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Filling a vacuum

Exactly 20 years ago, on October 7, the world’s only superpower, the US, along with its global allies, launched massive air strikes on the war-torn country of Afghanistan. During the last two decades, the US and its allies have been pushing hard to oust the Taliban from Afghanistan.

According to a rough estimate, the US has spent around $3 trillion for the Afghan war, and Germany spent around 17 billion euros, during the last 20 years. Similarly, India had invested more than $3 billion dollars in the country.

However, the return of the Taliban to Kabul has completely changed the regional landscape. Several countries that have been influential in Afghanistan for the last two decades have been forced to exit. New regional players have started to fill the vacuum whereas some countries are also making efforts to save the heavy investment they earlier made in the country by making space in the new setup.

Although no country has so far recognised the Taliban regime, diplomatic efforts are currently under way. There are speculations that China would soon become the first country to recognise the Taliban-led government. If it happens, the Taliban would also be supported for their diplomatic representation in the UN and other international forums. Afghanistan’s participation in the Belt and Road project could help China to transform into a global superpower.

The soft corner for the Taliban by the former superpower Russia is no secret. Russia kept its embassy open even after the Taliban took control of Kabul, and the Russian ambassador spoke positively after meeting with a Taliban representative. Russian President Vladimir Putin has openly termed the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan a reality, indicating that Moscow wants to start a new era with the Taliban.

Similarly, the British foreign office has officially confirmed that Simon Gass, the British prime minister’s special envoy for Afghanistan, has recently met with Taliban leaders in Kabul. On the occasion, both sides discussed the possibility of restoring diplomatic relations, according to a statement issued by the Taliban.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which have recognised the Taliban in the past, are quietly monitoring the regional situation this time. The UAE has established diplomatic ties with Israel, and Saudi Arabia is also interested in ending its ideological rivalry with Iran. Contrary to what happened in the past, Iran is now acknowledging the role of the Taliban, for defeating the US.

The influence of Qatar began in 2013 when it hosted the Taliban’s political office in Doha. However, fearing Qatar’s growing role in the Afghan peace process, the neighbouring Gulf states expelled it from the GCC forum. Due to Qatar’s continuous efforts, a historic peace agreement was reached between the US and Afghanistan, in 2020. Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani is the first high-ranking foreign official to visit Afghanistan since the Taliban regime came into power. Qatar has also established a diplomatic mission at the Serena Hotel in Kabul.

Turkey also wants to ensure a strong presence in Afghanistan to increase its influence in the Islamic world. The successful reactivation of Kabul Airport with the support of Turkish and Qatari experts has resulted in winning the confidence of the new Afghan government.

Although almost all regional players have made efforts to fill the vacuum in Afghanistan after the US withdrawal, only Pakistan is considered to be the Taliban’s closest ally. In my view, it is a positive sign that we are having cordial relations with all regional countries including Iran, China, Turkey, Russia and Qatar, and are interested in working with the Taliban regime.

However, we must keep in mind that several other countries, including India, are reportedly in contact with Qatar to pave the way for talks with the new Afghan government. We must therefore learn from past mistakes and act wisely to play a pivotal role in the current regional scenario.

Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, "Filling a vacuum," The News. 2021-10-08.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Global allies , Foreign office , Taliban , diplomatic , Leadership , Russia , Afghanistan , China