Afghanistan: Cooperation between the USA, Russia, China and the Taliban?
There are now many doomsayer for the USA, but some Western experts don´t see Afghanistan as such a disaster, but more as a chance to free the USA from the chains of never ending wars which will give the West a chance to consolidate, to focus on the main adversary China and Asia and to get stronger again. There is even a lot of remaining optimism as by Marco d’Eramo in the German tageszeitung (taz);
One step back, one leap forward In the course of Afghanistan policy, many speak of the end of US hegemony. But the US has expanded its influence with every war it loses.(…)
But what makes the US so unique is the fact that the more battles and wars it loses, the more it grows and increases its influence. The USA has lost almost every war since 1945, but its power – financially, symbolically, technologically, linguistically and of course also militarily and diplomatically – has grown steadily. Victoria De Grazia, a historian at Columbia University, wrote to me about this observation: “One step back, a great leap forward. Every time the US loses a major war after World War II (Korea, Vietnam, Iraq / Afghanistan), American society begins to reorganize. After Korea this was investments in highways, education and in the Arpanet, the military forerunner of the Internet, followed in the 1960s by the social reform project of the Great Society. The old school liberals have always insisted that there cannot be American hegemony without continually updating US soft power along the lines of the New Deal. This is exactly what President Joe Biden is trying to do with his multi-billion dollar infrastructure program. Global realpolitik is not the only perspective from which one can view what is happening in Afghanistan. There is no such thing as a zero-sum game in modern politics, since everything the US loses automatically falls into the hands of China or Russia. “ So if we want to wrest the Saigon / Kabul comparison from the banality and malice and make it productive: Then we have to deal with what kind of counter-offensive the USA is currently planning and how they want to reorganize their society, which is today, perhaps even more so than in the 1970s, seems to be on the verge of civil war.
Biden has announced a “new foreign policy”. I guess the era of humanitarian interventions will be over, even R2P is now being questioned. Emphasis will be more on realpolitik and diplomacy. China will remain the main adversary. A new national security strategy will probably be formulated , whereby it will be important how Russia, Iran and North Korea and Afghanistan including the Greater Middle East are assessed. The new foreign policy of the USA will probably then also have a significant influence on the NATO 2030 strategy. But it is questionable and remains to be seen how sustainable such a new foreign policy wll be as Trump continues to mobilize for the 2020 and 2024 elections and some of his supporters plan a mass rally in front of Capitol Hill on September 18th.
However, while parts of the West think that you have to isolate the Taliban and push back Russian and Chinese influence in Central Asia and Afghanistan, there are now also the first experts who think that a cooperation between the West and China and Russia was a good thing. For example, former NATO General Domroese jr. who in an interview with the German newspaper Welt (World) who declares: ““With a view to Afghanistan, we must cooperate with China and Russia“:.
Another important multiplicator, the Chairman of Joint Staff General Milley thinks that you could even cooperate with the Taliban against the Islamic State while Secretary of Defense Austin remains sceptical::
“‘It’s possible’: US military chief could work with Taliban on IS counter-terror strikes
Mark Milley says it’s possible the US will seek to coordinate on strikes in Afghanistan, though defence secretary Lloyd Austin remains sceptical
US General Mark Milley said the Taliban in Afghanistan were ‘ruthless’ and that it remained to be seen whether they would change. Photograph: Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters
Thu 2 Sep 2021 02.06 BST
US Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said it was “possible” the United States will seek to coordinate with the Taliban on counterterrorism strikes in Afghanistan against Islamic State militants or others.
The extent and nature of a US-Taliban relationship, now that the war is over, is one of the key issues to be worked out. US military commanders have coordinated daily with Taliban commanders outside Kabul’s international airport over the past three weeks to facilitate the evacuation of more than 124,000 people, but that was a matter of convenience for both parties.
He said of the recent cooperative arrangement with the Taliban at Kabul airport: “In war you do what you must in order to reduce risk to mission and force, not what you necessarily want to do.”
Milley’s comments were made on Wednesday at a Pentagon news conference with defence secretary Lloyd Austin. Milley called the Taliban “ruthless” adding, “Whether or not they change remains to be seen.”
Austin sounded at least as sceptical as Milley regarding the possibility that the coordination in recent days at the Kabul airport suggests a future relationship with the Taliban. “I would not make any leaps of logic to broader issues,” said Austin.
The US military ousted the Taliban from power in the fall of 2001 and fought against them for the 19 years that followed.
The US diplomatic presence in Kabul has been moved to Doha, Qatar. President Joe Biden has noted several times recently that the Taliban are avowed enemies of Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP), suggesting a shared interest with the United States.
Biden has promised further targeting of the ISKP in response to the suicide bombing last week at a Kabul airport gate that killed more than 150 Afghans and 13 American service members. On Saturday the US military carried out a drone strike that it said killed two ISKP planners. It also killed women and children. On Tuesday, Biden said, “To ISIS-K: We are not done with you yet,” referring to the ISKP.
Targeting Islamic State militants or other extremist groups, such as al-Qaeda, will be more difficult with no US military forces on the ground and no friendly government forces with which to share intelligence. But the Biden administration asserts that it can contain these groups by monitoring and potentially striking with assets based elsewhere in the region.
Milley has recent experience with Taliban leaders: twice last year, most recently in December, he met face-to-face with them in an attempt to slow their attacks on the US-backed Afghan government.
