As the US-led NATO forces pull out of war-torn Afghanistan, the violence-affected, and impoverished nation is left in shambles. And with the Taliban’s rising to power again, Afghanistan’s neighbors seem to have their feet swell.
Afghanistan, its neighbors, and strategically bound countries, i.e., China, India, Pakistan, Iran, and Russia will be most affected by the U.S. exit and what it signifies by and large. The US’s cautious approach has been disastrous for Afghanistan. From 2001-2019, the U.S. and NATO have spent over 978 billion US dollars mostly on the Afghan war, according to independent data. However, only 36 billion US dollars were spent on the development, humanitarian, and socio-economic activities in Afghanistan.
The Afghanistan government relied significantly on foreign aid. Even after the Taliban have taken control of the country, this will not change. The citizens are concerned that the withdrawal would result in a decrease in US assistance for Afghanistan, as international aid accounted for almost 40% of the country’s GDP.
Furthermore, the threat of a proxy war is hanging over the region like the sword of Damocles. Pakistan, China, India, Iran, USSR, and the Gulf Arab nations may all use their surrogate allies in Afghanistan to compete militarily. A new civil war might erupt, with no single Afghan group able to maintain power. The void can be an excellent breeding ground for violent extremist parties to regroup, expand, and recruit Turks, Uzbeks, North African, and Middle Eastern fighters again which would take Afghanistan back to point-blank from where it all started.
The Taliban’s governing culture has essentially not changed. They continue to disapprove of democracy and are likely to impose a strict version of Sharia law. Their previous governing attitude was not encouraging with regard to upholding the modern human rights standards. They may have learned a few things since then and might soften up a bit, but the question is to what degree.
The Taliban’s foremost important characteristic is its long-standing relationship with Pakistan. Because of their tight ties, the Taliban leadership has already spent two decades moving in and out of Pakistan. Pakistan is supposed to be a safe haven for the Taliban chiefs and to have a strong grip on them which, by the way, Pakistan’s law enforcement agencies and Prime Minister Imran Khan has categorically denied in recent Central Asian summit. This theory of safe heavens could make sense due to the proximity of the two countries, as well as the fact that the Taliban leadership relies on Pakistani safe-havens.
Following that, other neighbors are also looking for their ties with Afghanistan due to its strategic importance. China is indeed pondering to deploy troops in Afghanistan to combat the threat of an avalanche of Islamist terrorist organizations, whose existence could transform Uyghur unrest into a total nightmare for the country. Moreover, the Chinese multi-billion-dollar trade route in Pakistan passes very close to Afghanistan and any turmoil or civil unrest in Afghanistan can harm the CPEC.
Iran, another Afghan neighbor with strong and deep cultural and religious ties shares a long border with it. Iran alongside Pakistan is also widely blamed for the unrest in Afghanistan. Iran cheers the departure of US-led NATO forced from Afghanistan. Looks like history is repeating itself. But the influx of refugees and hostile behavior of the Taliban government towards Iran might force Iran to reconsider the situation. The Taliban-led hardline Sunni government and the strict Shiite Iranian government might get enthralled in a violent conflictual relationship. However, the Iranian government this time has softened its tone due to the Hazara community in Afghanistan after the Taliban’s ascent to power.
India, on the other hand, has been the most hesitant to join the Taliban’s embrace thus far. RAW and NDS were working in close collaboration to dismantle the consortium of peace in Pakistan especially vulnerable Baluchistan. With Afghan security forces’ loss of power, India is forced to withdraw its personnel from the country.
All the existing neighbors must learn a vital lesson from Afghanistan’s four-decade-long war. States should take action to assist the Afghan nation in gaining stability and protect Afghanistan from further violence. The sense of rejection among thousands of people who put their faith in the world’s superpower is profound. The sword of a military takeover has left deeper wounds and the people in a state of perplexity and uncertainty.