Escalating-Level of Crisis and Widening Geo-political Divides Hitting Vulnerable Afghan People Hard
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Issue Vol. 37.4, Oct-Dec 2022 | Date : 29 Dec , 2022

Afghanistan is riven by geopolitical divides, conflicts, and instability for decades which inflicted incalculable damage and the unflinching testimonies of a future of constant crises and devastating risks. The exasperating and disappointing situation is furthermore exacerbated in the past year as the situation has been grave with level humanitarian crisis, economic losses, crippling sanctions, violations of human rights and women’s rights and security threats spell catastrophe for the region and beyond.

Russia’s intervention in Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989 and the US intervention in Afghanistan after September 11, 2001 terrorist attack has fractured Afghanistan’s political institutions, economy, and society and turned into a battlefield for factional rivalries and a breeding ground for religious fundamentalism and terrorism activities.

The US departure in August 2021 was marked with chaos, dismay, and dismantling of the people’s hope as the Taliban returned to power without giving any consideration to forming an all-inclusive government- the security, development and guarantees of the Doha peace agreement, an essential aspect in the development of Afghanistan’s democracy, was breached as the legitimately elected Government of Afghanistan was not incorporated in the talks and lastly, it turns out to be invalid.

Today the crisis in Afghanistan is deeply interlinked not only with the Afghan people but taken with the transnational overtones of entrenched global terrorism.

Security Challenges

This is the history of Afghanistan’s tumultuous journey-from conflict to a humanitarian disaster.  The Taliban-led government is struggling to gain international legitimacy since it took over Afghanistan last year.

After the Taliban government regained its power last year, Pakistan achieved its long-sought ‘strategic depth’ aspirations by installing Pakistan friendly government comprising of Haqqanis, consequently, however, the relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan have deteriorated to a large extent with Haqqanis controlling Kabul which ought to agree with other groups that did not happen. Now there is a frequent exchange of fire between Pakistani troops and the Taliban at the Pakistan-Afghanistan border which is the Durand Line.

One of the pressing issues in Pakistan is with Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which has created instability. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) declared an indefinite ceasefire in June to facilitate peace talks being brokered by the Afghan Taliban and negotiated by the Haqqani which did not last long and after the end of one month, the factions resumed fighting.

The Taliban is combating insurgencies concentrated in the east and north of Afghanistan and also harbouring foreign militants such as the slain al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri presence in Kabul is a harsh fact that proves the Taliban’s dishonour of the Doha Peace agreement of 2020.

The National Resistance Force (NRF) headed by Ahmad Massoud, is trying to find sources to fight the Taliban. However, in this process, the peace in the northern region of Afghanistan will be harshly impacted besides the vulnerable minorities- Tajiks, Shia and Hazaras being killed. As per Human Rights Watch, the Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISKP), the Islamic State’s (ISIS) affiliate in Afghanistan, has repeatedly attacked Hazaras and other minorities at their mosques, schools, and workplaces- thus bearing hallmarks of crimes against humanity.

Governance Challenges

The Taliban did not form a legal framework to form constructive governance since it has come to power; they have dismantled the Afghan parliament and dissolved the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commissions, the functioning judiciary and offices dedicated to the management of parliamentary affairs. Imposing a harsh interpretation of Sharia Law, referring to the “eye for an eye” justice in Islamic law, last month, Taliban supreme leader Hibatullah Akhundzada ordered judges to enforce Islamic Law that includes public executions, stonings and floggings, and the amputation of limbs. Recently an Afghan man convicted of murder charges was executed in public. This drew massive international condemnation of their regressive and abusive practices. Reports of serious human rights violations committed by the Taliban are of great concern.

Women have faded out from the public spaces and the strict edict to cover head-to-toe hijab, banning education for girls, and removing women from their work reverberates and disincentives them from making the necessary concessions for women’s rights.

