Private militia patrols streets of Herat, Afghanistan after intense battle with Taliban militants on 6 August| Photo: EFE/EPA/JALIL REZAYEE
The fall of the Afghan government and the return of the Taliban emirate is imminent. Over the past two weeks, the Taliban has spent a veritable steamroller in areas controlled by the Afghan government. The group, which controlled areas of the Afghan interior and borders, now also controls most of the large cities and capitals of Afghan provinces. Between the 6th and 12th of August, 13 regional capitals were taken over by the Taliban, including the historic Kandahar and Herat. This is a consequence of the hasty withdrawal of the USA which, as a consequence, could place the “new” Afghanistan in the lap of influence of neighboring China.
Government officials in the US and Europe, as well as some political analysts, including Brazilians, are pretending to be surprised or shocked by the Taliban’s advance. Not just for the speed of advancement. With all due respect, this stance is not justifiable. It was very clear that the Taliban would not respect any agreement, as it has never respected one in its history, and that a government that no one supports would fall like a house of cards.
Here in our space, back in March 2020, it was said that the Trump government was wrong in negotiating with the Taliban. In September the reader was informed of the group’s background, that perfidy was a frequent Taliban weapon. In March 2021, the column analyzed Joe Biden’s plan for Afghanistan. The conclusion was that this was a flawed plan. Finally, last month, it was already written here that the Taliban victory was a mere matter of time. Again, the “surprise” at the Taliban’s advance is not justifiable.
Importance of Afghanistan
In the column for March 2020 was the script of what was to happen. “The Taliban will likely ‘behave’ for the next few months, achieve a decrease in the US military presence, strengthen and then come back to power; again, they don’t even consider the existing government as legitimate, and it won’t be now that they will change their minds .” No sooner said than done.
Also in the March 2020 column, we also commented that “the absence of the US still opens the door for Chinese neighbors.” And this is the new question that emerges from the current scenario. Forget any idea that Afghanistan is a lost and insignificant end of the world. For the country to be known as the “Cemetery of Empires” the interest of these empires is necessary. Alexander, Russians and British were some of those who wanted to incorporate Afghanistan into their domains.
A land rich in minerals, a source of fresh water in the Hindu Kush mountains and a strategically vital location. A large land bridge linking the steppes to the west and north, the Indus River valley, the Tibetan plateau and the Xinjiang desert. All of this makes Afghanistan an important location, for example, for Chinese infrastructure projects on the New Silk Road.
The Taliban has always had Pakistan as its main international support, even though both actors deny it. In turn, Pakistan has its main political and economic ally in China. China is Pakistan’s biggest arms supplier, which in turn is the world’s biggest Chinese arms buyer. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor allows the Chinese to flow exports directly into the Indian Ocean. In addition to tens of billions of dollars in Chinese investments, annual trade between the countries is around 20 billion dollars.
Furthermore, the border between Afghanistan and China is an important border for Beijing, both because of the aforementioned geographic and economic issues, and because it involves Tibet and Xinjiang, the Uighur minority region. What China most wants on this frontier is stability. If the Taliban can provide that stability, so be it. Currency is interest, always, with any power.
stability and recognition
US governments do not maintain their alliance with Saudi Arabia out of love, nor does France support autocrats in Francophone African countries out of friendship. Between stability and human rights, the powers, in most cases, will choose the former. Latin America during the Cold War should say so.
The former Taliban emirate, which lasted from 1996 to 2001, was recognized by only three countries: Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates and the Saudis. This new emirate, which is about to be born, will possibly have the recognition of China, at least informally, in a sort of ladder. From the Taliban to Pakistan, from Pakistan to China. This recognition will be no small thing, much less if it takes place formally.
It can serve both to contain extremist impulses from the group, such as the iconoclasm that destroyed the Bamiyan Buddhas, public executions and the complete repression of any female emancipation, or to leave these matters outside the international public sphere, under the justification of being “internal affairs “. Also, China could act in Afghanistan to “combat extremism” in neighboring Xinjiang province, for example.
The fact is that, after twenty years and seven trillion dollars, the US has achieved only one of the goals set out in 2001: to catch bin Laden, in the already distant year of 2011. They failed to strengthen the Afghan state, the Afghan armed forces did not they managed to end the Taliban, they didn’t talk to local groups, they didn’t understand where they were stepping and they didn’t think about the long term.
It is almost surreal to see Washington announcing the hastily dispatch of 3,000 troops to Kabul to speed up the evacuation of all its citizens of the country. That number was already there just a few months ago. They really believed that the Taliban would not do exactly what they did. The UK made a similar announcement of 600 elite soldiers for evacuation safety.
Obviously, the virtual failure of the US in Afghanistan has several reasons, it is not restricted to the current year or last year. The irony is that, in the end, they likely dumped Afghanistan in the lap of China, now America’s main international rival. And this, if it happens, will be via Pakistan, this quasi-double national agent, allied with both Washington and Beijing. It was not for lack of warning.