Both Austin and Milley commanded troops in Afghanistan during the 20-year war and their comments at Wednesday’s news conference largely focused on tributes to those who served in Afghanistan, including those who died or were wounded. They also thanked all who contributed to the final airlift, which Austin called the largest evacuation of civilians in American history.
Milley and Austin urged war veterans to view their service as worthwhile and appreciated by the American public, while acknowledging that the memories can be painful.
“War is hard. It’s vicious. It’s brutal. It’s unforgiving,” Milley said. “Yes, we all have pain and anger. When we see what has unfolded over the last 20 years and over the last 20 days, that creates pain and anger.”
Biden is grappling with the prospects of a new relationship with the Taliban. He has tasked secretary of state Antony Blinken with coordinating with international partners to hold the Taliban to their promise of safe passage for Americans and others who want to leave.
Marine General Frank McKenzie, head of US Central Command, has described the U.S. relationship with the Taliban during the evacuation as “very pragmatic and very businesslike”, saying they helped secure the airport.”
However, as the USA till now only offers a military war on terror against the IS, but no Western Silkoroad or economic aid or reconstruction program for Afghanistan, the Taliban at the moment rellies more on China and its New Silkroad and officially want to give women the opportunity to study at universities, even if they are seperated from males, while they shouldn´t become ministers:
“Taliban spokesman: No women in the ministerial office – China is the most important partner The Taliban spokesman ruled on Thursday that women would not be allowed to hold ministerial posts in the future government. But women are allowed to study at universities. He also emphasized the special partnership between the Taliban and China. 09/02/2021, 10:46 am advertisement Kabul. After the withdrawal of the western states from Afghanistan, the Taliban will in future rely primarily on money from China. Sabiullah Mujahid, spokesman for the Islamists, underlined this in an interview with the Italian daily “La Repubblica” (Thursday). „China is our most important partner and represents a fundamental and extraordinary opportunity for us, because it is ready to invest and rebuild our country.“ Taliban hope for a lot of money from China for Afghanistan’s economy The Taliban thought very highly of the „New Silk Road“ project, added Mujahid. This is an infrastructure initiative with which China wants to increase its global influence by opening up trade routes.”
However, a faction in the US military and political circles think about to have closer relations and even a détente with Russia which is hope for to distance from Beijing and keep neutral or even supportive and some even think that Afghanistan could alos be a means to split China and Russia. Therefore the mouthpiece of the CCP Global Times publihed an interview with Alexander V. Lomanov, deputy director for Primakov Institute of World Economy and International Relations, Russian Academy of Sciences (Moscow), which wants to demonstrate that the USA won´t be able to split Russia and China and that the USA are not needed for a dialogue with the Taliban:
“Russia, China should communicate with new Afghan authorities independently from US: Russian scholar
By Global Times Published: Aug 31, 2021 11:07 PM
As the curtain of the US‘ 20-year war in Afghanistan finally falls with the last US troops leaving the country, some observers noted the withdrawal, ugly as it looks, frees the US from a costly distraction to focus on its primary rivals – China and Russia. Meanwhile, the US did not cease sowing discord between Beijing and Moscow. How should China and Russia deal with and cooperate on the Afghan issue? What changes may take place in the China-Russia-US triangle in the years to come? Alexander V. Lomanov (Lomanov), deputy director for Primakov Institute of World Economy and International Relations, Russian Academy of Sciences (Moscow), shared his views with Global Times (GT) reporter Li Aixin.
GT: The US has evacuated from Afghanistan in haste. Although some critics, including some from the US, call it a chaotic „defeat,“ some also point out that US strategic contraction in the Middle East is aimed at shoring up core strengths to focus on China and Russia. What is your take?
Lomanov: While American troops were in Afghanistan, they were stationed very close to Western China and the post-Soviet republics of Central Asia. After the withdrawal from Afghanistan, the American presence in this important region will decrease, not increase.
What happened in Afghanistan was a defeat for the US, but this defeat has little to do with military might. The „soft power“ of the US suffered the most. In the 1970s and 80s, during the Cold War, an important moral argument in the hands of the US was the economic prosperity of Germany and Japan. Both countries were defeated in the World War II and occupied by American troops. Their example demonstrated that the US did not seek to keep the former enemy poor and weak forever.
Moreover, an alliance with America provided them with an opportunity to gain economic wealth and political democracy. Now this is no more than a closed page from a history textbook, and not and appealing example from real life. The Western invasions of Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya have not made these countries more prosperous and more developed. The US has demonstrated to the whole world that it can easily destroy a small state that it does not like, but it is not able to re-build a new prosperous country from its ruins.
This awareness is very important not only for average third world countries, but also for Russia and China. The events in Afghanistan have finally deconstructed the myth about the ability of the US to act benevolently by imposing a more effective and progressive state structure on another country. The US attempts to „take care“ of others over and over again end in a large-scale catastrophe. Russia and China need to move toward the future along their own paths and never allow external forces to dictate them the course of development.
GT: The security situation in Afghanistan affects the regional situation, including the security of China and Russia. How do you think China and Russia cooperate can in terms of the situation in Afghanistan?
