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70th Milestone of the Indian Republic: Building a New Foreign Policy Partnership with Sri Lanka

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Authors: Srimal Fernando and Yashodha Rathnayake

It is 70 years since the first republic day of India which is a significant milestone in the Indian sub-continent history. Twenty two years later following the footsteps of India the southern neighbor Sri Lanka became a republic in 1972.  The tremendous political will of the makers of the two modern South Asian nations are good reasons to be proud off. Both of these nations had experienced several phases of foreign policy making since the time of independence. Modernization of Indo-Lanka foreign policy approach also emphasizes trade ties should be the prime determinant of this diplomacy. In recent years, the constitutional framework of India and Sri Lanka created the necessary pre-conditions to secure a stable, democratic future for the South Asian nations. It is evidently worthwhile to say that both of these nations share common interests, values and beliefs from generation to generation. In fact, during the post-independence history the two nations have had some remarkable foreign policy successes. What catches the eye, the most is its closer geographical proximity and the scope this cooperation will further carry forward diplomatic endeavors based on profound historical linkages.

Nonetheless both of these nations need to show greater flexibility, pragmatism to reinforce this optimistic long-standing relationship. Viewing through the prism of economic diplomacy the favorable contrast between India and Sri Lanka can also be measured through economic indicators. When we carefully review the two way trade, India and Sri Lanka had worked hard to normalize the trade status through the South Asian Free Trade   Agreement (SAFTA). Further Indo Lanka Free Trade Agreement (ISFTA) reviewed the economic diplomatic aspects between the two neighbors. These two agreements provided a wide range of alternatives.  Yet one could argue that the uneasiness in these trade ties was a far cry and was quite gloomy prior to signing the ISFTA and the SAFTA. The annual bilateral trade figures had risen to over US$ 4.6 billion in 2016 from  US$ 1.7 billion  in 2004 (Consulate General of Sri Lanka in Mumbai). Especially greater exports from Sri Lanka to India was US$789 million in 2017 that contributed towards greater economic ties. (United Nations comtrade database on international trade, 2018). If everything goes well according to plan, in the next couple of years, the bilateral trade volume might reach US$ 8 billion (estimates, 2019).

If we analyze another aspect of the foreign policy, the two way trade and opportunities can be improved, if Sri Lankan consumer demands and Indian supply side are balanced with minimum tariffs. Therefore, not all tariff concessions are necessarily beneficial. However, Indo-Lanka market oriented companies must build those bonds to smoothen the trade relations. Hence for Sri Lanka and India, the economic diplomacy has a dependency perspective emphasizing on exports and imports of major commodities. As a matter of fact, the joint effort of India and Sri Lanka gaining preferential access to the regional common market through SAFTA stands as a major achievement. The other side of this diplomacy is the bilateral aid policy of India. In 2014, a new era of South Asian diplomacy began with India’s neighborhood policy. During a state visit to Sri Lanka, Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi, one of the most famous state leaders in the modern political history stated,

“When I look at Sri Lanka, I see not only a neighbor, but a very special and trusted partner of India in South Asian and in the Indian Ocean. I believe that our development cooperation with Sri Lanka is an important means for translating our vision of shared progress into reality”.

Trade alone does not create a mutuality of interest among the bonded neighbors. India has served through the decades as a major supporter of Sri Lanka’s development process. Sri Lanka is one of the major recipients of development credit given by the Government of India, with total commitment of US$ 2.6 billion (High Commission of India, Colombo, 2017). As for credit itself India had been prepared to offer major concessions for Sri Lanka in the past few years.   For example   US$ 800 million line of credit for the laying of the 150 kilometer Northern Railway track that is in operation since 2014 was one of the major milestones in Indo–Lanka cooperation. From an analytical stand point, the commitment from the Indian government to construct 50,000 housing units especially in the conflict affected areas was commendable. On the other hand, in 2018 a state of the art ambulance service that was launched in all provinces under the Indian assisted “Suwasariya” medical aid project is another highly admirable initiative that won the hearts and minds of Sri Lankans.  In this respect last year at the signing ceremony of the “Suwasariya” project, the current High Commissioner of India to Sri Lanka Shri Taranjit Singh Sandhu stated, “This joint project is one of the most shining examples of the India-Sri Lanka friendship”.

