By Elisabeth Hellenbroich

The spectacular collapse of the Afghan Government which last weekend capitulated to the Taliban forces, after the Afghan capital Kabul had fallen into the hands of the Taliban, marks a strategic phase -change in world politics. Leading representatives in the West, as well as in the East, in Russia, China, India, Iran, Turkey and the Mideast have qualified the surrender to the Taliban as a “complete failure of the West” and its intelligence services. This war has taken many lives and cost 1, 4 trillion dollars, according to a special UN study. This was spent by the allied nations under the leadership of the US, in order to combat terrorism and impose democratic structures to Afghanistan. One should keep in mind, that it was under Donald Trump when negotiations started with the Taliban in Doha in 2020, which was followed by US President Biden, who in May of this year announced the complete withdrawal of US troops in line with many other allied nations. This paved the way for the Taliban conquest, which is not a homogenous movement but consists of radical terrorist elements and more moderate groups. According to many experts -Alexander Rahr, Jürgen Todenhöfer, Karin Leukefeld, Dr. Erös among others- there is reason to be “skeptical” in respect to the Taliban, since the question in which direction the Taliban will go and whether Afghanistan as a nation has the chance to get fully reconstructed, so far remains unanswered. These experts also warn on a new refugee wave coming from Afghanistan- which already has begun to spread to Iran, Pakistan, Turkey and Central Asia and is continuing in the direction of Europe.

Yet, it is also clear- and this was articulated more clearly by voices in Russia as well as Central Asia, which are in the immediate neighborhood of Afghanistan-, that the only solution in the long run will be the common search both by the West, the EU as well as Russia, Central Asia, Iran, India, Turkey, Pakistan and China, to calm the situation down and find a sustainable diplomatic solution to the strategic crisis.

German President Steinmeier probably articulated the most clearly what many diplomats from the Western elites are thinking: During a press conference (Berlin, 17.08.) he spoke about a “tragedy which is unfolding, which we are responsible for. It is a political turning point, which will change the world.” He furthermore emphasized that it is the “failure of year’s long efforts in Afghanistan, to construct a viable community.  And it raises many fundamental questions concerning our past and our future in terms of our political and military engagements. There are some bitter questions that must be raised, that have to be answered in a serious way. Answers must be looked for in a common effort by the Western Alliance. Since without this alliance and solidarity in the alliance, we would not have gone into Afghanistan 20 years ago.”

Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov – who has talked in the last days over the phone with US Foreign State Secretary Anthony Blinken as well as with the Chinese foreign Minister Wang Yi – in an address to students and professors at the Immanuel Kant Baltic Federal University in Kaliningrad (17.08.) stated “that it is obvious, that Russia and the West need to work together.” Joint efforts of the West and Russia to help resolve numerous regional crisis and conflicts, are relevant. “This has become even clearer after the situation in Afghanistan collapsed, following a hasty withdrawal by US and NATO troops.”

International Law expert, Prof. Francis Boyle from the University of Illinois (USA) underlined in an interview with TASS that “President Putin is working very hard to limit the damage here so that Uzbekistan, Tajikistan are not attacked…. President Putin has wisely withheld diplomatic recognition to the Islamic Emirate…it would give Moscow some leverage to encourage moderation on the part of the Taliban movement.” President Putin is playing a very constructive role here and China too,” Boyle stated. According to Boyle, the US went into war against Afghanistan – not to win against terrorism. “The United States went in there to create a strategic base in the heart of Central Asia (…) plus to get as much oil and gas as they could out of Central Asia. So this whole project has failed.”

Voices from humanitarian organization in Afghanistan

Dr. Reinhard Erös- Chairman of the German humanitarian organization  Kinderhilfe-Afghanistan,  who is since 35 years engaged in Afghanistan and who worked there from 1986 -1990 as medical doctor for the German Army Bundeswehr when the SU occupied the country, in an interview with FAZ (16.08.21) stated when he was asked what government will follow in Kabul, that “there will be a religious emirate regime like the one which existed between 1996 till 2001, but not a mixed transition government.”  He qualified the new “Islamic emirate” in Afghanistan as one determined by the “Sharia -Islamic law” (similar to Saudi Arabia “our friends,” which involves capital punishment and body mutilations). At the same time he made clear that there is need to talk and negotiate with the Taliban, so that the situation remains moderate. He commented that in Afghanistan the Taliban won, since the “US obviously never wanted to win the hearts and minds of the people.” What was fundamentally lacking was a “strategy”-civilian and military- in the terms of Clausewitz. In another article of the Bavarian press he pointed to the very educated strata of Afghans living in Kabul, who rather than fleeing should remain, since they are needed for the country’s reconstruction.

“Whoever arranges with the new regime under the Islamic emirate, will live without war. The Afghan people need massive support for an economic upswing, without any egoistic political interference.”  This line was echoed by Malalai Joya (43 years old Afghan woman politician and activist) who in an Op-ed for the German Daily “Süddeutsche Zeitung” (14.08.21) stated that the situation is extremely critical with the Taliban moving forward. But she also emphasized, that it is right that western troops leave our country- which they should have done much earlier. “We cannot have a serious peace process, as long as Americans are in Afghanistan. We must reconstruct our country with our own hands. Was the 20-year engagements in vain? Definitely yes, it was. The American and western troops have failed. They came for geopolitical interests and now they leave again. The Americans have replaced the barbaric regime of Taliban with the brutal warlords and at the same time began to negotiate with the Taliban, even if the nature of Taliban never changed. The Americans threw bombs, polluted the environment and made the system even more corrupt. They were never interested in the Afghan people. She advised that “the Afghan people should stay together and fight against terrorists and warlords: What we need from the foreign countries is not weapons but humanitarian help, in particular for education projects.”