Lomanov: At present, it is most reasonable to follow the wisdom of Confucius – „listen to their words, look at their deeds.“ The ability of the new Afghan authorities to carry out the tasks of public governance is not yet clear, their domestic and foreign policy is far from being certain. However, we should not be passive and indifferent. Russia and China should communicate with the new Afghan authorities in order to independently listen to their words, and look at their deeds by own eyes. We should not trust too much what the West tells and will tell about the situation in Afghanistan. There will be a lot of confusion, emotions, self-justifications and outright lies in Western reports.
The Afghan people will be able to embark on the path of sustainable development only if this choice is made independently. The stabilization of the situation can create a precious chance to develop a national consensus within Afghanistan, to end a long domestic conflict and to start peaceful construction. Russia and China understand the value of peace and development. However, they also understand that the policy of peace and development cannot be imposed from the outside. The West is already trying to talk to Afghanistan in the language of political blackmail, threatening to take away Afghan state money held in foreign banks and stop the delivery of humanitarian aid. For Russia and China, such a language is equally unacceptable when communicating with other countries.
GT: In your recent interview, you mentioned that the Russia, China joint military drills defy Western expectations that there will never be close cooperation between Beijing and Moscow. In your opinion, in addition to military exercises, what other „close cooperation“ between the two have taken place? Why else will be carried out between China and Russia going forward?
Lomanov: In the past twenty years since the signing of the Russia-China Treaty of Good-Neighborliness and Friendly Cooperation, our bilateral relations have been continuously developing. Now we have an opportunity to use this basis to upgrade our bilateral cooperation to a qualitatively new level. New areas of scientific and technical cooperation are emerging, including future-oriented plans of joint space exploration. We need to use precious capital of mutual political trust to intensify trade and investment cooperation, reduce barriers of entering the partner country’s market, adapt our economic interaction to the Chinese strategy of „dual circulation.“
It is very important to promote dialogue and cooperation between the intellectual elites of the two countries. On the one hand, we are grateful to President Vladimir Putin and President Xi Jinping for their great efforts to develop friendship and cooperation between Russia and China, both leaders have created and accumulated a significant amount of capital of mutual political trust. On the other hand, one can often hear regrets that in our bilateral relations it is „hot at the top, cold at the bottom“ – that is, active contacts between political elites still do not affect the broad masses of the people. This observation is justified, but in order to expand the grass-root base of bilateral cooperation, it is first of all necessary to involve the economic and intellectual elites of both countries.
We should admit that the intellectual elites of Russia and China are still adjusting to the new international situation. They have never been opposed to Russian-Chinese cooperation, but their priorities were previously placed beyond its framework. The dream of Russian intellectuals of the late twentieth century about joining the „common European house“ did not materialize. The dream of the Chinese educated class of a stable, equal and mutually respectful partnership with the US has also become a story of the past. Now it is time to turn to each other to conduct deep and meaningful dialogue.
Experts from both sides need to learn about the partner country directly, and not through Western English-language media, where the image of Russia and China is distorted beyond recognition. The former improper trust in Western publications about Russia or China is becoming dangerous, since uncritical assimilation of the theses of Western propaganda can lead to erroneous judgments and miscalculations in our mutual assessments and planning. As a practical step, we can think about declaring a Year of Cooperation between Think Tanks of Russia and China following the Years of Scientific, Technical and Innovative Cooperation. That will help attract additional attention and resources to establishing direct and profound cooperation between intellectual elites of Russia and China.
GT: In early August, the US kick-started two „large-scale“ military exercises, LSE2021 and LSGE21. Some observers said the drills intended to demonstrate that the US can simultaneously confront China and Russia. Do you think the US can simultaneously confront China and Russia, militarily or geopolitically?
Lomanov: The US military power has been huge for many decades, and no one ignores it. The US military budget significantly exceeds the military budgets of Russia and China. This is remembered clearly both in Russia and in China.
On the other hand, the scenario of a simultaneous conflict between the US and Russia and China is speculative, since in case of such development the world will immediately be on the verge of a full-scale nuclear war. American military exercises were indeed demonstrative, but this demonstration was intended primarily for US allies. As the US talks more and more about its desire to contain China by military means, US allies in Europe are increasingly afraid of losing American support in their confrontation with Russia.
Washington understands it and therefore seeks to convince its allies that they can afford to offend the interests of both Russia and China without fearing about consequences. The West uses the tools of NATO and the QUAD, along with the slogans of a broad „democratic alliance“ to create new frontiers of global confrontation. The US hopes that Russia and China will have an ever-increasing number of adversaries that will divert the forces and resources of our nations away from the needs of domestic development. Taiwan will be used against China again and again, and political elites of Eastern Europe will continue to perpetuate their anti-Russian policy. In exchange for participation in the confrontation, they will get more US military assistance and new promises of economic support. Therefore, Russia and China have common tasks in the outside world – we should to build bridges of friendship instead of erecting new walls of discord, and have more and more friends and like-minded supporters.
GT: Some analysts suggest that the Biden administration may take measures to ease tensions with Russia in order to concentrate on dealing with China. What is your take on this? Will this strategy alienate Russia from China and draw it closer to the US?
Lomanov: This is not the only possible scenario for the implementation of the American divide and rule strategy. Some experts are discussing the prospects of new „big deal“ between China and the US, as a result of which the US would stop attacking the Chinese political system and abandon military pressure on China on its near borders in exchange for indisputable recognition by China of American leadership in the world order.
