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Say Hello to the Diplo-Taliban
Deploying diplomatic skills refined from Doha to Moscow, the Taliban in 2021 has little to do with its 2001 incarnation
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Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar (center) and other members of the Taliban arrive to attend an international conference in Moscow on March 18, 2021. Photo: Alexander Zemlianichenko / AFP
Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar (center) and other members of the Taliban arrive to attend an international conference in Moscow on March 18, 2021. Photo: Alexander Zemlianichenko / AFP

A very important meeting took place in Moscow last week, virtually hush-hush. Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of the Russian Security Council, received Hamdullah Mohib, Afghanistan’s national security adviser.

There were no substantial leaks. A bland statement pointed to the obvious: They “focused on the security situation in Afghanistan during the pullout of Western military contingencies and the escalation of the military-political situation in the northern part of the country.”

The real story is way more nuanced. Mohib, representing embattled President Ashraf Ghani, did his best to convince Patrushev that the Kabul administration represents stability. It does not – as the subsequent Taliban advances proved.

Patrushev knew Moscow could not offer any substantial measure of support to the current Kabul arrangement because doing so would burn bridges the Russians would need to cross in the process of engaging the Taliban. Patrushev knows that the continuation of Team Ghani is absolutely unacceptable to the Taliban – whatever the configuration of any future power-sharing agreement.

So Patrushev, according to diplomatic sources, definitely was not impressed.

This week we can all see why. A delegation from the Taliban political office went to Moscow essentially to discuss with the Russians the fast-evolving mini-chessboard in northern Afghanistan. The Taliban had been to Moscow four months earlier, along with the extended troika (Russia, US, China, Pakistan) to debate the new Afghan power equation.

Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev. Photo: AFP / Viktor Tolochko / Sputnik
Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev. Photo: AFP / Viktor Tolochko / Sputnik

On this trip, they emphatically assured their interlocutors there’s no Taliban interest in invading any territory of their Central Asia neighbors.

It’s not excessive, in view of how cleverly they’ve been playing their hand, to call the Taliban desert foxes. They know well what Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has been repeating: Any turbulence coming from Afghanistan will be met with a direct response from the Collective Security Treaty Organization.

In addition to stressing that the US withdrawal – actually, repositioning – represents the failure of its Afghan “mission,” Lavrov touched on the two really key points:

  • The Taliban is increasing its influence in the northern Afghanistan border areas; and
  • Kabul’s refusal to form a transitional government is “promoting a belligerent solution” to the drama. This implies Lavrov expects much more flexibility from both Kabul and the Taliban in the Sisyphean power-sharing task ahead.

And then, relieving the tension, when asked by a Russian journalist if Moscow will send troops to Afghanistan, Lavrov reverted to Mr Cool: “The answer is obvious.”

Shaheen speaks

Mohammad Suhail Shaheen is the quite articulate spokesman for the Taliban political office. He’s adamant that “taking Afghanistan by military force is not our policy. Our policy is to find a political solution to the Afghan issue, which is continuing in Doha.” Bottom line: “We confirmed our commitment to a political solution here in Moscow once more.”

That’s absolutely correct. The Taliban don’t want a bloodbath. They want to be embraced. As Shaheen has stressed, it would be easy to conquer major cities – but there would be blood. Meanwhile, the Taliban already control virtually the whole border with Tajikistan.

New face of the Taliban: The insurgents’ spokesman Mohammad Suhail Shaheen speaks to media in Moscow on February 15, 2021. Photo: AFP / Elena Teslova / Anadolu Agency
New face of the Taliban: The insurgents’ spokesman Mohammad Suhail Shaheen speaks to media in Moscow on February 15, 2021. Photo: AFP / Elena Teslova / Anadolu Agency

The 2021 Taliban have little in common with their 2001 pre-war on terror incarnation. The movement has evolved from a largely Ghilzai Pashtun rural guerrilla insurgency to a more inter-ethnic arrangement, incorporating Tajiks, Uzbeks and even Shi’ite Hazaras – a group that was mercilessly persecuted during the 1996-2001 years of Taliban power.

