Post-Afghanistan intelligence and geopolitics

Commentary: There are growing concerns in the U.S. and Europe that Russia and China will strengthen their presence in Afghanistan. At the same time, there is severe distrust between the U.S. and its European allies in the aftermath of the withdrawal

Post-Afghanistan intelligence and geopolitics

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The troop withdrawal has left Afghanistan in chaos, and the various intelligence agencies (including the Israeli and British ones) assess that geopolitical games are being played. The United States and Europe are worried that the People’s Republic of China and Russia will “control” Afghanistan.

Since the Taliban took over Kabul, the Western public has begun to maintain that the People’s Republic of China and Russia would benefit from the US disastrous failure.

As early as August 19, EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy Joseph Borrell threatened: “We cannot allow China and Russia to control the situation in Afghanistan”.

Just as the United States had withdrawn its troops from Syria and had not fully shouldered its responsibilities, it has failed to take care of European interests on both occasions, and the refugee problem has always fallen on Europe, as the United States is busy building the Mexican walls.

The Russian news agency Izvestia quoted Andrej Kortunov, Director of the Russian International Affairs Council, who said that if the so-called "control" of Russia and China brought stability to Afghanistan and prevented the emergence of the refugee problem, Europe should benefit from it.

Joseph Borrell sounded that "warning" in a speech to European Parliamentarians. He said that Western countries urgently withdrew their diplomats after the Taliban took power, while Russia and China would strengthen their presence in Afghanistan in the near future. They will not close their Embassies there, but expand their presence. This will change the geopolitical balance. "We must work with our allies, the USA and the UK, to step up diplomatic efforts."

Such a voice can also be heard in the United States. Fox News reported that Republican US Congressman Charles Chabert said President Biden's withdrawal would give the People’s Republic of China a stronger foothold in the region and hamper US interests abroad. "China will benefit from it. It has already done so. This is a tragedy and we will pay for it for several years and decades."

The German weekly 'Focus' reported that the USA and EU are not prepared to give up their geopolitical influence in the region. After consultation with the Member States’ Foreign Ministers, Joseph Borell said that the EU is willing to talk to the Taliban. The USA is not only worried about political games, but also about real “losses”.

According to Reuters, the Biden Administration is considering destroying US weapons depots with air strikes for fear that its own weapons left in Afghanistan might be used by the Taliban or militant groups to attack the USA itself, or be handed over to “adversaries” such as the People’s Republic of China and Russia. 

"The statement made by Borrell is surprising", Novosti commented. It reported that Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Gruško said that although the US military has withdrawn from Afghanistan, the West still considers this country a political target. In the zero-sum game, the Afghans themselves are considered last in line. Leonid Slutsky, Chairman of the State Duma’s Committee on International Affairs, refuted that any claim whereby "China and Russia are dividing up Afghanistan" is an attempt to divert attention from the failure of Western policy in Afghanistan. "What the EU should never do is continue to forgive the risky and selfish behavior of the United States."

The South China Morning Post in Hong Kong reported that, in a telephone conversation with First Secretary of State and Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Dominic Raab, Chinese State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi warned that Afghanistan should not be used as a geopolitical arena.

Dominic Raab further commented "that over the last two decades, the United States and Europe have spent billions of dollars in Afghanistan. That money could have completely turned that country into a garden, but instead it has become a hell. It is time for Western countries to accept the reality that the situation in Afghanistan has become a symbol of the collapse of Western ideology to export democracy by bombs". 

The USA and EU are worried about China: but what do the Taliban think?

Reuters reported that Taliban spokesman Sohail Shahin said in an interview that the People’s Republic of China played a constructive role in promoting peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan, and Afghanistan welcomed its contribution to the reconstruction of the country.

What about the allies? Prime Minister Boris Johnson waited 36 hours before talking to President Biden. According to a senior advisor on European affairs at the International Institute of Strategic Studies in London, it is doubtful that Biden will have the courage to respond to Russia or China, because US credibility is now down to zero. 

