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Taliban’s Coming to Power: What Are the Risks and Challenges for the Region?

 Why did Russia propose to exclude the Taliban from the list of extremist organizations? What will the possible inclusion of the Taliban to the Afghan government lead to? Ismoil Rakhmatov, an expert on the regional issues, tutor at the Tajik-Russian Slavonic University, believes that the possible coming of the Taliban to power can be equally dangerous for both Tajikistan and China.

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CABAR.asia: Two superpowers of the world – the United States and Russia – are trying to bring the Taliban to the political arena by including them in the government of Afghanistan. In this regard, several rounds of talks were held in different countries, including Russia; the representatives of the Taliban, the government of Afghanistan, the ruling parties, as well as prominent figures of the country participated in these talks. Why did Russia and the United States take these measures?

Исмоил Рахматов. Фото wikipedia.org.
Ismoil Rakhmatov. Photo wikipedia.org.

Yes, America and Russia, the two superpowers of the world, are taking steps to restore peace and stability in Afghanistan. Afghanistan historically attracted the attention of the powerful world powers due to its geographic location, which is of a great geopolitical importance.

In the past centuries, the British lost three times in Afghanistan. The Soviet Union, one of the great powers of the world, fought there for more than ten years, but ultimately, having achieved nothing, it was forced to withdraw its troops.

Currently, there are about 50 countries, NATO members and others, that have military forces deployed in this country. That is why the great powers of the world, America, Russia and China (the former having a common border with Afghanistan), are trying to maintain and strengthen their geopolitical position in Afghanistan.

One of the reasons these countries are interested in Afghanistan is the issue of defence.  Afghanistan is of very important and great geopolitical importance, and those who have a strong and stable position in Afghanistan will certainly improve their position and influence in neighboring countries, including Central Asia, Iran, Pakistan and even India.

One of the great Eastern poets, Muhammad Iqbal called Afghanistan the heart of Asia. First of all, he meant that Afghanistan, located in the heart of Asia, has always attracted the attention of great powers.

That is why the US and Russia are leaders in ensuring security and peace in Afghanistan. To date, several talks have been held with Taliban representatives in various countries, including Moscow. But each of these two great nations has a specific goal – to establish relations with the Taliban, and ensuring they contribute to the development of Afghanistan.

Having reserves of billions of dollars, America did not manage to defeat the Taliban; the continuation of the war with this organization comes at a large cost. For Russia, cooperation with the Taliban is necessary to prevent the penetration of ISIS into the territory of Central Asian countries under its influence.

Russia proposes to exclude the Taliban from the list of extremist, radical and terrorist organizations. Did the Taliban do something exceptional to get them removed from the terrorist list?

Переговоры с талибами в Москве: фото Reuters
Talks with the Taliban in Moscow. Photo: Reuters 

The Taliban did nothing to be excluded from the list. This is well known. However, the international community, led by the US, is forced to support the peace talks.

Why did Russia also support this proposal? Russia has taken this step to prevent the threat of ISIS expansion in Afghanistan and, above all, to preserve peace in the Central Asian states.

There is a proverb: “Of the two evils, choose the lesser”.

If you choose between the Islamic Taliban movement and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the second is the most dangerous.
Their program poses a threat to the whole world. The Russian leadership seeks to combat this threat. As the conflict between the Taliban and ISIS intensifies, Russia takes an opportunity and follows its plan.

Делегация талибов в Москве. Фото ТАСС
Taliban delegation in Moscow. Photo: TASS

How do you assess the prospect of the Taliban joining the government of Afghanistan and its influence on the countries of the region? Will not they create conditions for the Islamic forces, such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Islamic Movement of Turkestan, to flourish in Central Asia?

One should not lose sight of the fact that the Taliban are divided into several groups: mediators, moderate Taliban, extremist and militant Taliban. 17 representatives of the moderate Taliban group participated in the recent Doha talks, but there were no participants from militant and extremist groups.

Of course, the Taliban can participate in governing the state. It is still unclear to what extent will they be able to contribute.

One question confuses me: what will happen if the Taliban have absolute and 100% control over Afghanistan?

It is important to keep in mind that the representatives of the abovementioned organizations – the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the East Turkestan Islamic Movement and other religious armed groups – are present, carry out their activities in the Northern Afghanistan, and do not share Taliban’s point of view.

There have been clashes between some of these groups and the Taliban. I think that this issue will be one of the key conditions for peace deal between the US and the Taliban concluded in Doha. That is, the cooperation of the Taliban, who came to power, with extremist groups should be banned and stopped. If they fail to comply with this condition, they question the peace.