Well known German Kremlologist Alexander Rahr- who is member of the prestigious Valdai Club- argued in an interview with the Russian press “Vzdlyad”( referred to by RT 18.08)  in favor of a cooperative discussion between NATO and the CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organization)  as well as between the EU and the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization), in order to calm the situation down in Afghanistan. According to Rahr the Afghan crisis is a real “stress test for Russian- Chinese relations.” He portrayed the CSTO which in 2002 followed after the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States), as a “security political coordination organization” including states such as Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, China, Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan (which left the organization in 2012).  Afghanistan, he stated n and Serbia since 2013 had “observer Status in the CSTO. He further pointed out that the SCO was founded in 2001 by the “Shanghai 5” states:  China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan. While the initial aim was cooperation the security domain, new tasks emerging in the field of economic cooperation emerged. Uzbekistan joined in the year of its foundation, India and Pakistan joined in 2017, Afghanistan, Mongolia and White Russia have the status as SCO observer while Armenia, Azerbaijan, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Turkey are SCO “dialogue partners”. Rahr complained that the USA still aims at “containing” Russia and China, which is a “dead end”, instead of concentrating its fight against the Islamic factor. Given that Europe will soon be confronted with an influx of Afghan refugees, he advised that “Western strategists should cooperate with Russia and China and the Central Asian states.”

Effects of the Afghan crisis on neighboring Central Asian countries 

In this context a highly interesting article was published in the recent Valdai Newsletter (12.08 2021) by Khudoberdi Kholiknazar, Director of the “Center for the Study of Central Asia and China”, Tajikistan, who described the situation in some central Asian republics, which clearly demonstrates that the fate of Central Asia, in direct neighborhood with Afghanistan, is closely interrelated with Russia.

In his article Kholiknazar analyzed that the hasty withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, which began in May 2021, has already created a series of problems for the countries which border it. “The first and foremost problem for all of Afghanistan’s neighbors was the influx of Afghan refugees.” He reported that in June 2021 the Taliban launched an attack on the Afghan -Tadjik border zone. Within one month the Taliban occupied almost the entire Afghan- Tajik border (….) On July 7 2021 Colonel General Anatoly Sidorov, head of the CSTO, stated that “after the seizure of the border regions of Afghanistan by the Taliban, the influx of internally displaced persons from Afghanistan to Tajikistan is becoming a new threat.”  He underlined that despite the fact that the authorities of the Gorno -Badakhshan Autonomous Region of Tajikistan announced their readiness to receive more than 10.000 refugees from Afghanistan, in reality there are “great difficulties in even accommodating more than one thousand refugees.”

Kholiknazar identified the dangerous terrorist Tajik- Taliban group “Ansarollah”, stating, that the Tajik Afghan border, once considered a “friendly border”, is gradually turning into a “hostile border” which increases potential threats to Tajikistan. (…) Therefore, the leadership of the Republic of Tajikistan is taking unprecedented measures to protect the Tajik -Afghan border. In particular it has instructed to send additional troops to the regions adjacent to Afghanistan. The head of state has instructed that in addition to improving the border’s capacity, special attention be paid to preventing any violations of the state border. The President also instructed the Minister of Defense of Tajikistan to mobilize 20.000 reservists to the border with Afghanistan. Active work is underway within the CSTO and the SCO. Fortunately, in 2021, Tajikistan holds the presidency in both of these international organizations, and from 5 to 10 August joint exercises with regional allies were held in the immediate vicinity of the Afghan border.” The author emphasized that “special and peacekeeping units of the Russian Armed Forces will hold nine joint counter terrorism exercises with the troops of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan in late August and September. The large-scale exercises will end with the ‘Peace Mission 2021 strategic manoeuvers’ of the Armed forces of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization countries (SCO) with the participation of more than 4.000 servicemen.”

Kholoknazar also shed some light on Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, reporting that leaders of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan have maintained contact with the Taliban since the late 1990s.They held numerous meetings with the political leadership of the Taliban on their territory. Uzbekistan even created a negotiating platform on its territory for inter- Afghan peace talks. On the other hand, the activities of the militants of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) terrorist organization together with the Taliban on the Afghan- Uzbek and Afghan- Turkmen borders, are forcing Uzbekistan to strengthen the Uzbek- Afghan border. “The decision of Uzbekistan to conduct joint military exercises with Russia, to ensure the territorial integrity of the states of Central Asian region, in which about 1.500 servicemen of the Russian Federation and Uzbekistan took part, was very timely.” The Afghan Uzbek border is the shortest (144 km), and at the same time the most guarded of the external borders of Uzbekistan, while the border between Turkmenistan and Afghanistan is 804 km. The author pointed out that several economic projects between Afghanistan and Uzbekistan as well as Turkmenistan, that were to be signed by the end of this year, are now hanging in the air. “Uzbekistan’s plans to sign an agreement on preferential trade with Afghanistan by the end of 2021, which could increase mutual trade turnover 2.5 fold- up to $ 2 Billion, are now up in the air. The fate of the Uzbek project to build a railway from the Afghan city of Mazar-i- Sharif to the city of Herat also remains unclear.” The same goes for several economic projects between Turkmenistan and Afghanistan. The author concluded  by arguing  very similar to what Rahr had stated, namely that “recent events in Afghanistan have clearly shown once again that the post- Soviet countries if Central Asia should closely cooperate within such authoritative international regional organizations as the CSTO and the SCO in order to protect their sovereignty and national independence.”

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