The Taliban’s stunning takeover of Kabul sent shock waves around the world — with immediate implications for the complicated knot of three regional powers in Afghanistan’s neighborhood: Pakistan, India and China.
In recent months, all three governments have escalated their diplomatic outreach to the Taliban in anticipation of the possibility that it would grow into a political force in Afghanistan. That possibility became reality as the group swept into the capital, ushering in a new geopolitical landscape in Asia.
For Pakistan, the Afghan Taliban’s return delivers a strategic defeat to rival India, but also potentially a boost to an affiliated insurgent group, the Pakistani Taliban, that threatens Pakistan itself. For India, it heightens anxieties about militancy in Kashmir as it is juggling combustible border standoffs not only with Pakistan but also China.
Fear, uncertainty and chaos in Afghanistan after Taliban’s rapid return to power
And for China, the U.S. withdrawal has raised fears of a widening network of militant groups targeting the ambitious infrastructure projects it is unfurling westward across Eurasia. As the Chinese presence in countries such as Pakistan — perhaps Beijing’s closest ally — has soared over the past decade, so, too, have attacks against its citizens.
Regional tensions were on display in July when a suicide bomb ripped through a bus carrying Chinese construction workers in northwest Pakistan, killing 13. The Pakistani foreign minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, said that the attack was carried out by the Pakistani Taliban, also known as Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP, with help from India and the Afghan government. India dismissed the claim as “absurd.”
In April, the TTP narrowly missed the Chinese ambassador with a car bomb outside his hotel in Quetta, Pakistan.
From Islamabad to New Delhi to Beijing, there are “varying levels of concern” about how easily — and boldly — the Taliban took over, said Andrew Small, author of “The China-Pakistan Axis: Asia’s New Geopolitics.”
Even Pakistan, which has facilitated the Taliban’s return to power, “may not like how this has played out,” said Small, a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund.
The Afghan Taliban pledged in its 2020 deal with the United States that it would not harbor extremist groups such as al-Qaeda if the U.S. military withdrew in a timely fashion. The Taliban spokesman has also said the group would not attack Chinese targets.
In Islamabad, “there is euphoria that they defeated India and America but also worry among the national security establishment that the Taliban may not be beholden to Pakistan in their moment of triumph,” said Husain Haqqani, a former Pakistani ambassador to the United States who is now at the Hudson Institute. “After the euphoria, there are second-order consequences that include the potential of Afghanistan to become a haven for terrorist groups, including the TTP, that might come back to bite Pakistan.”
After New Delhi’s long-standing claim to power-sharing in Afghanistan, fears have increased in recent months after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s forces retreated, some Indian officials have argued that a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan would make Islamic militant groups more powerful and violent from Kashmir to Xinjiang.
Devra Hooda, a retired officer who commanded Indian forces in Kashmir until 2016, said he does not expect foreign fighters to flow into Kashmir from Afghanistan and fuel the insurgency as it did in the 1990s. India has greatly enhanced the integrity of its borders in the past years.
But the Indian officer believes that “the return of the Taliban will boost the morale of the armed groups based in Pakistan, such as Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed and the Pakistani Taliban, and explains in this context that it is a moral victory that some terrorist groups may exploit to try to recruit more young people in areas such as Kashmir.” , he told the American newspaper.
New Afghan Immigration
There are 3 million Afghan refugees residing in Pakistan for more than 40 years, half of whom are recognized by international organizations and provide them with assistance, and the other half are considered illegal residents.
On the other hand, India does not host a large number of Afghan refugees.
The number of Afghan refugees in Iran – according to a census conducted in 2016 – is 1,583,979, most of whom are spread in the cities of Tehran, Mashhad, Qom and Kerman, amid expectations that the number is higher given that half of the refugees in Iran are not registered, and Iran announced it will set up camps to provide temporary shelter for Afghan refugees in 3 border provinces.
According to data from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Iran hosts nearly 3 million Afghan citizens, of whom only 800,000 are officially registered.
The flow of Afghan refugees to Turkey continues with the escalation of clashes in the country between the Afghan government and Taliban militants. The Turkish Defense Ministry also decided to reinforce its forces on the border with Iran in order to prevent illegal crossing.