By Mohammad Mazhari

Taliban need cordial ties with neighbors: researcher

September 4, 2021 - 18:57

TEHRAN- A senior research fellow at the Middle East Institute of the National University of Singapore says that the Taliban need friendly ties with their neighbors to keep control of Afghanistan. 

“Afghanistan being a landlocked country, it would be important for the Taliban rulers to have cordial relations with its neighbors,” Asif Shuja tells the Tehran Times.

Shuja believes that Iran and Pakistan as two major neighbors to Afghanistan can play a prominent role now that the U.S. has pulled out its forces from the Central Asian country.

“Iran and Pakistan are the two neighboring countries which are slated to play the dominant role in the post-U.S. withdrawal scenario.”

The U.S. looking forward to redirecting its military resources towards the Asia-Pacific to check China's rise.U.S. President Joe Biden withdrew all American troops from Afghanistan, completing the military exit by the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks that drew the United States into its longest war.

Political pundits say Biden can't speak the obvious truths about his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan so rapidly. Like the Vietnam War, the U.S. war on Afghanistan will continue to haunt Americans. It lost much more than it gained in the 20-year war. 

The U.S. invaded Afghanistan to topple the Taliban regime for hosting al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden considered responsible for the 9/11 attacks. However, the Taliban have emerged stronger, forcing Washington to sit and negotiate with it.

The Taliban was recognized only by Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates before it was toppled by the U.S. in 2001. From 1996 to 2001, the Taliban held power over roughly three-quarters of Afghanistan.

Shuja says it is necessary that Pakistan “recalibrate” its approach toward Afghanistan and not allow the country to again become alienated from the international community.

“For the betterment of the Afghan people, Pakistan needs to recalibrate its approach to Afghanistan, one in which the country is brought to the mainstream, rather than again alienated from the world,” Shuja notes.

He adds, “Iran can play a crucial role as it shares a good relationship with Pakistan and has also successfully developed a working relationship with the Taliban.”

Following is the text of the interview:

Q: How do you read U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan? Is it a big defeat for the Americans like Vietnam?

A: In the long term, the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan would prove to be a positive development for the region as well as for the United States. The occupation of any country is neither good for the occupied country nor for the region in which that country is situated.

Now that the U.S. is leaving Afghanistan, its people will find the best possible way to stabilize their own country with the help of their neighbors. Withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan also provides the U.S. the opportunity to optimally redistribute its finite energy and military resources to tackle other emerging challenges emanating from China and Russia which threaten its superpower position.

The respective withdrawals of the U.S. from Vietnam and Afghanistan appear comparable in terms of the chaos, confusion, public opinions, and collateral damages. However, equating the two events would amount to overlooking the broader game plans that great powers indulge in. It is imperative to note that the U.S.-Vietnam war was fought against the backdrop of the Cold War in which the U.S. was forced out by the USSR-China combine. On the other hand, the U.S. stayed for two decades in Afghanistan as a superpower, and it is now voluntarily opting out. Nevertheless, the U.S. is opting out because of the heavy costs involved, and that may amount to terming the U.S. exit from Afghanistan as its defeat.

Q: How can Afghanistan's neighbors help to restore stability in the country? Is there a possibility for long-term chaos or civil war in the country?

A: Afghanistan being a landlocked country, it would be important for the Taliban rulers to have cordial relations with their neighbors. Iran and Pakistan are the two neighboring countries that are slated to play the dominant role in the post-U.S. withdrawal scenario. 

However, for the betterment of the Afghan people, Pakistan needs to recalibrate its approach to Afghanistan, one in which the country is brought to the mainstream, rather than again alienated from the world. In this regard, Iran can play a crucial role as it shares a good relationship with Pakistan and has also successfully developed a working relationship with the Taliban. The oil-rich countries of the Persian Gulf such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE can also prove very helpful through their monetary aids. If the Taliban opts for a moderate approach in its domestic and foreign policies, then it can also obtain help from India in its post-war reconstruction.

Historically, there have been two reasons for Afghanistan's chaos. These include great power rivalry played on the turf of Afghanistan and lack of national unity. The U.S. withdrawal largely pre-empts the first and it is up to the Taliban to unite its nation. Still, there is a new challenge to Afghanistan’s stability being posed by ISIS. Under the current circumstances, it appears less likely that Afghanistan would be stabilized soon. However, the Taliban can do it sooner if they work closely with Afghanistan’s neighbors.

Q: What is Afghanistan's importance in terms of security and stability in Asia?

A: As Afghanistan is situated in the heart of Asia, its instability adversely affects the whole region. Due to its geographical position, it has the potential to become a hub of trade and transit between South Asia, Central Asia, and West Asia. Afghanistan can also play an important role in overland energy transportation. Afghanistan also has its own vast untapped natural resources, the exploitation of which can be beneficial for Afghanistan as well as the regional countries entering such partnerships. Over and above these material considerations, Afghanistan's significance is also due to its unfortunate position in the past four decades as central to Islamic extremism, which was a product of the Cold War and whose repercussions have been visible up to this day.

Q: What may Asian countries learn from U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan?

A: One of the primary reasons for the U.S. decision to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan is to enable its much-awaited 'pivot to Asia' policy. In other words, the U.S. is looking forward to redirecting its military resources towards the Asia-Pacific to check China's rise. The U.S. would do this in the name of helping its own allies in that region that feel threatened by China’s assertive stance. The Asian countries can learn from the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan that undue dependence on a foreign power will not be helpful in this regard. The fundamental lesson learned from the Afghanistan episode could be that the security and stability of any country cannot be ensured from another country, no matter how powerful that country might be.

Q: Why is the world silent about what is going on in Afghanistan? Is there a secret agreement or conspiracy?

A: When the U.S. witnessed terrorist attacks on Sep. 11, 2001, which was planned by Osama bin Laden hosted by Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, the world was sympathetic to the Americans. Consequently, the U.S. was successful in convincing its allies to join its forces in attacking Afghanistan. 

However, the subsequent U.S. attack on Iraq changed that perception about the U.S. from a victim of terrorism to an arrogant nouveau-sole-superpower. Now that the U.S. is withdrawing from Afghanistan, there are great concerns linked to the chaos and consequent collateral damages borne by the Afghan people. Nevertheless, the world sees this eventuality as positive for Afghanistan as well as for the region, and therefore it is silent on the eventual U.S. withdrawal, even if there is shock, grief, frustration, and discontent in the manner in which this process is currently being carried out. 

 

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