As the Taliban failed to induce broad-based participatory governance after creating an interim government, as a result, it underscored to address the core issues of the devastating humanitarian crisis, political chaos, management crisis, and dramatic effect on its deteriorating economy.

Economic and Humanitarian Challenges

Afghanistan’s economic problem is threatened by non-recognition of the government and secondly, there is no growth-‘No growth, no trade’. It is predicted that Afghanistan’s economic growth path is not likely to improve soon as 24. 4 million Afghan people are suffering from acute poverty and food insecurity. Although Afghanistan is receiving humanitarian support from the international community that would not be sufficient to cope and bring it back onto a sustainable recovery path.

Geo-political Divides

The interest of the major powers; the US, Russia, China and the regional countries in Afghanistan does not seem to match which may result in major geo-political conflict in Afghanistan. Afghanistan having suffered terrorism for almost 4 decades will not be able to sustain this.

The geopolitical divide has emerged because the US has a different interest and the Russians and the Chinese have different interests. The Russian and Chinese interest is that the terrorism in Afghanistan should not spill over into Xinjiang, Central Asia and Russia. On the contrary, the US, though it has departed from Afghanistan, seems to be interested to maintain its presence in Afghanistan. It seems that the US is working on a different agenda.

The terrorism which seems to be growing in Afghanistan probably arises from a lack of control by the Taliban, and no law enforcement agencies rules which can control this. It happened during the Russian phase of the Afghan war and the American phase of the Afghan war, this could turn out to be a geopolitical war in the third country which is Afghanistan.

The recently held conferences- Moscow Format, No Money for Terror (NMFT), Herat Security Dialogue, National Security Advisor, Ajit Doval’s meeting with the Central Asian counterparts, Special Representative for Afghanistan, Thomas West’s visit to Japan, India and UAE were organized for a coordinated international breakthrough to contain terrorism in Afghanistan.


The Shia-Sunni divide has fueled conflicts in the Middle East and Muslim countries. The consequences have widened fissures in Afghanistan too as we see growing sectarian violence after the withdrawal of US forces. These simmering tensions have existed in Afghanistan for many centuries. Iran’s role as a protector of Shiites remains significant in Afghanistan and its interest is to protect its eastern borders, preserve the flow of water from Afghanistan, counter narcotics and deal with the Afghan refugee population. Iran’s religious bonding influence has allowed exercising its influence on key ethnic groups of Afghanistan, Tajiks, and Hazaras.

There have been many internal dialogues and counter-violence measures between the two sects to reduce the tensions, however, still today the divide exists and if it continues it could lead to escalating violence and an increasing threat to international peace and security.

Reports emerged that the Sunni radical group, including the Islamic State, stepped up attacks in Kabul on Hazaras, a Shiite ethnic group. In the largest assault, on May 8, 2021, eighty-five mostly female Hazara students were killed in bombings outside the Sayedul-Shuhada high school in the Barchi neighbourhood.

In the context of Afghanistan, Iran supported the Northern Alliance during its fight against the Taliban along with other countries- India, Iran, Russia, Tajikistan, Israel, Turkmenistan, the United States and Uzbekistan. Today, the Taliban fears that it will lose control of Afghanistan if it deviates from the Sunni line. And as a result, the other elements or the Shia elements particularly the Uzbeks and also the Tajiks have not been given due recognition in governance and other spheres. Reports also emerged saying whatever aid is being provided to Afghanistan is being given to their Sunni community and the others are not benefitting from it. Therefore, Iran is sceptical about Afghanistan and its future actions. There is no friendly relationship between US and Iran.


In the congressional hearings held in September 2021 on Afghanistan, U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley said that “we need to fully examine the role of Pakistan sanctuary in understanding how the Taliban prevailed”. This signals the long history of Pakistan’s equation and long-standing ties with the Taliban.

Pakistan was not aligned with US interests earlier but now the relations have grown closer in recent times. It appears Pakistan’s relations with the US have reconciled in the recent past. After four years, Pakistan is off the grey list of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) in October this year.

