Costs of Affiliation with the Taliban

By: Fahim Sotuda

When the United States and the Taliban convened in Doha to negotiate, the issue of Afghanistan was raised. The United States was not particularly interested in finding a lasting solution to the country‘s problems and seemed to be looking for an excuse to leave, with an agreement with the Taliban being the most likely option. This agreement required careful negotiation based on the national interests of both Afghanistan and the United States, but the U.S. government did not take Afghanistan‘s interests into consideration due to its haste, and the Afghan government lacked the power to make the United States revise its approach. The U.S. government made concessions to the Taliban and accepted their conditions, such as the release of Taliban prisoners by the ousted Afghan President Ashraf Ghanis administration. This led the countries of the region and Afghanistan‘s neighbors to the conclusion that the time had come for America to leave Afghanistan. They believed that, given Washington‘s concessions to the Taliban, the field would be left open for the group. Consequently, most of them began to prepare for a postAmerican Afghanistan. Seeing Afghanistan as a target for the Taliban, countries such as Pakistan, Iran, and Russia, as well as other nations, increased their support for the group in order to have allies in Afghanistan after the American withdrawal. However, when the Republic government fell, these new allies did not meet the expectations of countries in the region, such as Russia, as they were heavily reliant on US dollar packages, creating a large divide between the Taliban and their new friends. The Taliban, who had defeated the Afghan Army with the intelligence support of Pakistani institutions, Russian and Iranian weapons, and US concessions, found themselves in the midst of conflicting interests and were unable to satisfy everyone.

For the past twenty years, Pakistan had provided shelter and support to the Taliban, expecting that they would not react to the construction of border fences and outposts, unlike the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. However, this group, which had recently taken power, found themselves in a dilemma between complying with Pakistan and the interests of a number of Afghan people who had territorial claims against Pakistan and did not accept the Durand Line. This conflict of interest and other issues led to repeated clashes with Pakistan‘s border forces and exchange of fire. However, this was not solely the result of Pakistan‘s support of the Taliban. More importantly, there are armed groups active in Pakistan, who have been emboldened to fight against the Pakistani government and some of whom are sheltered inside Afghanistan. With the Taliban taking control of Afghanistan, all the jihadi and takfiri armed groups of the region, which had aided the Taliban during the two decades of war against the Afghan government, are now present in Afghanistan, one of which is the TehreekeTaliban Pakistan (TTP). According to the Interior Minister of Pakistan Rana Sanaullah, while Pakistan has benefited from supporting the Taliban in terms of importing coal from Afghanistan, the presence of five thousand members of this armed group in Afghanistan under the control of the Taliban has dealt a severe blow to Islamabad.

The bloodshed occurring in Pakistan today is the consequence of its support for the Afghan Taliban over the past three decades, which has not yielded many benefits for the country, but has caused many losses. Currently, Pakistan has tens of thousands of formal and informal religious institutions, a large portion of which propagate Taliban or quasiTaliban ideologies. In the near future, this country will be faced with a generation of madrasaattending youth, many of whom will have received military training. They will believe that, just as the Afghan Taliban were able to force the world‘s superpower to withdraw from Afghanistan and overthrow the U.S.-backed government, they too can establish their desired Islamic and ideological government in Islamabad. This is in a situation where the growth of religious schooling in Pakistan is accelerating rapidly. In the last ten years alone, the number of religious schools has tripled, rising from 12 thousand to over 30 thousand. More significantly, approximately 70 percent of the students of these schools (out of more than two million students) attend Deobandi schools, which are considered to be the intellectual source of the Taliban. Approximately 50 percent of these religious schools are not registered and almost all of them are funded by public donations. At present, in various regions of Pakistan, people are gathering donations for religious schools on a daily basis in order to fund the expenses of those schools through public contributions. As a result, the government‘s authority over institutions that do not pay their budgets will be very limited.

