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Recent Developments in Afghanistan Prelude to Rise of Extremism in Neighboring Regions

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Pir-Mohammad Mollazehi
Expert on Indian Subcontinent & Middle East Issues

Following the recent extensive and coordinated attack by the Taliban group on the northern Afghan city of Kunduz, the true nature of its conquest by the Taliban and possible withdrawal of Taliban forces from the city have been in doubt. The reason for this situation is the conquest of the city by the Taliban forces almost without any resistance from government troops, and subsequent resounding reaction shown by the central government of Afghanistan, as well as the NATO and American forces, and bombardment of what was described as Taliban’s positions, and the group’s possible withdrawal to areas around the city, that is, the same areas where they were present in the past year without seeing any serious reaction from the central government. At the same time, the Taliban released a video showing how people of the city welcomed their forces when they entered Kunduz. Widespread support for Taliban in northern part of Afghanistan, which is not a traditional habitat for the Pashtun ethnic group and most of its population is made up of Tajiks and Uzbeks, is greatly in doubt. As a result, this development should be handled with care and the invasion of Kunduz by the Taliban militants and their possible withdrawal from the city must be assessed in more depth. Through such an approach, a few scenarios could be raised:

1. A deal between the governor of Kunduz, who was in Tajikistan at the time of attack, and the Taliban;

2. An initiative by the central government to force the United States and the NATO to keep their forces in Afghanistan;

3. A deal among Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, the United States and part of the government in Kabul with the goal of transferring this extremist group toward Central Asia; and

4. Lack of any deal, in which case, the fall of Kunduz could be considered as an independent move by the Taliban and a show of force to send a message to the government, ISIS, and all those within the Taliban group, who have not endorsed the group’s new leadership yet.

There is substantiating evidence for each and every one of these scenarios, regardless of real reasons behind developments in Kunduz, its consequences can meet some of the expectations of the national unity government of Afghanistan. The capture of Kunduz in a rapid operation by the Taliban has given the upper hand to opponents of withdrawal of the US and NATO forces from the country and, most probably, presence of the American and NATO soldiers in Afghanistan will no longer remain limited to training Afghan troops.

In addition, through their onslaught on Kunduz, the Taliban sent the message that they are still a consolidated group and enjoy higher operational power than the past under the new leadership. The fact that the conquest of Kunduz, has been the most important measure taken by the Taliban during 14 years that they have been ousted from power following the United States’ invasion of the country, is per se conveyor of this message from the Taliban to their opponents. By conquering Kunduz, even if temporarily, the Taliban also sent the message that ISIS has not been totally successful in attracting radical Islamic groups in Central Asia and part of those forces are still united with the Taliban. This issue will probably have more lasting effects on future development in Central Asia and this is why one can talk about another important scenario, which is the possibility of a bigger deal among Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, the United States and part of the national unity government in Kabul. It has been said that Pakistan’s intelligence service, ISI, which is the main center of power in the country, has at times entered into some sort of clandestine deals with global power sources, especially the United States, in order to save Pakistan in critical times.

In this deal, Kunduz is supposed to be the center and the capital city and springboard of the extremist current toward Central Asia, Muslim regions of Russia, Chechnya, Ingushetia, Dagestan and finally, Xinjiang Province of China and Uyghur ethnic group. What makes this issue more complicated is that both the Taliban and ISIS enjoy enough capacities and potential to enter this game. Pakistan stands out as the axis of this scenario, but Saudi Arabia will also play a prominent part in this regard. According to this scenario, the jihadist school of thought, which is a combination of Hanafi - Dewbandi groups, on the one side, and Salafi - Wahhabi - Takfiri current, on the other side, is to return to its roots and look for the most prominent example of infidelity in Russia and China, while forgetting about the People of the Book in the West. The Salafi - Wahhabi - Takfiri current had previously changed course in line with al-Qaeda’s approach, thus, considering the Western world as infidel, as a result of which, when dividing enemies into far enemy and close enemy, they had given priority to fighting the far enemy, that is, the United States and Europe.

ISIS and the Taliban are main candidates in this scenario and perhaps even some form of unwritten division of labor would be worked out between them. It is possible for ISIS to focus its hostility on Iran and Shias as the main enemy and, as such, concentrate the bulk of its power in Helmand and Farah provinces of Afghanistan along Iran's eastern border in order to mount pressure on the Islamic Republic. In the second stage, this scenario may move toward east - toward tribal regions that are located on the two sides of Durand Line between Afghanistan and Pakistan and close to India - with the Taliban and their Uzbek and Tajik allies making Kunduz the center of their extremist current which would aim at security domains of Russia and China. Throughout this deal, Pakistan will remain as the main pivot of developments in South Asia and will gain more importance and a bigger role in renewing rivalries between the United States and Russia. This new role would be similar to the role that Islamabad played during the Cold War era, which would help Pakistan to be, at least, one step ahead of India, which is believed to have usurped Pakistan’s position in the region due to its close ties with the United States.

In the meantime, the important point for Iran is concentration of ISIS in Helmand. ISIS’ effective presence in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province will put pressure on the Islamic Republic of Iran to make a tough choice. In other words, it would have to either get along with the West or take part in a more serious union with Russia and China. Under these conditions, ISIS will be used as an strategic tool to stoke Shia-Sunni war. Therefore, at this sensitive juncture, the Islamic Republic of Iran must remain vigilant in order not to be drawn into other country’s playground unwillingly and unwittingly.

Key Words: Afghanistan, Rise of Extremism, City of Kunduz, Taliban Forces, NATO, US, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, ISIS, Shia-Sunni War, Iran, Russia, China, Central Asia, Mollazehi

More By Pir-Mohammad Mollazehi: 

*Middle East Facing an Ambiguous Future: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Middle-East-Facing-an-Ambiguous-Future.htm

*ISIS Turning into a Threat to Saudi Arabia: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/ISIS-Turning-into-a-Threat-to-Saudi-Arabia.htm 

*King Salman Changing Title, Prelude to Fundamental Changes in Saudi Arabia: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/King-Salman-Changing-Title-Prelude-to-Fundamental-Changes-in-Saudi-Arabia.htm 

*Photo Credit: Stars and Stripes

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