The real trade and aid flows between India and Sri Lanka are highly interactive and interdependent. Sri Lanka’s policy makers must adapt new changes in India’s approach towards South Asian nations with the growing economic tendencies. The success of solidifying Indo-Lanka ties rest in policy makers’ hands. In fact, both these nations might take on responsibility of becoming the future architects of taking forward and modernizing the SAFTA policies that benefit the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). In this context, SAFTA is a crucial entry point for Indo–Sri Lanka cooperation. Therefore, India and Sri Lanka has articulated a free trade policy objective which is a step towards more effectiveness on bilateral and regional level interactions. In years ahead India together with Sri Lanka needs to fashion out a new foreign policy strategy that builds considerable strength. Despite these promising signs, the framers of the new foreign policy doctrine between India and Sri Lanka, requires wisdom and far-sightedness in forging stronger neighborly relations.

*Yashodha Jayathmi Rathnayake, a scholar BA (Hons) in English, at the Faculty of Social Sciences and Languages, Sabaragamuwa University of Sri Lanka.

Research scholar at Jindal School of International Affairs, India and an editor of Diplomatic Society for South Africa

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Turkey’s role in Afghanistan

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North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) on Thursday launched a training program in Turkey for Afghan military personnel. This is the first time when Afghan soldiers are being trained outside their country after the end of the NATO training mission in Afghanistan, Pajhwok News reported. “NATO’s continued support to Afghanistan includes out-of-country training for Afghan Special Forces. This training has now begun. For security reasons, we will not go into the details of our out-of-country training for Afghan special forces,” NATO informed. Earlier, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg reiterated NATO’s continued support for Afghanistan, noting that this will include funding, civilian presence, and out-of-country training, Pajhwok News reported.

The US, along with its allies of 46 nations, fought in Afghanistan for almost two decades, spent trillions of Dollars, sacrificed thousands of its soldiers, and yet admitted that the Afghan war is “un-win-able,” and finally withdrew from Afghanistan. Afghanistan is known as the graveyard of empires. Historically, British, Russians, and now Americans have been defeated in Afghanistan.

Although the US has destroyed infrastructure, power plants, Industry, Agriculture, and killed millions of innocent Afghanis, made millions homeless, forced millions to live in refugee camps or immigrate to other countries and live a miserable life. But count not control any part of Afghan soil. Almost 90 percent of Afghanistan is under Taliban control practically.

The role of the Afghan Government of Ashraf Ghani or Hamid Karzai was not different from President Dr. Najeeb, Hafiz Ullah Amin, Noor Muhammad Turkey, etc. Under the occupation of the former USSR in the 1980s. One was USSR’s puppets, and now it is American puppets’ governments. Both were not elected by the people of Afghanistan and were not representatives of the Afghan people. Both were imposed on the people of Afghanistan and were backed by foreign forces, i.e., the former USSR, and now it is the US. Both were working on foreign agenda and were not looking after the people of Afghanistan nor the national interests. Both were employees of foreign forces and were working on their dictations and were implementing foreigner’s strategic plans.  While President Ashraf Ghani and Hamid Karzai were following their footprints, their end should be similar too. There will be no role of the Afghan Ghani government of Hamid Karzai in the future political setup in Afghanistan.

It is the Taliban who struggled to liberate their motherland from foreign forces, either from British, or Russians, or Americans. Taliban are the real power-pillars, owners of the country, and winners of the decades-old war. They protect Afghanistan and look after the interests of Afghanistan genuinely. They are the winner, and they deserve to rule the country. There will be no share for Ashraf Ghani or Hamid Karzai or any traitor serving foreign masters. 

Although the bias and partial media kept on projecting the negative image of the Taliban and portraying them as uneducated, wild, cruel, and uncivilized, but actually, they are well educated, some of them graduated from American or European Universities. They are equipped with the latest knowledge of Economy, Science, Technology, Engineering, Health, and religions, etc. Whatever propaganda is disseminated against them, all turn wrong and counter-productive. At the end of the day, they have defeated the foreign aggressors throughout history and now are in a strong position to rule the country.

As the major part of the country is under Taliban control and Government forces are surrendering with almost no resistance. Taliban are in a position to enter Kabul at any moment conveniently. But, they are wise and smart people and wanted a political solution. Militarily, they are the winner but are struggling to gain recognition from the rest of the world politically. The recent visit of the Taliban to China was part of their diplomatic breakthrough. They have got recognition from Russia and China, and many other countries under their influence. They have close contact with few European countries and middle-eastern countries. Once they are confident that their Government will receive a welcome from the international community, they will enter Kabul without any hardship. 

