States, not Taliban, Make Order or Anarchy in Afghanistan

The Taliban movement is still the terrorist organization with a radical Islamist ideology. With the support of Pakistani military the organization is also a global jihad supporter that, however, prefers not partaking in it and to limit itself only to funding other global terrorist organizations. Even so, we can talk about some evolution within the movement, which is like developing some rationality. Hence, the top leaders of the Taliban aim to create institutions of the state form that would let Afghanistan be governed more firmly and reliably.

Meanwhile, we are not talking about effective management since the organization, basically, is not capable of this. Unfortunately, under the Taliban’s rule, Afghanistan will have to drop the economic growth, modernization, and institutionalization of state, social structures. The only thing the Taliban are interested in now is preserving and strengthening power in the Afghan provinces. Obviously, they have some chances to reach this. Judging the guidelines of the Great Powers and regional actors, no one is interested in intensifying the fight against the Taliban. 

It is essential to underline that the political situation around and inside Afghanistan primarily relies on the irregular and, occasionally, inviting position of the great and regional powers. The theorist and one of the leading creators of the constructivist theory Alexander Wendt in 1992, on the pages of the academic journal International Organization (46, spring), revolutionized the discipline of international relations (IR) in a way. He stressed that “Anarchy is what states make of it”, thereby actually refuting the central thesis of the realists of the neorealists about the anarchism of world politics. Consequently, events and processes in international relations are a social and political construct derived from the interests and values of great powers. In the case of Afghanistan, we can talk about the fundamental matter of countries such as the United States, China, India, and Iran, as well as some Arab Gulf countries. To a lesser extent, autocracies Russia, Turkey, and some Central Asian countries can influence the processes in the Islamic Emirate.

Even though Wendt agrees with the statistical point of view, there is no need to take interests and identities for granted. Wendt argues that a vital part of the research aims to analyze state interests and identity as a dependent variable. Realism is incapable of doing this, but at the same time, Wendt believes that international institutions are capable of changing the identity and interests of states.

Wendt claims that self-help comes from units in the system and not from anarchy. Overall, his idea is at odds with structural, deterministic views in which anarchy is the main variable controlling interactions. Alexander Wendt reasons about the interaction of states and, based on the interaction results, can be characterized by self-help, but this result does not necessarily have to follow. In any way, self-help or not, it is determined by the process. For Wendt, neorealism and neoliberalism seems impossible to account for changes in the system, what cannot be said about norms-based constructivism. In terms the major difficulty in this piece, it is the issue of behavior of states in the first period before having any priors.

Previously, Wendt assert the system not creating self-help identities. He, defining the anarchic system as only the permissive reason of such an identity, suggests one possible sufficient cause of self-help identities. A predatory state having emerged, it would force other states to react. Nevertheless, even this depends on the prior identity. The marauding state having emerged into a system that already had a strong collective security identity, it would definitely be defeated without changing the dominant identity. Now, think NATO. Realism would forecast the alliance breaking up after the disappearance of the Soviet threat as states become distrustful of one another. However, Wendt would seem to suggest a collective identity and, I would add, shared valuies, to continue. Sovereignty is a self-enforcing constant (look what happened to Hitler and Napoleon after going against it). Overall, it has changed our interests, now we are sure of our need to defend territorial boundaries (even when letting a piece of territory seemed to be better for our security).

Also the thesis of the evolution of cooperation: Europe’s long experience of cooperation during the cold war must have thoroughly changed its peculiarity, having created a “European” identity that will persist despite the collapse of both the Soviet threat and the renewed vigor of Germany. Intentional efforts to change the identities into collective identities: Gorbachev, recognizing the USSR losing the security battle, sought instead to proactively change its identity-and the one of its adversary-into a cooperative peculiarity. Accordingly, he managed to do it via sending signals that he had changed (for instance, via developing weapons being useful just for defense) and by treating the West as it had also changed.

Therefore, in terms it, it is worth mentioning the President of United States Joe Biden making a  quite serious criticism of the main sponsor of the Taliban movement. The White House chief said last week that Pakistan may be “one of the most dangerous nations in the world” as the country has “nuclear weapons without any cohesion”. He made the remarks while addressing a Democratic congressional campaign committee reception on Thursday. A transcript of the address, published on the White House’s website, quoted Biden as saying: “… And what I think is maybe one of the most dangerous nations in the world: Pakistan. Nuclear weapons without any cohesion.”

The US president’s remarks were made in the context of the changing geopolitical situation globally. Moreover, he announced the world changing rapidly and countries rethinking their alliances. “And the truth of the matter is — I genuinely believe this — that the world is looking to us. Not a joke. Even our enemies are looking to us to figure out how we figure this out, what we do.” There was a lot at stake, Biden said, emphasizing that the US had the capacity to lead the world to a place it had never been before. “Did anybody think we’d be in a situation where China is trying to figure out its role relative to Russia and relative to India and relative to Pakistan?” Talking about his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, the US president termed him as a man who knew what he wanted but had an “enormous” array of problems. A day later on Friday, US Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was questioned about Biden’s comments to which she said that the US president viewed a “secure and prosperous” Pakistan as “critical” to its interests. She added that there was “nothing new” to his remarks as he had made similar comments before too. “But, you know, again, he believes in a secure and prosperous Pakistan, and so he believes that’s important to our own interests here in the US,” she reiterated.

Biden’s statement forced a storm of emotions in the Pakistani media among politicians who criticized the US leadership, noting the points of beneficial partnership. However, it is worth mentioning that the support of the Taliban is doubtful to be based on values and is unlikely to be related to Washington’s national interests in the region. Consequently, the continuance of large-scale support for the Taliban from Islamabad could potentially cause some crisis in US-Pakistani relations. In addition, Islamabad’s excessive rapprochement with Beijing and the intensive implicit promotion of Chinese interests may also become a stumbling point in bilateral ties.

However, judging by the restrained and detached policy of the United States and European NATO partners, the Global West is still not interested in Afghan politics. Fatigue from Afghanistan is observed in all major capitals of European powers. And, until the Taliban’s policy of implicitly supporting (or at least ignoring) global terrorist groups move to a qualitatively different level, Afghanistan will remain beyond the attention of the great powers. However, professional circles in the leading Western countries are apparently well aware of the potential threats and challenges associated with the radical Taliban’s policies. The fact of Taliban’s power in Afghanistan is a beacon and role model for other terrorist and radical groups in the East and beyond. To paraphrase Wendt, Afghanistan is in anarchy, and the powers are not yet interested in making something concrete out of it. 

Georgi Asatrian
Georgi Asatrian
Georgi Asatryan, associate professor, Lomonosov Moscow State University and Plekhanov Russian University of Economics.