In a few years, Pakistan will be faced with a challenge from millions of young men and women who view the country‘s government as unIslamic and will demand aJihad against it. The longer the situation in Pakistan and the Taliban regime remain, the more the number of young Pakistanis who desire anIslamic government will grow and their fervor will increase. At that point, it will be very difficult to control the several million young people who will be unemployed and impoverished due to Pakistan‘s dire economic situation, including high inflation, poverty, and low income and employment rate. This generation, which is currently being motivated and inspired by the rulers in Kabul, will be the costliest consequence that both the government and the people of Pakistan will have to pay for the policy of the Pakistani generals. Whatever benefit the generals have gained from their strategic depth or strategic level in Afghanistan, it will not be equal to the cost of a generation of radical youth who want to establish a pure Islamic government. Additionally, another neighbor, Iran, is accused of providing a base and training camp to the Taliban and supplying them with weapons.

The Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan has repeatedly asserted that Iranian weapons have been obtained from the Taliban in the war against them, particularly in the west of the country. During the most recent clashes between Afghan government forces and the Taliban in Herat, images were released that showed Iranian sniper weapons in the hands of Taliban fighters. Analysts at the time stated that these weapons were not available on the black market, and in their opinion, the Iranian Government had provided them to the Taliban. Additionally, Pakistan and Iran have both given Afghan embassies in Islamabad and Tehran to the political representatives of the Taliban. Now, Iran is facing a number of very serious issues that are rooted in Afghanistan, ranging from continuous border crossing conflicts and the drug problem to the primary fear of this country that the IslamicStateKhorasan (ISK) is strengthening near its borders. Iran is in a state of distress. Since America is an enemy of Iran, it can be inferred that Tehran has not gained anything of value by supporting the Taliban. Rather, it is likely to incur a heavy cost.

Now that the world, from Russia to the United States, is in agreement regarding the rise in terrorist activity in Afghanistan and is warning each other of its potential consequences, it can be concluded that Iran and other countries that have developed close ties with the Taliban have reaped more losses than gains. Their illadvised decision has yielded a negative outcome, which may have a detrimental effect on their other endeavors.

Russia has repeatedly expressed concern about the rise in activity of the Islamic StateKhorasan (ISK) in Afghanistan, and its diplomatic mission in Kabul was once targeted by this group. China, which has close ties with the Taliban and initially appointed the Afghan embassy in Beijing to a representative of the Taliban when they first took power, has not been spared from attacks by ISK, which is conducting military exercises under the Taliban‘s banner for the region and the world. On the other hand, Uzbekistan, which has welcomed Taliban officials with open arms on multiple occasions and regularly sends high-ranking delegations to Kabul while it is under Taliban control, has been attacked by rockets from Afghanistan at least twice.

The simplest conclusion that can be drawn from these negotiations between the neighbors and the Taliban is that engaging with the Taliban has not yielded more benefits than losses for anyone. While they may have gained some profit, they have also incurred and will continue to incur significant costs which will far outweigh what they have gained. Just as the Biden administration‘s leniency towards the Taliban during the withdrawal from Afghanistan has become one of its most pressing issues in the United States, for Pakistan, China, Iran, Russia, and Uzbekistan, such an approach and alliance with the Taliban has already proven costly.

Even the Indian government, which has engaged in a somewhat cautious interaction with the Taliban following the collapse of the republic government, has expressed concern and apprehension regarding the implications of the Taliban‘s rule in Afghanistan for the region. Two days ago, Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh cautioned against the radicalization of the region‘s youth during the meeting of the Defense Ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).

Consequently, any nation or organization that wishes to interact with the Taliban from outside of Afghanistan must exercise caution. It is beneficial for individuals and politicians who engage with the Taliban within Afghanistan to consider the potential consequences. Ultimately, they should reflect on the experiences of those who disregarded the Afghan government and followed Russia‘s suggestion to travel to Moscow, offering prayers behind the Taliban mullahs, and have since formed theSalvation Council in exile, issuing empty declarations.