After Withdrawal: How China, Turkey, and Russia Will Respond to the Taliban

Considering the hasty advance of the Taliban in Afghanistan it has to be understood that there is support on the ground for this group and it’s leadership among the mass populace.

The US did nothing to impede this re establishment from taking place likely because they have their own reasons for staying out of the fray.

Interesting oped on 3 other players of influence below:

War on The Rocks- Excerpts

An old proverb says that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” but the success of Taliban forces in wresting control over most of Afghanistan from the government of President Ashraf Ghani may complicate matters for three countries whose relationship with the United States is always fraught, and often antagonistic. Leaders in Beijing, Ankara, and Moscow likely shed no tears while watching Ghani’s American- and NATO-backed regime crumble, taking with it any lingering hope that the two-decade mission in Afghanistan could create in the troubled country a durable regime sympathetic to America and the West. But the rise of the Taliban creates its own set of challenges for leaders in China, Turkey, and Russia, each of which see themselves as important regional powerbrokers.

China and the Taliban: A Match Made Under Heaven?

Having cultivated a good relationship with the Taliban for the past decade, and with a recent high-profile official visit by a Taliban delegation led by the group’s number two leader Abdul Ghani Baradar on July 28, Beijing sees itself as having finally bet on the right horse in Afghanistan. Since the Taliban’s takeover of the country, China has demonstrated an unprecedented level of positive reception, political endorsement, and diplomatic support of the Taliban. However, there are ferocious debates ongoing in China as to what the best strategy is moving forward vis-à-vis its poor, unstable, and destabilizing neighbor.

Having proclaimed the Afghan Taliban a “critical military and political force in Afghanistan,” China’s abandonment of the former Ghani government, and of its balancing diplomacy, was swift despite high-level engagement with both parties as recently as July. Beijing has not moved to recognize the Taliban, or the Taliban-led regime, yet. However, such recognition is implied in the many messages Beijing has sent. On Aug. 18, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson subtly commented that recognition of a government must wait until after the government is established, implying that, after the Taliban establishes its government, China’s recognition will ensue. One day later, the foreign ministry complimented the Taliban’s “good, positive and pragmatic behaviors” and called for the international community to abandon its stereotyped perceptions of the organization.

Beijing appears to have concluded two preliminary assessments about the future.

The first is about the Taliban’s victory and its sustainability. There may be pockets of territory and opposition forces that remain outside the Taliban’s control, but Beijing doesn’t see them as posing critical challenges….. (I’m not so sure that is Beijing’s view)

The second concerns the Taliban’s improved behavior. China sees the Taliban as becoming more rational and pragmatic, based on the group’s recent outreach to neighboring countries and the policies it has announced so far, including its vow to respect women’s rights. The implication of the two assessments is that Chinese leaders believe the Taliban is here to stay and is no longer as radical and extremist as it was 20 years ago. Translating this belief into practical policies, Beijing will likely give the Taliban the benefit of the doubt and endorse the group as long as it does not repeat anything outrageous….

Interestingly, a sharp difference of outlook exists between strategists and country/regional experts. Strategists see Afghanistan as a golden opportunity for China to expand its influence and replace the United States as a responsible and effective leader to help the country. As argued by Zhou Bo, a retired People’s Liberation Army senior colonel, China is ready to step in to fill the void left by the United States and exploit Afghanistan’s natural resources and critical location for the Belt and Road Initiative. In this blueprint, if China treads carefully and supports the Taliban at this opportune moment, there is a potential for China to engineer and create useful loyalty in Afghanistan as a strategic asset.

However, many country and regional experts have major reservations over this bold proposal. Having long witnessed the endless conflicts, ferocious tribal politics, religious and ethnic divisions, and economic difficulties of Afghanistan, they advocate for a sober understanding of Afghanistan’s fame as a  “graveyard for empires” and a much more cautious attitude toward any hasty adventures. Mei Xinyu, a prominent economist from the Ministry of Commerce, has argued that, after the Taliban takeover, China should not rejoice over the post-U.S. Afghan economy and should refrain from large equity investment. Ye Hailin, a veteran South Asia expert at the China Academy of Social Sciences, quickly questioned the Taliban’s ability to absorb the consequences of its easy and swift military success. Most people in this group advocate for China’s “constructive involvement” in Afghanistan, but with a thoughtful approach against hasty decisions to rush into the country.

