After 20 years of the so-called “war on terrorism,” the United States fled Afghanistan in embarrassment and the Taliban returned to power. This change has not only completely changed the political landscape of Afghanistan, but also has a major impact on regional security and geopolitical relations. In this context, countries in the Middle East region can be described as “a few happy and a few sad.”
Iran: from enemy to partner
At present, Iran is widely regarded by the outside world as one of the “main winners” of Afghanistan’s changes. The withdrawal of US troops not only greatly improved the strategic security environment surrounding Iran, but also provided a huge opportunity for Iran to fill the power vacuum and become a “main player” in the situation in Afghanistan. As a neighboring country, Afghanistan was part of many Iranian dynasties in history, so the two countries have close historical and cultural ties. As Afghanistan mainly believes in Sunni Islam, as a Shia-dominated country, Iran sees itself as the “protector” of the third largest ethnic group in Afghanistan, the Hazara who believe in Shia. After Atta returns to power, whether Afghanistan will become Iran’s “second Iraq” is worthy of attention.
However, Iran and Atta were once hostile to each other. During the anti-Soviet “jihad” in Afghanistan in the 1980s, Iran sided with the “jihadists” out of anti-Soviet and religious factors. But after the withdrawal of the Soviet Union and the rise of the Taliban, Iran and Atta became hostile. Among them, sect differences are an important factor. In retaliation for Iran’s support of the Afghan “Northern Alliance”, which was then hostile to the Taliban, in August 1998, the Taliban killed several Iranian diplomats and journalists in Mazar-i-Sharif, causing the two sides to meet and almost broke out in large-scale military conflicts. . After the US military invaded Afghanistan in 2001, Iran even secretly provided support to the US in order to oust the Taliban. However, the world changes with time. As the conflict between the United States and Iran continues to intensify, the United States has become the common enemy of Iran and Atta, and the two sides have gradually approached. Driving the United States out of Afghanistan and eliminating the threat of US troops from the east has become the main goal of Iran’s policy toward Afghanistan. Iran has adopted a pragmatic policy towards Atta, actively contacting and providing assistance, and Atta has gradually become Iran’s “anti-US partner”.
However, Iran also has concerns about Afghanistan’s entry into the Taliban era. First of all, the future relationship between Iran and Atta is still hardly optimistic. Although the relationship between the two sides is not the same as it was 20 years ago, it is still unknown whether the two sides will confront again after the common enemy of the United States disappears in Afghanistan. What Iran is most concerned about is Atta’s attitude towards Shiites and the Persian-speaking Tajiks. At present, the Taliban’s attitude towards the Hazaras does not seem to have fundamentally changed. There is only one Hazara in the announced list of personnel of the interim government of Afghanistan, which probably does not meet Iran’s expectations. Secondly, Iran also faces a series of security challenges from Afghanistan. These include drug smuggling, terrorism, refugee issues, etc., if not handled properly, it will pose an important threat to Iran’s national security. At present, Iranian officials are generally cautiously optimistic about Atta, but internal controversy is large, and the voice criticizing the government for “appeasing” Atta is not small.
Qatar: A neutral mediator?
Qatar is also regarded by the outside world as one of the “main winners” of Afghanistan’s changes. There are three main reasons for this. One is that Qatar, as the “middleman”, is the main window for the international community to contact Atta. The Taliban’s political office in Doha, the capital of Qatar, is its only overseas window. The “Doha Dialogue” has become the main channel for the parties concerned to talk to the Taliban, and Qatar has therefore made “a great contribution” to the agreement reached between the United States and Atta. The second is Qatar’s “shine shine” in the US’s hasty evacuation. Without Qatar’s provision of aviation facilities and temporary accommodation of Western countries and Afghan diasporas, the United States may not be able to complete the withdrawal of its troops within the time limit. Therefore, the United States, France, Germany and other countries all praised Qatar. On September 6, US Secretary of State Blincoln even went to Qatar to express his gratitude. Third, by virtue of its good relationship with Atta, Qatar may maintain an important influence on the internal and foreign affairs of the Taliban regime, and become an important participant in the geopolitics of Afghanistan in the Taliban era. In this changing situation in Afghanistan, Qatar’s “small country and big diplomacy” has been fully demonstrated, its international status has been greatly improved, and its international image damaged by multiple crises in the past few years has also been restored.
After King Salman came to power in 2015, Crown Prince Mohammed Salman was determined to embrace “moderate Islam”, which caused ideological differences between Saudi Arabia and the Afghan Taliban and became one of the reasons why the two sides drifted away. The picture shows Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Salman.
However, Qatar has been actively investing in Afghanistan for many years and getting closer and closer to Atta, which may have “pan-Islamism” as a deep motivation behind it. In recent years, Qatar has replaced Saudi Arabia as one of the “main spokespersons” of the global Islamic conservatives. The approach of Qatar and Turkey, the deterioration of relations with Saudi Arabia, and the acceptance of members of the Muslim Brotherhood are all closely related to this religious identity. Qatar’s active participation in the changes in Afghanistan may not be as simple as its “neutrality” or “international mediation diplomacy”.
Turkey: From “snap game” to protagonist?
Turkey has always been very active in participating in Afghan affairs. For the past 20 years, as a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Turkey has been stationed in Afghanistan, trained Afghan military police and guarded Kabul International Airport. In addition, Turkey also participates in Afghan affairs through various channels. For example, it has extensive contacts with various factions in Afghanistan, including Atta, established a Pakistan-Afghanistan-Turkey trilateral summit mechanism, presided over the “Afghanistan Issue Istanbul Process”, and at the same time provided Afghanistan with its maximum overseas assistance. However, at this time Turkey is mainly carrying out operations in Afghanistan under the NATO framework.
