If the UN Security Council's recently published report is taken into consideration, there are certainly all reasons to be concerned about the future of this region. The points raised in the UNSC report are matters of concern for Afghanistan's neighbours Iran, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Pakistan and China.
On the other hand, India will lose the hold it had in Afghanistan before the Taliban takeover. The rise of the Taliban will pose as an added security threat to India, apprehend security and geostrategic experts of the country. The UN report, in brief, states that other than IS (K) and TTP (Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan), Al-Qaeda in the Subcontinent and a few extremist groups of Central Asia have played a supporting role for the Taliban during the 20 years of war.
The Taliban have kept up close contact with these groups, the Haqqani network in particular, and their links are still strong, though there have not been any major terrorist incidents in Afghanistan over the past few years and other than TTP, no organisations have had any visible terrorist activities.
No country has officially recognised the Taliban government in Afghanistan as yet. They are possibly waiting for a full-fledged government to be installed.
According to various sources, India and the Ashraf Ghani government had been using TTP against the China target in Pakistan. In fact, Pakistan alleges that India, with the help of the Afghan government, had further fueled insurgency in Baluchistan.
Before taking over power, the Taliban had clearly enunciated that they would not allow any foreign group to use Afghanistan territory against any other country. Even so, the neighbouring countries are unconvinced. Similarly, the US and its allies are also undecided. The US, and under its influence, the World Bank, are not releasing Afghan reserve funds. This is creating pressure on the common people of Afghanistan. Under these circumstances, Qatar has advised not to use the excuse of possible presence of terrorists in the Taliban-ruled Afghanistan to ostracise the country.
No country has officially recognised the Taliban government in Afghanistan as yet. They are possibly waiting for a full-fledged government to be installed. Among other big challenges, the Taliban face two major strategic and geopolitical challenges. One is to set up full control in all provinces including the Panjshir valley. It must be kept in mind that this conflict in Panjshir valley is not the same as before. The leaders that could have given support to the legendary Ahmad Shah Massoud's son Ahmad Massoud, have lost their strength and are in hiding. Perhaps the delay in the fall of Panjshir and taking over its full control is delaying the formation of the Taliban government.
The second challenge is geopolitical, particularly fulfilling the commitments made to neighbouring countries Russia, China, Pakistan and Iran. Other than Tajikistan in Central Asia, the other two countries Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan are somewhat anxious, but at the same time are dependent too in their own interests and also because of their security deals with Russia.
According to various sources and researchers, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) is a major extremist Islamic organisation in Central Asia. The organisation is opposed to Russian domination and the government of the two so-called Islamic countries of Central Asia, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. IMU has been supporting the rise of Taliban. This extremist Islamic organisation comprises Soviet army commander Juma Namangani and his followers. Their operations cover the entire Central Asia. According to the UN report, this pro-Taliban organisation is active in Kabul and Afghanistan's northern region. However, the Taliban has promised Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Russia that they will in no way allow this group to use Afghanistan territory for their operations against them.
IMU is also linked with the East Turkmenistan Islamic Movement. They back the Uighur Muslims' extremist group. The Taliban have assured China that they will not allow such groups to carry out any activities on Afghanistan soil. They have said that the Taliban will have no involvement at all with the Uighur Muslims or the so-called East Turkmenistan movement.
China seems to be satisfied with this assurance for the Taliban for the time being. The US has already discussed the Taliban issue with Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. The Taliban hope to gain recognition from these two countries. As it is, these two countries have been keeping contact with the Taliban over the past few years in their own interests. The Uzbeks have major business interests in Afghanistan. Uzbekistan has to use Afghanistan territory to export their cotton and other products.
Afghanistan, Pakistan and India are supposed to be included in Turkmenistan's plans of supplying gas through the Russia consortium. This initiative is known as the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline. So while it has concerns about IMU, Turkmenistan wants to rely on the Taliban.
It is the moral responsibility of the world to stand by the people of Afghanistan
The neighbouring country with which Afghanistan has not built up relations is Tajikistan. The reason behind this is the anti-Taliban stance of the Tajiks in Afghanistan. The Tajiks are the second largest ethnic group in Afghanistan, around 27 per cent of the population. The banned Jamaat Ansarulllah in Tajikistan is considered to be Taliban supporters. The Taliban will have to sever ties with them if they are to build good relations with Tajikistan and Russia.
Iran hadn't been in support of the Taliban from beforehand, but after US occupation, Iran formed the armed Fatimun group comprising the Hazara Shiite community in Afghanistan, and sent them to Syria. Later they were used against IS-K and Al-Qaeda, the organisations perceived to support the Taliban. Now Iran will want to unite the Hazara Shiites with the Taliban.
As mentioned before, TTP is a serious headache for Pakistan. Only recently they launched a suicide attack in Quetta. The Taliban are capable of controlling them. However, the question is how far the Taliban will be able to control the IS-K and Indian-backed Baluchistan Liberation Army (BLA). These two organisations are active along the Afghanistan border. Pakistan wants the Taliban to evict them.
The role of Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) and the tensions between India and Pakistan over the Kashmir issue may be exacerbated. India alleges that though this group is with the Taliban, Pakistan may use them in the future. At the same time, in order to win cooperation from the West, the Taliban will have to prove that they have no involvement with Al-Qaeda, IS or any other terrorist groups.
The complex situation prevailing in Afghanistan will bring about changes in the geopolitical and geostrategic matrix of the subcontinent along with the entire region. There is need for deep review of the situation for Bangladesh to decide its position in the emerging circumstances. But it may not bode well if the global powers overlook the Taliban and the regional powers. The people of Afghanistan have suffered greatly for the 19th century's 'Great Game' being played in the 20th and 21st century. It is the moral responsibility of the world to stand by the people of Afghanistan.
* M Sakhawat Hossain is an election analyst, former army officer and senior research fellow (NSU). He can be contacted at [email protected]
* This column appeared in the print and online editions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir