What is the Future of Afghanistan - Post-Cold War DOCUMENTARY

What is the Future of Afghanistan - Post-Cold War DOCUMENTARY

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The Cold War has been over for more than thirty  years, most certainly a part of history. But,   as we all know, the events of the present are  rooted firmly in the past and so we wanted to take   a look at some present global hotspots to give  an explanation of current events, how they came   to be, and some possible outcomes going forward.  For centuries, Central Asia has been a focus of   global attention, from the Silk Road to the Great  Game to ideological and religious battlegrounds   and it remains a region of opportunity and risk.  I’m your host David and today we are looking at   the past, present and possible future of  Afghanistan! This is…the Post-Cold War. While we at the Cold War spend our time  examining events that often deal with matters   of national security, the security of our personal  information and data is never far from our minds,   which is why I am thrilled to be working  with the sponsor of todays video, Incogni.  

Incogni is an automated service that requests  online data brokers to delete your information,   protecting your privacy and saving you  time. Have you ever searched online for   some information about a sensitive subject, like  a medical problem, and then started getting ads   and promotions related to that? Or have you  ever found out your personal information was   somehow included in a data breach from a big  company that you’ve never even done business   with? Incogni is only three little steps; create  an account so they know whose data to remove,   grant Incogni the right to work for you, and then  relax and watch Incogni work. They handle any   objections and always keep you updated. The first  100 people to sign up using our code COLDWAR,  

using the link in the description, will  get 60% off of Incogni. Go sign up today!  Afghanistan is a beautiful country, home of Rumi  and Zoroaster, crossroads of Naqhsbandi Sufis,   Assyrian Christians, and Mahayana Buddhists.  It was home to the empires of the Durranis,   Zunbils and Kushans, and it was where Emperors  such as Alexander, Shah Jahan and Timur waged   their titanic battles for control of the Silk  Roads. It’s also a land with a rich tapestry  

of ethnicities and geographies. Unfortunately,  much of this history has been lost in popular   discussion during the last forty years of  imperial invasions and civil conflict. As of 2023,   the Taliban are in full control of Afghanistan  in the wake of the US military’s 2021 withdrawal,   and the country, with its dire economic and food  situation, remains far from Western headlines.  

Despite this, Afghanistan’s future has tremendous  implications for global politics moving forward.   The humanitarian disaster magnified by  international sanctions is gruelling   enough to warrant attention just on its own.  But, the stability of the country overall has   deep implications for many of its neighbours. And  it is the Taliban regime and its rule that can   make or break all of the above. So, let’s take a  look at what the future of Afghanistan might hold  To understand the current situation in  Afghanistan, we must first understand its people,   its geography and its past. Afghanistan  lies at a nexus point along the Silk Roads,   the ancient trading routes connecting China  and East Asia to the Middle East and Europe.  

Geographically, at the centre of Afghanistan are  hills that stretch from the Hindu Kush Mountains   in the north. This hilly centre is framed on  the north by more open grazing fields while   the southwest of the country is largely  semi-arid land. Geologically, Afghanistan   is the estimated home to over 1.3 Trillion  dollars in mineral wealth, as both the Indus  

Valley’s lapis lazuli colonies in Shortughai, and  China’s failed Mes Aynak mine project can attest.  So why is this important? Well, these geographic  divisions have resulted in ethno-cultural   divisions which have determined where each part  of the country looks towards. Herat looks towards   Iran, Kabul towards the East, while Balkh looks  towards the North and Kandahar towards the South.  

