Afghanistan will be a testing ground for the union between China and Russia against the US, says expert

The main opponents of the United States on the global board, Russia and China have armed their diplomatic corps and their media with criticisms of the American intervention in Afghanistan, after Joe Biden’s announcement about the withdrawal of troops from the country and the resumption of power by Taliban.

Among the accusations are that the US government has not ensured the preservation of human rights in the country for 20 years and that, in fact, the interests were outside the pretext of fighting terrorism.

Russia was quick to label the 20-year operation in Afghanistan “another mistake on the US interference list.” On Aug. 17, two days after the Taliban took over Kabul, the country’s deputy foreign minister, Alexánder Grushkó, recalled the US failures in Yugoslavia and Libya and said the intervention in Afghanistan represented “a billion of wasted dollars” and ended with a “logical result” of 71,000 civilian deaths, poverty and malnutrition.

María Zakharova, spokeswoman for the Ministry, declared on August 19 that Western countries “do not abandon their countless attempts to blame anyone and invent explanations for their own difficulties.” The diplomat also held former Afghan President Ashraf Qani, seen as an ally of the United States, responsible for the Taliban’s success: “Over the past three years, it has had every opportunity to ensure the success of the inter-Afghan process and facilitate the gradual formation of a inclusive government, but that opportunity was lost”.

Chinese diplomat Wang Yi telephoned US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken on Aug. 17 to tell him that “the mechanical copy of an imported foreign model cannot be easily adapted for use by a country with a history, culture and completely different national conditions”. The foreign minister has also encouraged the Taliban to “establish an open and inclusive framework in accordance with their own national situation” and signal recognition to the group as the country’s official government, despite serious allegations of human rights violations.

For Diego Pautasso, Ph.D. in Political Science from the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul and author of the book China and Russia in the post-Cold War (Juruá Editora, 2011), the role of these powers grows for Afghanistan in a scenario of strong discredit on the performance of the United States.

In an interview with capital letter, the professor perceives a capacity for dialogue in relation to the Taliban, especially on the part of the Chinese, through strategies different from those used by the Americans. While Washington prefers tactics such as military intervention and economic blockade, it remains for Beijing to bet on the possibility of motivating the new Afghan commanders to moderate themselves in exchange for possible economic advantages.

“The question is to prove that the only way to stabilize is via development and integration”, analyzes the researcher. “The Chinese strategy is the most pragmatic: engaging, moderating and, based on that, establishing terms of coexistence.”

The Taliban, which ruled the country between 1996 and 2001, is also a consequence of US investments in rebels to stop the Soviet Union’s presence in the region in the last century.

Although the Taliban has for now ceased to be a functional ally for the White House, an eventual destabilizing role in the region going forward could hamper the interests of the Americans’ main adversaries. This is because Afghanistan’s location is in the strategic environment of the two Asian countries, a situation that can define, for example, civil conflicts in important regions and trade route arrangements.

For Russia, disturbances in Afghanistan could hit its Muslim provinces, examines Pautasso. In the case of China, there are concerns about the issue of Xinjiang, where there are separatist movements, in a location very close to Afghan territory.

To neutralize possible upheavals, Russia is still evaluating the possibility of dialogue with the Taliban. For China, there is the prospect of including Afghanistan in the Silk Road megaproject, which has been negotiated since the Qani government, observes the professor.

See the full interview below.

Kabul, capital of Afghanistan. Photo: Wakil Kohsar/AFP

CC: What is Russia’s interest in putting itself at the forefront of accusations against the United States over the current situation in Afghanistan?

Diego Pautasso: There are several questions. The first one is as follows. The American narrative has been anti-Moscow and anti-Putin since the beginning of the century and tries to stick in Russia all forms of authoritarianism and expansionist behavior in the regional environment. Now, Russia is returning the narrative, showing that the United States is indeed responsible for these disruptive movements in the region, and that the human rights problem does not come with the Taliban, but from a previous cycle of destabilization caused by the war. global to terror. It is reacting to the American posture that tends to blame Russia for authoritarian behavior at home and abroad.

