Impact of the Taliban on Pakistan, India, China, Russia, Iran

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Afghan people are waiting to leave Kabul Airport in Kabul on August 16, 2021 after a surprisingly quick end to the 20-year war in Afghanistan as thousands of people besieged the city’s airport to face the dreaded hard-line Islamist rule to flee the group.

Deputy Kohsar | AFP | Getty Images

The Taliban’s swift return to power after two decades has led Afghanistan’s neighbors to figure out how to adapt to the changing geopolitical outlook, experts told CNBC.

President Joe Biden ordered the Pentagon in April to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan by September 11, ending America’s longest war.

When the US military presence waned, the Taliban advanced quickly despite being outnumbered by the Afghan military. The group has captured major cities and provincial capitals in recent weeks before invading the capital, Kabul, and taking control of the presidential palace on Sunday.

“Much is in the process of geopolitical change as Afghanistan’s neighbors figure out how to adapt to an emerging Taliban regime,” Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia program at the Woodrow Wilson Center, told CNBC.

Political risk consultancy Eurasia Group said in a statement last week that neighboring countries are concerned about political instability, likely refugee flows and the prospect of Afghanistan becoming a haven for terrorist activity again.

Pakistan

According to analysts from the Eurasia Group, Pakistan has had significant influence and influence over the Taliban in the past. It was one of the few countries that the group recognized as legitimate government the last time they were in power.

Pakistan has also long been accused of secretly helping the Taliban in Afghanistan – an allegation the country denies.

However, the analysts said Islamabad’s influence has waned over the years and Pakistan will likely be wary of possible violence at its borders. Reports suggest that the return of the Taliban in Afghanistan could potentially encourage terrorist groups in Pakistan, including the Pakistani Taliban, which could affect the security of the country.

“In a broader sense, Pakistan will see the rise of the Taliban as a major setback for its arch-rival India and thus a positive result,” said Eurasia Group analysts.

Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said on Twitter that the country was working to evacuate diplomats and other personnel from Afghanistan. He also called on the international community “to remain constructively engaged and engaged in Afghanistan”.

India

India has had stable relations with the Afghan civilian government for the past two decades and has provided them with development aid. The change of power left New Delhi in a “difficult strategic state,” explained Kugelman of the Wilson Center.

“Not only have the Taliban, traditionally an anti-Indian group, seized power, but India’s Chinese and Pakistani rivals are now ready to deepen their mark in Afghanistan,” he said.

Eurasia Group analysts pointed out that India has made efforts to work with the Taliban but has effectively halted most of its diplomatic operations in Afghanistan.

“India is particularly concerned because the Taliban was last in power and protected pro-Pakistani militants,” the analysts said. New Delhi is concerned that “an emboldened Pakistan will use this as an opportunity to meet India; this would increase the potential for a broader Indo-Pakistani conflict.”

The Indian Foreign Ministry said in a statement it had advised Indian nationals in Afghanistan to return to India immediately. On Tuesday it was also said that the ambassador in Kabul and his Indian staff will return to India immediately.

China

Russia

Like China, Russia has opened its embassy in Kabul but is reported to be relocating some of its staff.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reportedly said on Tuesday that Russia was in no hurry to recognize the Taliban as legitimate authorities in Afghanistan and called for the formation of an inclusive government.

Both China and Russia remain concerned about the return of the Taliban to Afghanistan, according to Harsh V Pant, director of the Observer Research Foundation’s strategic study program.

“China is concerned about what could happen in Xinjiang. Russia is worried about what can happen in Central Asia, and we have seen that these countries are already making advances to the Taliban, ”he said on CNBC’s Street Signs Asia on Monday.

“This will reverberate across the region when it comes to how it will revive extremist ideologies, radical ideologies,” said Pant.

Experts pointed out that one of Russia’s immediate priorities would be to limit the risk of spillover fighting or the immigration of organized extremist groups to the Central Asian states along Afghanistan’s northern border.

Kugelman of the Wilson Center added that Moscow’s main concern is the Islamic State, not the Taliban. “She will want to make sure that the Taliban, despite being a rival of IS, draws attention to the regional threat posed by IS.”

Iran

The situation in Afghanistan will require a great deal of attention from Iran, according to the Eurasia Group.

“Iran’s goal will be to stem the influx of refugees and drugs and prevent harm to the Hazaras in Afghanistan,” the analysts said.

The Hazaras, mostly Shiite Muslims, are the third largest ethnic group in the predominantly Sunni Afghanistan. In the past, the Taliban selected them for persecution.

The Iranian state “is likely to mobilize more armed forces to the border and prepare for a number of contingencies that could in the short term distract Tehran from the Arab world,” added analysts from the Eurasia Group.

– CNBC’s Amanda Macias and Silvia Amaro contributed to this report.