And there is also a stunning amount of  ethnic diversity present in the country.   We are unsure about numbers due to the  census registering ethnicity in order   to accommodate cultural sensitivities, but the  majority appears to be the Pashtun community,   themselves split between Afghanistan and  present-day Pakistan the result of the 1893   Durand Line which created the border between  the British Raj and the Emirate of Afghanistan.   The next largest ethnic groups are the Tajiks and  the majority-Shia Hazaras who live primarily in   the north and the west of the country, and have  cultural links to Iran and Tajikistan. Smalller  

Uzbek and Turkmen communities are also present  in these regions as well as Qizilbash, Arab, and   Aimaq people. And then there are miniscule groups  of Kurds, Pamirs, Pashais and the Nuristanis also.   All of these groups have ethnic and cultural  links to other countries in the region,   which becomes important in terms of geopolitics,  not only regarding contested borders with   Pakistan but also spillovers into Tajikistan. On top of these ethnic divides is the ever-growing   rural-urban divide. Anatol Lieven has described  the rural areas as perfectly falling within   James Scott’s paradigm of ‘the art of not being  governed’ with mediation with the centre coming   through local khans or warlords. Lieven has also  quoted Afghans as describing their politics as   a ‘permanent conversation’ with fluid allegiances  and clan links changing often. Many generals were  

once Communists, then America-supporters,  then other allegiances as they saw fit.   Pashtun nationalism often causes fear amongst  other groups, particularly Tajiks and Hazaras,   the latter of which have faced severe repression  by the Taliban due to being of the Shia minority. Afghanistan has a deep and long history but  for our purposes, we will begin very recently,   in the late 1970s. It was then that a small  Communist cadre in the Army, composed of   the Parcham faction and the Khalq doctrinaire  faction, eventually staged a coup and imposed   a Communist regime in 1978. The more gradualist  Parchamis were eventually purged by the Khalqis.   Insurgencies began to popup however, driven  by discontent and repression and fueled by   the Pakistani ISI and Chinese Maoist groups.  The Afghan communists pleaded with the Soviet  

leadership of Leonid Brezhnev, which although  it was quite cautious at first, eventually sent   support to Afghanistan in the form of the Soviet  Army on December 25th, 1979. The takeover of the   country was straight-forward due to the friendly  government in Kabul, but an insurgency which was   eventually dominated by Mujahideen groups emerged,  fighting the Soviet occupation from the mountains.  Pakistan, whose ISI saw the opportunity to expand  their geopolitical influence, as well as the Gulf   states and the United States, all funded these  opposition groups, with some well-known foreign   fighters, including men like Osama Bin Laden  joining the fight on the ground. As a point of   interest for some of you, even China sent some  Uyghur fighters to Afghanistan, a dividend of   the Sino-Soviet split. The Soviet occupation was  to put shortly, a brutal affair, with many war   crimes being committed, and millions of refugees  fleeing to Iran and Pakistan. In the latter,  

in schools run by Wahhabi fundamentalists, young  men were indoctrinated into Islamism, forming the   core of the Taliban. After the Soviet withdrawal  from Afghanistan in 1989, the Soviet-backed regime   held onto power while a civil war raged across  the country until 1992. It was at this time that   the Taliban, a mostly Pashto-chauvinist Islamist  movement with a talent for imposing law and order   in the regions under their control, managed to  gain the upperhand over most of Afghanistan. 

After 9/11, and despite the Taliban pleading with  the United States that they would hand over Osama   Bin Laden, an American-led NATO invasion took  place and Western forces occupied Afghanistan   for the next 20 years. The Taliban were dispersed,  while the US imposed its own client government of   friendly warlords. The Afghan Papers reveal that  during these 20 years, massive funds went towards   the military-industrial complex and some funds  just disappeared, as the US backed local friendly   forces over proper nation-building. We would be  remiss if we didn’t point out that the United   States and other coalition partners also committed  war crimes including the indiscriminate bombing of   civilians in an effort to put down insurgent  movements by the Taliban and other groups.  