Few countries are trying to harm the peace process in Afghanistan but will never succeed. The American support to the Afghan Government is one tool to keep Afghan unstable and war-like situation. When the US was in Afghanistan, having 150,000 troops, support, and backing of 46 countries, full military might, could not defeat the Taliban. How can they succeed while out of Afghanistan and making airstrikes from far away bases in Middle-East. Afghan Government has no capacity to face the Taliban at all.

It seems that the US has changed its strategy and wanted to involve Turkey in Afghanistan. Post withdrawal, Turkey may be asked to provide security of Kabul airport. Let me share Pakistan’s experience. It might help our Turk brothers. After the 9/11 incident in 2001, Pakistan supported the US in its war on terror. During the Afghan war, Pakistan was with the American side. Taliban believes that Americans were aggressors and any country supporting aggressors is equally wrong and considered an enemy. So, the Taliban turn up against Pakistan and fighting against Pakistan. Terrorism increased in Pakistan, Taliban were attacking Pakistan on and off and harming Pakistan’s interests. Principally, the Taliban should be friendly with Pakistan, but as a cost of friendship with America, we faced enmity with the Taliban and paid a heavy price. On the other hand, Americans also betrayed Pakistan and, after gaining its strategic goals, punished Pakistan in the form of sanctions and blackmailing. Americans have a tradition of punishing their friend and always proved disloyal.

Let’s Turks evaluate and re-asses the benefits of offering training to Afghan Army and cost on enmity with Taliban, and decide in their best national interests.  

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North-East India Towards Peace and Prosperity: Bangladesh Paves the Way

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Bangladesh has always been one of the brightest examples of religious harmony and peace. “secularism” is not only a word that’s inscribed in Bangladesh’s constitution as one of the four fundamental principles of the state, but it’s also an automatism that shapes the social subsistence of Bangladeshi people.

But there was a rise in ripples in the non-perpetual tranquility in the name of terrorism and religious extremism. Although Islamist parties were constantly present in politics, Islamist factions first emerged in 1989 in Bangladesh and they run riot in the following years with the sole desire of establishing Caliphate in the region. The incidents of attack on Udichi, bomb blast on Ramna Batamul, nationwide series bomb blast, target killings of bloggers, rise of Bangla Bhai and Shayokh Abdur Rahman had dished the public morals and compelled the government to form a rapid force to put a stopper on them.

All the efforts and prevalence against terrorism were besmirched on July 1, 2016, after the terrorist attack on the Holy Artisan, a ritzy eatery, just a stone’s throw away from the American Embassy. The Dhaka attack along with a string of attacks afterwards opened a new chapter of terror for Bangladesh. With encrypted communication system the terrorists were trying to engage the state with newer weapons. After that attack, Bangladesh launched a full-fledged war against terrorism and was mostly successful. An early interview of Tamim Ahmed Chawdhury, the mastermind of the Holy Artisan attack, on ‘Dabiq’ (the online magazine of Islamic States of Iraq and the Levant) reveals their reasons of using Bangladesh for terror attacks to be the geopolitical advantage and close proximity to India. Bangladesh has often been used as a launch-pad of attacks against India; not only for Islamist terror attacks from outside, but also for their inside insurgencies.

Bangladesh, the subconscious protector of its closest neighbor, had often played the role of a coadjutor in countering insurgencies of North East region of India. The Chairman of United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa) Aravinda Rajkhowa was detained and handed over to India in 2009, the ULFA stalwart Anup Chetia was arrested in 1997 and deported in 2015 after 18 years of imprisonment in Bangladesh, ULFA leader Ranju Chowdhury alias Rattan Sarker was arrested in 2010. Bangladesh handed over the entire ULFA leadership and Bodo insurgent leaders to India. Bangladesh’s zero tolerance policy against terrorism had benefitted India immensely as North-East insurgencies were a real bummer for India.

India might have paid the favor back by covertly helping Bangladesh to arrest fugitive killer of ‘Bangabandhu’ Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. It’s known that there is an extra-ordinary real-time co-operation and collaboration between the intelligence agencies of India and Bangladesh.

