After the runaway takeover of Kabul by the Afghan Taliban, Afghanistan now finds itself in the crosshairs of global and regional power struggles. Its importance in the geopolitical, geo-economic and geostrategic domains has multiplied. It has slipped out of the US-led West’s sphere of influence though the latter still holds crippling leverages over it.
China, the emerging economic power, wants to incorporate Afghanistan into its BRI-CPEC—and the US-led West still wants to somehow forestall it.
At the geopolitical level, the US has lost its central position in the South-Central Asian Region (SCAR) which afforded it a formidable strategic reach into the three Asias—West, Central and South. Its bridgehead into the heart of Asia has thus been eliminated courtesy its rather ignominious defeat and haphazard departure from Afghanistan. Over the decades, its self-serving and short-sighted policies have pushed all its erstwhile regional allies away from it—Iran and Pakistan in particular.
The CARs remain safely ensconced in Russia’s orbit. Its current and ostensible strategic partner India too has rapidly become peripheral and irrelevant to the developments in Afghanistan, Iran and the CARs. Its Hindutva-crazed, essentially anti-Muslim policies have rendered it redundant to US interests in the predominantly Muslim SCAR. The US-India Combine is thus largely marginalised in the region. The US will now have to resort to the indirect approach to remain relevant to the developments in Afghanistan and the SCAR. Pakistan will again emerge as the top go-to nation if the US-led West really wants to remain proactively and positively engaged with this region.
The US will not be averse to blatant coercion in the economic, diplomatic and military domains and even launching Terrorism Central to keep Afghanistan from joining the Chinese camp. China on the other hand, has made enormous strides in expanding its sphere of influence and by default its strategic reach. It has a formidable presence in the SCAR including a booming trade relationship with India. Its ingress into Pakistan is epitomised by the BRI-CPEC and the two are now much more than just strategic partners. The Chinese sphere of influence is now expanding into the Greater Middle East Region (GMER), in particular Iran and incorporating Afghanistan in it too. It has announced its first tranche of aid to Afghanistan already. The Persian Gulf now separates the US and Chinese spheres of influence in the GMER-SCAR Complex. By leaving Afghanistan the US has ceded a crucial, resource rich part of the world to China and Russia.
In the geo-economic domain, a stabilised, mineral rich Afghanistan brings the Chinese economic juggernaut, the BRI-CPEC, that much closer to fruition. Afghanistan can act as the link between South and Central Asia and thus help weave the entire SCAR, less India, into a massive economic union.
Iran has already signed up for the BRI-CPEC and brings additional clout and stature to it. The potential for the BRI to link up with the Russia sponsored Eurasian Economic Union, through Afghanistan and the CARs further boosts its economic prospects. Afghanistan’s stability is thus crucial for this regional integration and economic interdependence to become a reality. All trade corridors, oil and gas pipelines, motorways, railways etc that link South and Central Asia can only pass through a stable Afghanistan. Thus, it is in the region’s interest that Afghanistan stabilises at the earliest, has a seamlessly functioning government and overcomes its vulnerabilities to become a steady and co-opted regional player.
At the geostrategic level, Afghanistan continues to be the epicentre of international terrorism. Terrorism Central is alive and kicking in its wildernesses and threatens to not only destabilise it but the APR, SCAR and regions beyond too.
Terrorism Central is the Trojan Horse left behind by the US and its allies. It will be tasked to continue US policies in the region through other means. Afghanistan’s and the region’s future will very largely depend upon how the Afghan Taliban manage to neutralise Terrorism Central. They could either talk sense into it (most unlikely), or bludgeon it into submission. There appear to be two different battles that can yet be fought here, one within Afghanistan and the other in the APR. The first one will be between two diametrically opposing ideologies—one professed by the Afghan Taliban and the other by the ISIS-K. Only one will eventually survive. An epic, monumental battle for survival between them is all but inevitable.
The second one will be between the TTP and Pakistan. The TTP threatens to stir up terrorist activities inside Pakistan through its sleeper cells and cross border incursions, if possible. None of the terrorist groups can afford to go back to their respective countries of origin or give up on their macabre aims and objectives. That will negate their raison d’etre. The other members of Terrorism Central will either capitulate to the Taliban or join up with the ISIS-K. This burgeoning animosity between the Afghan Taliban and the ISIS-K threatens to upend the regional integration and economic interdependence that China and all regional countries seek.
It also provides the strategic environment for the US to keep Afghanistan, the APR and by implication the SCAR on the boil and the Chinese economic juggernaut in check. Was it to this end then that Terrorism Central was maintained unmolested in Afghanistan by the US and its allies for all these years? Afghanistan must take out Terrorism Central by itself or seek regional (CRIPT) help and assistance to sort them out militarily. There is no option but to neutralise it, one way or the other.
Afghanistan still appears to be the battlefield of the future where Chinese and US-led West’s interests will continue to clash. It therefore becomes incumbent upon the CRIPT, as a subset of the SCO, to stand up and be counted. It must take charge of the situation in Afghanistan and help stabilise it. Its presence in Afghanistan will deter the US-led West from ruthlessly exploiting Afghanistan’s fragile situation to secure its vital interests—much to the region’s detriment.
The time is nigh for Afghanistan and CRIPT to move lockstep into the future.