The situation in Afghanistan post the US withdrawal
Our Editor-In-Chief and Co-founder, Ratnadeep Chakraborty spoke to Prof. Georgi Asatryan* on the current situation in Afghanistan and the Russian perspective on the post US withdrawal situation in Afghanistan.
Ratnadeep Chakraborty (RC): President Biden has said, “It’s the right and the responsibility of Afghan people alone to decide their future and how they want to run their country.” The international community has mainly gone silent after the fall of Kabul and the US has also abandoned the people of Afghanistan who have helped them. Take our viewers through what these six months looked like for the people of Afghanistan and the US response to the developments in the region.
Dr Georgi Asatryan (GA): I feel the same way as President Biden's opinion. If the wider community, the army and the police of Afghanistan demonstrated opposition to the seizure of power by the Taliban movement, I think some kind of proxy support from the United States and NATO would be possible for them. We see a similar situation in Ukraine, where the United States, Great Britain, and NATO provide military-technical, financial, and advisory assistance to Ukraine. Americans do not want to fight for the future of Afghans if they are not ready for it themselves. We did not see any serious resistance from the general community and the Afghan army. Almost thirty thousand troops, the so-called Central Corps, were stationed in the Kabul area. It was very efficient and high level armed. However, it fled when the Taliban entered the Afghan capital. I understand the logic of the US actions.
RC: It's been six months that the US decided to end their war on terror in Afghanistan and leave the country's fate to the same people they came to fight. What's your assessment of the condition of women and minorities in the country? The Taliban has allowed women to go to universities but does it mean anything if they are not allowed to join the workforce?
GA: I agree with the UN data. In Afghanistan, under the rule of the Taliban, there is a widespread violation of human and women's rights. The country is not just in a deep economic and financial crisis. The country is in collapse and on the verge of mass starvation. About thirty terrorist groups operate in the country, including IG Khorasan and Al-Qaeda. However, the history of terrorism shows that such a struggle between various radical groups has never led to the country's stabilization. I doubt the Taliban's real desire to fight against various terrorist groups. Rather, we can talk about co-optation, and where it is impossible, then about struggle. To stabilize the situation, necessary to put pressure on the radical wing of the Taliban and their sponsors in the face of the conservative Pakistani military.
RC: The Afghan economy is crumbling and with the COVID, declining revenues and drought conditions what's the Taliban government's biggest challenge? With the majority of the revenue from International donors, how do you think will the Taliban government's image problem endanger the life of ordinary afghans?
GA: According to the UN, the country faces a humanitarian catastrophe and starvation. External financial reservoirs are frozen, and there is no reason to believe that the Taliban will soon have access to them. Over the past decades, the country's budget has been formed mainly at the expense of foreign financial assistance, and the economy is still an unformed and haphazard series of medium-sized enterprises that, under conditions of low domestic demand, can work just at the expense of external orders. Export potential is still practically nonexistent, and the economy is in a grey zone. The Afghan economy is a narconomics.
The top leadership of the movement consists mainly of representatives of the old school. These are older people who have spent most of their lives in jihad and underground. The Taliban, as an institution, has never engaged in the construction of economic and state systems. The Taliban just do not know how to do and do not know how to build more or less working systems. It is worth adding here that the conditions in which Afghanistan found itself under the rule of the Taliban are extremely unfriendly. Six months later, the regime is still not recognized by any participants in international life.
RC: What's the one thing the US policymakers should have understood before the invasion in a weak state like Afghanistan especially after the USSR withdrew its troops and lost the war?
GA:The Americans had no plans to invade Afghanistan at the turn of the century. It was a forced action caused by the most monstrous terrorist attacks in the history of mankind - September 11, 2001. It was a forced step by the entire NATO alliance. This decision was supported by the entire world community, with the rarest exceptions from two or three rogue states. The operation was regulated by a resolution of the UN Security Council; all the great and regional powers supported it. The operation was legitimate and had an anti-terrorist nature.