India repeatedly lauds Bangladesh’s zero tolerance policy against terrorism, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Indian President Ramnath Kovind, Foreign Minister, Home Minister and Chief Ministers of neighboring states had often expressed their appreciations and gramercy.

For now, the insurgency is on its lowest in the North-eastern part of India, for which the newly elected Chief Minister of Assam, Hemant Bishwa Sharma has expressed his gratitude to Bangladesh and desire to enhance business and connectivity between Bangladesh and North-East India. It will happen eventually, equally benefitting both the countries, strengthening the ties. Just as Bangladesh extended its hand to establish peace there, India also needs Bangladesh’s assistance for the prosperity of that region. India wants to reach and connect to the hard-to-reach part with transit facility from Bangladesh, which Bangladesh responds with a counter-proposal of transshipment. A trial run had held last year opening a new door of economic potential.

Regional trade is below its potential in South Asia, but leaders of India and Bangladesh are building upon strong bilateral ties for economic growth and prosperity. Maitri Setu, or Friendship Bridge, built over the Feni River is a crucial corridor that will facilitate this. Several connectivity channels were revived, whereas few projects are ongoing, many are on the negotiation table. If a seamless connectivity is established, time and cost will be reduced and both the side of the border will prosper exponentially. This hard-earned fleeting quiescence in NE can only be slacked up if livelihood and trade become exacerbated. Like peace, prosperity in NE may come taking Bangladesh’s hand.

Insurgencies in NE had taken it back by 50 years. It’s high time India concentrated on the betterment of the livelihood of the people of NE. For this connectivity and infrastructure development with Bangladesh is must. This will also open new avenues of transportation through Bangladesh to NE, Bhutan and Nepal.

There is an age-old philosophy that it is the interdependence of economics, survival, stability, progress, and security that reduces the chances of conflicts between nations, especially the neighbors. Stability, peace, progress, and security of India and Bangladesh are interlinked and interdependent due to their common interests, future and destiny.

A peaceful region enhances business, boosts economy. Peace is what the people of Bangladesh and India wants. Peace is everyone’s right.

May peace be upon everyone in the world.

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What Does NATO Withdrawal from Afghanistan Mean for Regional Actors?

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By September 11, 2021, NATO’s 20-year operation in Afghanistan will come to a close. That date marks the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on U.S. soil that prompted the invasion of the Central Asian state to eradicate the Taliban and the Al-Qaeda extremist group which used the country as a base for global terrorism.

America’s longest and most expensive war is coming to an end, but the country left behind finds itself in a state of turmoil. Peace talks between the internationally recognized Afghan government based in Kabul and the Taliban held in Doha, Qatar, have stalled. The Taliban’s hand in negotiations is becoming increasingly strong as the group has managed to seize power in roughly ⅓ of Afghanistan’s administrative districts sending Afghan government forces fleeing across the borders of neighboring states. Many districts have fallen to the Taliban without much resistance from the NATO-funded and equipped government forces compounding fears that Taliban influence and power will only grow as coalition forces complete their withdrawal.

The NATO withdrawal creates significant hurdles for regional stability and a power vacuum in Central Asia. There are several players, both internal and external, who are seeking to fill the void left by the Americans and their allies. Pakistan, India, Iran, Turkey, China and Russia seem poised to play the next “great game” in the so-called “graveyard of empires”. Some of these states have a vested interest in the stability of Afghanistan to ensure regional security and foster economic interests as well as mitigate the spread of extremism and narcotics flows from the state. Some actors stand to benefit from the current instability; supporting rival groups in hopes of enhancing influence and having the upper hand on geopolitical adversaries when the dust settles on the Afghan conflict. This paper will identify some of the most prominent outside actors in the current Afghan crisis, what those actors seek to gain in Afghanistan, and how they will try to achieve those aims.