Turkey: The Middle Man of Europe?

The Turkish government has adapted to changing events in Afghanistan and is prepared to de facto recognize the Taliban and engage with the new leadership in Kabul to advance its own interests. Before the rapid collapse of the Afghan army and the Ghani government, Turkey had sought to formalize its presence in a post-American Afghanistan. To do so, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan sought to walk a fine line of engagement with the United States and NATO, on the one hand, and seeking Taliban acquiesce to a long-term Turkish role on the other.

I know some would disagree with me however time and time again I’ve found that Turkish and Russian leadership, both, operate in a similarly pragmatic fashion.

Turkey’s engagement with Washington revolved around a (US) request for the Turkish military to retain a non-combat presence at the Hamid Karzai International Airport, where it has had soldiers based for more than a decade. These soldiers would help the post-U.S. withdrawal Afghan government run the airport, including to help oversee flight operations at the only international airport in the country. From the outset of these negotiations, the Turkish government demanded financial compensation from NATO and the United States to subsidize the mission and requested that a contingent of American combat forces remain at the base to protect it from external attacks. Ankara had also requested a European presence, approaching both Hungary and Georgia to deploy forces, according to interviews with NATO officials.

Ankara also sought to negotiate with the Taliban, working with its two allies, Qatar and Pakistan, to win support from the group before finalizing the agreement to take over airport operations. Turkey’s engagement with the Taliban before the fall of Kabul foreshadowed Ankara’s policy decisions following the Taliban’s takeover of the country. Since the fall of Kabul, the Turkish-NATO agreement to run the airport after the completion of the withdrawal has collapsed. Ankara, however, has proposed a similar agreement to the Taliban, offering to operate the airport and provide technical support if the Taliban leadership expresses interest in working with Ankara. The Taliban turned down Ankara’s offers to retain troops at the base, and Turkish forces began their withdrawal on Aug. 25. Despite the withdrawal, the Turkish leadership has retained an interest in retaining a civilian presence in the country and is continuing to negotiate with the Taliban about retaining a presence at the airport, with some international support.

The US requested agreement fell apart, possibly before it had ever been realized. Turkey made an offer to the Taliban they turned down the offer, but, Ankara continues to negotiate a deal on retaining civilian presence in the country some presence at the airport.

Erdoğan’s de facto recognition of the Taliban is part of a broader strategy linked to longstanding Turkish foreign policy and tethered to negative domestic feelings about irregular migration.

Afghanistan- Birthing a New Order– Weaponized migration was mentioned specifically regarding Turkey’s stance.

The AKP has rapidly begun to build a wall along its border with Iran, matching the wall it has built on its border with Syria, and has signaled to European and Russian leaders that it will not serve as a way station for Afghan migrants.

A Dual Track Approach From Moscow: Containment and Engagement

With the recent Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, Russia finds itself in somewhat familiar historical territory. Moscow is no stranger to Afghanistan, having fought its own bloody war there for 10 years, from 1979 to 1989. Yet, from a Russian perspective, this Taliban conquest is markedly different from when Taliban forces took over the country in the mid-1990s. Russia’s ambassador to Afghanistan reported from a recent meeting with the Taliban that they see relations with Russia as very friendly and have taken up guard outside of the Russian embassy. A Taliban spokesperson claimed that they have “very good relations with Russia.” The contrast with Western reactions, seeing the Taliban’s ascendance as a marker of defeat in the conflict, places Russia’s strategy in stark relief.

