Mohamed El-Doufani* writes:
The Taliban are back in control of Afghanistan and the United States and its satellite states are out, having invested trillions of tax dollars propping up a corrupt client regime (and domestic Western beneficiaries). The speed of the collapse of the US client regime in Kabul has shocked many, but many others well versed in the reality of Afghanistan had predicted that that would happen once the US and its satellites withdrew their forces.
Amid the noise, propaganda, tears, wishful thinking, handwringing and general chaos, it may be foolhardy to make predictions about the future of Afghanistan. However, there is enough information at this very early stage to offer some postulates on how the situation in that country might develop.
1. Within a year from now the Taliban and the United States and its satellite countries will forge a friendship based on shared goals. This is currently on course, with talks underway between the Taliban and US and British intelligence officials, ostensibly about allowing Western-linked Afghans to leave their country, if they wish to. The European Union, in the form of Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell, has also rather shyly stated that it will engage with the Taliban while stressing that this does not mean Brussels will recognise the new government in Kabul.
2. Without direct foreign military assistance, the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, led by Ahmad Massoud, will in effect cease to exist. Massoud himself will either disappear into the mountains or opt for the comforts of Dubai. His army will vanish, just as the Afghan army has vanished.
3. The conflict between the Taliban and the so-called “Islamic State-Khorasan” (IS) group will intensify. IS will grow in strength and gradually establish control over parts of Afghanistan. Splits within the Taliban will begin to appear, opening the possibility that the movement will self-destruct. The potential for a split already exists, between those who lived in Doha and have been influenced by Qatari money and way of life and the foot soldiers and commanders who have never left their tribal lands and bore the brunt of the fighting over the past two decades.
4. As IS grows in strength, possibly propped up by renegade Talibanis, Pakistan and India will be drawn into Afghanistan. Pakistan will pursue a schizophrenic policy, denouncing and pledging to contain IS, while its secret service, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), arms and trains IS. Fearing that IS will seek to establish roots among some of India’s Muslim minority, India will covertly arm and train anti-IS elements in Afghanistan — what’s left of the current Taliban and others. The US will confine itself to drone attacks on IS figures and installations, to no noticeable effect.
5. The growth of the Sunni IS, which is responsible for murdering members of Afghanistan’s Shia minority, and the creeping influence of predominantly Sunni Pakistan, will create anxiety in Shia-majority Iran which, while hesitant to be drawn into the Afghan quagmire, might offer covert help to Afghanistan’s oppressed and mostly Shia Hazara community.
6. Having intervened and been burned once in Afghanistan, Russia is unlikely to play a significant role there. Although it has said it may recognise the Taliban as the Afghan authority, it has made this contingent on the formation of a government that included minority groups, something that’s not likely to happen.
7. Although China has said that it is “ready for friendly relations” with the Taliban, such relations are unlikely to go beyond participation in reconstruction efforts. Any greater level of involvement in Afghanistan would be a deviation from established Chinese foreign policy, which has so far avoided significant involvement in countries where there is civil strife. It would also risk mobilising China’s Uyghur Muslims, some of whom have shown an appetite for extremism and terrorism.
8. Despite its imperial, neo-Ottoman aspirations, Turkey is unlikely to play a major role. It’s already overstretched in Syria and Libya, and to a lesser extent in northern Iraq. It’s foreign policy ventures in civil wars have been failures, simply prolonging the wars without achieving anything noteworthy. It is now trying to reconcile with Egypt and has already stopped the anti-Egypt broadcasts by the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood media. This is possibly an acknowledgement of the failure of its assertive foreign policy.
As with Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen, one very firm predication is that the big losers will be the Afghan people. There are no glimmers of light, only hardship and bloodshed await. That, it should be clear to all, is the inevitable consequence of foreign meddling and military intervention in the affairs of others. Vietnam, with its two million dead in the Vietnam War, got away lightly, it would seem. The pain of the other victims of foreign intervention continues.
*Dr Mohamed El-Doufani is an editor, writer, analyst and commentator specialising in the Middle East and North Africa, and Russian and US foreign policies.