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Oct 1, 2021
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Afghanistan at the center of the Great Game again

The intermediate finals in Afghanistan, freeing the hands of the Americans, could push to create a new hotbed of tension

The United States is located far from Afghanistan, but Russia and the Central Asian states cannot do without operational interaction with the new Afghan government.

Moscow intends to press the government of the Taliban banned in Russia *, which includes 33 mullahs, to fulfill all the promises that were made. First of all, promises to prevent the growth of terrorist and drug threats from the territory of Afghanistan. Further, ensure the formation of a government, which, as the Russian Foreign Minister emphasized, “Reflects the entire palette of Afghan society from an ethno-confessional, political point of view”

The fact that Russia remains one of the few countries that did not close their embassy in Kabul may indicate the seriousness of intentions to continue contacts with the new leadership of Afghanistan. Sergey Lavrov remarked on this: “We will encourage those who took power in Kabul after the flight of foreign contingents to behave in a civilized manner.”

Washington does not like the pragmatism of the Russian position. In the articles of American experts, there is not even a hint of the responsibility of the United States for the current situation in Afghanistan, but, for example, Foreign policy argues that after the Americans leave, Russia and China will try to undermine any leverage that Washington could use to build a new Afghanistan. The article is titled: “China and Russia seek to bypass the United States in Afghanistan.” Although how can you “bypass” America, which is no longer in Afghanistan?

The US withdrawal from Afghanistan posed a challenge to Russia’s security. With the exception of Turkmenistan (which also borders Afghanistan), Russia has a visa-free regime with all Central Asian countries. Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). In the event of an armed attack on any of the participating States, all other States will be obliged to provide it with the necessary assistance, including military.

Most of the post-Soviet space along the borders of the Russian Federation has been burning in recent years (not without the participation of the United States): the war in Donbass, instability in Belarus, the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh. The final in Afghanistan, having untied the hands of the Americans, could prompt the creation of a new hotbed of tension.

Russia has long been troubled by the presence of Islamists on its borders. The return of the Taliban to power is a serious problem for the Kremlin, which fears “American control” of them. And in this case, there is a feeling that America would like trouble from Afghanistan for Russia.

All neighboring countries, except Tajikistan, are ready to talk with the new leaders of Afghanistan. And this is understandable. None of the current leaders in the countries bordering Afghanistan were in power when the Taliban * were overthrown by the US invasion in 2001. And only Emomali Rahmon was the president of Tajikistan 20 years ago, when the Taliban controlled most of Afghanistan, and Dushanbe supported a group of ethnic Tajiks who fought the Taliban in the late 90s. The support of Tajiks in Afghanistan has brought the leader of Tajikistan rare public support in his own country, which is important for understanding his current position.

Photo: asiaplustj.info

Dushanbe is not going to interfere in the internal affairs of Afghanistan. Rahmon said this, speaking at the 76th session of the UN General Assembly. However, Tajikistan is particularly concerned about the failure of the Taliban to fulfill its earlier promises. Rahmon draws attention to the growing ethnic tensions since the rise of the Taliban to power. He emphasizes that the Tajiks of Afghanistan make up more than 46% of its population, but are deprived of the right to occupy a worthy place in government. Tajikistan proposes to determine the structure of power in Afghanistan through a referendum, taking into account the position of all peoples inhabiting the country.

The proposal is fair, but hardly realizable.

The leadership of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan also cannot fail to take into account the interests of the ethnic Turkmen and Uzbeks living in Afghanistan, but their number is much smaller. It is estimated that Uzbeks (9%) and Turkmen (3%) together make up about 12% of the Afghan population. Like Tajiks, they are not allowed to power.

Ethnic map of Afghanistan and adjacent territories

It should be said about the presence in the ranks of the Taliban of Tajik militants from the organization “Jamaat Ansarullah” banned in Tajikistan. This group, founded ten years ago with the aim of overthrowing the legitimate government in Dushanbe, effectively ensured the victory of the Taliban in Badakhshan and controls large territories there today. The Ansarullah group is associated with militant groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan, including the Tehreek and Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan * (IMU) banned in Russia and Al-Qaeda *.

The Taliban promised to sever ties with al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups, to deprive them of the opportunity to operate from Afghan territory, but so far the promise has not been fulfilled.

Other Central Asian countries fear the same as Tajikistan, but lack Rahmon’s inherent toughness against the Taliban. The Taliban have assured Tashkent that they will not allow any group to attack or engage in hostilities near Uzbekistan’s borders, but the side effects of instability in Afghanistan could lead to the intensification of Uzbek terrorist organizations. The question is what type of alliance the Taliban will form to fill the post-US power vacuum.

Having closed the border for Afghan refugees, Uzbekistan resumed deliveries of food, oil products and electricity to Afghanistan. President Shavkat Mirziyoyev explains this by his desire to prevent Afghanistan from being left alone with its problems. Tashkent proposed to create a permanent committee on Afghanistan under the UN.

Photo: REUTERS

One of the many reasons for America’s defeat in Afghanistan has to do with the same Central Asian jihadist groups. Knowing full well that they are part of the al-Qaeda network and are fighting on the side of the Taliban, the United States and its allies downplayed their threat to neighboring countries and did not take them into account when assessing the consequences of their withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Washington’s intentions are transparent: to keep the extremists ready in order to maintain leverage on Russia. Interaction with Central Asia and Kazakhstan can be a means for the West to limit Moscow’s influence. Afghanistan is again at the center of the Great Game.

Cover photo: bbci.co.uk

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