Afghanistan: A Geopolitical Timeline
The seizure of power by the Taliban in Afghanistan and the shameful flight of the Americans and their allies require a broader survey of fundamental changes in world geopolitics. Afghanistan has been an indicator of these changes over the past 50 years. It was with him that the fractures in the global architecture of the world were associated. Of course, this was not the cause of geostrategic transformations, but rather a screen on which, more clearly than anywhere else, the fundamental changes in the world order were reflected.
Islamic fundamentalism in a bipolar world
Let’s start with the Cold War and the role of the factor of Islamic (primarily Sunni, Salafi) fundamentalism in it. Sunni fundamentalism (both Wahhabism and other parallel forms of radical Islam – prohibited in the Russian Federation ), in contrast to the more complex and controversial geopolitically Shiite one, served the West to oppose left, socialist or nationalist secular, and most often pro-Soviet regimes. As a geopolitical phenomenon, Islamic fundamentalism was part of the Atlanticist strategy, working for Sea Power against the USSR as an outpost of Land Power.
Afghanistan was a link in this geopolitical strategy. The Afghan branch of Islamic radicalism came to the spotlight after the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. By this time, a civil war had already broken out in Afghanistan, where the West and it’s then unconditional allies – Pakistan and Saudi Arabia – supported just Islamic radicals against moderate secular forces inclined to an alliance with Moscow. There were no real liberals or communists there, but there was a confrontation between the West and the East. It was the Islamic fundamentalists who spoke on behalf of the West.
When Soviet troops entered Afghanistan, the West became even more active in supporting Islamic radicals against the “atheist occupiers.” The CIA brought Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda (an organization banned in the Russian Federation) to Afghanistan, which Zbigniew Brzezinski openly encouraged to fight the communists.
We postpone this period of the 80s on the geopolitical timeline: Afghanistan in the 80s was a field of confrontation between two poles. Secular leaders relied on Moscow, the Mujahideen on Washington.
The withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan by Gorbachev meant the end of the Cold War and the defeat of the USSR. The capture of Kabul by rival mujahideen factions and the execution of President Najibullah in 1996 – despite the chaos and anarchy – meant a victory for the West. The defeat in the Afghan war was not the reason for the collapse of the USSR. But this was a symptom of the end of the bipolar world order.
Islamic radicals in a unipolar world: unnecessary and dangerous
The second geopolitical decade in our timeline falls on the 90s. At this time, a unipolar world order or unipolar moment was established (C. Krauthammer). The USSR is disintegrating, and the Islamist forces are actively trying to operate in the former Soviet republics – primarily in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The Russian Federation is also becoming a war zone for pro-American Islamic radicals. First of all, this concerns Chechnya and the North Caucasus. The West continues to use its allies to attack the Eurasian pole. In a unipolar world, the West – now the only pole – finishes off (as it seemed then, irreversibly) a defeated adversary by old means.
In Afghanistan itself, in the 90s, the rise of the Taliban (an organization banned in the Russian Federation) begins. This is not just one of the directions of fundamentalism, but it is also the force that unites the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan – the nomadic Pashtun tribes, the descendants of the Indo-European nomads of Eurasia. Their ideology is one of the areas of Salafism, close to Wahhabism and Al-Qaeda ( organizations banned in the Russian Federation). The Taliban (an organization banned in the Russian Federation) are opposed by other forces – primarily Sunni, but ethnically excellent – Indo-Europeans, Tajiks, and Turkic Uzbeks, as well as a mixed Iranian-speaking people – Hazaras professing Shiism. Taliban (an organization banned in the Russian Federation)advancing, their opponents – primarily the Northern Alliance – retreat. The Americans stand behind both, but the Northern Alliance is looking for pragmatic support from yesterday’s enemies – from the Russians.
In 1996, the Taliban (an organization banned in the Russian Federation) took Kabul. The United States is trying to improve relations with the Taliban (an organization banned in the Russian Federation) and conclude an agreement on the construction of the Trans-Afghan pipeline.
During the 90s, Russia, the former pole opposite to the West in a bipolar world, is constantly weakening, and in the conditions of the growing unipolarity, radical Islamism, nurtured by the West, becomes an unpleasant burden for it, less and less relevant in the new conditions. However, the inertia of Islamic fundamentalism is so great that it is not going to disappear at the first order from Washington. Moreover, his successes are forcing the leaders of Islamic countries to embark on the path of independent politics. In the absence of the USSR, Islamic fundamentalists begin to perceive themselves as an independent force and, in the absence of an old enemy (pro-Soviet leftist regimes), turn their aggression against their yesterday’s master.
Rebellion against the master
The second decade of our timeline ends on September 9, 2001, with a terrorist attack on New York and the Pentagon. Responsibility for it lies with Al-Qaeda (an organization banned in the Russian Federation) , whose leader is in the hands of the Taliban (an organization banned in the Russian Federation) in Afghanistan. Once again, Afghanistan turns out to be a monitor of a radical change in the world order. But now the unipolar pole has an extraterritorial enemy is Islamic fundamentalism, which theoretically can be everywhere, and therefore, the United States, as the only pole, has every reason to carry out an act of direct intervention against this ubiquitous and nowhere fixed enemy. For this, the West does not need to ask anyone else’s permission. Russia at that time still appears to be a weak and disintegrating misunderstanding.