What is Russia looking for specifically? No spread of instability from Afghanistan to bordering Central Asian states, no terrorist attacks against Russia from groups based in Afghanistan, and no support for radicalism in Russia. As the takeover appeared imminent, a Taliban delegation visited Moscow in July to assuage Russian concerns on these grounds. At the meeting, Russia’s envoy Zamir Kabulov emphasized the importance of tensions not “spreading beyond the country’s borders” and claimed he had received assurances from the Taliban that they wouldn’t violate the borders of Central Asian states or allow the use of their territory for attacks against Russia. Moscow would also like to see an inclusive government formed, but, in truth, it cares less about the internal workings of Afghanistan and has few interests in the country. An inclusive government would make the Taliban regime less of a pariah state, render it easier to engage, and perhaps present other opportunities. Russia would also like to see a reduction in drug trafficking headed north, but this is a tertiary goal.

Moscow had opened channels with the Taliban as far back as 2015 and has held multiple rounds of inter-Afghan talks in the capital since 2018. While Russia had justified this reengagement based on a common goal, the fight against the metastasizing Islamic State-Khorasan Province, it was also hedging against the Afghan government, assuming it might fall whenever U.S. forces withdrew. These ties only grew more visible and stronger in recent years, though Russia is unlikely to have much trust in Afghanistan’s new rulers. The Russian government did not care for the U.S.-backed regime, but significantly, Russia also has no alternative options to dealing with the Taliban. Ironically, the Taliban came back quite stronger in 2021 than it ever was in 2001. Forces opposed to the Taliban in the Panjshir valley are now mounting a resistance, but Ahmad Massoud, son of the famed mujahedeen fighter Ahmad Shah Massoud, is not a serious challenger to Taliban control of the country.

Massoud may not be a serious challenger, but, ISIS-Khorasan will fill that role

Khorasan Appears/Reappears in Afghanistan!

Russia also seeks to deter further Taliban encroachment, containing their movement to Afghanistan. Moscow held several recent military exercises in Central Asia, including a joint exercise with Tajikistan and Uzbekistan on the Afghan border. The message to the Taliban is for them to not overplay their hand and pursue any ambitions beyond the Afghan border, which Moscow has signaled will be fiercely defended. Across the way is the 201st Russian military base, a sizable force responsible for backstopping Tajikistan’s security forces. Hence, Russian forces are forward deployed in the region and can facilitate the arrival of further troops from its Central Military District, or supporting airborne units. Russia has substantial capacity for power projection in the region, exercises with Central Asian states regularly, and could respond quickly to a military crisis, perhaps in collaboration with China.

Nearby Turkmenistan is a well-armed hermit kingdom, featuring a personalized authoritarian regime, and it has amicable relations with the Taliban. Here Russia’s task is made easier in terms of local capacity. Central Asia today is not composed of newly independent states, or weak teetering regimes, but rather authoritarian governments that have proven capable of maintaining independence and securing their own interests among intervening external actors. Some have undergone power transfers, and the region as a whole is more stable and consolidated than it was in the 1990s. As Alex Cooley writes, “far from a political vacuum, there is a patchwork of structures that Central Asian actors are increasingly convinced they should use to govern the region.”


All three countries are adopting certain hedging strategies. Among the three, China appears most eager to venture into Afghanistan, followed closely by Turkish eagerness to retain a presence at the airport. Turkey, it appears, is the only one of the three eager to have a military presence in the country. However, Chinese enthusiasm is still subject to strong calls for caution. There is a similar dynamic in Turkey, where the population is concerned about an open-ended military deployment to support the airport but is also determined to stem illegal migration. If the Taliban’s victory proves unsustainable, China and Russia will most likely join hands to develop a common security strategy to seal off any spillover effect from Afghanistan. Recent proposals of building a buffer zone in Tajikistan reflect preparations in this direction. The Turkish strategy is not necessarily in tension with those of China and Russia, but it is more focused on cultivating economic links and retaining control over the airport. Between China and Turkey, policy consultations are likely, but cooperative actions do not appear imminent. Moscow won’t be returning anytime soon, with the 1989 Soviet withdrawal still fresh in the collective memory of its political leadership. Engagement and containment characterize Russia’s approach, with Moscow well-positioned to coordinate a regional security response.

There is much more at the opening link. As always share some thoughts!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *