By Kulani Wijayabahu & Savithri Sellapperumage –
Contrary to intelligence predictions, Taliban established themselves in Kabul in a rapid pace resulting in a quickened withdrawal of US forces from the Afghan capital. While the hasty withdrawal of US troops has been endorsed by the president of USA, it is criticized by the academic circles and political figures as it has placed millions of Afghan Citizens in tragic circumstances. Images of citizens chasing and clinging onto US aircrafts have been circulated too many a times across media that it is evident to grasp the helplessness that has engulfed Kabul. As much as it marks the withdrawal of a super power from the political equation of a single country, it depicts the removal of a significant extra regional power from the region. Several embassies including that of France, Sweden, and Germany have been evacuated from Kabul. The International community has abandoned Afghanistan leaving the ordeal to the regional countries. The need for realizing regional and military implications, the strategic response of China and a regional consensus towards the drastic political change in Afghanistan as a South Asian country is experiencing becomes a pertinent topic of discussion.
Following the takeover, Taliban held its first press conference communicating their stance. It was declared that they wish peaceful relations with other countries. A ‘general amnesty’ had been announced by Taliban for government workers across Afghanistan and they urged women to join its government.
The announcements depict a need to appease the international community who have been concerned on preservation of human rights and women rights in Afghanistan, juxtaposed with the past actions of Taliban during 1996 – 2001 where mass atrocities were committed inhibiting human rights and women rights. Affirming this, a recent UN report states that “Taliban is intensifying a search for people who worked with United States and NATO forces and is going “door to door” to find them.”
Thus Taliban is in need to convince the international community and most importantly, the United Nations its legitimacy and the capability to position themselves as de-jure government in Afghanistan. This opportunity of engagement must be identified by the regional powers of South Asia although the potential of spilling over of militancy and terrorism to the region is kept in mind.
Responses of the regional powers so far has been mixed and unclear that regional recognition of Taliban is yet implausible. India’s position over the current turn of events is yet to be unraveled, however, the diplomatic staff in Kabul have been evacuated. Pakistan has welcomed the Taliban takeover as Prime Minister Imran Khan noted the event as Afghanistan has been freed of slavery. Sri Lankan government has expressed concern and have announced willingness to play its role to assist any regional efforts in regards to arriving at a solution for the possible threats that could rise owing to the crisis; including mass migration, extremist religious elements attempting to find a safe haven and enhanced illegal narcotic trade which can have a destabilizing effect on the entire South Asian region.
Recognition and legitimacy being two key avenues that the region can engage diplomatically with Taliban, Dr. Thalat Shabir states that Taliban’s behaviour will be a decisive factor in furthering measures. In a recent discussion, he stated that a comprehensive government structure must be realized by Taliban if in need to develop ties with the regional stakeholders.
With the withdrawal of US forces, it has given Taliban access to weapons and military hardware of Afghan military. The weaponry reportedly includes 900 guns, 30 light tactical vehicles and 20 army pickup trucks. It has also given access to helicopters and among various technology bestowed to Afghan military by USA, an air force, which Taliban did not possess before. The adverse military implications of this to the South Asian region is eminent.
It has further increased possibility of spill-over of militancy to the neighboring countries elevating the percentage of potential damage. It poses a threat to furthering of drug trade endorsed by Taliban as well. Therefore in the face of potential military threats, a regional consensus has become a need of the hour.
China: a cure or curse
The withdrawal of the US troops from Afghanistan out blown further with the stances of China. The positive expressions of China to engage with Afghanistan is undoubtedly a strategic choice which is geoeconomically driven. Because of the land lock location of Afghanistan and its natural resource repository have paramount importance specially in terms of trade and connectivity. Hence, China’s economic ambitions will execute through its economic statecraft by providing checkbooks, concession loans, grants and infrastructure aid to revive the economy of Afghanistan.
But the question arises as to how China will accommodate an Afghan led national building which is endorsed by its citizens without giving hard nuts to the people of Afghanistan to crack.
Therefore, regional, and global level approaches are necessary to establish stability and peace in the Afghan soil. In order to leverage China’s ambitious presence in Afghanistan and prevent a geoeconomic intervention, a stable regional approach is needed. Besides, despite the differences, the collaborative approach between China-US will bring more prosperity. The international community also has a responsibility to aid and provide a compatible solution for the present crisis beyond narrow political objectives. Yet, the progress will depend foremost on the degree of corporation shown by Afghanistan itself.
A South Asian regional consensus
India has invested over $3 billion in Afghanistan in the last two decades to build roads, dams and hospitals. Meanwhile Pakistan has been a key player in the Afghan peace process. Two of the major powers of the region have taken initiative in progression of a solution for Afghanistan for years. However, it has been under the occupation of the United States, and with the current vacuum created by US withdrawal, the regional power balance is seeking its replenishment. The need of spearheading further efforts towards Afghanistan crisis through a regional consensus therefore becomes significant in re-instating regional balance.
However, as a region with low integration, avenues for a collective effort from the South Asian region is unforeseeable. Afghanistan, ridden with a war economy for decades, needs to be approached for its economic revival and development. Therefore, a regional accord for the economic development of Afghanistan could be one step towards building a regional approach of engagement.
Whoever plays a vital role in Afghanistan, now should need to understand that the Afghan people deserve not only the hard elements of the development but also the soft elements. Among them, inclusivity in governance is a top priority. Lastly, the curative operations to heal the wounded hearts of the Afghan people must not turn to a curse in future.