Taliban continues violence; Central Asia in vulnerable position, say experts

By: |
August 27, 2021 7:38 PM

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, has criticised the US for putting pressure on Central Asian states to take Afghan refugees "before obtaining visas to the United States or other countries."

afghanistanThe bomb blasts in Kabul on Thursday evening has left several dead and many injured.

So far 550 people in six different flights which includes special military transport aircraft of the Indian Air Force as well as commercial airlines like Air India and IndiGo. All those who have been evacuated come either directly from Kabul or Dushanbe in Tajikistan. Responding to media queries, the official spokesperson of Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) Arindam Bagchi said, “Out of the 550, there are 260 Indians and other nationals who were evacuated with the help of other agencies.”

According to him the government is in touch with various countries including Iran, Uzbekistan, the US, Tajikistan. The flights from Kabul have been returning through the airspace of Iran and some Central Asian Countries.

Most of the Central Asian states wanted the status quo in Afghanistan to continue. “They were quite happy with the fact that the radical forces in Afghanistan were engaged in day-to-day fights with the powerful military of NATO,” says Prof Rajan Kumar, School of International Studies, JNU.

But the withdrawal of American forces has altered the situation entirely. Kremlin is dreading the possibility of radical Islam, terrorism and drug-trafficking. To send a message across the border, it has conducted joint military exercises with Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and China.

The bomb blasts in Kabul on Thursday evening has left several dead and many injured. “India is keeping a close watch on the ground which is evolving and is fluid,” said the spokesperson.

Impact on India

According to Prof Rajan Kumar, School of International Studies, JNU, “India’s policy of aligning entirely with the US policy in Afghanistan has come under serious scrutiny. It is the only significant power in the region which is not negotiating with the Taliban. It prefers to wait and watch and hopes the situation will stabilise in the near future.”

“Under the present circumstances, it does not have many options either. One cannot expect a sudden change in its policy towards the Taliban. Therefore, the second-best option is to observe closely the moves of Russia, Iran and Central Asia and find some common grounds there,” Prof Rajan opines.

Sharing his views, the JNU Prof says, “Suddenly, the smaller states of Central Asia appear vulnerable to radical and terrorist threats from Afghanistan. These states will have to bear the brunt of political and social instability in their neighbourhood. The first and the most immediate concern for them is the influx of refugees. There is a pressure from the US on these states to take refugees. Around 1,500 Afghans crossed the border to enter Uzbekistan. President Putin has warned their leaders about the possibility of militants entering Central Asia under the guise of seeking asylum.”

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, has criticised the US for putting pressure on Central Asian states to take Afghan refugees “before obtaining visas to the United States or other countries.”

The dependence of Central Asian states on Russian security is likely to grow under the present circumstances. Russia will not allow these states to negotiate military agreements with the US, and these states cannot protect themselves without assistance from outside. President Putin in his meeting with President Biden on June 16 dismissed the idea of any military role of the US in Central Asia.

According to Prof Rajan, “For Russia, it’s a mixed kind of feeling. It wanted the US to withdraw from Afghanistan, but it never expected the situation to be so volatile. Russia treats the Taliban as a terrorist organisation, but is also negotiating with them in the troika-plus format. The Russian embassy has also not been shut down in Kabul. It appears that Russians have gained the confidence of the Taliban in Kabul.”

“Russia is also using ‘the withdrawal of American forces’ in its propaganda against the US as an unreliable partner. Nikolai Patrushev, the secretary of Russia’s Security Council, ridiculed that “America’s friends in Ukraine could soon also be disappointed”. Many experts in Moscow see the region of Afghanistan as a post-American space. It is a kind of equaliser for them – reminiscent of the humiliating Soviet withdrawal of 1989. Russia, China and Pakistan are likely to gain influence in Afghanistan, while the US will stand to lose,” Prof Rajan opines.

Expert View of a former Military Officer on Kabul Blasts

Says Maj Gen N Bhatia, “The new dimension of conflict has just unfolded in Afghanistan with twin blasts killing six dozen Afghans and one over a dozen elite US Special forces besides injuring over a hundred innocents just outside Kabul airport where most Afghans had gathered to flee their country in anticipation of retributions from a treacherous regime that captured power through the barrel of the gun a little over ten days back.”

“The conflict would open up so soon and with US troops still in control of Kabul airport would never have been anticipated by the USA. The blasts have been attributed to Islamic State Khorasan Province, who have also confirmed their role in initiating the explosions and admitting that their member  Abdul Rahman al-Logari carried out “the martyrdom operation near Kabul Airport”.  The Taliban were quick to condemn the blasts, putting them on the same page as the USA,” the Indian Army veteran says.

Islamic state has been instrumental in carrying out multiple attacks on minorities and their places of worship. Killing of almost one hundred Hazara children in a school attack and 27 Sikhs in a Gurudwara immediately after signing of agreement between USA and Taliban in 2020, claimed by ISIS (K) are just two reminders of their past violent legacy.

“As is widely known the USA and Taliban had cooperated with one another to take on ISIS in central Afghanistan during summer of 2019 The aggressive US operations against the ISIS were an outcome of tacit cooperation between the US and Taliban, wherein USA had provided the air support to Taliban’s ground offensive leading to killing of a about 300 cadres of ISIS fighters although a good number are believed to have escaped, due to being active cadres and with support from within Taliban. Neither USA nor Taliban openly admitted to this cooperation but this was to later manifest into the February 2020 “Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan”.

As part of the agreement US had extracted from Taliban an assurance that it would not allow Afghanistan territory to be used by any group or individual, including al-Qa’ida, forgetting that elements within Taliban, most prominently the Haqqani Network and its Pakistan based affiliates who had been nurtured and trained under guidance of Pakistan Army and ISI, formed the rank and file of ISIS(K).

According to Gen Bhatia, “The triggering of blasts in Kabul by ISIS is also a reminder of impending fissures within Taliban. A large number of its cadres would be keen to break away from Pakistan control and chalk out an independent course. But it is the Pakistan backed militant element comprising the bulk of the Haqqani network who by aligning with ISIS have a message for Taliban to toe their line so as to be in the driver’s seat in control of Afghanistan.”

In conclusion he says, “The attacks are just the beginning of a long and uncertain future with power play within the Taliban coming into the open. As usual, the dubious role of Pakistan is that it would need constant monitoring.”

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