Reliable figures are extremely hard to come by, but 30% of the Taliban today may be non-Pashtuns. One of the top commanders is ethnically Tajik – and that explains the lightning-flash “soft” blitzkrieg in northern Afghanistan across Tajik territory.

I visited a lot of these geologically spectacular places in the early 2000s. The inhabitants, all cousins, speaking Dari, are now turning over their villages and towns to Tajik Taliban as a matter of trust. Very few – if any – Pashtuns from Kandahar or Jalalabad are involved. That illustrates the absolute failure of the central government in Kabul.

Those who do not join the Taliban simply desert – as did the Kabul forces manning the checkpoint close to the bridge over the Pyanj river, off the Pamir highway; they escaped without a fight to Tajik territory, actually riding the Pamir highway. The Taliban hoisted their flag in this crucial intersection without firing a shot.

The Afghan National Army’s chief, General Wali Mohammad Ahmadza, fresh into his role by appointment from Ghani, is keeping a brave face: ANA’s priority is to protect the main cities (so far, so good, because the Taliban are not attacking them); border crossings (that’s not going so well), and highways (mixed results so far).

This interview with Suhail Shaheen is quite enlightening – as he feels compelled to stress that “we don’t have access to media” and laments the “baseless” barrage of “propaganda launched against us,” which implies that Western media should admit the Taliban have changed.

Shaheen points out that “it’s not possible to take 150 districts in just six weeks by fighting,” which connects to the fact that the security forces “do not trust the Kabul administration.” In all districts that have been conquered, he swears, “ the forces came to the Taliban voluntarily.”

A smoke plume rises from houses amid an ongoing fight between Afghan security forces and Taliban fighters in the western city of Qala-i- Naw, the capital of Badghis province, on July 7. The Taliban launched its first major assault on a provincial capital since the US military began its final drawdown of troops from the country. Photo: AFP
A smoke plume rises from houses amid an ongoing fight between Afghan security forces and Taliban fighters in the western city of Qala-i- Naw, the capital of Badghis province, on July 7. The Taliban launched its first major assault on a provincial capital since the US military began its final drawdown of troops from the country. Photo: AFP

Shaheen makes a statement that could have come straight from Ronald Reagan in the mid-1980s: The “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan are the real freedom fighters.” That may be the object of endless debate across the lands of Islam.

But one fact is indisputable: The Taliban are sticking by the agreement they signed with the Americans on February 29, 2020. And that implies a total American exit: “If they don’t abide by their commitments, we have a clear right of retaliation.”

Thinking ahead to “when an Islamic government is in place,” Shaheen insists there will be “good relations” with every nation, and embassies and consulates will not be targeted.

The Taliban “goal is clear: to end the occupation.” And that brings us to the tricky gambit of Turkish troops “protecting” Kabul airport. Shaheen is crystal clear. “No NATO forces – that means continuation of occupation,” he proclaims. “When we have an independent Islamic country, then we will sign any agreement with Turkey that is mutually beneficial.”

ORDER IT NOW

Shaheen is involved in the ongoing, very complicated negotiations in Doha, so he cannot allow himself to commit the Taliban to any future power-sharing agreement. What he does say, even though “progress is slow” in Doha, is that, contrary to what was previously reported by media in Qatar, the Taliban will not present a formal written proposal to Kabul by the end of the month, The talks will continue.

Going hybrid?

Whatever the “Mission Accomplished” non-denial denials emanating from the White House, a few things are already clear on the Eurasia front.

The Russians, for one thing, are already engaging the Taliban, in detail, and may soon strike their name off their terror list.

The Chinese, for another, are assured that if the Taliban commit Afghanistan to join the Belt and Road Initiative, connecting via the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, ISIS-Khorasan will not then be permitted to go on overdrive in Afghanistan bolstered by Uyghur jihadis currently in Idlib.