Pakistan

Pakistan is arguably the most active actor in Afghanistan at this point. Pakistan has longstanding ties to conflict in Afghanistan. During the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, Pakistan was an important base for the Mujahidin who eventually waged a guerilla war against Soviet invaders. Pakistan aided the United States in promoting opposition to the Soviets in Afghanistan and was incredibly successful in this role. In the contemporary context, Islamabad has maintained close ties to the Taliban offering support in military hardware, intelligence, being a haven for those fleeing NATO coalition advances in Afghanistan. There are cultural links between Afghan and Pakistani communities with Pashtun tribes living along the borders. Pakistan is one of the major actors that is thriving in the current instability caused by NATO’s withdrawal. The links between the Taliban and Islamabad allow Pakistan to wield considerable influence in Afghanistan; Pakistan has been increasingly pursuing a policy separate from its former close U.S. ally, with relations damaged between the two over Pakistan’s support for terrorist groups. Islamabad also maintains a poor relationship with the internationally recognized government in Kabul. Recently, the Afghan government has recalled senior diplomats from its embassy in Pakistan over the alleged kidnapping of the ambassador’s daughter on the Pakistani soil. Pakistan is also in constant competition for influence in the region in opposition to its historic rival, India.

Despite benefitting from the current turmoil in Afghanistan, its ambitions have become more nuanced in recent years. Pakistan has been growing closer with China, described as its “iron brother” and is a major recipient of investment under the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative. Pakistan is being forced to re-evaluate its policy in Afghanistan to protect its links to China and prospective projects under the BRI. China is interested in promoting stability in the region, it has been hesitant to invest in Afghanistan due to previous experience with instability damaging economic prospects in the country. Pakistan and China have engaged with the Taliban and Kabul in a trilateral format to promote peaceful resolution in the country, solidifying both states’ role in the peace process and protecting a potential economic corridor. There is also the prospect of a rail line linking Pakistan, Afghanistan and Uzbekistan for both passenger and cargo freight that will not move forward without security guarantees in Afghanistan.

Despite playing the role of destabilizer for decades, Pakistan now seeks to reimagine its role as one of a mediator and promoter of economic stability and regional connectivity. Pakistan’s ties with the Taliban, although still strong in some groups within the Taliban, are strained by the perception of the Taliban as Pakistan’s proxy in Afghanistan. The two do share common interests and goals in the country, including opposition to the Kabul government; the Taliban is careful to distance itself from Pakistan to some degree in hopes of projecting itself as an independent and legitimate actor. The Afghan Taliban has also refused to distance itself from the Pakistani Taliban despite repeated attempts at pressuring the group to do so by Islamabad. The United States has also put pressure on the Taliban in peace talks to remove military personnel and structures from neighboring countries, a direct reference to Pakistan where the Taliban has a significant presence on the ground.

India

India’s aims in Afghanistan are very clear: to counter the influence of Pakistan and to reduce the potential for Afghan territory to be used as a base for anti-Indian extremism. India has long been opposed to the Taliban and maintained a policy of non-engagement with the group. This policy has recently changed due to the changing conditions on the ground. This is not unique to India, many states that have formally declared the Taliban a terrorist organization have been forced to accept the likely scenario that the Taliban will remain a consistent force in the country moving forward. The Indian government has supported the U.S. and NATO mission in Afghanistan and the government in Kabul through investment and diplomatic support. With the Kabul-based government losing control of large swathes of territory and widely seen as corrupt and unpopular, New Delhi has engaged with the Taliban in direct talks.

Indian assets have been targeted by Taliban groups with close ties to Pakistan, such as the Haqqani Group, for years. Indian investment and support in the governance of Afghanistan were also largely contingent upon the (relative) security and stability provided by NATO forces in the country; these investments are now at risk of becoming a sunk cost with little to show. India under BJP Prime Minister Narendra Modi has sought to take a more active role in international affairs, particularly in countering Pakistan and China’s influence on the Asian continent. India may seek greater involvement in the Afghan peace process; likely through increased coordination and cooperation with Russia and Iran. Besides, India may want to utilize its position as a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), of which China and Pakistan are also members, to find common ground on the Afghan security issue with its traditional adversaries. It is also important to note that if the Taliban seeks to become a legitimate governing force in Afghanistan, cooperation with New Delhi will be important as it is an important regional player with significant economic and political clout. This cooperation may take the form of greater separation between the Taliban and Pakistan’s intelligence services which India views as a hostile actor and promoter of anti-Indian terrorist activities.

Turkey

Turkey’s position in Afghanistan presents many opportunities for the only Islamic-majority member of the NATO alliance. Turkey’s foreign military presence under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been significant with active involvement in Syria, Libya, Iraq, Nagorno-Karabakh. Turkey’s relationship with the United States and other NATO allies has been tense in recent years. Its military involvement in Syria and Libya has not been received positively by all parties, and its purchase of Russian S-400 missile defense systems drew the ire of the alliance, ending with Turkey’s removal from the F-35 fighter program.