Eventually, after negotiations which excluded the  Afghan government, the United States and Taliban   agreed in 2020 during talks held in Doha to a  US withdrawal. In 2021, the US rapidly withdrew,   leaving many of its interlocutors at the hands of  the Taliban, and the Afghan National Army, with   its western support structure no longer in place,  effectively disbanded under Taliban pressure.   The Taliban took Kabul, and they rule the  country today, facing crippling sanctions,   a lack of financial reserves and dealing with  a famine caused by punitive western policies.  So, there is the background. The  first question we can now ask is;  

will the regime collapse due to sanctions?  Well, historically sanctions have not been   particularly successful at directly forcing  regime change. The United States’s freezing   of foreign assets has hurt the general Afghan  population much more than the Taliban elite.   The US has allowed for some financial transactions  in early 2022, so they do seem to understand this,   however, the consensus in Washington is still  based on trying to punish the Taliban. This   largely stems from the failure, or perhaps a lack  of intent, to understand the Afghan context. The   United States government has yet to officially  recognize the Taliban, in an almost de facto   support of the Ashraf Ghani government that fled  Kabul. The US may eventually change this policy,  

but it will take time, the result of the  reputation hit it took after the 2021   withdrawal. As a way to try to salvage this  reputation, the sanctions can function as a   guarantee of force and a demonstration that the  US is not to be trifled with, even in defeat.  The Doha Agreement of 2020, signed between the US  and the Taliban without Afghan government input   you will remember, shows that informal discussions  will of course be possible, most likely conducted   through intermediaries. Recognition has been  mentioned by former British PM Boris Johnson,   based on the implementation of conditions such as  respect for women’s rights but this is something   which the Taliban have yet to acquiesce to.  The original Taliban government in the 1990s   also only had limited international recognition,  but it survived until the US invasion in 2001.   The Taliban will most likely make use of the  international black market and other methods,   including the opium trade, to maintain their  finanances. The Afghan economy, even before the  

Taliban takeover, was not structured to stand  on its own feet and was highly dependent on   foreign aid. The cutoff of this aid means that  the people of Afghanistan will suffer the most,   further exacerbated by Taliban orders  to remove women from most work sectors.  In terms of resistance, there is little evidence  that a new Northern Alliance, the military   opposition that operated against the Taliban  during the 1990s will be able to counter the   Taliban regime. The fact that the Afghan National  Army collapsed so quickly shows that neither the   Ghani government, nor the various warlords that  ended up siding with the US during the occupation   had much independent backing, and can only work  sporadically for now. As a result, the Taliban   won’t be going anywhere any time soon. But, drone  strikes and bombing raids can also continue as a  

scare tactic, as in summer 2022 when an al-Qaeda  leader was killed via US drones. In case of   geopolitical realignments, which we will discuss  in a minute, these may be invaluable in coercing   Afghanistan, especially if used in conjunction  with the promise of sanctions being lifted.  Another question that is worth asking is will the  Taliban break up into internal disorder or unrest?   This is more likely, but not a guarantee. The  Taliban of the 1990s leaned very heavily into  

Pashtun nationalism, but we have seen evidence  of Uzbeks and Tajiks in the ranks of the modern   Taliban. So the government does have some ethnic  minority members, although it is difficult to tell   if this could just be window-dressing, something  that won’t become clear until it is decided which   factions within the Taliban end up consolidating  control. As Anatol Lieven has described, although   the fluidity of Afghan politics is a constant,  we must also consider that the Taliban do crack   down on opposition in a very hard way. Tariq Ali  has also commented on the fact that the Taliban,   while brutal and reactionary, is effective  in leveraging patronage networks as well as   maintaining law and order by means of the building  of religious networks for ideological recruitment. 

Now, a small number of US contractors do  remain in the country, and Washington may   yet use them as leverage. They can use  this to gain the loyalty of at least a   part of the population, even though they  also have failed to deliver economically.   This is the biggest risk for the regime at the  moment, but we must also consider how sanctions   weaken opposition via cutting people off  from external support. It’s likely that   a disagreement within the Taliban will develop;  we’ve seen this happen before in the Quetta Shura,   the Taliban Leadership Council, during  their fight against the US occupation. 

