A close-up photograph of Afghanistan from a desktop globe. Adobe RGB color profile. Photo: iStock
A close-up photograph of Afghanistan from a desktop globe. Adobe RGB color profile. Photo: iStock

All of Afghanistan’s immediate neighbors have traditionally competed with each other for influence over the landlocked country and intervened to protect and advance their national interests. No regional or extra-regional state has the power to truly impose its will on Afghanistan, but they are surely able to sabotage anything they perceive to be a threat to their national interests.

They have failed in their efforts to establish democracy and strengthen Afghanistan’s institutions and now they are pursuing a policy of “training, advising and assisting proxies.” The nature of the role of the US, Iran, Pakistan, India, China and Russia is self-evident. 

Evidently, Afghanistan is experiencing a new security and strategic shift that could lead to a dangerous scenario in the near future. The initiation of talks between the US and the Taliban in Doha; the killing of prominent Afghan political figure Abdul Jabbar Qehrman and Qandahar’s chief security commander, General Abdul Razziq; Pakistan reconsidering the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project; the normalization of Pakistan-US economic and security ties; and Saudi Arabia’s fresh entry into CPEC have set off strategic alarm bells in Kabul. Afghanistan will likely see the Taliban’s bloody insurgency continue. The US is restructuring its security and strategic policies in order to keep an eye on Iran, put pressure on China and resurgent Russia, support the Taliban in Helmand and Qandahar, and ensure the smooth flow of energy through the Persian Gulf.

Recently, the US restarted negotiations with the Taliban’s leadership in Doha to reassess its core interests in Afghanistan. The US and NATO forces want to counter China and Russia in order to sabotage their possible forays into the Arabian Sea. Without the support of Pakistan and the Taliban, countering China and resurgent Russia is a tough challenge for the US. Appeasing the Taliban with a power-sharing formula is the only option that can ensure the protection of  America’s regional interests and NATO’s continued presence in Afghanistan. The killing of anti-Taliban Afghan leaders, including Jabbar Qehrman and General Razziq, is the first step in giving the Taliban greater influence in the strategically important provinces of Helmand and Qandahar.

The US cannot win Taliban support without Pakistan. The relationship between the US and Pakistan over the past five years must be viewed in terms of the strategic and security importance of the Taliban and Islamabad’s influence on the group’s leadership. Without friendly relations between Islamabad and Taliban, the US will never be able to stabilize the region.

The relationship between the US and Pakistan over the past five years must be viewed in terms of the strategic and security importance of the Taliban and Islamabad’s influence on the group’s leadership

The killing of General Razziq, a staunch opponent of the installation of fencing on the Durand Line, was a premeditated move intended to bring Islamabad and the US closer in order to undermine China’s future activities in the region. The US wants to support Pakistan to complete the fencing on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. As a result, Islamabad, as it has already expressed reservations concerning the feasibility of the CPEC projects, will use stall tactics to block Beijing’s access to the Arabian Sea, which is in line with US interests. Washington’s only option is to support the Taliban in Afghanistan and appease Islamabad on the Durand Line issue in order to contain China and resurgent Russia.

Pakistan’s involvement in Afghanistan is the most significant part of its strategic policy. Pakistan’s overt and covert support for the Afghan Taliban is also the result of Islamabad’s stance on the Durand Line. Since 1979, Pakistan has been trying to establish a disputed boundary line as an internationally recognized border between itself and Afghanistan but has proved unsuccessful due to the anti-Durand line stance of the Pashtuns along the border. The Taliban recognizes the Durand Line as an international border.

Afghanistan’s three immediate neighbors, China, Iran and Pakistan, have heavily backed the Taliban’s leadership in terms of providing safe havens and weapons. Politically influential regional states must stop supporting the Taliban for the sake of Afghanistan’s stability and security. An unstable Afghanistan equates to an unstable Asia and Central-South Asia in particular. 

Islamabad and Tehran need to play the role of friendly neighbors instead of backing the Taliban. The more they interfere in Afghanistan, the more the region will face insecurity and economic deterioration.

A domestic solution is the only way to stabilize Afghanistan. The political leadership of Afghanistan is responsible for the insecurity and unrest in the country. However, President Ashraf Ghani, former president Hamid Karzai, Gulbadeen Hikmatyar and other influential Afghan leaders can easily implement a policy mechanism to ensure the stability and integrity of Afghanistan. 

Backing the militants and serving as agents and proxies for regional and extra-regional states are the core causes of unrest and the erosion of integrity. They must view Afghanistan from a national and patriotic point of view in order to identify anti-Afghanistan elements in their ranks. National integrity and political stability can ensure a peaceful, secure and strongly democratic Afghanistan.

Rahim Nasar, an Islamabad-based security and political analyst, a PhD scholar, writes on regional security, political and strategic affairs with special focus on Central and South Asia. He tweets on @RahimNasari

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