Turkey has recently attempted to restore its reputation with NATO allies and the United States after some viewed Erdoğan as increasingly authoritarian and too close to Russia. It has offered to secure Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai International Airport, seen as an essential link to the world for international diplomats to remain in Afghanistan following NATO withdrawal. The government in Ankara is also seeking to increase its involvement in Afghanistan as a mediator with the Taliban; Turkey has hosted the Taliban and Kabul-based government for talks in Istanbul earlier this year.

Greater Turkish involvement in Afghanistan as a security guarantor and mediator, welcomed by NATO allies, is not being received positively by all parties. The Taliban have gone on record stating that a continued Turkish military presence in Afghanistan is not acceptable. The group believes that Turkish troops remaining in Afghanistan violate the terms of the 2020 peace agreement with the United States that stipulates NATO troops are obliged to withdraw from Afghanistan. They believe that Turkey, despite being “a great Islamic country”, is still an occupational force that will not be tolerated. Russia may also be unenthusiastic about a greater Turkish role in Afghanistan. While Russia does have a vested interest in maintaining stability in Afghanistan, recent competition with Turkey for influence in its Central Asian sphere of influence (particularly, in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict) means an enlarged security role for Turkey in its backyard may be received coolly by Moscow.

Iran

Iran, which shares a 900+ km land border with Afghanistan, also intends to play a greater role in Afghanistan following the departure of its NATO adversaries. Iran, a Shiite-majority nation, has a complicated relationship with the Sunni Taliban. The two have long had ideological differences that have been glazed over due to a common enemy in the United States. The Afghan government has accused both Iran and Russia of training and equipping Taliban militants on Iranian territory for attacks on NATO and government forces. Iran is forced to take a more realist approach to the Taliban. Despite ideological differences, it recognizes that the Taliban will remain a powerful influence in Afghanistan and sees its best prospects for influence in the region through cooperation with the Taliban and traditional allies like Russia.

Iran also has economic and demographic considerations pertaining to the Afghan conflict. Iran is home to 780,000 registered Afghan immigrants and refugees in addition to an estimated 2.1-2.5 million undocumented Afghan migrants. Iran faces a future demographic crisis; its population is aging, its economy is in decline, and fertility rates are far below the necessary levels to spur future economic growth. With the impact of Western sanctions sending the Iranian economy into a tailspin, Iranians are now hesitant to have more children as economic prospects in the country decline. The Afghan crisis provides Iran with a potential surge in migration that may help mitigate population decline and strengthen its negotiating power in resolving the conflict.

Russia

Russia’s position in Afghanistan is multifaceted. The historical memory of the Soviet-Afghan War from 1979-89 which is widely regarded as a significant contributing factor to the decline of the Soviet Union still weighs heavily on many Russians. Russia also maintains close security ties to the states that border Afghanistan, namely: Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Iran. Russia’s largest foreign military base is in Tajikistan, while the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a Russia-led military alliance, figures to play a major role in any fallout from the Afghan crisis to secure the borders of member states. Russia has deployed tanks to the Afghan-Tajik border and plans to hold joint exercises with Uzbekistan and Tajikistan in August along the border regions. Russia considers Central Asia and the former Soviet states to be its sphere of influence and maintains this influence through its role as the primary regional security guarantor. The current Afghan crisis represents a significant challenge to this role.

Russia’s long-standing opposition to a NATO presence on its southern flank is well-known, but the “hasty” withdrawal of the coalition forces threatens to provoke instability across the entire region. Russia fears that Afghanistan’s internal instability could spread to fragile neighbor states, such as Turkmenistan and Tajikistan. It also has legitimate concerns about the prospect of Afghanistan being used as a base for extremism targeted towards Russia or supportive of terrorists in Russia’s Caucasus regions. There is also the issue of the Taliban’s role in the narcotics trade in Central Asia. Russia has an interest in the stability of Afghanistan and the ability to reduce the flow of Afghan heroin through Central Asia and into Russia.

