Fearing increased instability with the risk of a generalized civil war in Afghanistan, Russia and China are working to fill the void left by the US withdrawal from the South Asian country.
Regional powers Turkey and Iran are also seeking to strengthen their influence. This Thursday (8), US President Joe Biden announced the “end of the mission” in the country on August 31, ten days earlier than expected.
Last week, after 20 years, US forces evacuated Bagram Air Base, the country’s main air base.
The United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001 to overthrow the fundamentalist Taliban group, which had ruled most of the country since 1996 and housed the al-Qaeda network responsible for the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington.
With President Joe Biden’s decision to end his presence in the country, the Taliban, which has never ceased to exist and is gaining strength, are on the way to regain power, by force or by agreement, since they participated in the negotiations for the Western withdrawal.
According to the Afghan government, 15 of the country’s 34 regional capitals are at risk of being taken over. Activity around one of them, Mazar-i-Sharif, brought Moscow to the Afghan chessboard 32 years after making its own retreat – the Soviets occupied the country for ten years.
Over the weekend, Afghan forces had to withdraw from Taliban attacks near the border with Tajikistan, a neighboring country and Vladimir Putin’s main ally in Central Asia. About a thousand soldiers entered and left Tajik territory on several occasions.
This Wednesday (8), Moscow responded. “If Tajikistan is attacked, we will honor our commitments,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said. In this case, the territorial defense of the ally, under the terms of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a Eurasian entity headed by the Kremlin.
He confirmed that Russia should activate a base on the Afghan-Tajik border to strengthen local security. Moscow has 6,000 troops based in the former Soviet republic.
There are two factors in moving Lavrov. First, the political opportunity to propose the stabilization of a region and to blame the rivals of the United States and NATO (Western military alliance), whose members are also leaving Afghanistan, for the confusion.
Second, the real need to see Tajikistan stable, because it integrates a vital border into the Central Asian chessboard, one of the areas that guarantees strategic depth in Moscow against China and radical Islamic elements.
Also Thursday, the United Kingdom completed its withdrawal of its forces from Afghanistan, where it lost 457 soldiers in 20 years of military presence, against 2,300 Americans (plus 4,000 mercenaries) and a combined total of 160,000 people, according to Brown University (United States). .
More relevant, however, was the speech by Nick Carter, the British Chief of Defense Staff, who underlined the obvious risk of civil war. According to him, “the security forces can be divided along ethnic and tribal lines”, as happened in the conflict after the Soviet withdrawal, which led to the rise of the Taliban.
Consideration is particularly hard on the United States, which has invested millions to train and equip the Afghan armed forces, which even has Brazilian Super Tucano attack jets donated by the Americans.
All this for fear of the return of medieval practices of oppression of women and minorities that marked the Taliban regime which ended in 2001.
Besides Russia, other powers with interests in the region are mobilizing. China on Thursday said the Afghan crisis is an issue that deserves attention along with Pakistan, the neighbor that helped organize the Taliban in the 1990s because it saw the opportunity to have an ally in the west. against his Indian rival.
“[China e Paquistão] They must together defend regional peace. The problems in Afghanistan are practical problems that we face. China, like Pakistan, is seeking to help the Afghan parties find a solution through dialogue, ”Foreign Minister Wang Yi said.
With the American exit, the Afghan crisis worries the Communist dictatorship of being a factor of instability in a region where it is extending its economic influence, through the Cinturão e Estrada initiative.
Pakistan is a client of Beijing, having replaced Washington as the main arms supplier and integrated the neighbor into an economic corridor in the Indian Ocean. The United States, meanwhile, has moved closer to India, which has serious disputes with the Chinese, having actually been hit in 2020.
The Taliban are resisting the Chinese, who have already drawn up plans to absorb Afghanistan into their sphere of influence, even promising a modern highway connecting Kabul to Peshawar, the capital of the Pakistani tribal regions where the fundamentalist group was born.
It is not just the great powers that are eyeing the country. Turkey, in accordance with the expansionist policy of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is negotiating to be responsible for security at Kabul airport. Turkish companies already have a strong presence there.
And Iran, which shares the language with the second major Afghan ethnic group, the Tajiks, maintains a strong influence in that community, which is dominant in the northwest region of the country.