However, the US does not want equal partnership relations with either Russia or China. American experts routinely discuss the prospects of inducing a split in Russia-China relations using methods of psychological warfare and propaganda. They are not talking about the complete lifting of unfair sanctions, nor to mention about the rejection of the hegemonic policy.
An article published recently on the Foreign Affairs website by influential international relations expert Charles Kupchan on how the US could most effectively split Russia and China should be of great interest to both Russian and Chinese analysts. The US intends to constantly remind Russia that China’s power is much greater to fan psychological inferiority complex, and to inflame Russian suspicions about China’s presence in Central Asia and the Arctic. Special attention should be paid to the advice of an American expert to start immediately sowing the seeds of discord between Russia and China among the young generation of Russian bureaucrats.
This is a good reminder to us that the future belongs to young people, and that the slogan of passing the tradition of friendship between Russia and China from one generation to another should not be empty and formal. Our friendship is not a propaganda cliché, but a guarantee of a peaceful future and economic prosperity of both countries. There is no doubt that the American side will try sow the seeds of discord on the Chinese side with no less zeal, supporting inside China in every possible way the forces of blind nationalism that looks with superiority at all other countries. We must find the common strength to resist irrational emotions that an external force wants ignite in our societies.
It looks like Russia and China want to cooperate in Afghansitan and with the Taliban without the USA and use the SCO and BRICS as other tools to limit spillover of terrorism and separatism:
“BRICS states to adopt counter-terror action plan next month
The finalisation of the action plan was the main outcome of a virtual meeting of the BRICS counter-terrorism working group.
The Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa (BRICS) counter-terrorism action plan will be adopted at a meeting of the national security advisers of the grouping scheduled for next month.
The finalisation of the action plan was the main outcome of a virtual meeting of the BRICS counter-terrorism working group (CTWG) held during July 28-29 under the chairship of India, the external affairs ministry said on Friday. The ministry described the action plan as one of the key deliverables during India’s chairship of BRICS in 2021.
The action plan contains specific measures to implement the BRICS counter-terrorism strategy adopted by leaders of the grouping in 2020. It is aimed at strengthening result-oriented cooperation between the BRICS members in areas such as preventing and combating terrorism, radicalisation, terror financing, misuse of the internet by terrorists, curbing the travel of terrorists, border controls, protecting soft targets, information-sharing, capacity-building, and international and regional cooperation.
However that won´t be easy as India perceives Pakistan as main supporter of Islamist terrorism and the Taliban and is not happy that Russia and China now want to fill the US-Indian gap and encircle India with CPEC and a deep hinterland.
. Not only the Indians blame Pakistan´s role in the Taliban takeover as an article in the Jerusalem Post makes clear:
“The Pakistani angle on the Taliban victory
Islamabad’s support for the terrorists played a crucial, largely ignored, role in recent events.
The collapse of the Kabul government and the Taliban’s rapid takeover of nearly all Afghanistan has captured the attention of the world. It has led to widespread discussion of US imperial retreat, the implications for the global contest between the US and China, and the possibilities of a revival of global Sunni Islamist terror.
An element that has been largely missing in Western analysis of these dramatic events is the role of powerful elements within Pakistan in facilitating the activities of the Taliban in recent years. Yet without this complex and multi-faceted Pakistani role, it is difficult to see how the Afghan jihadi movement could have sustained itself during the years of US occupation, and laid the foundations for the rapid takeover of power that we have just witnessed.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan praised the Taliban victory in a statement earlier this week as “breaking the shackles of slavery.”
The US and its allies have consistently chosen to turn a blind eye to evidence of the Taliban presence in Pakistan, and Islamabad’s apparent assistance to the movement.
This decision relates to the US and its allies’ dependence on Pakistan as a vital logistics hub in its deployment in Afghanistan. Pakistani intelligence support was important in deciphering the dynamics of militant Islamic movements in this area.
More broadly, a reluctance to antagonize Pakistan, a nuclear power with a population of 200 million, traditionally aligned with the US, probably played a role in this attitude of benevolent neglect. US reluctance to place pressure on Pakistan, paradoxically, may have been exacerbated by widespread anti-American sentiment in Pakistan at the popular level, and an American desire not to worsen it.
This resulted in a situation in which Pakistan came to constitute both a vital node in the prosecution of the US campaign against the Taliban, and a central element in the Taliban’s war effort against the US, with the apparent acquiescence of Washington.
The Taliban leadership is domiciled in the city of Quetta, in Pakistani Balochistan. The movement’s fighters, alongside members of other Sunni jihadi groups including al-Qaeda and the Haqqani network, maintain havens in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) along the border, crossing back and forth to Afghanistan at will, with no interference from the Pakistani armed forces. These areas were the springboard for the recent campaign that culminated in Kabul. Taliban fighters wounded in the recent campaign were treated in Pakistani hospitals, according to a June 27 statement by Sheikh Rashed Ahmed, Pakistan’s interior minister, to the Pakistani Geo news website.
In addition to the logistical role, these majority Pashtun border areas are home to thousands of madrassas, Islamic religious seminaries, in which the hard-line Deobandi interpretation of Sunni Islam favored by the Taliban is propagated. In this way, the pool of future fighters for the Afghan Taliban is maintained, on Pakistani soil.
A resident of Kuchlak, 25km from Quetta, noted in an interview with Voice of America this week that the Taliban maintains considerable support among the residents of the area, and that “Locals from all the tribes (living in the town) are with them, saying that they are conducting jihad to establish the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.”