In any case, the Taliban will come to power. Will their arrival inspire other radical religious organizations? Will not they become a source of inspiration and example?

Of course, to some extent, this idea and these assumptions are correct. It is not only the opinion of radical organizations that can affect the residents of the region. I want to reiterate that we cannot yet say that the Taliban will definitely come to power and remain in power, and that the people in Afghanistan fully share their views. Again, if their intervention and cooperation take place, I do not think that the international community will remain calm, take no action and remain neutral.

Tajikistan has a long border with Afghanistan, more than 1400 km. With the the Taliban coming to power, will the security of Tajikistan’s border be ensured?

I believe that the security of Tajikistan is rather ensured. Tajikistan is an active member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, of which Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are members. Russia has made a great contribution to the strengthening of the armed forces of Tajikistan; America also helps Tajikistan to some extent.

It is important to note that the security of the border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan largely depends on China. We know from the media reports that China has built a military base on the border of Tajik Badakhshan. China’s contribution to strengthening the Tajik Badakhshan border with Afghanistan is growing. Let alone China, Russia and other CSTO Member States contribute to the resolution of this issue. So far, we have not been in any danger from the Taliban and some extremist groups operating in Northern Afghanistan.

If the Taliban cross the border of Tajikistan, both Tajikistan and China will equally be in danger. This will be a bigger threat to China than it will be to Russia. A certain number of members of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement participate in the internal war in Afghanistan. The Taliban can use this organization to undermine political stability in Western China. In this regard, the Chinese government pays close attention to this problem and, of course, contributes to the strengthening of the Tajik border.

Some believe that partnership with the Taliban will end the war in Afghanistan and ensure security in the country and the region. What do you think about it?

I will note once again that it is unlikely that Afghanistan will completely fall into the hands of the Taliban. Currently, there are many different armed forces opposing each other in Afghanistan. On the other hand, the United States and its allies are not ready and do not want to withdraw their troops from Afghanistan. During the Doha negotiations, it was rumored that the process would last two and a half years. The Taliban demand the withdrawal process has to be completed within 9-10 months. However, this contradiction demonstrates the problem cannot be solved quickly.

How do you assess the prospects of cooperation between Tajikistan and Afghanistan with the official presence of the Taliban in the country’s leadership?

To date, there has been no interaction between the Tajik government and the Taliban. During the reign of Burhanuddin Rabbani, the government of Tajikistan closely and effectively cooperated with the Northern forces of Afghanistan. When the Taliban had a government, they did not have good relations with Central Asian countries, except for Turkmenistan.

The government of Turkmenistan under the leadership of Saparmurat Niyazov pursued an uncertain policy, and they took advantage of this, taking steps towards strengthening the border of Turkmenistan and Afghanistan. The Taliban leaders were visiting and resting in health resorts of Turkmenistan. But the Taliban had nothing to do with Russia and Central Asia. It is too early to deliberate about it. We do not know in what status and to what extent they will participate in the government, what policies they will pursue in relation to Tajikistan and other Central Asian countries.

The policy of the Central Asian countries towards the Taliban is carried out within the framework of the CSTO policy. In this regard, I think that Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and other countries will not go beyond the CSTO policy and will pursue a common policy.

The current Kabul government is willing to extradite Tajik citizens suspected of membership in extremist and terrorist groups to Tajikistan. How will the arrival of the Taliban in the government affect this process? After all, the ideology of most of these groups is very close to the ideology of the Taliban.

I do not think that something will change in this case, because these issues are within the competence of bilateral cooperation between states. This will not be changed with the Taliban representatives taking places in the government.

The existing laws, international agreements, treaties and international obligations of both countries will be applied. Of course, each state has its own political interests, within which these issues will be resolved. The exchange and transfer of suspects and criminals will also be decided on in the same manner.

How will the presence of the Taliban in the government affect trade in the border area?

I think that cross-border trade, concentrated mainly in Tajik and Afghan Badakhshan and in the southern provinces of the country, is less dependent on the policy of the central government as the local authorities are committed to support local trade, commerce and prosperity We have seen that during the clashes between government forces and the Taliban in Badakhshan, the cross-border market in Khorog did not stop its activities. However, in a case of significant and fundamental changes in the central government, the cross-border trade may be impeded or, vice versa, intensify. Other changes are also possible. However, it will change little in general.

This publication was produced under IWPR project «Forging links and raising voices to combat radicalization in Central Asia».

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