Afghanistan and West Asian geopolitical tussle
As Taliban has taken the control of Kabul, the regional implications of their power has become subject to much debate. Especially, Taliban's resurgence has pronounced implications for the West Asian countries. This article seeks to analyze the implications of Taliban's rise on the wider West Asian region.
The power configuration of Kabul is indispensable for the geopolitical stability of wider West Asia. Developments in Kabul across the history had been reverberated across West Asia as Kabul stands at a paramount geopolitical position straddling Middle East and Central Asia. Besides, cultural factors and theological homogeneity plays an instrumental role for the intricate geopolitical relations between Afghanistan and West Asia. Due to its geographical position and other religio-cultural factors, any political event in this country has ripple effects for the region.
Instability and turmoil in the Kabul invariably diffuse to the contiguous region of Iran and greater middle. The Taliban's resurgence this time around, therefore, will not be anomaly in this region as the region is bracing for a host of challenges.
As Soviet had invaded the country, US and its allies trained the youth of Afghanistan to fend off the Soviets according to the US's containment theory. Amidst a Cold-war paradigm, Afghanistan had been subsumed to the wider interests of the great power.
The wider West Asian region had to grapple with the violent trajectory following the 9/11. The Global War on Terror (GWOT) had been a momentous event for the region as the prolonged war has widened the rifts of the regional actors.
Against this backdrop, Taliban's resurgence in an already tumultuous region has sparked furore among analysts about the future of Afghanistan and its consequences on the regional geopolitics. With regards to United States policy, it can be discerned that Washington is more bent on focusing exclusively on its domestic rejuvenation and will exert geopolitical leverage under the remit of its Indo-Pacific strategy. Washington's foolhardy withdrawal, therefore, portend ill for the regional actors.
The rush withdrawal by United States has created a strategic vacuum in this region. There will be renewed rivalries between the regional actors to secure influence in this restive region. However, there are marked disparities among the regional actors. While Pakistan and Iran remain more vulnerable due to their contiguity with Afghanistan, the interests of Russia, China and Turkey revolve around economic and geopolitical rationale.
While all of these countries will seek greater involvement in the Afghanistan, being the facilitator of the peace deal Qatar will act as trailblazer among the regional actors to steer the engagement with the Taliban. Pakistan also can wield influence due to association with Haqqani network. Turkey, being a close ally of Pakistan and Qatar, therefore will retain leverage over its regional rivals. Turkey strives to become a trusted mediator and a stabilizing force in Afghanistan.
Iran has considerable stakes in Afghanistan. The Afghan refugee dilemma will drive Iran's policy with regards to Taliban. Iran will prudently promote stability in Afghanistan as it will shield Iran from the mounting refugee burden. An estimated 3 million Afghan refugee are now residing in Iran and the number is escalating in the wake of recent upheaval in Kabul. Iran will maintain its interest by promoting a peaceful and stable power transition in order to avert violent refugee exodus.
Besides, Iran will also want to curtail the influence of Turkey and other antagonist countries. However, Iran's enthusiasm can be dampened by the sectarian rifts between Sunni and Shia communities.
Iran's arch-rival Saudi Arabia, however, is observing the evolving developments from the prism of Saudi-Iran rivalry as Saudi Arabia disrelish Iran's projection of power in such geopolitical theatre. Saudi Arabia's engagement with the Taliban is chequered. Saudi financed hardliner religion schools and other logistical support in 1980s. In the wake of 9/11, Saudi Arabia joined with the US bandwagon against Taliban and halted any covert support for Taliban.
Qatar has been hosting Taliban and Western contacts for past decade. Qatar's instrumental role is apparent after Taliban's rise to power as Qatar has become the go-to contacts for countries seeking influence in Afghanistan. However, Qatar ought to tread warily and need to be scrupulous enough in not invoking international opprobrium for their dalliance with Taliban.
The concern of UAE with regards to Afghanistan remains similar of Saudi Arabia. UAE deplore any resurgence of Islamist extremism. Turkey, in contrast, is ambivalent with regards to Taliban. As a member state of NATO, Turkey has long played seminal role in US-led occupation by non-combatant forces. Turkey and the US have been in accord about a plan for Ankara in safeguarding the Kabul airport following the US' withdrawal.
Therefore, this issue has driven a wedge between Taliban and Turkey. Another fear of Turkey is with regards to an influx of refugee emanating from Afghanistan. Besides, Turkey's excessive engagement with Taliban is inimical to Turkey's reputation as a NATO member.
Moreover, a new geopolitical configuration is evolving entering around Afghanistan. The vacuum left by the United States has presented the regional actors an opportunity to project their geopolitical power and gain leverage against adversary. Therefore, a new geopolitical tussle is set to take shape with Taliban-helmed Afghanistan at the fulcrum. While the countries with Islamist tendencies is effusive about a Taliban resurgence, other conservative actors likes of Saudi Arabia and UAE is wary due to spill-over of extremism to their border. Besides, a Saudi-Iran rivalry also plays out in this geopolitical game as Iran's increasing involvement is creating fear for Saudi Arabia. Moreover, Taliban's expeditious resurgence has unleashed a geopolitical maelstrom in the wider Middle Eastern region.
The writer is a student, Department of International Relations, University of Dhaka