American soldiers retrieve their duffel bags after they returned home from a nine-month deployment to Afghanistan on December 10, 2020, at Fort Drum, New York. Photo: AFP / John Moore / Getty Images
American soldiers retrieve their duffel bags after they returned home from a nine-month deployment to Afghanistan on December 10, 2020, at Fort Drum, New York. Photo: AFP / John Moore / Getty Images

And nothing is off the table for Washington when it comes to derailing BRI. Crucial silos scattered across the deep state must be already at work replacing a forever war in Afghanistan with hybrid war, Syria-style.

Lavrov is very much aware of Kabul power brokers who would not say “no” to a new hybrid war arrangement. But the Taliban for their part have been very effective – preventing assorted Afghan factions from supporting Team Ghani.

As for the Central Asian “stans,” not a single one of them wants any forever wars or hybrid wars down the road.

Fasten your seat belts: It’s gonna be a bumpy ride.

(Republished from Asia Times by permission of author or representative)
 
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  1. A123 says:

    The American people and the Afghanistan people are on the same side. Real U.S. patriots also want the forever wars to end. This withdrawal is Main Street America defeating Elite SJW Globalists, assuming Führer Biden can actually pull it off. The amount of hardware being left behind suggests a possible Deep State return if Vice Führer Harris is elevated to unelected leadership.

    It is now the Elite CCP’s turn to deal with the Diplo-Taliban (and other Afghan natives). It looks like Xi’s arrogance and CCP weakness (1) will lead to a repeat of the mistakes made by the USSR and SJW Globalists.

    PEACE 😇
    _________

    (1) https://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/china-is-weaker-than-xi-will-admit/

  2. Notsofast says:

    ghani should get out while he can, before the same thing that happened to najibullah happens to him, (some say it left a very bad taste in his mouth).

  3. Notsofast says:
    @A123

    the hardware is now in the talibans hands. no real surprise there though, we’ve been arming them (as well as al-qaeda and isil) since the 80’s.

  4. Baxter says:

    What is the relationship between Moscow and the former Soviet Republics that make up the ‘stans’? The Soviet Union came to an end three decades ago, which isn’t very long behind. I imagine the power players in all the central Asian countries are leftovers from that time, or connected to it. Are they still basically subservient to Moscow though independent States?

    • Replies: @showmethereal
  5. anonymous[139] • Disclaimer says:

    Took quite a bit to get the US out. Once in the US never leaves; it’ll stay a hundred years or more. Look at Europe, the US is still ensconced in bases there along with vassal states seventy-six years later. What’ll it take to get the US out of there?

    • Replies: @Alfa158
    , @rgl
  6. Kali [AKA "Unpersoned by fb"] says:
    @A123

    Main Street America defeating Elite SJW Globalists,

    It looks more like the “SJW Globalists”/Imperialists placing yet another potential flashpoint on the board to me. Why else cloud the ointment with troops guarding the embacy and NATO Turks guarding the airport, not to mention the undisclosed number mercenaries who’ll be sticking around.

    Of course I could be reading the game all wrong, but that’s my impression for what it’s worth.

    Kali.

    • Replies: @A123
  7. A123 says:
    @Kali

    It looks more like the “SJW Globalists” / Imperialists placing yet another potential flashpoint on the board to me.

    It is difficult to analyze from the outside.

    The most favourable interpretation is that Biden’s mental deterioration has brought him back to the early 2000’s. He is earnestly & sincerely opposing GW Bush policy, because he has no recollection of Obama’s failed Globalist “Surge Strategy”.  A broken clock is right twice a day.

    The Deep State is trying to undermine the withdrawal, but finding it more difficult than sabotaging Trump’s efforts. After all, Führer Biden is theoretically the unelected leader of the Deep State.

    PEACE 😇

    • Thanks: Kali
  8. @A123

    I agree with the first portion.

    I think the tragedy here is that, 20-years ago, America didn’t do what China is doing now…namely investing and making money. I guess the Hazara are making out better this time around, so…that’s kind of good? I mean, they probably would have been better off under the old Taliban and absent 20-years of extra war, but whose to say?