It’s unclear as to what form these divisions  amongst the Taliban have taken, but we should   note they are more ideological in nature, and tend  to be about more moderate or practical elements.   None of these men are liberals, but issues  such as women’s rights may be better, or worse,   depending on who’s in overall command. The root of  this lies in traditionalist old guard Taliban and   hardline members, with the former trying to keep  power by pleasing the latter. For other members   who are more peripheral, a lot of these ideas are  seen as impractical or even bad, and factional   fighting may emerge. Some of these moderates  choose to engage with external factions including   those in the West, or could move to leverage  women’s protests to gain more domestic influence.  OK, so we’ve discussed how the US and the Taliban  are likely to engage, but a quick look at a map   clearly shows that Afghanistan has many direct  neighbours, each with their own interests in   the region. The most obvious of these are China  and Pakistan. Pakistan had historically used the  

Taliban as a proxy, but since the mid-2000s the  Afghan Taliban have asserted their independence   from Islamabad. The Pashtun chauvinism that  has been present in previous incarnations of   the Taliban has been an issue due to the Durand  Line splitting the Pashtun community across both   countries. Some Pakistani politicians, including  the ousted Imran Khan, were cautious and favoured   some engagement with the Taliban, but there  has been increasing animosity developing.   The Pakistani Taliban, who are their own groups,  despite various overlap with the Afghan Taliban,   remain a thorn in the side of  Pakistani security services.  China on the other hand, has already engaged with  the Taliban, the same as it did with the previous   Ghani government, over projects like the failed  Mes Aynak mine. Chinese diplomats have faced  

violence in Afghanistan, and there is a concern  in China that Taliban islamism may spillover into   the persecuted Uyghur communities, but for now  the Taliban has shown moderation on the matter.   There is speculation that there will be  attempts to bring Afghanistan into the   China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, something which  has been supported by China, but this does mean   that if things deteriorate between Islamabad and  Kabul, China would have to choose between the two,   something Beijing would rather avoid. As it stands, China will likely stick   to its long-termist approach and try to  cultivate its relationship with the Taliban,   using Islamabad as a mediator. This may help  entice the Taliban to try to introduce stability   to the country, as Chinese loans have fewer  strings attached to them than Western loans.   An unintended consequence of Chinese involvement  however could be that the United States recognizes   the Taliban or even tries to co-opt them,  especially as the Sino-American rivalry escalates. 

Regionally, India, too, is an actor  worth noting. Indian foreign policy   has historically seen Afghanistan as a  bulwark and a partner against Pakistan.   New Delhi tried to cultivate relationships  with the pre-Taliban Kabul government,   but now the Hindu nationalist leadership  of Narendra Modi is in a bind, facing an   Islamist government in Kabul. Slow engagement  has taken place, including a meeting between   Taliban foreign minister Amir Khan Muttaqi and  high-ranking Indian officials in summer 2022.  

India has also maintained shipments of  food aid via the World Health Organization,   which suggests that unlike the first Taliban  government, which India opposed, Modi is more   of a geopolitical pragmatist and is prioritising  the rivalry with China and Pakistan over one with   the Taliban. Here, too, the Taliban may show  restraint as India’s persecution of Muslims   is sure to cause calls within the government to  attack India. From their precarious position,   the Taliban may either choose sides between  India, Pakistan and China, or alternatively   try to balance between the three. This is where  the Taliban is most likely to fail, as they would   need strong, pragmatic leadership to sideline  fundamentalists. But, it is safe to say that   all of their neighbours will try to engage with  Afghanistan to both outcompete the other, and to   try and gain some access to Afghanistan’s precious  mineral resources and its strategic location.  And what about the Central Asian states and  Russia? Well, they all have a keen interest   in Afghanistan. The ethnic Uzbeks and Tajiks in  Afghanistan are always among the leadership of  

the elites, but for Russia specifically,  Islamism is a risk they very much wish   to contain. The Central Asian republics had a  mixed set of reactions to the Taliban takeover.   Tajikistan, which suffered a civil war in the  1990s as result of an Islamist insurgency,   has been negative so far, even accepting  some deserters from the Afghan National Army.   Uzbekistan has been cautious, perhaps  too busy with events and unrest in its   Qaraqalpaq Autonomous Region. Turkmenistan  has been positive towards the Taliban,   likely due to its own isolationism possibly  seeing the Taliban as a possible communicator.