From this point on, the American neocons have declared Islamic fundamentalism – yesterday’s ally of the West – as their main enemy. A direct consequence of this is
- the invasion of the United States and allies into Afghanistan (under the pretext of capturing Osama bin Laden and punishing the Taliban who sheltered him – an organization banned in the Russian Federation ),
- the war in Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein,
- the emergence of the “Greater Middle East” project, which presupposes the destabilization of the entire region with the alteration of borders and zones of influence.
Russia then does not prevent the American invasion of Afghanistan.
This is how the story of the twenty-year presence of the US Armed Forces in Afghanistan begins, which ended yesterday.
Afghanistan and the decline of the Empire
What happened in these 20 years in the world and in its mirror – in Afghanistan? During this time, the unipolar world, if not collapsed, then at least entered the stage of accelerating disintegration . Under Putin, Russia strengthened its sovereignty so much that it coped with the internal threats of separatism and destabilization and returned as an independent force to the world arena (including the Middle East – Syria, Libya, and partly Iraq).
China, seeming to be completely absorbed in globalization, has proved to be an extremely skillful player and, step by step, has become a gigantic economic power with its own agenda. Xi Jiangping’s China is a restored Chinese Empire, not an externally controlled Asian periphery of the West (as it might have seemed in the 90s).
At this time, the status of Islamic fundamentalism also changed. Less and less often, the United States used it against its regional opponents (although sometimes – in Syria, Libya, etc. – they still used it), and more and more often anti-Americanism came to the fore among the fundamentalists themselves. Indeed, Russia has ceased to be a stronghold of the communist atheistic ideology and rather adheres to conservative values, while the United States and the West continue to insist on liberalism, individualism, and LGBT +, making this the basis of their ideology. Iran and Turkey have moved closer to Moscow on many issues. Pakistan has forged a close partnership with China. And none of them was any longer interested in the American presence – not in the Middle East, not in Central Asia.
The complete victory of the Taliban (an organization banned in the Russian Federation) and the flight of the Americans means the end of the unipolar world and the Pax Americana. As in 1989, the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan meant the end of the bipolar world.
Monitoring the future
What will happen in Afghanistan in the next decade? This is the most interesting thing. In a unipolar configuration, the United States did not retain control over this key geopolitical territory. This is an irreversible fact. Much now depends on whether a chain reaction of disintegration for the United States and NATO begins, similar to the collapse of the socialist camp, or the United States will still retain a critical potential of power in order to remain, if not the only, but still the first player on a global scale.
If the West collapses, then we will live in a different world, the parameters of which are difficult even to imagine, let alone forecasts. If it collapses, then we’ll think about it. It is more likely that it will not collapse so far (although who knows – Afghanistan is a mirror of geopolitics, and it does not lie). But we will proceed from the fact that for the time being the United States and NATO remain the key authorities – but already in new – in fact, multipolar – conditions.
In this case, they have only one strategy in Afghanistan. The one that is quite realistically described in the last (8th) season of the American spy series “Homeland”. There, according to the scenario, the Taliban (an organization banned in the Russian Federation) approach Kabul, and the pro-American puppet government flees. Against the paranoid and arrogant neocon imperialists in Washington, the representative of realism in International Relations (Henry Kissinger’s movie double) Saul Berenson insists on negotiating with the Taliban (an organization banned in the Russian Federation) and try to redirect them again against Russia. That is, all that remains for Washington is to return to the old strategy that was tested in the conditions of the Cold War. If it is impossible to defeat Islamic fundamentalism, it is necessary to direct it against its opponents – new and at the same time old. And above all against Russia and the Eurasian space.
This will be the Afghan problem in the next decade.
Afghanistan: a challenge for Russia
What should Russia do? From a geopolitical point of view, the conclusion is unambiguous: the main thing is not to allow the American (reasonable and logical for them and for attempts to maintain their hegemony) plan to come true. For this, of course, it is necessary to establish relations with that Afghanistan, which is about to be established. The first steps in negotiations with the Taliban (an organization banned in the Russian Federation) have already been taken by the Russian Foreign Ministry. And this is a very smart move.
In addition, it is necessary to intensify the policy in Central Asia, relying on other centers of power seeking to increase their sovereignty.
This is primarily China, which is interested in multipolarity and especially in the Afghan space, which is part of the territory of the One Road – One Belt project.
Further, it is very important to bring our positions closer to Pakistan, which is becoming more and more anti-American every day.
Iran, due to its proximity and influence on the Khazoreans (and not only), can play a significant role in the Afghan settlement.
Russia must certainly protect and further integrate Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan into the military-strategic plans of its allies, as well as Turkmenistan, which is in geopolitical lethargy.
If the Taliban do not harshly expel the Turks by virtue of their participation in NATO, then consultations should be established with Ankara.
And perhaps most importantly, it is very important to convince the Gulf countries, and above all Saudi Arabia and Egypt, to refuse to play again the role of a submissive instrument in the hands of the disappearing American Empire, which is tending to decline.
Of course, it is desirable to muffle the semantic noise of overt and covert foreign agents in Russia itself, who will now begin to fulfill the American order in different ways. Its essence is to block Moscow’s implementation of an effective geopolitical strategy in Afghanistan and to disrupt (or at least postpone indefinitely) the creation of a multipolar world.
We will see the image of the future and the main features of the new world order in the near future. And again everything is in the same place – in Afghanistan.