I think many mistakes were made. One of them concerns the time factor. The US has been in this country for too long. It was not necessary to do this. It was necessary to destroy Al-Qaeda (and its hub base was destroyed by 2005) to overthrow the Taliban regime (done by mid-October 2001). However, the Republican administration began to follow a policy of state-building. It was a mistake. And today, looking at Afghanistan, this theory is confirmed.
RC: The QUAD issued a joint statement that the ungoverned Afghan spaces pose a direct threat to Indo-Pacific security. The biggest threat has been from the cross border terrorism in the region and now with the strong links between IS-K and the Haqqani network, which in turn is closely linked to the Taliban how do you see the security situation unfolding in the region?
GA: I agree with the statement of the QUAD leaders. They are right. Afghanistan continues to be a threat to the system of international relations and the regional and global security system.
Today, the situation is quite unique for Afghanistan. All the neighbors of this country, both on the perimeter and outside Central Asia, that is, the great powers, benefit from the stabilization of Afghanistan so that there are no terrorists, extremists and other threats emanating from there. To some extent, they have forgotten about Afghanistan and are tired of Afghanistan and would like this country to stabilize. Therefore, everyone is making some attempts to normalize life there. At the same time, I do not see any prerequisites for such stabilization soon. In addition, Pakistan, the main sponsor of the Taliban, continues pumping and supporting this movement, trying to establish complete control over this movement somehow. However, now we see a certain conflict between the Pakistanis and the Taliban. Islamabad cannot totally control the Taliban. They will fail this mission.
RC: A lot of Taliban fighters have started joining the ISK and with the differences between ISK and Taliban, and now Taliban replacing some dominant personalities in rural districts, have they started losing some grip already?
GA: And within the Taliban movement, there is a particular split between terrorists, radicals and more or fewer modernists and moderates. In this regard, stabilization of the situation, in my opinion, is not expected yet. Moreover, I see prerequisites for the complete destabilization and deterioration of the situation within this radical movement and the struggle for power within it. Now the Taliban is busy creating a regular army, building certain state institutions, in general, to create a state. In my opinion, they do not succeed because they have neither the resource base, skills, nor the capabilities. They just don't know how to do it. They don't have the potential for it. This is still a fairly radical movement in general, which has not yet shown much activity to fight various kinds of terrorist organizations inside Afghanistan. Moreover, according to various estimates, there are about thirty of them.
RC: What's the view of the Russian government on the developments in Afghanistan?
GA: Given the somewhat controversial, one might say erroneous, policy on the Ukrainian track, Russia, apparently, has dropped out of big politics in the region for a long time, and possibly from among the regional powers in the East. Sanctions, which are unlikely to have analogues in recent history, will slow down (if not stop) the development of Russia for a long time, which will certainly affect Moscow's influence in the southern part of the Eurasian continent, however, as in other regions of the world. Russia, which has made mistakes, is facing severe trials, and there is no opportunity to think about the "big game". Given its own short-sightedness and ineffective foreign policy, playing around with the Afghan problem will become an unattainable luxury for Russia.
RC: Moscow’s main goal in regards to relations with the Taliban was to use its moderate groups against organizations such as al-Qaeda and then ISIL or Islamic State-Khorasan Province in Afghanistan and we have seen that there was some form of relationship that existed with the Taliban. Could you comment on that and since there is a certain sense of approval from Russia, how are they planning to stabilise or bring peace to the region?
GA: If so, I consider such a strategy erroneous. It will not work. It is necessary to have a dialogue with modernists, but this will not solve the deep problems of the Afghan state.
RC: One of the major concerns for Moscow will be the security dynamics and the stabilization of the Afghan-Central Asian borders. What is Moscow doing to keep the northern borders secure after the Taliban takeover?
GA: Russia is not up to it. The Ukrainian track will take all the resources and forces, and sanctions will bind. I think there will be no catastrophe in Central Asia. There will always be resources from Central Asia and even from an extremely weakened and isolated Russia.
RC: Finally tell us about Russia's growing strength or even its weakness to influence regional security in Central Asia and Afghanistan?
GA: I have already answered. I don't know what else to say.
*Georgi Asatryan is an associate professor at the Lomonosov Moscow State University, Plekhanov Russian University of Economics, Institute of Scientific Information on Social Sciences of the Russian Academy of Science.