Part 3 – Where External Actors Have Influence


The US military withdrawal from Afghanistan is about to usher in a new political and social order in the country. Earlier in my three-part blog series, I detailed Four possible scenarios For the future of Afghanistan and internal factor analysis shaping their odds. In this last article, I analyze where outside actors wield influence.

There is no outside solution to the violence in Afghanistan and the rise of the Taliban. International involvement is likely to affect developments in Afghanistan on the sidelines. Various countries have some ability to shape the Afghan government, the Taliban, and the influencers in the country. However, their actions are likely to intensify, rather than calm, violence, even though all regional actors are against civil war, the Islamic Emirate, or the government run exclusively by the Taliban.

Afghan government

The United States has the greatest influence over the Afghan government because of its funding of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF). Cutting this funding will lead to a rapid collapse of the ANDSF and a rapid expansion of the Taliban’s power. Washington also helps fund the civilian administration in Afghanistan on which any future government will depend.

However, this leverage did not enable the United States to organize a provisional unity government though Spring 2021 efforts by the Biden administration To do this to facilitate the Kabul-Taliban negotiations. The Taliban are not interested in early elections – the maximum that President Ashraf Ghani was willing to consider. Instead, it seeks to bypass and make irrelevant the Afghan government and negotiate a new division of power with Afghan power brokers.

Nor has the Afghan government shown a serious interest in negotiating with the Taliban over the past 15 months. Any deal the Taliban was willing to accept required major concessions from Kabul. Instead, the Afghan government has attempted to involve the United States in the fighting in Afghanistan until an arrangement is worked out that preserves its power and the existing political order—that is, until the Taliban is defeated, however many years it may take.

The influence of the United States during the past two decades has not translated into shaping the government in Afghanistan More inclusiveness and accountability, less corruption and predatory governance.

The United States and other international actors could attempt to shape the Afghan government’s attitude toward negotiations by offering or denying visas and asylum to key members of the government and possibly threatening the confiscation of their financial assets illegally obtained abroad. Of course, the latter requires having portfolios of cases that can be charged against members of the government.

Influence brokers and Afghan militias

These same tools—the provision of visas and asylum or denials, threats of confiscation of illicit funds abroad, judicial indictments preventing them from accessing their assets abroad and the international financial system—also apply to Afghan power brokers when they decide to defect from the government, hold on to it, or form Militias to fight the Taliban.

For now, the United States and its partners should push to keep the Afghan political landscape as united around government as possible and create disincentives for separate compromise deals with the Taliban. International actors should provide support and facilitate negotiations between Afghan influencers and the Afghan government, such as the recent efforts to establish a National Unity Council. The more Afghan political actors present a united front against the Taliban, the fewer political concessions they will need to make to the Taliban. However, even now, with the country on the edge of the abyss, the National Unity Council talks – like many previous iterations – remain mired in narrow political calculations. With the Taliban gaining significant military momentum, international influence vis-à-vis Afghan power brokers will weaken.

International actors can also support Afghan power brokers or independent militias. Russia and Iran have taken this path, with Russia supporting the buildup of militias in the north for several years, and Iran nurturing and training Afghan Shiite fighters known as Fatemiyoun. With different levels of training and organization from the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Some Fatemiyoun Those who fought in Syria have returned to Afghanistan. More could come back and start fighting the Taliban.

At the same time, Russia and Iran concluded separate arrangements with the Taliban, providing them with weapons and intelligence. Iran also hosts Taliban leaders and their families.

The United States has created anti-terror militias in Afghanistan, many of which have Participate in gross human rights violations And push the local population into the hands of the Taliban. In the context of a protracted civil war, or if the Taliban violates its counterterrorism obligations to Washington by allowing terrorist attacks against U.S. assets or allies, the United States can direct these militias to fight the Taliban.

China has not planted proxy militias in Afghanistan, despite its relentless pursuit of growing local Afghan government officials along Afghanistan’s borders with China and Pakistan. Instead, it also made Peace with the Taliban, relying on Taliban assurances to preserve Chinese economic interests and restrain Uyghur militants in Afghanistan from aiding the repressed Muslim Brotherhood in Xinjiang. Beijing can also try to revive a Military base in Badakhshan province Not to fight the Taliban, but to prevent militancy from spreading to China.


The most strategic international intervention would be to shape Taliban rule. Besides fighting terrorism, the first element will be to urge the Taliban to avoid excluding ethnic minorities from the new regime. The international community should also strive to reduce human rights losses. Especially women’s rights.

Tools for formation include denial or issuance of visas, removal or imposition of international financial and other sanctions, release of captured Taliban fighters, and delivery or denial of international aid to a future government including the Taliban.

Aid is an especially useful tool because the Taliban do not want to destroy Afghanistan economically as they did in the 1990s, when they deliberately destroyed the remnants of a war-torn economy and administration in order to “cleanse” Afghanistan.

Another critical shaping tool is educating the Taliban about the requirements and modalities of modern governance, including donor aid requirements with regard to social inclusion, women’s rights, and financial accountability. Taliban leaders are flying around the world to show the group what kind of country it can have while maintaining donor assistance and communicating clearly. What are the red lines that cannot be crossed? – Like completely denying women access to education, health, and jobs as happened in the 1990s, or brutalizing Shiites – could have had obvious effects.

While the international community could demand the Taliban reduce violence, such a goal is highly unlikely for at least a year. Pakistan, too, will not be able to influence the Taliban, even if it seeks to do so. The Taliban are well aware that their military ascendancy increases their internal negotiating leverage. Even Pakistan’s fear that a US military disengagement from Afghanistan might cause the US to stop focusing on Pakistan, while cultivating India as a partner against China, does not give Islamabad a chance. magical stick To stop the military push to the Taliban.

Ironically, of course, the Taliban’s access to a formal government in Afghanistan could reduce Pakistan’s influence over the group, especially if influential international actors maintain working relationships with the Taliban. Even before the rise of official power, if the Taliban could move their political leaders and their families from Pakistan to Afghanistan, Pakistan’s influence would decline. The balance of power between Pakistan and the Taliban will also be affected by the internal rebalancing of power within the Taliban between Quetta and Peshawar Choras, Haqqani, the military commander. Mullah Muhammad Yaqoub, Older leaders like Mullah Abdul Ghani Bardarand field leaders of the Taliban.

Civil society

In addition to the formation of the Taliban, Afghan mediators, and the government, the international community should maintain financial support for Afghan civil society (in addition to providing asylum visas for those under threat). It should insist on involving civil society in negotiations on the country’s new arrangements. seeking to expand any Taliban influence brokers deal It is important to include some civil society and women’s voices.

realistic results نتائج

While international actors wield influence, none of their instruments can sustain Afghanistan’s current constitutional order and system of rights. While money incentives, international recognition, sanctions, and occasional military strikes can make the Taliban more compliant with their counter-terrorism obligations and less authoritarian and exclusionary in their rule, they will not turn the Taliban into pro-democracy champions of women’s rights.

A base that would be bolstered by a Taliban-led government would remain authoritarian—perhaps an Iran-like arrangement for a supreme religious council with imperfect but competitive elections for an executive branch under a technocratic administration.

If key members of the international community, including the US Congress or members of the European Union, cannot afford to provide financial assistance to a future Taliban-led Afghan government, they could undermine any nascent authoritarian stability.

After twenty years of intervening to remove the Taliban from power, the best we can do is limit the loss of rights currently afforded to Afghans – while being careful not to exacerbate and prolong the country’s civil war.

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