The Central Asian space including Afghanistan has been contested for influence by the great powers for centuries.
The national poet of Pakistan Allama Mohammad Iqbal once said that Afghanistan is like the heart of Asia, if the heart is stable the whole body will remain stable. Unfortunately the heart of Asia has been in trouble which postpones the rise of entire Asia.
US/NATO physical presence in the heart of Asia promoted regional consensus on US withdrawal due to its conflicting geostrategic objectives vis-a-vis regional powers. The color revolutions in former Soviet space and in Kyrgyzstan raised concerns in Russia and CARs. China had its own reservations regarding US presence in its backyard while Iran and Pakistan both were uncomfortable with the US presence for their own reasons.
The regional consensus played decisive role in avoiding civil war in Afghanistan while the US/NATO very much expected civil war. Nevertheless a mess has been left for the Afghans and the regional states to deal with.
The regional consensus is imperative to continue for sustainable peace and stability. This regional understanding and cooperation will remain there if the immediate neighbors of Afghanistan consider that Taliban are a source of stability for the region and not a threat.
Lack of regional support will result in poor governance and economic hardships which in turn will be conducive to create ungoverned spaces where terrorist groups with transnational agenda can nurture.
When the US invaded Afghanistan there was only one terrorist group i.e. Al Qaida in Afghanistan while there are 22 terrorist groups as General Scott Miller NATO Chief for Afghanistan announced in a News Conference in 2018.
After devastating the Middle East it seems that escalation of conflict in Central Asia has been the option for the West to impede Eurasian integration.
When the so far called civilized world devastated Middle East, occupied Iraq they hanged Saddam Hossain, on the other hand demanding human rights and women rights from the Taliban. Indeed the backward Taliban announced general amnesty. I leave it to you people to decide who have adopted double standards.
So far Taliban have declared repeatedly that their agenda is national not transnational and they will not allow Afghan soil to be used against any country.
Challenges for Post-US Afghanistan
The first and foremost challenge is of recognition and legitimacy which will come on geo-political interests of regional and global powers. If the recognition delays a mess will take place in Afghanistan having serious regional and global consequences.
Another challenge is to generate revenue and to keep the state machinery running. Yet another challenge is the brain drain due to instability. Taliban needs skilled, professional, qualified and experienced human resource to govern the state.
If these challenges could not overcome in short term due to the lack of regional support, poppy cultivation and drug smuggling will increase giving space to lawlessness where humanitarian crises will be most imminent generating fresh wave of refugees to neighboring countries.
Taliban have proven ability to eradicate poppy cultivation and confront terrorist organizations. The regional states need to extend support for the interests of common Afghans, in the interests of the region and in the interests of the world at large.
If Afghanistan goes towards instability it will not remain a regional problem rather will become a global problem. The world need to understand this.
Inclusivity or Inclusive Setup
Internal and external support to Taliban will depend on their behavior i.e. tolerance, accommodating various ethnic, sectarian and political groups internally while demonstrating that they are a source of stability in the region by addressing neighbors’ concerns. For sustainable peace an all-inclusive political setup is important. Inclusiveness is also important to avoid a reflection of monopolizing the power. However there are paradoxes in Afghan society which contradict the notion of inclusivity such as warlordism, drug traffickers and tribalism. If the previous corrupt and ineffective warlords or politicians included in new setup, peace, stability and development can hardly be achieved.
Central Asian Republics (CARs) and Afghanistan
CARs are real stakeholders in the peace of Afghanistan. Peaceful and stable Afghanistan will serve as a gateway for Central Asia to South Asia and beyond.
As the Taliban seem changed in their world view from 1990s, the scenario for CARs is also entirely changed because they have consolidated their nation and statehood in contrast to the 1990s when the CARs were in political and economic transition. In addition CARs are members of SCO and CSTO except Turkmenistan, both the organizations have substantial muscles to provide joint security and keep Central Asia stable. Taliban have been to Moscow, Tashkent, Tehran, Islamabad and Beijing where some sort of guarantees would have been given regarding the borders security and terrorist groups in Afghanistan.
