Fractured Politics and Backward Societies

The political interests in the world are in a state of deep upheavals, conflicts, and transformations. Seemingly, after everything the recent years have seen, there is little left that can surprise. However, this is far from the possible scope of complicated events and processes that are pending over the international relations system. Sometimes, events that seem insignificant, operational, or local turn out to be a trigger for larger-scale changes. A thing, that has never resulted in conflicts or contradictions before, can easily become an argument for wars and deep insult feelings.

History has shown that the lifestyle of many people results in the fact that they never in their lifetime become members of a community larger than their family or their tribe. Similar processes take place in larger communities and even entire states, too. Beyond some of the historically most developed societies belonging to the world civilization, coordinated behavior within the framework of a political association or a corporate organization is a rare and historically recent phenomenon. The lack of coordinated behavior is an important factor hindering economic development in most parts of the Globe. Societies incapable of self-organization cannot have a modern economy. For countries that are unable to build cooperation with other countries, development is, at least, difficult. The higher the desired standard of living, the greater the impossibility of organizing, wrote political scientist Edward Banfield, author of the classic book ‘The Moral Basis of a Backward Society’ (1958). Also, the inability of a society to organize its internal life hinders its political progress.

We are inclined to take it for granted that economic and political associations get formed rapidly wherever for this, there are available technical skills of the population and the natural resources on the territory. This is simply as that if in the vicinity of a technologically more developed country, there is a less developed country but possessing valuable natural resources, this is enough so that the cooperation between them is inevitable. In light of these postulates, a number of theories were developed that affirmed the inevitability of cooperation and joint development. However, societies live and understand their realities very differently; so the way of life and concepts of many of them directly contradict the requirements for a successful society structuring. For instance, it is extremely difficult to create a powerful society, where such goals are not supported, and furthermore, where there is no awareness of how rational the setting of such goals can be, where development is not a goal at all and is not put forward as a goal. Nor can a powerful association be created, where no one among a population follows orders or instructions. There are some societies, whose ability to create a high level of organization raises certain doubts; meanwhile, without it a modern economy and a democratic political system are impossible. Also, the cooperation of such backward societies with developed and high-tech countries is complicated by their disorganization. This is not because of mistakes or failures of the developed societies. It’s just the incomparability and incompatibility of ideologies. For this problem-solving solving, a deep transformation of such archaic societies is needed.

In this regard, I’d like to discuss two processes that are developing around the Taliban and their Islamic Emirate. The first of these two processes is connected with the large-scale events of the geopolitical nature and Beijing’s positions in the policy. The Chinese diplomacy is featured with caution and self-restraint. To a certain extent, this is the strength of the Chinese strategists, and it is rooted in the ancient and great culture of the country built up over many thousands of years of its history. In this regard, surprising is the decision to involve the Taliban in the international Belt and Road Forum (BRI), which took place on October 17-19 in Beijing. The Taliban’s representatives did attend the Forum and held meetings with Wang Yi, the Chinese Foreign Minister, and some other high representatives of the administration.

The main purpose of the Taliban delegation’s visit to the Forum was a search for investors to invite to this Muslim country. The Chinese are showing their interest in the Aynak copper deposit in eastern Afghanistan. In addition, at the beginning of 2023, the Taliban signed a contract with a Chinese company for crude oil production in northern Afghanistan. Besides, the Afghan authorities discussed the infrastructural development of the Wakhan Corridor, which is adjacent to the Chinese Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. The investment activities of China in Taliban-run Afghanistan have their own history. In January 2023, Taliban-run Afghanistan saw its first significant foreign investment, when it signed a 25-year multimillion-dollar contract. The state-owned China National Petroleum Corporation agreed with Talibs to extract oil from the Amu Darya basin, which stretches between Central Asia and Afghanistan, the Diplomat wrote. It was declared that the deal will see an investment of $150 million in the first year in Afghanistan and $540 million over the next three years.

An attempt to judge prospects for implementation of any international projects involving the radical Islamist regime, it is not a promising occupation. All the projects similar to it to more or less extent, that were developed in 1996 to 2001 during the first coronation of Islamic Emir, turned out to be a mistake and a failure. Let me remind you that there were several projects on the track-laying of routes for energy products logistics from Central Asian countries. These projects were described in the now classic Ahmed Rashid’s book titled ‘Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia’. As a result, the Taliban’s ruling resulted in the alliance with Al-Qaeda and the largest terrorist attacks in history on September 11, 2001.