Afghanistan’s deposed vice president Amrullah Saleh, along with other members of the deposed Ghani government, have alleged that the Pakistani Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) and the Pakistani Special Forces were directly guiding the Afghan Taliban.
Such allegations are routinely denied by the Pakistani authorities and are impossible to prove conclusively. But the weight of evidence regarding the presence of the Taliban in the border areas, their ease of access, the provision of available health care, and statements of support by senior officials seem to confirm a role of elements within the Pakistani state in the recent Taliban victory.
WHAT ARE the motivations behind the Pakistani role?
It is important to note that the border between these two states is of relatively recent vintage and does not represent a division of populations according to linguistic or cultural heritage. Rather, Afghanistan was divided off from then British India in the Anglo-Afghan Treaty of 1919, in which Britain recognized the independence of Afghanistan. The 1893 ‘Durand Line’ that this treaty ratified (in a slightly modified form) was a line demarcating areas of influence between the British and the Afghan Amir of that time.
The result when the modern states of Pakistan and Afghanistan emerged was that the border between them bisected the area of the majority population of the largely tribal Pashtun peoples. The Taliban are a mainly Pashtun movement. Pashtuns constitute around 42% of Afghan citizens. The majority of Pashtuns, however, live in Pakistan, where they are a subordinated minority in a state dominated by the Punjabi Muslim population.
Close Pakistani involvement in Afghan affairs has been a constant element in the modern history of this area. The Pakistani desire for ‘strategic depth’ in Afghanistan has in recent years been reflected in support for domiciling of, or turning a blind eye to, a variety of Islamist movements in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and the neighboring Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan. In addition to the Taliban, these have included the Haqqani Network and elements of al-Qaeda.
Pakistan desires this strategic depth in order to counteract Indian influence in this strategically important area in the ongoing contest between the two countries. Influence over or control of the government in Kabul would also enable Pakistan to project influence further into Central Asia. Lastly, given the demographic issues within Pakistan, the alliance with the Taliban, who favor an ‘Islamic Emirate,’ enables Islamabad to offset and combat separatist or nationalist tendencies among its own Pashtun population. Since 2014, a popular movement for Pashtun rights, known as Tahafuz, has been active in this area.
These developments matter to Israel because Pakistan is engaged in a growing strategic relationship with Turkey, based on a shared conservative Sunni Islamist outlook. The emergence of a Pakistan-aligned Taliban government in Kabul will strengthen this axis. Given Islamabad’s close ties with China, and Turkey’s own advancing relations with Beijing, this in turn raises the future possibility on the horizon of a trilateral alignment. However, this would depend on the willingness of conservative Islamists in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Turkey to turn a blind eye to China’s own treatment of its Muslim minorities.
Many analysts, in discussing Pakistan’s role in the latest events in Afghanistan, have noted a 2014 statement by Hamid Gul, a former leader of the ISI in Pakistan: “When history is written, it will be stated that the ISI defeated the Soviet Union in Afghanistan with the help of America…Then there will be another sentence. The ISI, with the help of America, defeated America.”
Gul, incidentally, also believes that the Mossad carried out the 9/11 attacks, that the US actively seeks to destabilize Pakistan because it is a “Muslim nuclear state,” and that the Taliban represent the “purest form of Islam.”
These views are a reflection of the outlook of those elements within the Pakistani system that manage the relationship with the Taliban. Without this relationship, the Taliban victory of recent weeks would almost certainly not have taken place. This piece of the picture regarding Afghanistan is worthy of greater attention in the West.”
An interesting theory is that the victory of the Taliban was a masterplan supported by China, Russia and Pakistan which for a long time prepared for the takeover.A proponent of that point of view is Alastair Crooke. Alastair Crooke CMG, sometimes erroneously referred to as Alistair Crooke, (born 1949) is a British diplomat, the founder and director of the Conflicts Forum, an organisation that advocates for engagement between political Islam and the West. Previously he was a ranking figure in both British intelligence (MI6) and European Union diplomacy He was a spy for the British Government but retired shortly after meeting his spouse.
Crooke was a Middle East advisor to Javier Solana, High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy of the European Union (CFSP) from 1997 to 2003, facilitated a number of de-escalations of violence and military withdrawals in the Palestinian Territories with Islamist movements from 2000 to 2003 and was involved in the diplomatic efforts in the Siege of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. He was a member of the Mitchell Committee into the causes of the Second Intifada in 2000. He held clandestine meetings with the Hamas leadership in June 2002. He is an active advocate of engagement with Hamas to whom he referred as „Resistants or Resistance Fighters“.
“A ‘Strategic Apocalypse’ in Afghanistan: A Seismic Shift, Years in the Making
August 23, 2021
China is more determined to shape the region than many analysts realise, Alastair Crooke writes.
A huge geo-political event has just occurred in Afghanistan: The implosion of a key western strategy for managing what Mackinder, in the 19th century, called the Asian heartland. That it was accomplished, without fighting, and in few days, is almost unprecedented.
It has been a shock. Not just one of those ephemeral shocks that is soon forgotten, but a deeply traumatic one. Unlike the psychological impact of 9/11, the western world is treating the experience as mourning for the loss of ‘a loved one’. There have been ministerial tears, chest beating and an entry into the first three stages of grief simultaneously: Firstly, shock and denial (a state of disbelief and numbed feelings); then, pain and guilt (for those allies of ours huddled at Kabul airport), and finally, anger. The fourth stage is already in sight in the U.S.: Depression – as the polls show America already swinging towards deep pessimism about the pandemic, economic and prospects, as well as the course on which the American Republic is set.