However, as the U.S. military continued to withdraw, Turkey began to eagerly try to change from a “supporting role” to a “protagonist.” One of the important actions is that Turkey took the initiative to express to the Biden administration that it is willing to stay at the Kabul International Airport after other NATO countries withdraw, so as to establish escape routes for Western countries when they “as a last resort” to evacuate from Afghanistan. The United States appreciates the idea, and the two sides have conducted in-depth negotiations for this. However, the rapid defeat of the U.S. and the Albanian government forces “destroyed” this plan. Turkey proposed that the plan not only hopes to please the United States and establish an international image as a peaceful country, but also hopes to play a leading role in Afghan affairs in the future, thereby expanding its influence in Central and South Asia, and opening up the path from Afghanistan through Central Asia to Turkey. corridor. But from a deeper level, in addition to consideration of practical interests, Turkey’s actions on the Afghanistan issue are more of “neo-Ottomanism,” “pan-Islamism,” and “pan-Turkicism.” Up to now, Turkey has not given up its plans for Kabul Airport. As Atta opposed the continued presence of Turkish troops, Turkmen and Qatar proposed a new plan for operating the Kabul Airport-reassigning a Turkish security company to defend the airport. According to foreign media reports, Turkey intends to change the status of members of extremist organizations in the Syrian battlefield and recruit them to Afghanistan as employees of a security company to implement its plan. In view of Turkey’s role as a “spoiler” in many places around the world, the intention of this move is worthy of vigilance. After years of painstaking efforts, Turkey will play a certain role in Arab affairs in the future, but it will face great challenges to become a pivotal participant. It is too early to assert that Turkey will become the “major winner” of the changes in Afghanistan.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE: From close partners to indifferent old friends
In this change in Afghanistan, the performance of Saudi Arabia and the UAE has attracted special attention. After the crisis broke out, both countries closed their embassies and evacuated diplomats and nationals. This move is unusual among Islamic countries, because major Islamic countries such as Pakistan, Turkey, Qatar and Iran have not closed their embassies.
The reason is that the relations between the two countries and Atta have gradually drifted apart. On the surface, it seems that the two countries “cut off” their relations with Atta because of pressure from the United States. Twenty years ago, only three countries in the world recognized the Taliban regime, namely Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Pakistan. However, after the September 11 incident, Saudi Arabia and the UAE announced the severance of diplomatic relations with the Taliban regime under pressure from the United States. Since then, the two countries have followed the United States on the issue of Afghanistan. But from a deeper perspective, there are two key factors. One is ideological differences. After King Salman came to power in 2015, Crown Prince Mohammed Salman was determined to abandon “extreme Islam” and embrace “moderate Islam”, which caused ideological differences between Saudi Arabia and the Taliban. Saudi Arabia began to tie Atta with the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) and Lebanese Hezbollah, and labelled “terrorism”. The second is geopolitical competition. As Saudi Arabia’s geopolitical competition with Iran, Qatar, and Turkey gradually “hot” inside and outside the region, it is inevitable that Saudi Arabia will “break into another book” with Atta, which is getting closer and closer to the three countries.
Therefore, the current situation makes Saudi Arabia and the UAE very worried. This not only means that the two countries have lost their influence in Afghanistan and lost to their geopolitical rivals. At the same time, the conservative Taliban regime may also pose a political and religious challenge to Saudi Arabia, which is moving toward “moderate Islam” and is committed to modernization. In addition, the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan not only symbolizes that the overall situation for the accelerated withdrawal of the U.S. from the Middle East has been determined, but also highlights the unreliability of the U.S. military’s commitment to protect the security of allies, which makes Saudi Arabia and the UAE uneasy. For the two countries, how to ensure that Atta does not become an enemy and that Afghanistan does not become the sphere of influence of a major geopolitical opponent is already a thorny problem.
Israel: a worried bystander
Israel views the development of the situation in Afghanistan with an anxious mentality. There are three main reasons for this. First of all, what the United States has done is detrimental to Israel’s national security. The withdrawal of the United States from Afghanistan is part of the Middle East contraction strategy, which symbolizes that the US Middle East policy is undergoing fundamental changes after the Cold War. Israel has always regarded the presence of US troops in the Middle East as a key pillar of its security. Therefore, Israel has always treated the United States. The strategy is opposed. At the same time, the way the United States treats its allies also makes Israel uneasy. For the Afghan government, which has been vigorously supporting the government for 20 years, the United States will abandon it if it says it will abandon it. This approach chills the American allies, including Israel. Secondly, the “old enemy” Iran has benefited a lot from this change. In Israel’s view, the withdrawal of US troops will encourage Iran and strengthen its determination to resist the United States, and its regional ambitions will also expand. Third, Atta’s return to Kabul may encourage the anti-Israeli resistance movement and extremist forces. Israel is not only worried that the anti-Israeli forces everywhere will be inspired by Ata’s victory and imitate its struggle model, but it is also worried that Afghanistan after Ata’s return to power will once again become a “paradise” for global terrorist activities. After the U.S. keeps moving away from the Middle East, Israel may once again become the target of various anti-Israel extremist forces.
The countries in the Middle East have a strong sense of presence in this change in Afghanistan. This not only reflects the close geographical, historical, cultural, and religious ties between the Middle East and South Asia, but also highlights the significant increase in these two regions after the withdrawal of US troops. Geopolitical linkage, the transition from NATO countries to regional countries in Afghanistan affairs has become a new geopolitical reality. In the future, the competition among the three major countries in South Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East in Afghanistan may be the new normal in Afghan geopolitics. Among them, the role of the Middle East countries should not be underestimated.