On Aug. 30, the final U.S. troops withdrew from Afghanistan, ending a two-decade long conflict. As American forces left, Taliban fighters swarmed into major Afghan cities and provinces, quickly occupying the country and installing a new Taliban government in Kabul. As the Taliban attempt to integrate themselves into the international community after the takeover, Afghanistan’s role in the world remains unclear.
Will a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan continue to receive foreign aid?
In the aftermath of the Taliban takeover, humanitarian crises have escalated throughout Afghanistan. The United States, the European Union, and the United Nations have all pledged continued humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan, despite not recognizing the Taliban government. However, the methods through which humanitarian aid is distributed has changed. The U.S. Agency for International Development has stated all American aid will be sent through NGOs and U.N. agencies, which will then go “directly to Afghans facing the compounding effects of insecurity, conflict, recurring natural disasters, and the COVID-19 pandemic,” not government officials. The U.N. has taken similar measures to prevent money from accumulating in the hands of the Taliban government, establishing a trust fund that sends cash directly to Afghan civilians to stabilize a struggling Afghan economy.
What happened at the Moscow Talks?
The Taliban participated in talks with Russia, China, Pakistan, India, Iran, and several Central Asian nations in Moscow on Oct. 20, where a range of topics, from foreign aid to regional security, were discussed. While there were no formal recognitions of the Taliban government, the participants agreed to cooperate with the Taliban to “promote security in Afghanistan to contribute to regional stability.” This emphasis on security comes amidst continued terrorist attacks across Afghanistan, as Islamic State-Khorasan Province (ISIS-K), a contingent of ISIS, has become more aggressive in its attacks following the Taliban occupation. The terrorist organization Al-Qaeda maintains its notorious alliance with the Taliban, potentially allowing it to grow in the future. The dialogue also encouraged greater foreign aid towards Afghanistan and touched on the Taliban’s abysmal human rights record. While the Taliban have promised to follow international guidelines for human rights, the enactment of such policies is yet to be seen. The talks also hint at potential partners of the Taliban and the future: the countries present at this discussion, like Pakistan and Russia, show a willingness to work with the Taliban.
The Taliban’s Complicated Relationship with Pakistan
The Taliban and Pakistan were historically strong partners. After the U.S. occupation, this relationship became somewhat strained, although Pakistan continued to provide some aid to Taliban insurgents and harbored prominent Taliban leaders. With the Taliban once again in power, Pakistan may seek to revive this relationship. By preventing migrant flow into Pakistan, the Taliban can provide greater regional stability. Additionally, the government can act as a counterbalance against the growing power of Pakistan’s rival India.
However, this prospect is complicated by some tensions. First, the Taliban are closely linked to Tehrik-e-Taliban (TTP), a Pashtun insurgency group that vows to fight until Pashtun-majority lands in Pakistan are independent. Pakistan has agreed to a temporary ceasefire with the TTP, but tensions remain. Second, the Taliban have refused to recognize the Durand Line, which divides the Pashtun community between Afghanistan and Pakistan and has been a source of Pashtun nationalism. While some future Pakistan-Taliban cooperation remains a likely possibility, these tensions could cause the two to drift apart.
Russia’s emerging cooperation with the Taliban
Russia has shown an interest in cooperating with the Taliban, seeing an opportunity to increase its influence in Central Asia. The U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and the subsequent humanitarian and political crises raised the possibility of Afghan refugees moving north into Central Asia and possibly Russia. This could destabilize both Russia and her Central Asian allies, something a strong Taliban government could potentially prevent. Russia has also expressed concern over the threats posed by Al-Qaeda and ISIS-K They see cooperation with Taliban authorities as a way to diminish terrorism in the region and prevent further instability and danger.
The Future of China-Taliban relations
There has also been speculation that China, in its attempt to increase its influence abroad, may seek the Taliban as an ally. While China has shown some interest in cooperating with the Taliban, recently promising to help “rebuild” Afghanistan in cooperation with the Taliban government, Chinese officials have remained cautious and slow in building fostering this relationship. China has also not recognized the Taliban, but has hinted that recognition is possible should China reach a consensus with Pakistan, Iran, and Russia on Afghanistan’s issues.
The Taliban occupation of Afghanistan has dramatically shaken the politics of South and Central Asia. As countries continue determining their relationships towards the new regime, the international community’s attitude and interactions with Afghanistan remain uncertain.
Nick Meeker is a freshman majoring in international studies at Johns Hopkins University. He is originally from San Jose, CA, and is a member of the Editorial Team of the Hopkins Podcast on Foreign Affairs.