    Hopefully the rest of the world has learned from the combined experiments and experiences of the USSR and the USA that the best thing to do is just make commercial deals and have tourist visas with Afghanistan and call it day.

  9. cassandra says:

    Suhail Shaheen says that the talks are proceeding sluggishly. I wonder if they’re having trouble settling upon which pronouns to use.

    • LOL: vox4non
  10. Alfa158 says:
    @anonymous

    If I interpret correctly what the Taliban spokesmen are asking for, the US will be welcome to maintain a normal embassy, and diplomatic activity. The Taliban have become more pragmatic and want to run a “normal” Islamic Republic that is closer to Iran than the pre-2001 mujahideen. They won’t tolerate civilian “contractors” all over the country, or a company size military force as a US embassy green zone guard, and they don’t have to.
    Whether the US likes that or not is irrelevant. The Taliban are not beaten down Germans or Japanese who submit to whatever the Yanks demand, and the contractors or excess military forces will have to leave Afghanistan one way or the other. I’m hoping they don’t do anything stupid and instead book their one way flights peacefully.
    The real challenge the Taliban are going to face is how to keep all the country’s rival forces cooperating enough to maintain peace, and take advantage of the future commercial deals with the Chinese.

    • Agree: Kali, showmethereal
  11. @A123

    To you disappointment, China really has NO worry about Taliban coming into power! as a matter of fact, Taliban already command their forces, do NOT harm Any Chinese who are in Afghanistan.

    Chinese leadership is Smart enough and NEVER trap themselves in the graveyard of the Imperialist countries. And Yes, ex USSR was a socialist imperialist country too.

    “Taliban says it sees China as a ‘friend’ of Afghanistan: Report
    The comments came as the Taliban made territorial gains in the war-torn country amid the withdrawal of the US forces”
    https://www.business-standard.com/article/international/taliban-says-it-sees-china-as-a-friend-of-afghanistan-report-121071000608_1.html

    “Afghanistan’s Taliban, Now on China’s Border, Seek to Reassure Beijing
    Despite past support for Uyghur militants in Xinjiang, Taliban say they won’t interfere in China’s internal affairs”
    https://www.wsj.com/articles/afghanistans-taliban-now-on-chinas-border-seek-to-reassure-beijing-11625750130

  12. “Afghan gov’t delegation meets Taliban in Iran

    Tehran hosts the first significant peace talks in months in a previously unannounced meeting that comes as US forces leave.”
    https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/7/8/afghan-govt-delegation-meets-taliban-in-iran

  13. China is looking to move into Afghanistan. They’re going to mine the trillions of dollars worth rare earth metals there. Its exactly how I predicted in a Anatoly karlin thread. The Chinese quietly mine the metals, give the taliban a cut and all goes well.

    The Chinese unlike uncle Shmuel have no interest in spreading drag queens story hour or feminism in Kabul. They want metals for their industry and the taliban want cash for their…hookah I guess?

    The US will proably arm the northern Alliance and Tajiks to oppose the largely Pashtun Taliban.

  14. Interesting to observe the contrast of comments on this article on Unz, the Junkyard Of The Faker, and zerohedge. I have few illusions about zerohedge but the stupidity and immaturity of the comments there on this article is brain numbing*. I know I’ve often criticised Unz but this is a Mensa level comment forum compared to z.

    *such as the multiple times repeated contention that because the Taliban dress in shalwar outfits and turbans they’re somehow inferior to suit wearing you know who, or that Afghans are Arabs.

  15. @Caspar von Everec

    The Taliban are 40% non Pashtun now and one of their top commanders, Qari Fasihuddin, is a Tajik. That ship has sailed.

  16. Smith says:

    Let’s hope Islamic Communist Afghanistan becomes reality.

  17. Kali [AKA "Unpersoned by fb"] says:

    Some of you may find this assessment worth reading:
    https://off-guardian.org/2021/07/09/no-joe-biden-is-not-ending-the-war-in-afghanistan/

    Extract: “The US acting Air Force Secretary John Roth has already said they have the “Over the Horizon” plan, a 10 billion dollar scheme to fly drone strikes over Afghanistan from airbases in Qatar, Kuwait and the UAE.

