insignificant market and has only a few sources of raw materials. So it is not an economic decision to throw their lot in with the Taliban.
Perhaps China’s engagement in Afghanistan is intended to show other countries how China supports regimes: with few questions asked as long as they support Chinese interests. For China, recognizing the Taliban makes for strange optics: fighting Islamists at home but embracing them abroad. But it shows that China could be the ultimate realpolitik nation. In some ways, Afghanistan under the Taliban is China’s perfect partner: dysfunctional, dependent, and happy with whatever China can do for it.
Although Russia labeled it as a terrorist organization in 2003, Moscow has maintained longstanding, informal, diplomatic relations with the Taliban. In 2007, Russia held clandestine talks with the Taliban on the prevention of drug trafficking from Afghanistan to Central Asia.
Due to these risks, Russian officials urged the Taliban to create an inclusive coalition government and ameliorate intra-state conflicts through diplomacy. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov recently stated that an Afghan government should include non-Pashtun ethnic groups, such as Hazaras, Uzbeks, and Tajiks. Lavrov also emphasized the need for a diplomatic settlement between the Taliban and the Ahmad Massoud-led National Resistance Front in Panjshir Valley.
The Taliban’s appointment of a government on 7 September 2021 which is almost exclusively Pashtun and largely comprised of holdovers from their first stint in power, clashes with Russia’s recommendations. While Zhirnov will attend the Islamic Emirate’s inauguration ceremony, this should not be viewed as a sign of Moscow’s support for Taliban appointments.
“So the Russian strategy regarding Afghanistan is now going to depend on China, it will adjust to China more and more. The older brother, Beijing, will play the first violin here.”
The Russians are falling in lockstep with the Chinese. They seem to be willing to turn a blind eye to whatever atrocities the Taliban are committing if it will poke the USA in the eye. Even as I write this it really feels like I should be talking about a junior high power struggle among a group of boys who all just hit puberty. Surely, governments don’t act with this level of juvenile delinquency, I ask myself. As absurd as it sounds, governments do.
The last player in this curious juxtaposition is Iran. What would possibly keep Iran, a Muslim nation, from being willing to jump in full lockstep with the Taliban? Iran, if you remember, is a Shi’ite nation. Afghanistan, except for the Hazara people, are Sunni Muslims. There is little if any love lost between the Sunni in Afghanistan and the Shi’a Hazara people. The Shi’a Hazara are systematically persecuted by the primarily Pashtun people of Afghanistan. Hazara have had their Mosques bombed, their Shi’a congregations killed, and their businesses heavily molested.
Iran, which nearly went to war with the Taliban in 1998 following the massacre of thousands of Shi’ite civilians including Iranian diplomats, has seen bitter internal division over Afghanistan policy. Iran is considered beneath the Pashtun people. Iranians do not get along well with the Taliban.
Iran continues to be in a very fragile state with its new President Raisi as well as its position on the global stage. They see themselves as the new power broker of the Middle East. They see themselves in this fashion because of the wholesale abandonment of the US from Afghanistan as well as the inconsistent position of the current US administration towards the JCPOA.
It is clear that Iranian intentions from the very start have been the acquisition of a nuclear weapon or to be at least at what is called a nuclear threshold. This is where they possess enough fissile nuclear material to build a bomb in short order. Iran has used the IAEA and the JCPOA countries to stall for time so that they can come back to the negotiating table not as an aspiring nuclear state, but as a full member of the nuclear elite.
So why are the Iranians continuing to deal below the table with the Taliban? It is both geopolitical and economic. Iran and Afghanistan share a long common border. People come and go from both countries pretty much at will. The Iranians, with little love lost on the Wahabbi Sunni Taliban, will accommodate the Taliban to a point. Then who knows what. They will do so because of their need for international acceptance and for hard curency.
When the Taliban first came to power, the rules-based world order still dominated. Both regional and world powers, rivals, and allies, collaborated to isolate a brutal and destabilizing regime. Today, Russia ships weapons to rebels still designated as terrorists domestically, China promises to grant legitimacy to a group that harbored Uyghur extremists, and Iran supports the perpetrators of ethnic cleansing of Persian-speaking Shiites. Each is aware of the chaos accompanying Taliban rule. Large refugee flows are inevitable. Unrest during the Taliban’s first reign spilled into Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Xinjiang.
Whether this is a price worth paying for Western humiliation, only time will tell. Whatever the geopolitical consequences, the suffering of the Afghan people in a world of strictly transactional alliances will only grow.
“What is good for us is bad for Americans, what’s bad for us is good for Americans. Today the situation is bad for Americans and so it is good for us.” This is a geopolitical debacle of historic proportions. I will go on record as saying. It was time for the US and its allies to begin its departure from Afghanistan.
The way they did it, however, was incredibly naive, at best, and morally and criminally reprehensible, at worst. A results-based exfiltration should have been negotiated. As the Taliban accomplished its steps agreed upon in negotiations, then the US should have taken its next steps. The process should have been drawn out from the start and agreed-upon metrics should have been established from the very beginning.
Instead, it was turned into a political football. Officials from the Administration were not forthright with the military commanders and unilateral decisions were made which made no military sense. It will come out that the Military Commanders advised against this plan of withdrawal and that their advice was ignored for the sake of political expediency. It is important to remember that the United States Military is under the command of a civilian. The Commanders have, but one recourse, to follow orders unless they are illegal or immoral.
There will be political repercussions from this debacle for decades to come. If I was Taiwan, I would be very concerned about my alliances. This underscores the kind of friend that the US is considered to be to its allies. It will take a generation to recover from this if everything were to go well from here on out.
I would write to my congressional representative and register my concern over the way this was carried out. It seems to me that if enough people stood up and reminded our elected officials that this is not what it means to be an American, they might act differently in holding other elected officials responsible for actions that appear to be distinctly un-American in their practice.
REFLECTIONS ON THE 76TH UNITED NATIONS GENERAL ASSEMBLY… https://mailchi.mp/thesoufancenter/reflections-on-the-76th-united-nations-general-assembly?e=47e9e33bef
Iran Seeks to Fill a Middle East Power Vacuum… https://foreignpolicy.com/2021/09/28/iran-power-vacuum-middle-east-nuclear-power/?utm_source=PostUp&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=36594&utm_term=Editors%20Picks%20OC&tpcc=36594
For your comments or questions about any of our digests please feel free to write to me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Afghanistan’s Fate Will Be Shaped by Geoeconomics… https://www.geopoliticalmonitor.com/afghanistans-fate-will-be-shaped-by-geoeconomics/?_se=ZGF2aWR3ZXN0b25AbWFjLmNvbQ%3D%3D
GULF STATES ATTEMPTING TO ADJUST TO THE TALIBAN’S TAKEOVER OF AFGHANISTAN… https://mailchi.mp/thesoufancenter/gulf-states-attempting-to-adjust-to-the-talibans-takeover-of-afghanistan?e=47e9e33bef