Taliban Takeover in Kabul Creates Unease in Kathmandu
President Joe Biden’s announcement to withdraw all U.S troops from Afghanistan by September 11 not only marks the end of America’s longest fought war, it will also remove Taliban’s most formidable hurdle in its takeover of Afghanistan. While the move will create obvious geopolitical impacts and shifts in the region, analysts suggest possible spillover effects on Nepal as immediate neighbors and rivalling regional powers – China and India—have major stakes in the country. Therefore, analysts have stressed Nepal’s need to remain vigilant and watchful of further developments as war-torn Kabul houses not just strategic domestic vulnerabilities, but also a potential source of major regional security imbalance.
Despite not having direct stake in the issue, Nepal’s neighboring countries have stepped up their engagements amid fears of instability and terrorist spillover. Most notably, the recent engagement between Chinese officials and Taliban leaders amidst United States withdrawal of its troops. On July 28, the Chinese state news media showed China’s foreign minister, Mr. Wang warmly greeting Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the deputy leader of the Taliban. This marked the first time a Chinese official engaged with the Taliban in such a highly publicized manner.
In a statement put out by the China’s Foreign Ministry, Wang Yi acknowledged Taliban as a major political and military force in Afghanistan that has an important role to play in reconstructing the country. The statement also said that the Foreign Minister requested Taliban leaders to make good on negotiated peace deals and urged all factions in Afghanistan to make progress on reconciliation and establish a broad and inclusive political structure. He also stressed that there should be a push for cooperation between Afghanistan’s neighboring countries to bring peace and stability in Afghanistan. Chinese engagement with leaders involved in an international conflict of this magnitude is unprecedented and has invited international attention. Following the event, the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken acknowledged China’s possible involvement in Afghanistan as a positive development during his visit to India. Russia and China announced that their partnership was the best in history and went beyond military and political alliance. The US and its western allies have issued statements criticizing China of coordinated cyber-attacks.
China’s move to engage Taliban leaders has also been perceived as to mitigate a possible security threat. While China only shares a small portion of the border with Afghanistan along the Xinxiang province, the area is host to Uyghur extremists that has been operating from the Afghani side. Therefore, a possible spillover is also a concern for China.
Furthermore, China has investment interests in Afghanistan wherein a rare earth element used in the manufacturing of mobile phones has been found. China has been given the responsibility to extract the element along with preexisting deals on construction of roads and other infrastructure with little progress. American presence in Afghanistan had facilitated Indian investments, but Chinese investment of Belt and Road initiative had failed to pick up momentum. However, the withdrawal of all US troops may be the beginning of China’s foray into the country.
Security and military sources in India fear terrorist spillover into a fragile Kashmir as Kabul braces for Taliban’s inevitable rise and power capture. Experts anticipate the reemergence of Pakistani terrorist groups like Lashkar- e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and the emboldening of Kashmiri militancy in the region. Furthermore, instability in Afghanistan would plunge the country into chaos which could result in the displacement of Afghans, creating a refugee crisis. Nepal has been host to Taliban and Islamic militant forces in the past and given the largely unregulated border with India and weak surveillance system, Nepal cannot rule out the impact. Analysts have suggested that it is essential that Nepal strengthen its surveillance systems for those coming into and leaving the country, and have also stressed the need for coordination among Nepali security forces to combat terrorism and protect national security. Furthermore, the safety of Nepalis living and working in Afghanistan is also a primary concern in an event of Taliban takeover. With the deadline of US troop’s withdrawal barely a month away, instability in the country could have serious ramifications on regional peace and security as a whole and Nepal may not remain unaffected as long as neighbors – India and China – continue to raise the stakes.
An international conference on regional connectivity in central and South Asia was held in Uzbekistan highlighted the growing clout of China and India’s dissatisfaction. India is concerned about land access to Afghanistan, which it says is hindered by Pakistan. It has good ties with Iran and has supported a port in Chabahar, which faciliates access to the sea for central asian countries. India is critical of China and Pakistan, implying Chinese projects of connectivity are not based on economic viability and financial responsibility as they create debt burden.