Ruling Taliban's Scarce Contribution to Regional Security

A year since the US and allied forces withdrew from Afghanistan has passed, but Afghanistan remains a matter of concern for its neighbours. Taliban are changing, but extremely slowly, the domestic security situation is tenuous, terrorists are still active in the country, and the broader region remains insecure and unstable with little to no international engagement.

There are three threats to regional countries from Afghanistan. First, the Afghan political instability, second, the presence of Islamic State-Khorasan Province (ISKP) and Al-Qaeda; and third, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) hideouts in Afghanistan.

The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan was relatively peaceful, with provinces surrendering to them one after another without any resistance. However, concerns remain over the internal Afghan security situation, and the Taliban’s will and capabilities to address those concerns are questionable. Currently, the internal security situation is far from satisfactory in Afghanistan. As Afghanistan is a multicultural society, its inter-ethnic struggle and conflicts are natural. The unity and beauty in diversity may be true in some countries, but in Afghanistan, diversity has proven to be a curse during the last four decades and remains one of the major reasons behind the conflict. Taliban are predominately Pashtuns and have previously fought with the Northern Alliance consisting of other major ethnic groups. After the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, the international community’s fears of ethnic conflict remain unmitigated despite the Taliban’s claim to have established control over the whole of Afghanistan. This time also, the resistance to the Taliban comes from the High Council of National Resistance mainly due to the Taliban’s unwillingness to form a broad-based national government and adherence to human rights.

ISKP is a strong case for counter-terrorism cooperation between the international community and the Taliban. However, the Taliban also needs to deliver on its commitments and demonstrate a willingness to address the concerns of regional countries.

Over time, Afghanistan’s domestic challenges can further aggravate, and the anti-Taliban sentiments may take root. The resistance against the Taliban may also exacerbate the conflict inside the country. The looming humanitarian crisis, a weak economy, limited foreign aid, and absence of domestic revenue sources directly impact the Taliban’s capacity to address prevailing challenges.

The political instability in Afghanistan gives space for regional terrorists to regroup in Afghanistan. After the return of the Taliban, ISKP has increased its activities inside Afghanistan and in the region. Although the Taliban opposes the ISKP presence inside Afghanistan, it lacks the capacity to physically eliminate its existence. There has also been a resurgence of Al-Qaeda after the Taliban takeover. Recently, its leader Ayman al-Zawahiri was killed in a US drone attack in Kabul without the knowledge of the Taliban government. Also, there has been an increase in cross-border attacks on Pakistani security forces by TTP and Baloch militants.

Afghanistan’s ethnic issues have been a major determinant in the establishment of peace and stability in the country. Afghanistan’s lack of internal stability, in return, has direct implications for regional peace and security. Afghanistan’s various ethnic groups have links to other regional countries like Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Pakistan. Taliban are Pashtuns, so their fight against Tajik, Uzbek, Hazara, and other ethnic communities impact their ties with other regional countries.

Despite the resurgence of ISKP, TTP, and other terrorist groups, the international community’s engagement with Afghanistan has been slow, and not much has been achieved by it in the one year since the Taliban have had control over Afghanistan. Major powers, including the US, Russia, and China, are involved on other fronts, i.e., the Russian war in Ukraine and the role of Taiwan in heating things between the US and China. Due to these pressing issues, Afghanistan’s worsening economic situation and cross-border terrorism are not attracting any particular attention from the international community. It can be argued that if the international community was not moved by the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan, then there are few chances that it could engage with the Taliban regime unless the latter is ready to make political compromises.

The reason behind the limited engagement of the international community with Afghanistan is the alleged failure of the Taliban to meet its expectations. It wants the Afghan Taliban to uphold human rights and democratic values, especially women’s rights, education, freedom to work, etc. It also wants a representation of ethnic minorities and women in the government. Other demands include acting against the terrorists and extremists and not allowing Afghan soil to be used against any other country. There is a strong international consensus on not engaging with the Taliban regime unless it takes substantial actions to meet its expectations.

Afghanistan will likely remain problematic in the future unless fundamental reforms regarding governance and ethnic representation are made in the country. There are fears that if the militancy continues to rise inside Afghanistan, it will destabilise the region, cut the prospects of regional economic integration, increase the economic crisis in Afghanistan, constrain its relations with regional countries and further isolate the Taliban internationally.

To stabilise Afghanistan, the Taliban and the international community need to work together. Taliban have fought against the Soviet Union and the US for the last four decades and do not have any counter-terrorism experience. If the international community wants to stabilise Afghanistan and stop terrorism in the region, it can provide counter-terrorism training to the Taliban. While the Taliban’s equation with Al-Qaeda and TTP is debatable, ISKP is a strong case for counter-terrorism cooperation between the international community and the Taliban. However, the Taliban also needs to deliver on its commitments and demonstrate a willingness to address the concerns of regional countries. This will increase the prospects of the international community engaging with the Taliban and bring dividends to the economic and humanitarian situation. These measures can stabilise Afghanistan’s political and security situation, decrease the prospects of resistance to the Taliban regime, and increase their long-term political viability. An improved domestic economic and security situation can shrink the space for ISKP, Al-Qaeda, and TTP within Afghanistan and enhance regional security.

Samran Ali

Samran Ali works on nuclear and strategic issues at the Center for International Strategic Studies, Islamabad. He tweets at @samranali6.

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