They pop the corks

After the Taliban’s victory, powers like China and Russia are happy about a gate to Afghanistan. The West has not only lost the country, but also credibility. The damage is immense.

The shock is still deep. The speed of the Taliban’s advance in the Hindu Kush surprised many Western politicians. You appear bitterly in front of cameras this week, admit misjudgments.

The failure of the Afghanistan mission had long been clear, but at the latest since desperate Afghans clung to planes of the western armed forces in fear of death, a defeat has turned into a historical debacle.

Kabul: Hundreds of people are trying to cling to a US plane to flee the country.  (Source: AP / dpa)Kabul: Hundreds of people are trying to cling to a US plane to flee the country. (Source: AP / dpa)

Fatal damage with long-term consequences

The current focus is rightly on the fate of the Afghan people. It is about saving the local workers who have supported the western armed forces over the past few decades. And it is about safeguarding human and women’s rights in the country, which are seriously endangered by the Taliban. In short: Damage limitation is currently the top priority for the West.

But beyond the terrible events in the Hindu Kush, the damage is already immense and will accompany international politics for much longer than the current crisis. The world is watching as the US and its allies continue to lose credibility internationally. The geostrategic consequences are also fatal: Afghanistan has not only been given into the hands of the Taliban, but Russia and China in particular will expand their influence in Afghanistan.

The Taliban celebrate their victory in Kabul: The Islamists were able to bring the country under their control in a short time.  (Source: imago images)The Taliban celebrate their victory in Kabul: The Islamists were able to bring the country under their control in a short time. (Source: imago images)

The Western alliance has thus opened the door to the country for powers that are less interested in human rights and democracy and are more interested in their economic and strategic advantages. While the West is fleeing the country and the Taliban are consolidating their power in Kabul, the corks are popping in Beijing and Moscow.

Setback for democracy and human rights

So the West is losing its trustworthiness for future missions. Why should local groups cooperate with the West if they are left out in the rain in the end? In Syria, the US has already abandoned the Kurds, now it is the pro-Western part of the Afghan population.

In international politics, reliability is often more important than the type of political system. For example, in Syria, Vladimir Putin has proven that he is ready to keep his protection promises until the end. That had an international signal effect, just as the Afghanistan disaster will now have for the West.

Furthermore, it will also have consequences for the fight against international terrorism, because governments may risk less domestic conflict if they cannot rely on Western support. And it has consequences for countries that ideologically lean towards the West but can no longer believe the promise of protection.

In the struggle for ideological supremacy, the events in Afghanistan are therefore a heavy blow to democracy and human rights.

Who is gaining influence over Afghanistan?

One thing is clear: the balance of power in the Middle East will change. But who is pursuing which interests? And how do the Taliban view the individual actors? An overview:

China

Beijing will see the Western debacle in Afghanistan as a great opportunity. It is not for nothing that the People’s Republic has announced that it will respect the alleged decision of the Afghan people in favor of new rule by the radical Islamic Taliban. At the same time, China is using force to oppress the Uighur Muslim minority in its own country.

Xi Jinping: The Chinese president is looking at raw materials in Afghanistan.  (Source: Reuters)Xi Jinping: The Chinese president is looking at raw materials in Afghanistan. (Source: Reuters)

The Taliban expect good relations with China above all else money and the opportunity to become part of the Silk Road. That is why there were meetings between the Taliban and the Chinese government months ago.

For the People’s Republic, Afghanistan is an opportunity to expand its influence in the region and also to increasingly act as a regulatory power in the Middle East. In addition, the energy-hungry China speculates on raw materials and rare earths in Afghanistan.

Ultimately, Beijing will try to take advantage of any backing away from the West.

Russia

Moscow will also act as a key regulatory actor in Afghanistan. This is not entirely without irony, because many Taliban belonged to the mujahideen fighters who fought and triumphed against the Soviet Union from 1979 onwards.

Unlike in the case of China, Afghanistan affects specific Russian security interests, because Moscow sees Islamism in the Hindu Kush as a threat that could exacerbate the security situation in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan or the southern Caucasus, for example. Putin is cracking down on Islamist groups in his own country, such as in Chechnya.

1979: Soviet armored troops enter Kabul.  (Source: imago images)1979: Soviet armored troops enter Kabul. (Source: imago images)

That is why Russia also invited representatives of the Taliban and is ready to talk. Putin is also concerned with influence and raw materials. With non-military means he could succeed where the Soviet Union failed.

The Taliban are initially pragmatic towards Russia and are hoping for financial support if the aid funds from the West cease to exist. Due to their fight against the Soviet troops in the past and since Russia is a predominantly Christian country, there is also great distrust, especially among the hardliners of the Islamists.

Pakistan

The withdrawal of western troops is also cause for joy in the neighboring country of Afghanistan. Pakistan has operated a kind of shuttle diplomacy for the past 20 years. On the one hand, arrests were made against the Taliban in their own country – albeit very half-heartedly. However, this was primarily out of fear that Pakistan itself could become the target of US attacks.

On the other hand, Pakistan served as a retreat for the Taliban, without which they would have been completely defeated by the Western alliance. Taliban attacks in Afghanistan were partly planned from the neighboring country, which is also where many of the Islamic schools are located, which are responsible for the ideological education of the Taliban.

With the withdrawal of the West from the region, the problem will be resolved, Pakistan’s masquerade will now probably come to an end and relations with Afghanistan will presumably improve significantly. For the Pakistani government, this has the advantage that it now has an ally behind its back in terms of security strategy in the ongoing conflict with India.

Iran

It is unclear how relations with Iran will develop. The Iranian government has announced that it wants to develop pragmatic relations with the Taliban.

Before the fall of the Sunni Taliban, they were opponents of the Shiite Iranian regime. That is also the reason why there were large demonstrations in Iran against the return of the Taliban.

Iran's Ebrahim Raisi relies on pragmatic relations with the Taliban.  (Source: imago images)Iran’s Ebrahim Raisi relies on pragmatic relations with the Taliban. (Source: imago images)

But also in Tehran new geostrategic possibilities appear to make the conflicts of the past forgotten. With good relations with the future regime in Afghanistan, Iran could expand its influence, help the ailing economy and have a land bridge to its close allies Russia and China via the former Soviet republics in Central Asia.

It is uncertain whether the Taliban would even want this relationship. Iran is considered an ideological enemy who recently fought against Sunni Islamists, for example in Syria. It is also possible that the Taliban are hoping for support from Iran’s regional rival, Saudi Arabia.

Regardless of this, the withdrawal of the archenemy USA from the neighboring country is good news for Iran in terms of security policy.

Consequences for Germany and Europe

It is likely that the strategic failure of the Western alliance in Afghanistan will also affect the population in Germany and Europe in the medium term. Possibly due to problems on the important shipping trade routes in the Gulf, which are exposed to greater risks due to the less presence of Western forces in the Middle East. Or through the rise of Islamist terrorism, the threat of which could grow again.

In the short term, the conflict in Afghanistan could trigger a new refugee crisis because many people are trying to escape from the Islamists and for fear of death and torture. However, the forecasts of experts on this point still diverge widely.

A united West could also see a coming crisis as an opportunity to demonstrate strength together and regain trust. But the dispute between the allies on the issue makes that unlikely at the moment.

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