Here we have a clear statement from the editors of The New York Times of who that ‘loved one’ was:
[The Afghan debacle is] “tragic because the American Dream of being the ‘indispensable nation’ in a world where the values of civil rights, women’s empowerment and religious tolerance rule – proved to be just a dream”.
Michael Rubin representing the hawkish AEI pronounced an eulogy over ‘the corpse’:
Biden, Blinken, and Jake Sullivan might craft statements about the mistakes of earlier NATO overreach, “and the need for Washington to focus on its core interests further West. And Pentagon officials and diplomats might contest any lessening of America’s commitment with indignation, yet the reality is NATO is a Dead Man Walking”.
An earlier piece, reflecting fury at Biden – and the sense of a strategic apocalypse having befallen Washington – is best caught in this agonised cry, again from Michael Rubin:
“By enabling China to advance its interests in Afghanistan, Biden also enables it to cut-off India and other American allies from Central Asia. Simply put … Biden’s incompetence now risks the entire post-World War II liberal order … God help the United States”.
Rubin says plainly what Afghanistan was always truly about: Disrupting Central Asia, to weaken Russia and China. Rubin at least spares us the hypocrisy about safeguarding girls’ education (others, who are close to the U.S. military industrial complex, continue the mantra of the need to re-deploy to Afghanistan and for continued war – and consequent weapons sales – in Afghanistan, in part ‘to protect’ women’s rights). Rubin concludes: “Rather than enhance America’s position against China however, Biden has hemorrhaged it”.
In Britain too, Chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, Tom Tugenhadt, has lamented Biden’s strategic mistake, and the imperative to not give up – but to persevere: “This isn’t just about Afghanistan”, he writes, “It’s about us all. We are engaged in a challenge over the way the world works. We’re seeing autocratic powers like China and Russia challenge the rules and break the agreements we’ve made …”.
Tugenhadt believes that: “We can turn this around. We need to. This is a choice. So far we’re choosing to lose”. Many hawks in Washington acknowledge that this is, of course, impossible. That era is now gone – indeed, what the last days events in Afghanistan represent is a paradigm lost.
Many are deeply angry at Biden (albeit reflecting mixed agendas), and are bemused too, at how this could have occurred. The explanation however, may be even more disturbing. The writing had long been writ in blood on the wall for Afghanistan – there is a limit to how long a corrupt elite, severed from its roots in its own people, can be sustained by a waning alien culture.
The urgings from the British PM in a telecon with Biden however, that the latter must preserve “the gains” of the last twenty years in Afghanistan is literally to dream.
But the deeper story is the one of not just the transformation of the Taliban, but rather, of a seismic shift in geopolitics. Western intelligence agencies were so consumed with ‘counter-terrorism’ that they failed to see the new dynamics at play. Certainly, that might explain the Biden’s administration’s assessment of the long months it would take before the Ghani regime was at risk of falling.
The Taliban we see today is a far more complex, multi-ethnic, and sophisticated coalition, which is why they have been able, at such breath-taking speed, to topple the western-installed Afghanistan government. They talk Afghan political inclusion – and lookto Iran, Russia, China and Pakistan for mediation, and to facilitate their place in the ‘Great Game’. They aspire to play a regional role as a pluralist Sunni Islamist government. This is why they have given explicit assurances to these key external partners that their rise to power will bring neither a bloodbath of score-settling, nor civil war. They also promise that different religious sects will be respected, and girls and women can and will be educated.
Many years ago, before the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1979, I was based in Peshawar, Pakistan, near Afghanistan. I was responsible for diplomatic reporting on the war and engagement with Afghan leaders during the Soviet era. I came to know the Taliban, which had recently been forged by Pakistani Intelligence, under Gen. Hamid Gul. They were then: intensely parochial, geographically and politically sectarian, xenophobic, tribal and unbendingly rigid.
As Pashtuns recidivists, and too, the biggest minority ethnic group in Afghanistan, they would kill other ethnicities wantonly: Shia Hazaras in particular, as apostates, were killed. They detested Ahmad Shah Masood, the ‘lion on Panshir’ and a hero of the resistance to the Soviets, because he was a Tajik. Some of their fundamentalism was fuelled by the radicalised strains of Islam, Deobandism and Wahhabism – exports of Saudi Arabia and Dar al-Islam Howzah in India. But mostly it was ancient tribal lore known as Pashtunwali.
The Taliban we see today, is a far more complex, multi-ethnic, and sophisticated coalition, which is why they have been able, at such breath-taking speed, to topple the western-installed Afghanistan government. They talk Afghan political inclusion – and lookto Iran, Russia, China and Pakistan for mediation, and to facilitate their place in the ‘Great Game’. They aspire to play a regional role as a pluralist Sunni Islamist government.
This is why they have given explicit assurances to these key external partners that their rise to power will bring neither a bloodbath of score-settling, nor civil war. They also promise that different religious sects will be respected, and girls and women can, and will, be educated.