There is a conflict between Afghanistan and Pakistan because of the terrorism of TTP, if that is the case, the conflict in Afghanistan and Pakistan can grow because of this fact- Pakistan can use their group of terrorists in Afghanistan and Afghanistan can use its terrorist in Pakistan with a result the regional conflict and the regional situation will remain tense.

In November, Pakistan’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Hina Rabbani Khar visited Afghanistan and met with the Taliban leaders probably to impress upon them the need to restrain TTP and facilitate a peace agreement between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Central Asia

Central Asia provides a buffer to China as well as Russia from Afghan militants.  The Afghan militants (Taliban militants) have links with the Muslim elements in the Fergana Valley (in Central Asia lies mainly in eastern Uzbekistan, but also extends into southern Kyrgyzstan and northern Tajikistan) and besides that, they have links with other elements. Therefore, Central Asia particularly, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan are quite concerned, China and Russia are also concerned because militant elements are coming and occupying Central Asia and are likely to create problems in Xinjiang and Russia. So they are strengthening the SCO mechanism and they had military exercises incorporating the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) military exercise. The 2022 Kazakh unrest in January 2022- ‘Color Revolution’ is a wary about efforts being made to effect regime change in Central Asia.


China’s main concern is the security of Xinjiang and ensuring that the fallout of militancy from Afghanistan does not come into this region through Central Asia.


India has been trying to support Afghanistan as it has a close relationship with the people of Afghanistan. And would not like to lose accordingly it is supporting Afghanistan in the form of aid –wheat supply, medicines, and other essential support. The infrastructure projects which India has initiated which were in progress are stalled.  There was a proposal by the Taliban to reactivate all the developmental projects in Afghanistan which have been stalled for the past year.

India’s main concern is Pakistan-based terrorists; Laskar-e-Taiba and Jishe- Mohammad establishing their training camps in the eastern parts of Afghanistan and they are using Afghanistan to plan and execute terror activities in India.

Way Forward

The international community needs to impress upon the Taliban to have an inclusive government. Second, there is no question of any place for outside militants to come and carry out attacks on other areas or expand other areas. Third, the international community needs to view the people differently from the government. There is a need for the international community and aid agencies to assist the people of Afghanistan. And the UN needs to work with the Taliban to allow these UN agencies to move into Afghanistan, the interiors of Afghanistan and help the people and their security must be ensured. The Taliban Government must be persuaded to open a girls’ school in Afghanistan.

Using every avenue of political dialogue and diplomacy a positive hope can be built to make progress on all the fronts of inclusive governance in Afghanistan. To fully utilize the opportunity to strengthen the democracy of Afghanistan and work in line with the rule of law through concrete measures is a guide for the way forward by the Taliban-led-Government to achieve the long-term development priority of the Afghan people. The rule of law and full respect for human rights are indispensable for ensuring security and sustainable development.

Irrespective Afghanistan remains peaceful or whether it becomes prosperous in days to come, the question is, can the Taliban be considered a legitimate government of Afghanistan? The legitimacy of any government is not decided by the organization but by the people. And one should also reflect on what will be the effect of recognizing the Taliban Government in the future, especially, when it comes to terrorist elements trying to grab power in various parts of the world. By adopting a decentralized mechanism minorities can be included in Afghanistan’s governance

Last but not least Afghanistan must not be used as a geopolitical tool to advance any kind of interest that will further jeopardize the prospects for peace within and outside Afghanistan. This is a definitive moment and cannot be left for tomorrow, urgent actions are required at all fronts to create hopes for the future generation of Afghanistan, wheeling into progress and steering a new course. The people of Afghanistan urge global solidarity, collective action, commitment and mutual trust from the international community.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Neelapu Shanti

is a New Delhi based International Affairs, Researcher, Writer, Journalist and an Indo-Afghan Analyst. MA in International Relations and Post Graduate in Journalism.

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