    On Tuesday, in a press briefing, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby was asked how the US might assist Afghan National Security Defense Forces in the future, he responded:

    ‘the way you’ve seen it being conducted in the past’”

    Kali.

    • Replies: @A123
  18. A123 says:
    @Caspar von Everec

    China is looking to move into Afghanistan. They’re going to mine the trillions of dollars worth rare earth metals there. Its exactly how I predicted in a Anatoly karlin thread. The Chinese quietly mine the metals, give the taliban a cut and all goes well.

    The problem that the USSR, U.S., and now China will face is that Afghanistan is divided into tribes. The fighting groups under those tribes also conflict with each other. And, worst of all, each fighting season sees the creation of new groups that have no ties to deals from prior years.

    Trying to “give the Taliban a cut” in hopes that “all will go well” did not work for the U.S. or USSR. And, it will not work for the CCP either. The Afghani side is not internally cohesive enough to make cross country deals that last decades. As new fighting groups come into existence, the “multiple cuts” to a wide array of “Taliban militas” becomes larger and larger in an uncontrollable & unrestrained manner.

    Perhaps, China could develop a mine on the East edge of Afghanistan where they deal with only one Tribe, paying enough “protection cut” to keep the local fighting groups active year round. That would give them an opportunity to break the “fighting season” cycle that supports the annual formation of new money seeking fighting groups. However, it seems unlikely that the ambitious CCP Elites will adopt such a restrained posture.

    PEACE 😇

  19. A123 says:
    @Kali

    Extract: “The US acting Air Force Secretary John Roth has already said they have the “Over the Horizon” plan, a 10 billion dollar scheme to fly drone strikes over Afghanistan from airbases in Qatar, Kuwait and the UAE.

    Afghanistan is a land locked nation. Did the Secretary identify which country will be over flown by the armed drones? Pakistan allowing supply transports through their air space is one thing, however I doubt they would be amenable to combat missions.

    The USAF Secretary’s statement sounds like diplo-speak — intended to convey something without actually saying it. Perhaps, a notice to Khameni about Iranian aggression against the named Gulf states?

    PEACE 😇

    • Replies: @Alfa158
  20. Alfa158 says:
    @A123

    The US doesn’t have to launch any drone strikes. It just has to put together a \$10B program to build and deploy the drones. That supports the primary missions of the US Defense strategy which are to:
    – provide profits to defense corporations,
    – lucrative salaries, benefits, and pensions to lobbyists civilian employees, and career military personnel who might never be able to get that in civilian life.
    – threaten anyone who might act against Israel and,
    – intimidate the world into continuing to accept the US dollar as the reserve currency no matter how much Monopoly money the Treasury prints.
    Actual combat is risky, unpopular, messy and doomed to defeat because they aren’t fighting for anything people believe in. If they were the entire US military would instead be deployed along the southern border defending the country.
    There is a reason people like Austin and Milley have square feet of ribbons and medals covering their uniforms like banana republic dictators. It’s not because they went all Rambo and won WW2 singlehanded.

  21. vox4non says:
    @A123

    I think it’s just the USA psychologically projecting what Xi will or will not do. And for all the sins that China do (or not done), the USA has already done it and done it bigger.

    Moreover, it’s amusing how often on one hand Americans go into histrionics that the ChiComs (outdated by the way) will take over the world, and on the other hand, how weak and fragile China is. Make up your minds, will ya?

  22. rgl says:
    @anonymous

    “What’ll it take to get the US out of there?”

    The domestic collapse of the US.

  23. @Baxter

    The stans seem fairly amicable when dealing with Moscow – unlike how Eastern Europe operates.

  24. @Caspar von Everec

    Tajikistan is part of the SCO though… It is harder for the US to get into there now. The SCO was formed for that purpose. The Northern Alliance has become friendlier with the Taliban now as Tajiks in some of their higher ranks.

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