Afghanistan is a country of so many tribes and ethnic groups. The Taliban basically represent the majority Pashtun. Will it be possible for them to ever establish absolute control in Afghanistan?

Afghanistan is a multiethnic country of many tribal groups. It has a strong tribal construct. Historically, these tribes and ethnic groups have enjoyed a sort of autonomy. That is why central governance has never taken a strong institutional shape in Afghanistan. So even if the Taliban have taken over Kabul, these ethnic groups and tribes will have their own rule and stronghold in their respective regions. It will not be possible for the Taliban to control in the manner as what we see as normal central governance.

The past rule of the government has been a miserable experience for the country and the world at large too. How do you view Afghanistan falling under Talban rule again?

During the last 20 years of post-Taliban rule, Afghanistan underwent unprecedented socioeconomic advancement, particularly in women's empowerment, liberal social values, individual freedom and so on. That will be destroyed. The strict restrictions imposed during Taliban rule to implement the Sharia law, will be reinstated. Women's right to education and work will probably be obstructed. Already in the provincial capitals and some district headquarters which have been occupied, the Taliban have been enforcing their code of conduct, indicating that they are determined to impose their interpretation of Sharia social norms. So naturally under Taliban rule, Afghanistan will regress rather than progress.

The Taliban have an office in Doha, the US has negotiated and signed an agreement with them, Taliban representatives have visited China and India is also keeping up communication with them. The international community, in effect, has recognised the Taliban and their taking over of power. How do you see this?

The Taliban are not just displaying their military moves at a field level. They are actively keeping up communications and spreading their influence in the diplomatic sphere. Their first diplomatic victory was in 2018 when the US government held a meeting with them in Doha, excluding the Afghan government. They are now setting up diplomatic communications with other big powers of the world. Taliban delegations have already visited Beijing and Moscow. Even India has expressed its interest in directly communicating and meeting the Taliban. They have a strong diplomatic position now.

The Islamic militant activities which had at one time spread in Bangladesh, had been sparked off by fighters returning from Afghanistan. At present too, some Bangladeshis are trying to go to Afghanistan. How dangerous is it for Bangladesh if the Taliban take over Afghanistan?

Militancy in Bangladesh emerged through the fighters who had returned from the Afghan jihad. People going from Bangladesh at various times to take part in the war in Afghanistan, were indoctrinated by them and also received military training there. They even dreamed of setting up Taliban rule in Bangladesh upon their return. Their slogan at the time had been, 'We are all Taliban, Bangla will be Afghan.'

The Taliban takeover in Afghanistan may revive these groups. We have already seen some members of Ansarullah Bangla Team nabbed by the police as they were planning to go to Afghanistan. The DMP commissioner has also said some Bangladeshis were trying to go to Afghanistan. So it is clear that fresh scope for contact is being set up.

The Taliban in Afghanistan have direct link and influence on militancy in Bangladesh. That is why the takeover of Kabul by the Taliban should be observed with concern and apprehension.

Centering Afghanistan, what changes are we likely to see in the geopolitical equations of the rivaling countries in this region?

Afghanistan is a geopolitically important country. It is at an important intersection of South Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East. In the prevailing changed circumstances and the Taliban takeover, various quarters have started up all sorts of diplomatic activities. Noticeably, China is taking rapid measures to establish its position. And even Russia, once a defeated force in Afghanistan, is now making an active effort to reestablish its position. The signs of coordinated steps being taken by China and Russian on an international level, may be reflected in Afghanistan too.

Meanwhile, India is frantic to hold on to their position in Afghanistan and is looking into new inroads. Even Turkey is wanting to ensure their position in Afghanistan by means of defence cooperation. And the four members of the Quad which the US state department has announced, aiming at the rebuilding of Afghanistan, include Pakistan, Uzbekistan, the US and Afghanistan. So it is evident that significant geopolitical and geo-economic activities have started at a regional and international level centering the prevailing circumstances in Afghanistan.

There is a general feeling that if the Taliban come to power in Afghanistan, China's influence will be established there. How will that go down with the US?

China's deep interest in Afghanistan is evident in its recent diplomatic communications with the Taliban and other activities. China has various interests in Afghanistan -- geopolitical, economic, security and energy. And the massive mineral reserves in Afghanistan are also extremely attractive to China. China has been particularly anxious about the security of its Xinxiang province and the possible Afghan link with the Islamic separationists there. They will keep up direct cooperation with Afghanistan in order to thwart any such activities.

China will undoubtedly use the present situation to consolidate its position in Afghanistan. This is certainly not good news for the US. But under the prevailing circumstances, there is hardly anything for the US to do. The US may have no alternative but to accept China's new position in Afghanistan.

India has invested billions of dollars for the rebuilding of Afghanistan. What is the future of that investment in the Taliban-ruled Afghanistan? What impact could the Taliban rule have in Indian-controlled Kashmir?

India has already invested three billion dollars in Afghanistan's parliament building, dams, highways and several other projects. It has wanted to consolidate its position in Afghanistan in that manner. But if the Taliban take over in Afghanistan, India's objective will certainly be curbed.

Politically speaking, the country that will benefit the most in this region will be Pakistan. Pakistan has had good relations and contact with the Taliban from the very outset. In no way will Pakistan want India to have a stronghold in Afghanistan. Security analysts feel that if the Taliban come to power, insurgency and violence will step up in Kashmir. Some feel that the Taliban and Pakistan-backed groups will become active once again in Kashmir. However, India has displayed its interest in establishing direct contact with the Taliban. But how successful their efforts will be, remains a big question.

The Taliban have assured the international community, including China, that they will not allow any terrorists or militants of other countries use Afghan territory. How viable is this assurance?

The Taliban have verbally and diplomatically announced that they will not allow any militant organisation to use Afghanistan territory. But it is not clear how far the Taliban have cut off their previous ties with various militant organisations, Al Qaeda in particular. A UN report of 2020 reveals that the Taliban leadership in 2019 and 2020 met with Al Qaeda several times regarding plans for their training and operations. In the present changed circumstances, Al Qaeda activities are visible in several regions of Afghanistan once again. And even more worrisome is that foreign fighters from various places around the world are wanting to return to Afghanistan. So the question remains as to how realistic or feasible are the Taliban's assurances.

What should Bangladesh's position be concerning Afghanistan in the prevailing circumstances and in the future?

As a South Asian country, Afghanistan's security and stability is linked to our interests. Bangladesh, through its NGOs, had been involved in Afghanistan's socioeconomic development activities and was also lauded there. These activities can be expanded further in the future.

Afghanistan is in a geopolitically significant location. Afghanistan can be a conduit for Bangladesh with Central Asia. Important energy network is to be set up over Afghanistan territory, such as the TAPI pipeline. Bangladesh can look into the possibilities of linking up with such networks. But because the Taliban and jihadi groups had link with Bangladesh's militant and terrorist activities, there is need to keep sharp watch on Afghanistan's internal security at present as well as in the future.

Thank you

Thank you too

* This interview appeared in the print and online editions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir

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