A Coalition of Enemies
By: Mohammad Ali Nazari
The relationship between foreign countries and the Taliban is complex, with many countries feeling a sense of ownership over the group. Countries such as China, Russia, and Iran have a partial stake in the Taliban‘s regime, while the United States, Qatar, and Pakistan are competing for exclusive control. The United States provides a large portion of the humanitarian aid to Taliban–controlled Afghanistan, making the group financially dependent on Washington and potentially compliant with US demands. Qatar and Pakistan, on the other hand, send high–ranking delegations to Kabul and Kandahar, provide an office and lobby for the Taliban, and sometimes negotiate with the world on their behalf, raising their demands.
Another layer of countries‘ cooperation with the Taliban is the security issue; this is a serious problem that has been created for the countries in relation to the current situation in Afghanistan and the presence of terrorist groups under Taliban rule. Qatar is not part of this layer, but the concerns of Russia, Pakistan, and Iran are more pressing than those of other countries. Iran and Russia are worried about Islamic State–Khorasan (ISS–K), and Pakistan is concerned about several militant groups, the most prominent of which is Tehreek–e–Taliban Pakistan (TTP). These worries have resulted in an unofficial and highly inconsistent coalition with Taliban membership. In this coalition, the main proponent of supporting democracy and human rights has been joined with the most extreme and serious enemy of these values. The most serious enemies and global rivals are also part of this unofficial coalition. The United States, along with its main enemy, Russia, and its main rival, China, are all working with the Taliban to reduce the threat of ISS–K. The shared concern (threat of terrorist groups and especially ISS–K) has brought these warring countries together. Since 2015, Russia has officially declared its relationship with the Taliban to combat ISS–K, and U.S. officials have repeatedly made the same statement, including former Director of National Intelligence Norman T. Roule.
The rulers of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan are culpable for creating this situation as they failed to eliminate ISS–K when it was weak. Some of the leaders and politicians of that government were accused of managing the ISS–K project in Afghanistan and simultaneously directing the most important security institutions of the country. When these charges were brought against those people, they, playing the “suspicious“ card, deliberately did not exonerate themselves in order to appear more suspicious. Regardless, neither NATO nor the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan made a serious effort to combat the weak cores of ISS-K in Afghanistan. Had the Afghan government been able to reduce the threat of ISS–K in the country and its presence in the region at that time, it would have eliminated a significant portion of the reasons for the support of these countries to the Taliban.
The countries of Russia, Iran, China, and the United States are collaborating with the Taliban in order to avert a greater disaster known as ISS–K. Despite being hostile to one another outside of Afghanistan, these countries have come together within its borders to interact with the Taliban. It is widely known that none of these countries have a favorable opinion of the Taliban regime, and that they cannot maintain a long-term, normal relationship with this group due to its unpredictability and disregard for international conventions and procedures. As such, this relationship is unlikely to be a lasting one, but all of these countries are willing to tolerate the Taliban in order to combat the greater threat of ISS–K.
The Taliban have now taken possession of the Islamic State of Khorasan (ISS–K) as a playing card. Previously, they had sought to downplay ISS–K‘s presence in Afghanistan and deny it under the guise of “national security“. However, they now periodically launch operations and announce that they have destroyed the “nest of ISS–K“. These operations are sometimes conducted in the center of major cities such as Kabul, in order to demonstrate the deteriorating security situation. This double–edged sword is now in the hands of the Taliban, who use it to threaten the United States, Russia, and China, while also instilling fear in the people of ISS–K‘s brutality in order to mitigate their own. The factionalism among the politicians opposed to the Taliban has made them unable to present themselves as an alternative to this group, thus providing the Taliban with a great advantage.
The Taliban has informed the “Coalition of Enemies“ that by severing ties with them, they are unable or unwilling to effectively combat ISS–K, which will result in increased insecurity in the countries involved. This will make the people of Afghanistan aware that if a serious effort is made to overthrow the Taliban without a democratic alternative, ISS–K will take its place and the massacre and killing of people will be more severe.
The evidence suggests that this unacknowledged coalition is on the wrong track due to two issues. Firstly, ISS–K has gained power with the support of the Taliban. During the republic, ISS–K established bases in areas that were beyond the government‘s control and under the Taliban’s influence. The remote districts of Nangarhar were one of the most important hubs of ISS–K, which the government had no access to. After the republic government, the Taliban did not take any serious action against ISS–K, allowing it to expand its activities. There is also the possibility of disaffected elements of the Taliban joining ISS–K, which could be a major factor in strengthening the Khorasan branch of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Therefore, ISS–K has been able to build a nest with the Taliban and grow together, despite their current hostile relationship. The second problem is the definition of big evil and small evil. ISS–K may be a greater evil in terms of using more violent methods than the Taliban, but it lacks the military and geographic power that the Taliban possess. It should not be underestimated that various terrorist groups that threaten the members of the enemy coalition are all under the control of the Taliban, benefiting from their control over Afghanistan; the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) and the Uyghurs are threatening China, TTP is fighting against Pakistan‘s security forces, and ISS–K is threatening Iran, Russia, and even the United States.
It is thus clear that attempting to suppress ISS–K, TTP, and Uighurs with the Taliban is not feasible. Over the past two years, while these countries have been engaging with the Taliban under the guise of combating terrorism, all of these groups have become more powerful. ISS–K is planning the most severe attacks, which Iran and Russia have repeatedly expressed alarm about, and TTP has never caused such trouble to the Pakistani army as it has this year. Consequently, if engagement with the Taliban has not been successful in curbing the growth of these groups, it will not be effective in the future either. Interacting with the Taliban and collaborating with this group can only lead to increased insecurity in the world, and particularly in the region, due to the proliferation of extremism and the strengthening of terrorism emanating from Afghanistan.