Photo by Suliman Sallehi from Pexels

The current scenario 

The Taliban takeover of the political system of Afghanistan on August 15, 2021 is a monumental global event with far reaching consequences for the not so distant future. The unprecedented and unplanned US army withdrawal from the war fronts across the troubled land has surprised the entire globe. Furthermore, after spending billions of dollars on training the Afghan police and armed forces for almost two decades; their complete surrender to the Taliban aggressors without even minimal resistance has further shocked the entire globe.

Image 1: Kabul, Afghanistan at happier times. Photo credit: Anjan Dasgupta; Photo collage: Saikat Kumar Basu

The last bold fight put together by the Northern Alliance has now been decimated. Most of the high officials of the erstwhile Afghan government including the President, Vice President along with several parliamentarians and celebrities have left the country in haste. The complete control and surrender of Afghanistan by the Taliban forces has thus been successfully achieved.

Looking back into the recent past

Under these circumstances and the huge power vacuum left by the NATO forces under US leadership has thrown Afghanistan into disarray. Both the socio-economic and socio-political conditions of the nation has been transforming from bad to worse. The minimal democracy, peace and modern administration enjoyed by the unfortunate Afghan communities under two back-to-back highly inefficient and corrupt so-called democratic governments under President Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Gani has evaporated under the current Taliban administration. Mass killing, harassment, torture and abuse of innocent citizens across Afghanistan under Taliban rule is being reported repeatedly in the international media.

Image 2: The new geopolitical face of Afghanistan. Artist: Suhan Mondal

Taliban has declared an administrative cabinet in the line of Iran; and most of the members of the cabinet are either hardcore Islamic jihadists or notorious warlords and gang members of various feuding Taliban fractions. The strong under the current of an imminent power struggle among these feuding group members is quite alarming. There is a high possibility that Afghanistan will get involved in a long drawn civil war due to this unsettled power struggle within the Taliban fractions.

Afghanistan: An already divided nation

Another important thing to remember is that Afghanistan is an ethnically diverse country. In addition to the Pashtun majority; there are other communities living in the country representing Tajiks, Uzbeks, Turkmens, Hazaras and other smaller ethnic groups and religious minorities (like Hindus and Sikhs) that are not in close ethnic and political association with the Pashtun dominated Taliban. In fact they have a very long and dark history of animosity, hatred, social discrimination as well as bitter wars fraught for centuries.

Together with the geostrategic location of the country; ensuing power struggle, political instability and chances of civil war runs the risk of disintegration of Afghanistan into sizable portions controlled by warlords and ethnic communities as their military strongholds. Due this never ending power struggle in the country Afghanistan has been historically known as the ‘graveyard of civilizations’. No one has been able to completely rule Afghanistan including the erstwhile British empire and Soviet Union; and presently a confused and humiliated US and NATO forces.

The creation of a new global high voltage flashpoint

The economic and military cost of the war in Afghanistan has drained US economy drastically. It is considered to be the greatest factor pushing President Joe Biden to quit Afghanistan in such haste. But with no super power presence, the country under a belligerent force with dark past and activities clearly identified as crime against humanity, a new global flashpoint has been created. Pakistan a country being slowly transformed into a den of radical religious leaders, hardcore jihadists and numerous terror organizations working openly has been a long known under covert supporter of Taliban.

Image 3: The nation at crossroads. Artist: Suhan Mandal

It has been pointed by both Afghan local media as well as international news agencies that Pakistan has secretly supported the return of Taliban through political, economic and military aids. Pakistan feels that this she has created a strategic alliance on her eastern front to focus with her proxy war with India in the eastern front. But little does she realizes that this could hit back Pakistan in the future like a boomerang. Insurgency in Afghanistan has caused great grief for Pakistan in the past; but she never seems to be learning any lesson from her past mistakes.

The highly porous Af-Pak international border is an open invitation for infiltrators to move back and forth according to their need. It is also important to remember that Afghanistan till date has never accepted the international boundary drawn by the British called the infamous Durand Line between British India and Afghanistan. The international border with Afghanistan inherited by Pakistan in 1947 from British India is still a highly debated issue. All historic governments of Afghanistan from communists to democratic or radical governments have never officially accepted Duran Line as the recognized international border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. The volatile political establishment of both Pakistan and Afghanistan is now a huge threat for the entire Middle East, Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent for the spill over impact.

There is a high possibility that this radical philosophy, war mongering, political instability will spread into eastern Iran, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and north western India. The volatile flashpoint created is generating huge push of the Afghan refugees into the adjacent countries. With this huge wave of economic migrants, prospective immigrants and fleeing refugees taking shelter across international border of Afghanistan in adjacent countries; there are good possibilities of hardliner armed groups infiltrating into these countries and initiating radicalization and socio-political jihads causing future instability, border confrontations and political unrest across the borders of Afghanistan.

Who are the biggest beneficiaries of the Afghan crisis?

The biggest game player and beneficiary arising from this chaos in the region is China. Both China and Russia has officially recognized Taliban as a legitimate ruler of Afghanistan. China’s One Road-One Belt (OBR) project will be boosted by cross connecting both Pakistan and Afghanistan into infrastructure development linking landlocked western China to the warm waters of Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf in the long run. Russia has been isolated by the Western powers for a long time and she finds a natural ally now with a belligerent China flexing muscles in the region. China has confirmed extending economic support to Taliban together with under table deals with Russia and Taliban to create a future grand ally of Pakistan-Afghanistan-China-Russia. Such a nexus could be a monumental threat to global and regional peace; and a significant shift in the international geopolitical power balance.

What lies in the future?

Afghanistan has been the center stage of the old Great Game played first between the erstwhile British and Russian Empires; and then between the United States and former Soviet Union. These Great Games have devastated the country with a long legacy of bloodshed, civil wars, riots, ethnic cleansing, terrorist activities and mass murders. The current geopolitical circumstances in Afghanistan have once again opened the doors of another new Great Game to be played on the Afghan soil with catastrophic consequences for the future. With political instability from Pakistan across Afghanistan and Iran into the Middle East; the country is sitting on a time bomb ready to explode at the slightest provocation. With the United Nations repeatedly failing play any active role as a global or regional peacemaker, the social, economic and political future of Afghanistan is great peril.

Furthermore, the dangers of dissolution and disintegration of Afghanistan into smaller states is not an ideal solution for the establishment of peace and democracy in the region. However, credible geopolitical resolution does not seem to be available at the present moment. Hence, we have to wait and watch at the situation and pray for peace and democracy to prevail in the country in the future; so that the unfortunate citizens of Afghanistan can find long lasting peace and prospect for their next generation. The situation is no doubt extremely serious and all global players and stakeholders must be responsible for their actions. Any false or aggressive military moves, provocation, misunderstanding and miscommunication could cause catastrophic impact on the region.

Afghanistan being surrounded by heavily nuclear armed neighbors on all sides like Iran, China, Russia, Pakistan and India is another deadly cocktail that may result in cataclysmic wars with devastating impact. Under these difficult circumstances we should hope that every major stakeholder in the region will be careful as well thoughtful not to put a wrong step at a wrong place. Hopefully international geopolitical pressure, diplomatic measures abs military counter balance in the region will finally resolve the New Great Game looming in Afghanistan. 

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