This distrust between the United States and its European allies is particularly severe. Several European officials and diplomats told CNN that they were shocked by President Biden's remarks. President Biden said that the White House's only interest in Afghanistan was to eliminate the terrorists who attacked the USA and prevent further threats to US territory. Europe, however, is now concerned about the humanitarian and political consequences of the massive influx of refugees. As an EU official put it: "When the USA changed its position on Syria, it triggered a crisis in Europe, not in its own country". And so it was with Afghanistan. The USA has broken up the situation, and Europe is picking up the pieces, as usual.

The British Daily Telegraph wrote that, at a critical moment, President Biden ignored the British Prime Minister's phone calls for 36 hours, causing an uproar in the public.

The report states that at 10 p.m. the following day when Kabul was taken over by the Taliban, the British Prime Minister tried to contact President Biden by phone, but he could not speak with him until 36 hours later. After answering the call, Boris Johnson urged President Biden not to relinquish the intervention in Afghanistan, obviously in response to Biden's assertion that the US mission in Afghanistan was not a nation-building one.

The US Political News Network said that a former UK Conservative Prime Minister described that situation as "unimaginable" in previous Administrations, including the Trump Administration. A British diplomat believes that President Biden is not so indifferent to Great Britain. It is better to say that President Biden is trying to play the situation down and avoid calling foreign leaders. Apart from Boris Johnson, the only foreign leader to whom President Biden has spoken since last Sunday is German Chancellor Angela Merkel. 

The US magazine Foreign Affairs commented that the Afghan crisis did not only reveal the US severe misunderstanding of the situation in Afghanistan, but, more worryingly, led current and former European officials and the public to wonder whether European governments and other American allies could trust any US government, be it the Biden Administration or a future Republican government.

Thousands of people waited anxiously outside the gate of Kabul International Airport, while Afghans with travel documents camped outside Taliban checkpoints and barbed wire.

The New York Times described the scene by wryly writing that the US military commander was negotiating daily with the Taliban personnel to ensure that the displaced people could reach the airport. An Afghan official told the Associated Press that, according to the victors' chief negotiator, Serajuddin Haqqani, the Taliban reached an agreement with the USA and did not intend to make any decisions on the new government before the complete withdrawal of US troops.

The Biden Administration has been called into question not only because of the chaotic withdrawal. The Wall Street Journal revealed that over 20 US diplomats in Afghanistan had sent a confidential telegram to Secretary of State Tony Blinken last month warning that Kabul risked falling to the Taliban shortly after the deadline for US troop withdrawal. That classified telegram provides the clearest evidence to date, indicating that the Biden Administration had received advance warning that the Afghan army might not be able to stop the Taliban offensive. 

CNN commented that the White House was facing its biggest crisis since President Biden took office. An aide to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that she had asked the White House to hold several briefings on Afghanistan, including a public video briefing for all House members and a face-to-face briefing behind closed doors the following day. This was because the USA had not started to evacuate the Afghans who had helped the USA during the period under consideration, which had become the issue of utmost concern to US Congress members.

The British weekly The Economist published an editorial stating that the disastrous defeat in Afghanistan was a harsh blow to the US status. Hence, it is not surprising that the USA has failed to turn Afghanistan into a democracy, considering that it has not even provided assistance to the few Afghans who had believed in the US “mission”.

Building a State in one's own image and likeness is difficult and hardly anyone imagined, from the outset, that Afghanistan would become Switzerland, for the reasons I have analyzed in some of my previous articles.

Nevertheless, President Biden - who has recently even fallen asleep while the Israeli Prime Minister, Naftali Bennett, was talking to him face to face - should have withdrawn from that country in a responsible and orderly manner, besides the fact that he did not even show any concern for the interests of both the Afghan people and the citizens who believed in the United States.

 

Professor Valori is President of the International World Group

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