Updated: Aug 29, 2021
The fall of Kabul to the Taliban is an event that is certain to dramatically change Afghanistan and impact South Asia, the Middle East, and beyond. In this special report, we asked some of Wikistrat’s top experts to weigh in on the geopolitical implications of the new reality in Afghanistan.
Download the report
Will the situation in Afghanistan lead to instability in South Asia?
Yes, here is why:
India/Pakistan Relations are likely to deteriorate - The Taliban victory in Afghanistan is likely to give Pakistan a morale boost to intensify its covert war in Kashmir. Its anti-India narrative is likely to strengthen at the national and international levels. Resulting in its relations with India to be further strained.
The triumph of the jihadist narrative - Pakistan’s jihadist and radical Islamist groups will draw strength and inspiration from this development and try to imitate the Taliban’s approach of turning Pakistan into a theocratic state. The jihadists will use the Taliban’s protection umbrella in Afghanistan to launch attacks in Pakistan. Meanwhile, the Islamists will become more aggressive in their political approach in demanding shariah rule in Pakistan.
The Pakistani Taliban is now stronger - Attacks in Pakistan have already surged over the last few weeks. Pakistan may push some factions within the Taliban, particularly the “Haqqani network,” to force the TTP into an agreement. A last such meeting failed as TTP demanded the implementation of “sharia in tribal areas,” which the Pakistan military refused. It is unclear if the next such meetup will produce any results for Pakistan. If the initiative fails, attacks are “likely to surge” in Pakistan, and “Pakistan’s ties with the Afghan Taliban can also take a hit.”
Saudi efforts to foster more moderate elements within the Taliban movement, have ultimately failed - Although it remains unclear how Taliban 2.0 will govern Afghanistan, it is unlikely that the more moderate elements of the movement will prevail. It is much more likely that hardliners will insist on implementing a severe version of Islamic law akin to that deployed from 1996 to 2001.
Who gained the most from the recent Taliban Victory?
China, here is why:
Both China and Pakistan share identical views of the Taliban and, through Islamabad, Beijing has been able to extract promises of cooperation and non hostility from the insurgent group. Taliban has assured Beijing of restricting the activities of Uyghur militants.
The two countries also share a common objective of countering India’s engagement in Afghanistan - China will be the second most important country to Afghanistan given the fact that it has not only recognized the Taliban regime but is willing to invest in Afghanistan, which the Taliban would welcome.
China hopes to envelop Afghanistan in its regional economic sphere. PRC firms can provide needed assistance to exploit Afghanistan’s mineral resources, such as lithium. China can exploit Afghan territory to connect its pipeline, transport systems, and other BRI-related networks with Pakistan.
Iran’s IRGC, here is why:
To manage the myriad of challenges on Tehran’s horizon, Iran will undoubtedly turn to the IRGC. Iran’s IRGC Qods Force commander, Esmail Qaani, who was appointed as Qassem Soleimani’s successor, was previously responsible for Iran’s network in Afghanistan. The IRGC have strong links to the Taliban, having helped them survive. This does not mean the IRGC might not view Taliban as a threat again, but it is clear it would rather be dealing with them on its border, rather than a stable, Us friendly Afghanistan. The rise of the Taliban is also a victory for Iran’s vision of a region without US troops, and for the “alternative axis” as Russia, China, and Iran all vow to work with the group and manage the threat to make sure their interests are protected.
Russia, here is why:
Moscow is strengthening its own regional alliances and alignments. Even as they have cultivated ties with the Taliban, Russian officials are highlighting the potential threats to Afghanistan neighbors to leverage their fear to Moscow’s advantage. Central Asians are therefore eager to strengthen their bilateral security ties with Moscow, which is also promoting its regional alliance, the Collective Security Treaty Organization. Moscow’s dream is to build a Moscow-led Eurasian bloc of Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Iran, and other Eurasian states, perhaps centered around the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which includes all these states as members.
Of particular interest to Russia will be the future of the much-delayed construction of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline, which aimed to bring Turkmen natural gas to India. If Russia asserts more significant political and military influence over Turkmenistan in the wake of the Taliban victory in Afghanistan, this could lead to more control over the TAPI project, which it withdrew from in 1998 (Gazprom had a 10% shareholding). Viewed through this prism, positive relations with a Taliban-administrated Kabul could even open new vectors of influence for Russia into the Indian subcontinent.
Turkey, here is why:
The Taliban’s control of Afghanistan is likely to exacerbate the ongoing flow of displaced Afghans into Turkey by way of Iran. A new refugee crisis has the potential for the Erdogan government to exploit in relations with the West. Erdogan is hoping to use the threat of Afghan refugee flows as additional leverage to extract additional concessions from the European Union. In the short run, it is still not clear whether Ankara will use a similar strategy with Washington by temporarily hosting Afghan staff who had worked in various US projects as Washington processes their US visas or settles them in third countries.
Who is likely to lose the most from the Recent Taliban Victory?
India, here is why:
India’s two-decade-long engagement in that country, which resulted in significant strategic gains, faces reversal. Pakistan has worked to curtail India’s presence on high tables seeking to discuss and shape Afghanistan’s future. That policy is unlikely to change. As Islamabad, due to its close links with the Taliban, is poised to gain significance in the Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, New Delhi stares at a future in which its painstaking contribution to Afghanistan’s development sector could be undone.
NATO, here is why:
Transatlantic ties are newly strained. European leaders had hoped that Trump’s departure would usher in a period of alliance renewal, especially given Biden’s history as a staunch Atlanticist. But since coming to office, Biden has made largely unilateral decisions regarding Afghanistan, deciding on the withdrawal with minimal consultation (effectively leaving NATO no choice but to follow) and not engaging substantially with allies during the withdrawal. Now, in the face of renewed drives for European strategic autonomy, US leaders need to resume trying to rebuild transatlantic ties in general as well as reinforce faith in US intelligence assessments and NATO.
Saudi Arabia, here is why:
One immediate area of concern, though, remains Yemen and the US commitment to support Saudi Arabia’s war effort there. The Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan will be seen as a boon for the IRGC; and it may embolden them further in other regional theaters, including Yemen. Consequently, Riyadh will become more dependent upon US security support, which will make it more pliable to Biden’s focus on human rights, though it is difficult to imagine how he can instrumentalize that approach, given the human rights abuses taking place in Afghanistan. For the time being, the strategic relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia will not change, but the contours of the relationship will shift, giving Washington more tools to curtail the kingdom’s more wayward activities and bringing it into compliance with its human rights agenda.
Download the report