China’s Role in Afghanistan
China as a direct neighbor of Afghanistan has a major role to play in the reconstruction and development of Afghanistan. China enjoys a kind of neutral position as far as Afghanistan is concerned as it avoided to become part of the American war in Afghanistan. It had developed contacts with Taliban while remained in touch with former Kabul regime. China is pursuing a policy of economic development and non-interference. China with its financial capacity can develop transportation and logistics network in Afghanistan to make it hub for Central and South Asian connectivity.
Afghanistan as a regional corner stone links all regional integration plans and projects including those of CAREC, ECO, BRI, Eurasian Union, CPEC, TAPI, CASA 1000 and Trans-Afghan Railway line.
The Russian-Chinese collaboration has been realizing Mackinder’s heartland theory turning the current century into Eurasian century.
Russia and Afghanistan
Russia considers security of the outer borders of former Soviet space imperative for its own security. Central Asia’s security will be thus indirect responsibility of Russia. Peaceful Afghanistan is essential for peaceful Central Asia. Another important Russia’s interest in Afghanistan originates from drugs and its trafficking as Russia has the highest per capita consumption of heroin in the world. Stable Afghanistan with a strong Central government is very much in the interests of Russia which can control poppy cultivation as well as its borders. Peaceful Afghanistan also offers tremendous opportunities to Russia for investment in its mineral wealth.
Kazakhstan occupies the heartland of Eurasian landmass. It has important role in connecting Eurasian landmass for transcontinental trade corridors in the form of pipelines, highways, railways etc. The Eurasian Northern and Central Corridors through Kazakhstan and other CARs open up the heartland in all directions. The Eurasian integration will ultimately shift power from the Sea Powers to Land Powers. For this to materialize peace in the heart of Asia that is Afghanistan is a prerequisite. Kazakhstan has been providing flour and other essential items and has also offered scholarships for Afghan national. Kazakhstan as an upper-middle income country can play important role in the reconstruction of this war torn country and can also invest in the mineral wealth of Afghanistan for mutual benefit.
Uzbekistan has been leading the region in terms of regionalism and inter-regional connectivity. Tashkent initiated the 6+2 initiative during the 1990s, it recently facilitated and participated in the Doha process and also hosted Taliban delegation for the sake of stability in Afghanistan. Having a border of around 150 km long, Tashkent has been providing humanitarian aid in these times of need and crises. Uzbekistan has also recently initiated the process of extending Termiz-Mazare Sahrif Railway to Peshawar via Kabul. It will help in developing a logistics and transport corridor between Central and South Asia making Afghanistan a transit hub as Tashkent is just one and half hour drive from Chimkent in Southern Kazakhstan.
Pakistan according to UNESCO study is a Central Asian country and Pakistan considers itself so. Pakistan has framed a new policy within the region i.e. “Vision Central Asia” prioritizing enhanced connectivity with CARs.
Pakistan and CARs including brotherly Kazakhstan are members of ECO, CAREC and SCO within the region for economic connectivity, integration and security.
Pakistan shares more than 2600 km long border with Afghanistan having ethnic, religious, linguistic and economic bonds with Afghanistan. No country suffers the most from instability in Afghanistan than Pakistan and similarly no country will benefit the most from peace and stability than Pakistan.
Due to multi-faceted and multi-dimensional relations between the two countries, Pakistan’s role in peace, stability and reconstruction of Afghanistan will remain central. Pakistan supported every peace initiative for Afghanistan undertaken by any country or any group of countries.
Pakistan believes that in this Eurasian Century peace in Afghanistan is imperative leading towards a win win situation for all regional states with enhanced connectivity through Eurasian heartland for shared growth, prosperity and security via increased interdependence.