The sweep of the Taliban to power however, has been years in the making, with key outside actors playing a crucial part in overseeing the metamorphosis. More concretely, as consensus with the Taliban on the future was reached, these external powers – China, Iran, Russia and Pakistan – have brought their Afghan allies (i.e. other Afghan minorities, who are almost as numerous) to the negotiating table alongside the Taliban. The latter’s links with China go back several years. Iran too, has been engaged with the Taliban and other Afghan components, in a similar vein, for at least two decades. Russia and Pakistan engaged jointly, in December 2016.
As a result of this concerted outreach, the Taliban leadership adjusted to the realpolitik of Central Asia: They see that the SCO represents the coming regional strategic paradigm, which can enable them to come out of their isolation as political ‘untouchables’ and pave a path for them to govern and rebuild Afghanistan, with economic assistance from SCO-member states.
Civil war remains a risk: We may expect that the CIA will try to stand-up an Afghan counter-insurgency to the new government – the path is not difficult to forecast: acts of violence and assassinations will (and are) being attributed to the “terrorist” Taliban. They will likely be false flag operations. And there is talk too, (mostly in the West) as to whether the Taliban can be ‘trusted’, or will stick to their undertakings.
It is not, however, just a simple question of ‘trust’. The difference today lies with the external geo-political architecture that has brought this event into being. These external regional partners will tell (and have told) the Taliban that, if they violate their assurances, they will regain their international pariah status: they will be classified as terrorists again, their borders will close, their economy will tank – and the country racked by civil war yet again. In short, the calculus is rooted in self-interest, rather than the presumption of trust.
China is more determined to shape the region than many analysts realise. It’ is often said that China is purely mercantile, interested only in advancing its economic agenda. Yet China’s Xinjiang province – its Islamist underbelly – shares a border with Afghanistan. This touches on state security, and China therefore will require stability in Afghanistan. It will not tolerate ethnic Turkic insurgents (spurred by the West) moving into or from Afghanistan into Turkmenistan or Xinjiang. The Uighurs are ethnically Turkic. We can expect China to be tough on this point.
Thus, not only have the U.S. and NATO been forced to exit from the ‘crossroads of Asia’ in desperate disarray, but these developments set the stage for a major evolution of Russia and China’s economic and trade regional corridor plans. They also transform the security of central Asia in respect to Chinese and Russian vulnerabilities there. (The U.S., so far, has been denied an alternative military base in Central Asia, relocating its forces instead to Jordan).
To be fair, Michael Rubin was ‘half right’ when he said that “Rather than enhance America’s position against China, Biden has hemorrhaged it”, but only half right. Because the missing ‘other half’ is that Washington was outplayed by Russia, China and Iran. Western Intelligence failed utterly to see the new domestic Afghan dynamics – the external actors underwriting the Taliban’s negotiations with the tribes.
And they still do not see all the external dominoes falling into place around an Afghan pivot, that changes the whole Central Asian calculus.
Additional pieces to this jigsaw picture of paradigm change have become visible in the wake of the Taliban’s sweep to power: One domino fell even before the ‘Kabul rout’: Iran’s new Administration has strategically re-positioned the country towards prioritising relations other Islamic states, but in partnership with Russia and China.
The Iranian National Security Council then declined to agree the draft Vienna agreement for a re-launch of JCPOA (the second domino to slip into place).
During the rout China and Russia (‘co-incidentally’) closed the airspace over northern Afghanistan on account of their joint military exercises taking place to the north of Afghanistan – and, for the first time the two powers exercised under joint military control. This represents the third (and very significant) domino, though one barely noticed by the West.
Finally, Pakistan strategically re-positioned too, by declining to host any U.S. military presence in its territory.
And then, yet one last domino: Iran was invited formally to join the SCO (which ultimately would imply Iran joining the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), thus giving the country a fresh economic and trade horizon – absent the lifting of the U.S. siege of its economy.
So not only have the U.S. and NATO been forced to exit from this new strategic locus, but these parallel developments set the stage for a major evolution of Russia and China’s economic and trade regional corridor plan.
China will play a key part in this. China and Russia have recognised the Taliban government, and China will likely build a pipeline along the ‘5-nation corridor’, bringing Iranian oil to China, via northern Afghanistan. It will likely then follow on with a north-south corridor, ultimately linking St Petersburg via Afghanistan to Iran’s Chabahar port lying across the strait from Oman.
For the west, this concatenation of falling dominoes has been near incomprehensible.”
It seems that the USA, NATO or the EU has to consolidate itself first, the West has to lick the wounds and with Biden there could be an approach due to many initiatives. The USA is withdrawing from the Greater Middle East, the West currently does not have the strength anymore to start wars like Iraq or Afghanistan from the capacities and the political will and interventions like Libya also seem questionable. Conversely, despite all the shouts of triumph, Russia and China are not sure what will happen to Afghanistan.Try to find out if there was a will of Russia and China for cooperation, where common interests with Russia and China could be in Afghanistan and the Greater Middle East could be, should be tested although there will be limits because the Sino-American conflict escalates, It must not be the case that the West serve as a payment idiot by means of such a cooperation just to feed the beast and the West should also include India in the considerations, be it within the SCO and BRICS, who just had an anti-terrorism summit. Maybe a triad: consolidation of the West, deterrence Russia and China in sensitive zones like Europe and Asia, but otherwise from climate protection to the Greater Middle East cooperation and selective cooperation.
