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Daily News Analysis

The new dynamics of geopolitics in Afghanistan

Crescent International

It is now abundantly clear that the US has lost the war in Afghanistan.

It has not achieved any of its political objectives that it never clearly spelled out anyway.

Currently, the world’s focus remains on what Afghanistan will look like post-US military presence.

Suhail Shaheen, a member of the Taliban negotiating team, declared in Moscow last week that if the US does not withdraw its occupation forces from Afghanistan as per the February 2020 Doha agreement, resistance against imperialist occupation will continue.

The fact that the Taliban issued a stern warning to the US while in Moscow carries great political symbolism and frames the geopolitical landscape of post-US Afghanistan.

While some analysts look at Moscow’s current role in Afghanistan through the prism of its invasion during the Soviet era, today’s Russia is quite different.

Many variables no longer apply to Russia in the manner they used to apply to the USSR.

On March 18, the United States, Russia, China and Pakistan issued a joint statement saying that they “did not support the restoration of the Islamic Emirate”.

This, however, is not a redline for Russia.

Moscow’s political approach in Chechnya and the wider North Caucasus over the past 10 years shows that Russia is a lot more flexible on Islamic matters than the Soviet Union ever was.

Russia understands, quite accurately, that once the Taliban become the major power arbiters in Afghanistan, their primary focus will be local.

Having evolved as a movement, there are numerous signs that the Taliban aim to present themselves as a viable Islamic model.

Thus, they will prioritize economic and political relations with all neighboring countries.

In the 1990s, Russia’s primary concern with the Taliban was that the movement was highly dogmatic and some of its rank-file members were participating in the Chechen conflict.

Another key Russian concern was that the Taliban were aiding the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan by allowing it to use Afghanistan as a base.

Both issues were geopolitical redlines for Moscow, never to be tolerated, no matter who was involved.

Today, Russia knows that the Taliban are in no position to destabilize the autocratic regimes in Central Asia that were part of the former Soviet Union.

Inside Russia’s borders, the Taliban’s model does not appeal to Muslims in Russia.

These two factors eliminate the hard barriers between the Taliban and Russia.

Everything else is negotiable as far as Moscow is concerned.

It should also be taken into account that Pakistan’s security establishment exercises considerable influence over the Taliban.

Further, Islamabad is reorienting its political and economy policies towards China and Russia.

Through the Pakistani security establishment, Russia will find a trusted and influential mediator to iron out any points of contention with the Taliban.

Today, the primary objective of all key players —China, Russia, Iran and the Taliban—is to eliminate or reduce American presence in Afghanistan.

Through this common denominator, all four share a political framework through which a new regional order can be evolved.

This does not mean that the US will easily give up its position in Afghanistan.

It is, however, established that Washington has lost the long-term game.

All it can do is keep Afghanistan in perpetual turmoil.

However, through economic incentives from China, Russia, Pakistan and Iran, various Afghan factions can be coaxed toward peaceful coexistence in order to enjoy the economic benefits of a stable Central Asia.

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