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Geostrategic implications of a Taliban government in Afghanistan

On September 23rd, the Elcano Royal Institute organized a roundtable to address the geostrategic implications of a Taliban government in Afghanistan. The event was moderated by Charles Powell, Director of Elcano Royal Institute. He was accompanied by Aizaz Ahmad Chaudry (Director General of the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad – ISSI), Andrew Small (Senior Transatlantic Fellow, Asia Program, German Marshall Fund of the US – GMF) and Lailuma Sadid (Afghan Senior Correspondent of Brussels Morning Newspaper). After a formal introduction, the different speakers began to present their arguments.

AIZAZ AHMAD – ISSI Director General

He split his reasoning into three main parts based on which actor was involved and bore some responsibility for the current and future situation in Afghanistan: The U.S. and the international community as a whole, the Afghans themselves (all-inclusive Afghan factions) and the regional countries, especially neighboring ones. The greatest concern of the Pakistani diplomat is that the United States disengages completely from the situation in Afghanistan and that this could lead to a new civil war, due to the Taliban government's inability to control its territory. A new conflict in the Middle Eastern country would encourage terrorist groups such as ISIS, Daesh and others to take root there again, which was the reason why the U.S. went to Afghanistan in the first place in 2001. “That’s why it is important to U.S., as well as Europe and the rest of international community to stay engage with the Taliban government, and not with a view to accepting whatever they do or they don’t do, but because you need to make Afghanistan a more peaceful and more stable place and that’s why engagement will be essential, specially by the United States of America. It cannot absolve itself of the entire responsibility and wash his hands off”, said Aizaz Ahmad.

Regarding the responsibility of the Afghans themselves, the ISSI Director General argued that it is important for the Taliban government to recognize that they will only be better off if they are able to fulfill some of the commitments they have made that allowed them to come to power. The agreement that the Taliban signed with the U.S. a year and a half ago, in February 2020, stipulates some of these commitments of which Aziz mentioned four: amnesty for all (in his opinion: "we don't see the kind of violence and bloodshed other than to administrative control of the area"), Afghan soil will no longer be used by terrorist entities against any other country (not just the US and Europe), an inclusive government and respect for human rights, particularly women's rights. If these commitments are not fulfilled, his “worry is that there could be hot spots emerging in different parts of Afghanistan, and we could have a specter of another civil war, which will not be good for Afghanistan, but it will also not be good for the region”.

Finally, the diplomat addressed the responsibilities of countries in the region, especially neighboring ones. “There is a keenness in the region to see a stable Afghanistan. They would want the Taliban government to honor all those commitments, but at the same time not allow the situation in Afghanistan to deteriorate further”, said Aizaz Ahmad.As previously mentioned, his projections of a new civil war in Afghanistan, if certain minimums are not met, would create a problem of enormous proportions for the region, as, according to the ISSI Director General, they “take the brunt of that”.

ANDREW SMALL – Senior Transatlantic Fellow

The expert focused his presentation on China's direct policy response to what's happening in Afghanistan in the near to medium term and, on the other, the wider geopolitical dimensions of, in particular, Chinese and U.S. dynamics, and where some of these sits.

Following this structural introduction, Andrew Small argued that "since the Soviet invasion, China has viewed Afghanistan primarily through the prism of threats and threat management". In this case, the threat would be of two types: geopolitical and nonconventional.

The speaker further insisted that "when needed, China has taken quite an active role in trying to manage those threats directly. At other times, it’s very intentionally limited its involvement”. Therefore, "when it became clear that the U.S. was on a long arc towards withdrawal, China stepped up its involvement again with a particular focus on the reconciliation talks and trying to get a peace process in motion". The expert justified his reasoning on the basis of the most recent facts: “We have seen that already diplomatically in the aftermath of Taliban coming to power and even before that, including the very highly publicized visit form Mulá Baradar to Tainjin in the most kind of public invisible reception that Taliban leadership have received on the Chinese side in their meeting with Wang Yi”.

LAILUMA SADID – Afghan Senior Correspondent

The experienced journalist took advantage of the minutes she was given at the conference to recount the “nightmare” that is the current situation in Afghanistan, especially for women. A reality of which she has been both witness and victim:” I was very young when the Taliban took power, let’s say, in Afghanistan. They whipped me because I was teaching girls. They were beating me because I didn’t cover my face. They beat hundreds of girls like me who were fighting for their rights”.

For her, as she repeated on several occasions during her presentation: “is that a change? (…) this is the same”. The senior journalist warned that the Taliban "will never change" either, as they not only use "the same flag, the same rule, the same ideology and the same name", but also the spokesperson of the Taliban himself in the first press conference said: 'we will continue and follow our ideology'".

On the other hand, the journalist feared that Afghanistan could once again become fertile soil for the rise of terrorist groups, as the NATO Secretary General and a senior U.S. representative had already stated, “there is 20 terrorist groups, including Al Qaeda and any other terrorist group active in Afghanistan and Pakistan”, she said.

For all these reasons, Lailuma Sadid, who currently lives in Brussels, wanted to appeal to the world, as she claims she has already done to NATO and the European Union: “please, don’t recognize the Taliban because they’re is still the same ideology and they will never change. They are catastrophic and they make the world again in disaster. We are going back in the civil war if it continues like that (…) Twenty years. We born and grew up with democracy and now we don’t want to lose that. Even for me, if they kill me by name of democracy, I will be proud, but I never stay quiet and silent and I will always fight for our rights and I hope in this that the world, especially the European Union support us”, said the journalist, visibly upset, to end her speech.

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