Another important area of cooperation could be the war on drugs. However, not militarilly, but Adam Tooze economic historian at Columbia University in New York City. proposes in an interview the legalization of opium cultivation in Afghanistan:
„It would be best to legalize the cultivation of opium“
The economic situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating noticeably, and there is a threat of famine. Interview from Jonathan Weckerle
Question: Afghanistan faces an uncertain future. What is the economic situation like after the end of 20 years of military service by the USA and its allies?
Tooze: Very bad. Despite the development funds from the West and Asia, Afghan society is impoverished; the gross domestic product per capita and year is very low at 500 to 600 US dollars. An estimated 50 percent of the population live in poverty and need help. There was a terrible drought two years ago and agriculture collapsed.
Question: What role did aid money from abroad play?
Tooze: The society has got used to a very large inflow of funds from abroad, which has consequently led to a very high foreign trade deficit. Every fourth dollar is spent on imports, but now the aid money is no longer needed. There could be a so-called sudden stop, a sudden disengagement from the global economy. This would primarily affect the poorer population in the cities. We faced a tangible social crisis even before the departure, and now the situation is getting worse.
Question: How does the US react in this situation?
Tooze: The US Treasury Department has already announced that it will block all US reserves of the Afghan central bank so that the Taliban will not have access to them. The International Monetary Fund is also blocking Afghanistan’s special drawing rights (the granting of special aid by the IMF; editor’s note). We talk about the situation of women and local workers with good reason, but from a materialistic perspective, nutrition is the central issue. There is a threat of famine, which is particularly dangerous for women: in a society like the Afghan one, women eat last.
Question: Much has been said about the huge sums of money that have flowed into Afghanistan. There is the thesis that the aid money was not only of little use, it actually did harm in building up the economy.
Tooze: One should not exaggerate, the largest sums of money went into the war, the big arms companies and the notorious private security companies also received a lot of money. In second place came the payments to the Afghan army and police, which incidentally have also suffered the greatest loss of life in recent years. Development aid came only in third place. „There is a threat of famine, which is especially dangerous for women: in a society like the Afghan one, women eat last.“ Nor should one deny that there has been economic development. 20 years ago Afghanistan was even poorer than it is now. There was significant economic growth between 2000 and 2013. This was also evident in the countryside, but above all in the cities: there are now high-rise buildings, banks, and modern cars. Half of Afghans now have a cell phone, which would have been unthinkable 20 years ago. It also uses a lot more electricity than it did 20 years ago. Life expectancy has risen considerably, child and maternal mortality have fallen considerably.
Question: How did the economic development take place?
It took place very unevenly, and here one can in fact assume that the money from the outside had a negative impact. The US operation was not very expensive at first, no comparison to Iraq, but from 2009 President Barack Obama’s administration tried to win the war by temporarily sending more soldiers to Afghanistan. During this time, external payments exceeded Afghanistan’s gross domestic product, which was surreal. Such sums of money cannot be digested, they contribute to extremely unequal development and to the suppression of the economic activities that have hitherto been common. Higher-priced activities, such as work for the Western forces, supplant such common activities. These become even less attractive when, as in Afghanistan, illegal drug exports are profitable. Since the USA began to limit its commitment, the gross domestic product per capita has stagnated or fallen, especially since demographic development is very dynamic and considerable economic growth would be necessary so that people can maintain their standard of living.
Question: Is there such a thing as a bourgeoisie that can formulate and enforce its own interests vis-à-vis the Taliban?
Tooze: From a materialistic point of view, this is the question to be asked. I’m not an expert on Afghan ethnology or religion, but from a socio-economic perspective, economic statistics can tell you something: you can see the outlines of a surge in modernization, new facts have actually been created. Many on the ground say that the Taliban must learn to deal with a society that, especially in the cities, is completely different than it was 20 years ago when they were last in power. The demographic dynamics in Afghanistan cannot be imagined in an aging western society: Most Afghans are very young, the vast majority have no memory of the 1990s. It will be a completely different challenge to enforce reactionary gender politics when hundreds of thousands of women have a university education and are present in large parts of social life.
How does the Taliban’s economy work and what do they have to offer the people who support them?
Tooze: When they were last in power, they practiced next to no national economic policy. Nowadays things can turn out differently: In view of the strength of the Taliban, it is possible that others are pulling the strings in the background, such as the Pakistanis and their secret service, and that economic stabilization will result.
How did the Taliban finance itself during the 20 years of international military action?
Tooze: What has kept the Taliban economically alive in their 20-year struggle has been their ability to be very effective in taxing rural areas, and they have been known to be more honest than other militias in doing so. They gave receipts, which were then also valid. The latest findings, for example with regard to the economy in the border area with Iran, show that the prejudice that the Taliban are a terrorist organization that lives primarily from illegal drug trafficking is exaggerated. They get some income from the opium trade, but a case study has estimated that it accounts for ten percent of the total, with the remainder coming from the usual tax collection on imports at the border. Afghanistan is very dependent on imports of food and petrol, for example – the Taliban’s financial basis is to ask for money to import them.
The Taliban could offer themselves as an international partner in the fight against drug trafficking.
Tooze: Yes, it has lived up to their reputation for having a certain ethos since the 1990s. Their puritanical code can also serve to suppress the cultivation of opium, they have already announced a systematic campaign here. But you have to offer the people in the country an alternative. It would be best to legalize the cultivation of opium and use it for legal opiates; Afghan agriculture has a lot to offer here and there is great global demand.“