After the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, the situation in Afghanistan and Central Asia has changed dramatically. In Afghanistan, the control of the country has passed into the hands of the Taliban and a new geopolitical reality has emerged in the region. The future of not only Afghanistan but also Central Asia remains uncertain. Stabilizing the situation in Afghanistan is on the agenda. In general, Central Asian countries are actively trying to encourage a platform for negotiations with neighboring Afghanistan. However, on the other hand, the region is becoming a new area for the strategic games of world powers.
In this context, The International Asia Today presents the views of the Kyrgyzstani political scientist Mars Sariev in the context of the searches for the examining the situation in Afghanistan and Central Asia.
Mr. Sariev, how do you evaluate the political situation in Central Asian countries on the basis of the recent events in Afghanistan?
After the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, of course, the situation in Central Asia has become more complex, and this causes concerns. It is highly possible for Central Asia to be destabilized by Afghanistan. In this respect, Tajikistan, which has taken a tough ostance against the Taliban which has come to power in Afghanistan, is worried about the situation. While the Afghan side calls for negotiations, the Tajik side presses for an inclusive government and proposes negotiations in Dushanbe.
Other Central Asian countries that are part of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), such as Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, are also conducting exercises within the framework of the CSTO. Military exercises with Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Russia were conducted. Additionally, Tajik-Chinese exercises were also conducted. Therefore, although the states of the region want a peaceful environment in Afghanistan, they are also preparing for possible instability within the framework of security policies.
However, some states take a dangerous and risky position. Panjshir-centered developments also point to this because Ahmad Massoud, the leader of the Panjshir resistance, is a kind of projection object by external actors. It’s no secret that he studied at the British Military Academy.
Within these circumstances, I think that Central Asian countries should develop a common stance within the framework of the Turkic Council and approach the Afghan problem systematically (on a project basis). The Turkic Council can also coordinate its efforts with China to stabilize the situation in Afghanistan. By saying that, I mean the projects like “The Belt and Road” project, implementation of Mazar-i-Sharif-Peshawar road, access to Karachi ports of Pakistan, TAPI gas pipeline, etc.
If the above countries do not approach the solution of the Afghan crisis on a project basis, an economic chaos situation may occur. This situation may lead to the fact that destructive forces inside Afghanistan, such as DAESH and Al-Qaeda could destabilize the entire region. Therefore, the constructive approach of the Central Asian countries will help stabilize the situation. But it is no secret that there are forces interested in the collapse of Afghanistan and the destabilization of a large region, including Central Asia, the Caucasus, and South Asia.
Concerned about the situation in Afghanistan, the Minister of External Affairs of the Government of India visited Kyrgyzstan. I think this is due to the events that took place in Indian Kashmir. Realizing that the situation will get worse, the Indian side is visiting Central Asian countries to reach a compromise on the Afghan issue. It is clear that India is currently facing with Pakistan because the destabilization of Kashmir is possible. Pakistan has close relations with China. Therefore, the entire region is currently in a very difficult uncertainty.
As you know, some Central Asian countries are encouraging negotiation platforms with neighboring Afghanistan. Kyrgyzstan is no exception in this regard. How do you evaluate the last meeting, headed by Taalatbekov Masadikov, of the Kyrgyz delegation with the representatives of the Taliban?
I think this meeting is positive because, among all Central Asian countries, Kyrgyzstan was the first country to hold such a meeting with the representatives of the Taliban, and this is exactly the project approach I mentioned before. I think that this attempt should be strengthened within the framework of the Turkic Council. For example, the Foreign Minister of Uzbekistan, Abdulaziz Kamilov, recently visited Afghanistan after Taalatbek Masadykov’s visit. Therefore, in the Central Asian countries, we can say that there is an understanding that if we do not approach the situation in Afghanistan on a project basis and leave everything to its course, the chaos and instability that will surely spread to the region will begin. This is a good tendency that needs to be expanded and strengthened.
Can Central Asian countries be effective mediators in solving the Afghan crisis?
Of course. As I said before, if they approach this issue together, maybe they can do it within the framework of the Turkic Council. In this context, Turkey can play a role as a coordinator to stabilize the situation in Afghanistan with the participation of China, Pakistan, and possibly India, as instability in Afghanistan can spread across the field of neighboring countries and the regions.
In your opinion, what role do world powers such as the USA, China and Russia play in solving the situation in Afghanistan and ensuring stability? Are their approaches different?
Yes, their approaches are different. When the United States (USA) hastily withdrew its troops from Afghanistan, it understood very well that this would destabilize the situation in Afghanistan, and it is no accident that so many weapons were left behind. We saw this in Iraq as well. It’s worth noting that this is a considered and systematic approach, and I don’t see it as the fault of USA’s President Joe Biden. The USA’s withdrawal aims to create chaos in the region that will destabilize Afghanistan and thus create security problems for Russia and China. I think the Indo-Pakistani conflicts will also escalate because the Taliban were originally set up to operate in Kashmir. Of course, it should not be forgotten about the recent exacerbation of the Sino-Indian conflict. All these are part of the conflict dynamics that will occur for the entire region.
In this case, China is interested in stabilizing Afghanistan by recognizing all the dangers, which will come from Afghanistan, about the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. Therefore, comprehensive infrastructure projects are recommended, especially since China has the opportunity to access Europe via Afghanistan and to access the southern seas through Pakistan’s Karachi ports. In addition, Afghanistan has large reserves of various metals, rare soils, and other elements. China started to develop the Aynak copper deposit in Afghanistan, the contract of which was signed in 2008. Such large reserves of elements and deposits in Afghanistan may allow China to become the number one superpower. The USA understands this too. Therefore, it is not interested in stabilizing the situation in Afghanistan.
As for Russia, the country is in a difficult situation right now. While Moscow increases security measures, it also gives the message that it can remove the Taliban from the list of terrorist organizations. Therefore, we will see how the situation will develop. But I think, in this case, it was necessary to approach more systematically and solve the problems quickly. In short, the foreign policy of the Russian Federation is going through difficulties and losing position.