Analysis and comments
THE TALIBAN CONTROL TAJIK BORDER: WHAT IS NEXT?
Two weeks before the complete withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan, the Taliban seized a key section of the Tajik border, the Sher Khan Bandar border crossing. The threat of the spill-over of terrorism onto the territory of Central Asian countries has grown significantly.
On June 22, militants of the Taliban movement (banned in the Russian Federation and a number of other countries) seized the main border crossing between Afghanistan and Tajikistan - the Sher Khan Bandar border crossing, the adjacent settlement and all border posts. Afghan security forces in the area abandoned their positions, and some soldiers just fled across the border into Tajikistan.
Traffic through the border crossing has been suspended. The major hostilities continue around the city of Kunduz, which is under siege by the Taliban. Almost at the same time, the militants captured several areas in the provinces of Baghlan, Herat, Kunduz, and Faryab. Over the past two months, the movement has taken more than 30 districts and presently controls three quarters of the territory of Afghanistan. The Taliban feel that complete victory is near.
There are high chances that Kabul will fall. Government troops and police are not coping. President Ashraf Ghani was forced to replace the ministers of defense, internal affairs and the chief of the general staff of the military last week. It looks like a move of despair. Afghan MPs said the government had lost control of the situation in the country and called for a public front to fight the Taliban. As the situation is catastrophic, militia units are being developed in the provinces of Takhar, Baghlan, Jawzjan, Sari-Pul, Faryab, Kunduz, Balkh, Parvan, Kandahar and Badgis. What can poorly armed militias do where a government army, which was equipped and trained to NATO standards, has failed?
Meanwhile, the Taliban's access to the Tajik border is not just a local success. The Sher Khan Bandar border crossing and dry port is the most important trade and transshipment hub between Tajikistan and Afghanistan; a significant volume of trade between the countries of Central, South and Southeast Asia passes through it. Willingly or unwillingly, the Taliban are already interfering in international relations outside Afghanistan. Tajikistan has strengthened its border security measures and is ready to host ten thousand Afghan refugees.
Central Asia is becoming focused
The Central Command of the US Armed Forces (its area of responsibility includes the Middle East and Central Asia) reported that the withdrawal of the American troops from Afghanistan is more than 50% complete and will be finalised by July 10.
The head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, Deborah Lyons, still has a glimmer of hope that the inter-Afghan conflict can be resolved peacefully. However, the tactics of the Taliban, surrounding the centers of the provinces, preparing to assault them immediately after the withdrawal of foreign troops, leaves little doubt about the development of events according to the grimmest scenario. Neighbors are forced to concentrate forces and resources to neutralize threats.
During the bilateral talks held on June 22 in Dushanbe, Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev and his colleagues from Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, Nasrullo Makhmudzoda, Aset Issekeshev, and Marat Imankulov, discussed security issues related to the situation in Afghanistan and plans for interaction within the framework of the The Collective Security Treaty Organization and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (includes China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, India, and Pakistan). Earlier, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu met with his Central Asian colleagues. The defense ministries of Russia and Uzbekistan signed a strategic partnership program in the military area for 2021-2025. The level of competence and authority of the negotiators testifies to the seriousness of the Afghan problem, the commitment of the Central Asian countries and Russia to unite efforts to block the possible spill-over of terrorism (under any “franchise”) onto the CIS.
Russia is ready for any scenario to take place in Afghanistan, including a new round of civil war and attempts of terrorist intervention in the north. The CSTO will do its best to improve the defense capability of its members. In addition, it will be necessary to use the capacity of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, that comprises all the states bordering Afghanistan, including Pakistan and Iran (as an observer). Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said at the Moscow International Security Conference on June 23 that it is impossible to untie the “Afghan knot” without interaction with Islamabad and Tehran.
Afghan Foreign Minister Mohammad Haneef Atmar said at the meeting of the UN Security Council on June 22: “In a couple of weeks, the withdrawal of foreign troops will be completed, and the international community will see that the Taliban have not complied with any of the provisions of the Doha agreements.” Actually, this is not a secret.
The Pentagon and NATO have long lost the initiative in Afghanistan and mask their urgent flight with convenient reasons. It is widely believed that the withdrawal of US and NATO troops from Afghanistan is a strategic trap for Russia and a number of countries in South and Central Asia which are geopolitical opponents of the West. Afghanistan borders on Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, China, Iran, India. Security of all these countries in the vicinity of an unstable radical Islamic state will inevitably be reduced. Ostensibly this is what Washington wants. However, the persistent search for a “alternate airfield” for the Pentagon in the countries of Central Asia indicates that withdrawal from Afghanistan is a forced measure.
In his interview with the Associated Press on June 21, pro-American ex-President Hamid Karzai bluntly stated that the United States and NATO had failed in Afghanistan: “The international community came here 20 years ago with a clear goal of fighting extremism and ensuring stability. However, extremism has reached its climax and the coalition forces are leaving the country “in complete disgrace and disaster.”
After 20 years of hostilities, the Taliban has forced the United States to make peace. And, very soon the Taliban may want more than controlling just one country. It must be noted that they did not abandon the “Islamic Emirate project. There are other destructive forces in the country, namely Al Qaeda, IS (banned in the Russian Federation and a number of other countries), and about 30 other terrorist groups.
It may need to be reminded that the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan in 1996 and introduced the harshest version of Sharia law: public executions and amputations of limbs for the slightest violation of the law, complete isolation of women from public life, banning of cinema, television, and music. Men were supposed to have a beard, women – to wear a burqa, otherwise they would be punished by death. In addition, the Taliban were sheltering the leaders of the notorious al-Qaeda. Five years later, the Taliban were ousted by US and NATO forces.
Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin believes that al-Qaeda may regain influence in Afghanistan about two years after the withdrawal of foreign troops and will once again begin to pose a threat to the United States and its allies. And then the quarter-century cycle of Afghan history may repeat itself. Moreover, the political, economic and military stability of the “caliphate” will certainly require fresh forces and resources of neighboring countries.