Students Gone Rogue in Office Again

Students Gone Rogue in Office Again

What Taliban Takeover of Afghanistan Means to Everyone Else

Biggest news of this August is Taliban taking over Kabul, while American troops leaving the "Graveyard of Empires". What does this all mean for America, who are the winners of the situation and how will it impact South Caucasus and Armenia in particular?

Text: Tigran Zakaryan

 

American Fiasco

The world once again was again reminded that Afghanistan has since long earned the fame of the ”Graveyard of Empires”.  The scenes of US troops leaving hastily the country with crowds of locals, who fear for their lives for the alleged or real collaboration with the “invaders” desperately trying to get on board of the planes leaving Kabul became an epitome of Washington’s fiasco. 

What the American left behind is a failed state, whose ruling regime which crumbled overnight due to corruption of epic proportions and an equally huge lack of motivation to fight with zillions of dollars squandered at best or even serving wrong guys and – to add insult to injury – a shattered US prestige throughout the region down the road.    

With all of this in mind, many ask if this was indeed yet another “Saigon 1975” when Washington suffered a most humiliating defeat in Vietnam to its archrival, the Soviet Union. In this case however the number of winners is by far large, while the criteria for defining them are much more ambiguous. 

First of all, despite all the attempts by the Taliban to look moderate both internally and to the international community, their ultimate success in consolidating Afghanistan and establishing an effective control over its entire territory – something that was unachievable for a number of successive regimes in Kabul for well over four decades – is questionable, as the situation is exacerbated by the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding on the ground now.

 

Winners

On the other hand several regional powers seem to have scored a victory, China being the first in this line. Afghanistan, if and when pacified – even under a most repressive regime – could be a serious target for Chinese investments, targeting both its rich mineral resources as well as communications, with a potential of turning the country into a key link it Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative. Needless to say, it can serve as solid tool of expanding Chinese influence throughout broader Eurasian region. Yet these are only projects by now, the only real achievement for China being the Taliban’s promise to abstain from backing any Islamist movement acting against Beijing. 
Anther winner could be Pakistan, which once created the Taliban against the Soviet invasion. However some observers note that Kabul’s takeover by the movement could be a double-edged sword. While Islamabad hopes to bolster its influence in the region, the Taliban, composed mostly of ethnic Pashtuns residing in millions across the border of the two states, can develop its own influence among the large Islamist groups within Pakistan, threatening internal security and balance of force inside that country. 

Two other major players, Turkey and Russia, who are trying to ensure their influence over the Central Asian former Soviet republics, already made some overtures to the Taliban both on the eve and after the takeover. Ankara with some help from its NATO partners could try to extend its foothold in Afghanistan, to some extent balancing the expected Chinese aggressive expansion, however this cannot go too far, also due to limited financial resources, as well as the Taliban’s antagonism towards the Turkish model of Islamic state, which is akin to the regime they have just overthrown.

In spite of jubilant comments coming from some of Russia’s influential anti-American observers, there is little if any good news for Moscow. Although the Taliban promised not to engage in any military operation beyond Afghanistan’s borders, it is not to be excluded that some factions might fail to comply with such a position. After all the Taliban is now armed and equipped much better than ever before and some might conclude that this opportunity should be seized before it is too late. On the other hand, even if no military action is undertaken, the very fact of the Taliban’s stunning success could serve as an inspiration to all Islamist factions in Central Asia as well as in Russia which could have serious ramifications for the whole region.

 

Impact on Armenia

Many in Armenia ask if the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan would have any implications for the country. Such considerations usually start with the story of the Afghan mercenaries fighting in the first Karabakh war of 1992-1994 on the side of Azerbaijan. While they – at least the bulk of them – were not members of the Taliban (whose harsh Islamist views could hardly match the post-Soviet secular lifestyle of Azerbaijan), still the experience of the recent Karabakh war showed that there is a chance of Afghan warriors taking part in an armed conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Pakistan’s mentioned close ties with at least some factions in the Taliban and Turkey’s efforts to gain a foothold there make such an eventuality even more real. 

While Armenia stands no chances to influence such a turn of events, Yerevan needs to closely watch the situation and if needed, inform its partners and the world community of such developments. Also, depending on the scale and pace of the international legitimization of the new Afghan regime, Yerevan should try – although this seems a very delicate and hard task to accomplish – to establish some relations with the Taliban. The thing is, that in case the regime is legitimized internationally, most likely it will have a pro-Turkish and pro-Azerbaijani attitude in questions of importance to Armenia and Yerevan should try to work in that direction, using, if possible influential intermediaries as well.

Many here, bearing a grudge against the CSTO’s failure to properly react to Azerbaijan’s aggression against Armenia’s sovereign territory, suggest to answer it with a lukewarm reaction in case organization asks Yerevan to join in support of Tajikistan or other Central Asian member state. Yet such a policy would be counterproductive for Armenia, as first of all it will impair relations with Russia, the current importance of which can hardly be overestimated. On the other hand such a course would hardly shift the CSTO’s attitude towards Armenia for the better, the main player in the organization being, again, Russia.

Ultimately, the two main lessons that we need to learn in Armenia from the situation in Afghanistan are as follows: no matter how strong your ally is, still people on the ground need to do the bulk of the job and corruption is an absolute evil, corroding the state’s social fabric and ultimately opening wide the gates to all kinds of enemies.