The End of the Line

A collection of analysis pieces on the events in Afghanistan

The onrush of events in Afghanistan, with the precipitous departure of the US after 20 years of war and with the fall of the Abdul Ghani government, has generated a wealth of analysis by Asia Sentinel correspondents.

Because the situation is so fluid, we are publishing three of these analyses at once by our correspondents Salman Rafi Sheikh, a Pakistani academic who regularly covers Afghanistan for us; John Elliott, our South Asia correspondent, who previously covered the region for the Financial Times for 25 years and who is the author of the highly-regarded “IMPLOSION: India’s Tryst with Reality”; and Murray Hunter, an academic and development specialist who has been involved with the region for 40 years.

Can the Taliban Contain the Jihadis?

Controlling lower-level fighters may be a problem

By: Salman Rafi Sheikh

With Kabul’s fall, the Taliban’s 20-year long march to victory has finished. Questions remain, however, about consolidating power domestically and gaining legitimacy regionally/ and internationally, and crucially over how much hospitality they show 1to jihadis such as al-Qaeda and Islamic State.

While the US, UK, and EU rapidly closed their Kabul embassies, the fact that China, Russia, and Pakistan have decided not to do so shows the degree of confidence the close neighbors have in the Taliban so far. However, given the numerous policy statements the Taliban have issued in the past, Afghanistan will experience a hardcore shift to the orthodox version of Shariah rule, a future that could be problematic.

Already, as the New York Times recently reported, a week in Kunduz has produced an automatic shift to Islamic rule, with all things considered ‘un-Islamic’ being banned and surgically removed. The victors are inherently biased in favor of ‘Islamic rule, which means they have enough space to accommodate similar ideologies and groups politically, militarily, and ideologically – a real problem for the Taliban-friendly countries to deal with...

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Afghanistan's Panjshir Resistance Reemerges

Legacy of anti-Taliban Ahmad Shah Massoud lives on

By: John Elliott

Afghanistan’s northeastern province of Panjshir, which became famous when its local warlord, Ahmad Shah Massoud, held out against both the Soviet occupation of the country in the 1980s and the Taliban in the 1990s, is becoming a focal point for resistance against the new Taliban rulers who have a grip on the rest of the country.

Ahmad Shah Massoud’s son Ahmad Massoud and brother Ahmad Wali Massoud – along with Amrullah Saleh, a former Massoud aide and Afghanistan’s senior vice president – have formed the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan in the Panjshir valley and have warned of possible war.

Twenty years ago, on August 13, 2001, I conducted the last television interview given by Ahmad Shah Massoud, the internationally famous 48-year old leader of the Northern Alliance, the main Afghan resistance group that prevented both Soviet troops and the Taliban gaining a foothold in the valley...

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Afghanistan and Regional Geopolitics

Uncertain power balances in the wings

By: Murray Hunter

The US withdrawal from Afghanistan has left a massive geopolitical vacuum. Due to the suddenness of the collapse, it’s now uncertain what exactly will happen, and which nations will be the winners or losers. For the US, the withdrawal has freed up resources and stopped a financial sinkhole. However, with no more physical presence in Afghanistan, other dynamics will come into play, changing the regional balance of power.

China has the most to gain with its presence throughout Central Asia. It has a strategic partnership with Pakistan and is developing one with Iran resulting from the misplaying of the situation by the Trump administration and the cancellation of the 2015 Iran Nuclear Treaty, which forced Tehran to seek oil markets outside the sanction boundaries.

Beijing is also working with Russia under the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which Iran is joining. With many Central and South Asian countries as members, this block could act as a buffer to US trade and diplomatic influence across the region...

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