World Politics is an uncertain world. That is why, always, making predictions and assuming possible scenarios is a thankless task. However, an analysis built up by analogy is quite possible; and it shows that in the absence of deep reforms in the Taliban society, any major development projects, practices, and changes in the ideology are unlikely. It is quite obvious that the alliance with Osama bin Laden was not a rational political step for Afghanistan, and it led the Taliban to the disaster, to the loss of the first Islamic Emirate in 2001. As early as the late 1990s, the international community proposed repeatedly to the Taliban movement to extradite the leaders of Al-Qaeda and break any ties with all kinds of international terrorists. In those days, profitable investment projects were offered to Afghanistan as well as the recognition of the regime, some humanitarian and financial assistance, etc. In a word, the picture was the same as it is observed today. Nevertheless, the Taliban did not extradite the terrorists but instead, it began to build an alliance with them.

We are inclined to believe that development is needed for all the societies in the world. Therefore, for everyone, profitable offers composed in line with logic are rational. It is necessary to take into account the society’s priorities, to understand the nature and the specifics of the existing social structures. So, for example, if a society is capable of maintaining effective armed forces and winning a war, this does not mean yet that it is able to solve the infinitely more complex task of creating an industrial stable effective society that ensures human personality protection and development. Reasonably-minded groups can be expected in the future not to repeat a mistake made by them once. But one can rely on this in the event that in the society serious and profound transformations have taken place of such a nature that they can help to avoid new failures. And finally, one has to ask the question, of whether this society wants to avoid the failures that have happened in the past or not. Does this society consider that this event of the past was a failure and a mistake?

However, in the contacts between China and the Taliban, the political component is much more important. As a matter of fact, China attempts to ‘mainstream’ the Taliban via the Forum. This, in turn, can impede the “carrot and stick policy” towards the Taliban. The influential countries of the world are striving to integrate the Taliban regime into international society by way of its subjecting to deep reformation and liberalization. The regime of the Islamic Emirate in Afghanistan has existed since August 2021 and is still not recognized by any country in the world. The country systematically violated human rights, the rights of women, and national minorities. In Taliban-run Afghanistan, the presence of international terrorist organizations has found their new “safe heaven”. Quite serious sanctions have been entered. In Western banks, significant amounts are blocked that are the sovereign property of the Afghan state. The international community strives to comply with the Taliban’s wishes, provided there would be a noticeable change in their policy. The fight against the international terrorists on their territory, the repression cessation, the liberalization of the limitations and restrictions by the law – these are the requirements imposed by intermediaries. As a consequence, the Chinese initiatives violate the logic of the collective actions of the international society. The Taliban wouldn’t make any concessions if they had such a powerful and rich partner as China.

At the same time, a diplomatic crisis is developing between the countries, whose relations seem to be far from any conflict; they are Pakistan and the Afghan Taliban. At the Corps Commanders Forum held at the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi, the top leaders of the Pakistani Army decided to support in full the Federal Government’s decision to repatriate and deport all illegal aliens. This is what the statement of the military elite says. Earlier, the civilian Government of Pakistan spoke about the need to deport Afghans.  It was decided that starting from November 1, about 1.7 million Afghan citizens should be deported from Pakistan.

This decision caused widespread criticism from the part of international humanitarian organizations, such as the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Affairs and the Amnesty International. Many international institutions have called on the Pakistani Government to revise its plans. The unrecognized Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan led by the Taliban expressed indignation at this step and called it an “unacceptable” one. Notwithstanding any arguments, Pakistan stands firmly on its decision, as it wants to confront the unprecedented increase of intensity in the terrorist attacks performed by the local offshoot of the radical movement, the so-called Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

Pakistan’s actions are associated with the unprecedented increase in terrorist activity. The country recorded the second-largest increase in terrorism-related deaths worldwide in 2022, with the toll rising significantly to 643, a 120% rise from the 292 deaths the previous year. The process began after the Taliban’s victory in Afghanistan in the summer of 2021. Islamabad became the territory that suffered the most losses after the return of the Taliban to power and the reincarnation of the Islamic Emirate.  It is a paradox that throughout its existence, the Taliban had the full support of the Pakistani army and its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). The Taliban’s victory would be quite unlikely without the assistance of the Pakistani specialists. The Pakistani Taliban has shelters, allies, and bases in Afghanistan. Regularly, the Pakistani Taliban men cross the border of Pakistan to carry out assaults and terrorist attacks. Most often, the victims of the attacks get security forces, army positions, and infrastructure facilities. In fact, the Pakistani military raised up Frankenstein of its own.

This particular migrant crisis is another proof of the thesis of the impossibility of backward societies to build up long-term relations systems. In the absence of strong political institutions, the society lacks the means for identification and implementation of common national interests. The ability to create political institutions itself is the ability to realize the public interests. But such societies cannot realize their own interests. Too often, they are inclined to act irrationally. The intensity of growth of the crisis phenomena and processes, even in the relations with the closest and native counterparties, is an indicator of the backwardness of those societies.

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