Russia will be an important actor in Afghanistan moving forward, and there are unique opportunities to collaborate with traditional allies and old adversaries alike. The Taliban, formally a terrorist organization under Russian law, were invited to Moscow for talks regarding the Afghan peace process in March 2021. Russia will likely coordinate with its allies in the CSTO and SCO to take a larger role in promoting stability in Afghanistan. Direct unilateral military involvement in Afghanistan by Russia is unlikely due to the legacy of the Soviet-Afghan War but collective support vis-a-vis multilateral forums remains in the realm of possibility. It has also recently been reported that Russia has made a surprising bid for cooperation on Afghanistan with the United States. At their summit in Geneva earlier this year, President Putin made an offer to President Biden for U.S. forces to utilize Russia’s Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan military bases for intelligence operations in Afghanistan. The United States has still not committed to acting on Russia’s offer, but after promising greater cooperation at the Geneva summit the potential for enhanced cooperation on Afghanistan is not out of the question despite tensions between the two powers.

China

China shares similar ambitions to Russia in maintaining the stability of Afghanistan. China considers the Taliban a terrorist organization and is wary of the group due to its previous support for separatist Uighur Muslims in its bordering Xinjiang autonomous region. However, like Russia, China understands that the Taliban presence in Afghanistan is an undeniable reality. It recognizes that a degree of cooperation with the Taliban is necessary to maintain stability and influence going forward. In 2019, Beijing held talks on the Afghan peace process with the Taliban seeking to establish ties with the group it had previously opposed. China is seeking to play an active role in the economic reconstruction of Afghanistan following the NATO withdrawal. The country’s flagship Belt and Road Initiative and China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) are significant investments that require regional stability to flourish. China has dangled the prospect of greater Afghan involvement in the CPEC as an incentive to maintain stability in Afghanistan where it has previously been hesitant to invest.

Like Russia, China is incredibly concerned about the prospect of Afghanistan being used as a base for exporting extremism into its territory, particularly in Xinjiang. Flows of narcotics into China via Afghanistan are also a cause for concern for decision-makers in Beijing. The Chinese government has maintained its best prospects for mitigating these potential issues through active engagement with the Taliban and the incentive of monetary support in exchange for stability and non-interference in domestic affairs. The Taliban has responded positively to overtures from the Chinese government and has pledged not to interfere with China’s internal affairs, although the level of control they exercise over its various factions is still unclear. China’s unilateral military involvement in Afghanistan is unlikely. Instead, China is likely to utilize its role as a leader within the SCO to pursue multilateral solutions for promoting peace and stability in the region. It will likely collaborate with Russia and other regional players, including the Taliban and the Kabul-based government, to ensure that the conflict does not spill over into Chinese territory and to secure its investments in the region.

What Happens Next?

The power vacuum in Afghanistan left by the United States and its NATO allies is quickly being filled by several regional players. Some states, such as Pakistan, hope to take advantage of longstanding ties to the Taliban to exert considerable influence over the Afghan peace process and to gain the upper hand over regional rivals namely, India. States such as Turkey and Iran stand to benefit (to some degree) from the internal instability of Afghanistan.

For Turkey, a greater role in security in the region enhances its Central Asian presence and appeases NATO allies. For Iran, collaboration with the Taliban allows for a greater influence in a territory previously occupied by adversaries while the flow of migrants may mitigate some of its own internal struggles.

China and Russia, relieved that the NATO presence on their borders has been significantly diminished, still have a vested interest in the stability of Afghanistan. For China, the overwhelming majority of its concerns are economic. Stability will allow for greater investment in the region and the protection of existing assets. For Russia, security concerns are paramount in Afghanistan. It fears that instability may spread to its Central Asian neighbors and that it may be forced to play a greater military role in the region as the primary security guarantor for CSTO allies.

These countries have been actively engaging with the Taliban and the Kabul government, hedging their bets in anticipation of a power-sharing agreement between the two parties in the near future. Despite previously viewing the Taliban as a terrorist organization, both China and Russia recognize the need to engage with the group to secure influence in the country going forward.

For all actors involved in the Afghanistan conflict, there is a certain “wait-and-see” mentality; most actors are engaging with all sides hoping to secure influence regardless of the outcome and to avoid a civil war that may spread beyond Afghanistan’s borders. It remains to be seen how effective this strategy will be and how the situation will develop in Afghanistan following the conclusion of the NATO and U.S. withdrawal from the country.

From our partner RIAC

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