And as for Russia itself? They’ve been soft  on the Taliban, choosing to engage with the   regime. Part of this is due to a common  enemy; the Islamic State in Khorasan,   an offshoot of ISIS. Moscow, as recently as  February 2023, has organized a consortium with   regional actors including the Central  Asian states, India, Iran and China,   to build regional security. Part of the agenda for  this meeting dealt with Afghanistan, and the fact   that Pakistan skipped it, alleging that it was  initiated by India, caused a minor controversy.   There is a concern that Afghanistan  may use terrorism as a bargaining chip,   or fall into instability, which neither  Russia, nor the other participants wish.   The consensus seems to be that all these states,  with Russia at the spearhead, will engage with   the Taliban based simply on the fact that they are  in control of the country right now. The Taliban  

itself may oscillate however, depending which  faction is in control, from being more bold to   more conciliatory with each of these neighbours. And what of Iran? Well, they have backed the   Hazaras in the past and have obvious anxieties  about their Sunni Islamist neighbour. It’s also   where over 3 million Afghans have fled  as refugees for the past 40 years. The   Taliban have understood that their position is  precarious, and their shift towards including   Tajiks and Uzbeks in their ranks has been a  pragmatic move. They have done this with Iran   by allowing water from rivers to flow into Iran in  exchange for trade deals with them. In addition,  

they have the Islamic State in Khorasan as a  common foe, just like with Russia. As such,   these priorities are most likely to, in the short  term at least, drive some form of cooperation.  Then there’s the Gulf States, who used to fund  the Taliban madrassas and ome of them had even   recognized the initial Taliban government. Saudi  Arabia is trying to contain and influence the   current Taliban, while Kuwait is being very  cautious due to the possible instability. The  

UAE and Qatar have opted for investment, with  the latter also acting as a mediator for the   Afghans to the rest of the world. This is where  the Doha Agreement took place in 2020, after all.   Turkey also has deep ties to Afghanistan, from  the Ottoman era to the training of government   officials in the 1920s and even to Turkish NATO  troops acting as mediators during the occupation.   All of these actors are likely to have  some ongoing influence in Afghanistan,   which in turn will either let them talk to  the West, or perhaps bypass it all together.  As we wrap up this episode, we will freely note  that there are many things that influence Afghan   politics which are beyond the scope of this  video. For instance, the women of Afghanistan,   far from being passive, have been organizing  various social movements for various causes,   from going to workplaces to seeking justice for US  backed death squads, the Zero Units. Afghanistan’s  

future remains uncertain, but perhaps more  stable than had been originally thought.   Sanctions will not cripple the regime, though  they will cause mass starvation and privation.   A conflict within Taliban ranks is more likely,  but still unclear. In the short-term to avoid   isolation, the Taliban will engage with neighbours  like China, India, Russia, Iran, Pakistan and   those in Central Asia. They will also look to use  their links with Turkey and the Middle East for  

mediation with the West. This may draw the US back  into the region again albeit in a much less active   role, but in the long-term the Taliban may have  to pick sides in emerging broader geopolitical   struggles. After 40 years of war, the future of  Afghanistan is still dark, but as more actors move   in to engage with the country in a more long-term  way, the country may yet have some peace.  We hope you’ve enjoyed this episode and to  make sure you don't miss our future work,   please make sure you have not only subscribed  but have also pressed the bell button. Please   consider supporting us on Patreon at  www.patreon.com/thecoldwar or through   YouTube membership. We can be reached  via email at thecoldwarchannel@gmail.com.  

This is the Cold War Channel and  as we think about the Cold War,   please remember that history is shades  of gray and rarely black and white.

2023-05-06 07:56

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