Pakistan’s 'all-weather friend' China has intensified communication with the Taliban. Afghanistan is very significant for China for Its Belt and Road Initiative, writes Md. Ishtiak Hossain for South Asia Monitor
Right now international experts are observing Afghanistan with great interest. Experts are assuming that after American troops withdraw, civil war will break out in Afghanistan, following which some neighboring countries will also involve themselves in a proxy war. As a result, there will be political tension in the region surrounding Afghanistan.
Basically, the fight will be between the Taliban and the anti-Taliban groups. But other neighboring countries will also involve themselves by helping these groups with arms, money and support, to serve their own interests. However, at the same time, the nations will also not involve themselves in any direct conflict. The Hazara minorities, Afghan government forces and the IS are notable anti-Taliban players. The principal actors in this proxy war are the US, China, Russia, Iran, India and Pakistan. Political tension between the two South Asian neighbors India and Pakistan may escalate following the proxy war.
Pakistan a principal actor
Pakistan was one of those three countries which recognized the Taliban when it came to power in Afghanistan. But later following the 9/11 attack, when the US launched Operation Enduring Freedom in October, 2001, targeting the Taliban and the Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, Pakistan had to go against the Taliban due to strong pressure from Washington. But at the same time, in the early days of the operation, Pakistani tribal groups on the Pakistan-Afghan border sheltered Taliban fighters when they needed refuge. The Taliban’s survival depended a lot on these Pakistani friends, who seemed to have extended silent support to the hardline Sunni Islamist group.
Things are different this time. There is no US pressure on Pakistan to take a particular position on Afghanistan. Moreover, currently, Pakistan is not also on good terms with Its former ally US. In such a backdrop, Pakistan can profit more by maintaining good relations with the Taliban.
China, Russia and Iran
Anyway, Pakistan’s 'all-weather friend' China has intensified communication with the Taliban. Afghanistan is very significant for China for Its Belt and Road Initiative, which seeks to connect 60 countries of Africa and Europe. Moreover, relations between the Taliban and Russia have also gained ground in recent times. The Taliban will need political and moral support from a regional power like Russia in the coming days.
Another important actor of the proxy war is Iran, whose situation also needs to be analyzed. Hazaras are the main foes of the Taliban. Iran helps the Hazaras by providing them with arms and money for their self-defense as they are both Shias. Because of the conflict with the US on the nuclear crisis, Iran has become more dependent on China and Russia. There will be fresh complications if the Hazaras and the Taliban involve themselves in a civil war. By taking the side of the Hazaras, Iran will basically go against China and Russia on the Afghan issue.
So a comprehensive study of the pros and cons of the Afghan situation makes it more than likely that Pakistan, China and Russia will support the Taliban. On the other hand, the US, India and Iran will back anti-Taliban groups.
Al Qaeda's reappearance
But what could be bad news for the US as well as India is the likely re-emergence of the Al Qaeda alongside the Taliban's return to power. One of the main targets of Al Qaeda is to make India a battleground and then spread the fighting to the Middle East. Besides this, Al Qaeda’s rise would make the Kashmir issue more complicated for India. So India would find it better if anti-Taliban forces hold the reins of power in Afghanistan.
Another significant fallout could be a reappearance of Al Qaeda. Their re-emergence could trigger violence in regions like Kashmir, Xinjiang(Uighur) and Chechnia.
Besides, the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh have also appeared on the scene lately. Al Qaeda will also try to connect Rohingya radicals into its 'war' just like Kashmir, Uighur and Chechen rebels.
It needs no rocket science to surmise that the rise of the Taliban, and the way various nations embrace or give cold shoulder to the group, would have much impact on regional politics, which may get more complicated, intense and heated.
(The writer is a student of Department of International Relations, University of Rajshahi, Bangladesh. He can be contacted at Ishtiakhossain875@gmail.com)