The Taliban and the region
Afghanistan is heading for more violence, chaos and instability. Fears of a bloody civil war are growing. The Taliban continue to gain ground in rural Afghanistan at the expense of the erosion of the authority of the Afghan government. Afghan forces continue to retreat and concede more areas to Taliban forces.
Violence has increased dramatically in Afghanistan in recent months. The peace process has made no serious progress. The Afghan government and the Taliban maintain their positions. In all of this, the Afghan people will be the real victims of this violence, instability and chaos.
What is currently happening in Afghanistan is a matter of concern not only to Pakistan but also to other countries in the region. Some fear that if the Afghan Taliban and the government fail to make a breakthrough in the inter-Afghan peace talks in Doha, then the violence, instability and chaos will increase even more.
The possible influx of Afghan refugees is also a cause for concern. Millions of Afghans could be forced to leave their homes if a civil war breaks out. Hundreds have already entered Tajikistan to seek refuge.
The other concern is that different militant groups could use areas under Taliban control to launch attacks in neighboring countries. Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan faced militancy in the 1990s, and many militants from these countries are based in Afghanistan. These countries fear that the advance of the Taliban will embolden these militant groups to launch new attacks.
The other possible fallout could be the spread of radicalization among conservative layers of the population. The success of the Taliban in Afghanistan will encourage other religious militant groups in the region to expand their influence and reactionary ideas.
The foreign ministers of the member countries of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) expressed their concern in the joint statement after the SCO-Afghanistan contact group meeting held in Dushanbe on July 14, 2021. The joint statement states that: “In accordance with universally accepted principles and norms of international law, primarily the Charter of the United Nations, the SCO countries reaffirm their respect for the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Afghanistan . They intend to facilitate the development of Afghanistan as a country free from terrorism, war and drugs.
“We condemn the continuing violence and terrorist attacks in Afghanistan, killing civilians and representatives of government agencies, and call for their cessation as soon as possible. We note that the activities of international terrorist organizations remain one of the main factors of instability in that country.
“We express our deep concern at the escalation of tensions in the northern provinces of Afghanistan due to a sharp increase in the concentration of various terrorist, separatist and extremist groups. We consider it important that SCO member states strengthen their joint efforts to combat terrorism, separatism and extremism.
“We urge all parties involved in the conflict in Afghanistan to refrain from resorting to force and actions that could lead to destabilization and unpredictable consequences near Afghan borders with SCO states.”
Taliban delegations are in talks with various regional powers to address their concerns and concerns. The Taliban are trying to assure countries in the region that they will not allow Uzbek, Tajik, Chechen and Tajik fighters to use Afghan soil to launch attacks. But suspicions still exist. There is mistrust between the two sides, based on the experiences of the Taliban regime’s past.
Countries in the region need a common strategy to prevent another civil war in Afghanistan. SCO member states can play an important role in bringing both the Afghan government and the Taliban to the negotiating table to start serious talks. They must take the initiative to prevent a civil war.
It seems that the Taliban want to make maximum gains in northern Afghanistan while engaging neighboring countries. The Taliban launched the offensive in northern Afghanistan as a strategy. One of the reasons for targeting northern Afghanistan instead of the western and eastern provinces appears to be to prevent any resistance from developing in the regions, as happened in 1997. Taliban failed to overcome resistance from Ahmed Shah Masood and other Northern Alliance commanders.
The other reason seems to be the blockage of major trade routes between Afghanistan and the states of Central Asia. They want to drain the revenue of the Afghan government and suffocate Kabul by depriving it of significant revenues, trade routes and resources in the north. Herat province in the northwest connects Afghanistan with Iran and Turkmenistan through vital border crossings.
This is why the Taliban made rapid advances in northern Afghanistan, considered the stronghold of anti-Taliban forces known as the Northern Alliance. The Northern Alliance, a coalition of various factions comprising mainly Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras, fought the Taliban in the 1990s. This prevented the group from invading the provinces of Badakhshan, Takhar and Panjshir, where was led a rival government mainly supported by Russia and Iran.
But this time the situation is different. There is an imposing figure like Ahmed Shah Masood to organize the resistance. The emergence of different militias cannot be ruled out in different provinces. The weakening of the Afghan forces will prompt the warlords to reorganize their groups and militias.
The Taliban have reportedly invaded large rural areas in northern Afghanistan. Many neighborhoods apparently fell into this area without much resistance. The Taliban surrounded many provincial capitals in northern Afghanistan after invading rural districts. Taliban forces have reportedly captured all of the main border crossings with Pakistan, China, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Iran.
In the past four weeks alone, the Taliban have invaded dozens of districts and virtually overtaken most of the region’s trade routes, border crossings and major routes, prompting Afghanistan’s neighbors to look to regional powers. for help. The Taliban now claim to control around 100 districts in northern Afghanistan, in addition to 85 districts elsewhere.
The writer is a freelance journalist.