The bottom line is: although Trump and Biden have chosen China as the great enemy as the great challenger, Russia is the second country. And the Sino-Russian alliance is the worst possible scenario for the United States in the 21st century, and it is the scenario that is brewing. It seems to me that Afghanistan is a testing ground: on the one hand, the Americans, with their unsuccessful intervention strategy, and on the other hand, the attempt by China and Russia to engage Afghanistan, probably in the organization of Operation Shanghai and on the new Silk Road, overflowing the China-Pakistan economic corridor to its neighbor and seeking stabilization through regional development and integration.

If that works, we have two models of attempts to deal with international problems that could frame this dispute. The question is to prove that the only way to stabilize is via development and integration.

CC: What are Russian interests in Afghan territory? Furthermore, is it possible to compare the intervention of the Soviet Union to the intervention of the United States?

DP: The destabilization of Afghanistan or any other country in Central Asia will certainly hit the Muslim provinces of Russia, especially Chechnya. The regional environment is strategic, and Afghanistan is one of the main concerns of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Several meetings and documents were held dealing with the country, from the beginning. It is good to remember that the Organization was founded taking the fight against the three evils, terrorism, fundamentalism and separatism as its side. Obviously, Afghanistan is a pole that radiates this issue.

Regarding the comparison of the two interventions, I think that in both cases the export of models ends up being a problematic strategy in the scope of international relations. Both the Soviet Union and the United States intended, from a narrative perspective, to export models and establish a presence in other countries. This is the first thing in common.

The differences are pretty big too. The Soviet Union supported a revolution whose pillars were the secular state, universal education and agrarian reform. The United States, on the contrary, began the intervention by financing a terrorist group in the 1980s, and then made another intervention, against that same group, which ceased to be functional to American interests between 2001 and 2021. And most importantly: the Americans they spent 20 years in the country and delivered it with a lot more problems than when they took over. The substantial fact is that Afghanistan’s already fragile economy has become even more dependent on opium production.

Russian President Vladimir Putin. Photo: Alexei Druzhinin/Sputnik/AFP

CC: Why did China decide to recognize the Taliban as a government?

DP: In addition to the tradition of peace, there is the principle of self-determination. It is worth remembering that when Zhou Enlai proclaimed the five principles of peaceful coexistence in 1955, the issue of peace and self-determination has been very important for Chinese foreign policy, although they have been derailed at times in the period of the Cultural Revolution.

That said, the alternatives for China would be: recognizing the government and trying to dialogue to moderate it, including to engage it in some initiatives of interest to China; intervention, and the American experience shows that this is very difficult and problematic; and the other option, which is a very recurrent model on the part of the United States for dealing with countries with which it has no affinity, is isolation, embargo and sanction, another strategy whose successes are very low – usually you strengthen the national elite , which has this as an element of cohesion against a foreign element. It didn’t work in Iraq, Korea, Cuba, anywhere.

The Chinese strategy is the most pragmatic: engaging, moderating and, based on that, establishing terms of coexistence. We disagree with almost everything, but what do we agree with? You take care of your own life, and you don’t intervene in our affairs, especially in the Xinjiang issue. Are you interested in being part of a Silk Road circuit? We are interested. What commitment do we want? That it is not a force for regional destabilization. And each one takes care of his square.

It seems to me the most reasonable and realistic policy, and more in line with the principles of the United Nations. “Ah, but human rights.” Well, human rights and internal choices are often treated in a hypocritical way. Saudi Arabia is also an emirate. If we take this rule for granted, the treatment given to Afghanistan cannot be very different from that given to Saudi Arabia. The West is baffled by what happens in Afghanistan, but it is not baffled by Saudi Arabia.

China’s President Xi Jinping. Photo: Reproduction

CC: Isn’t there something China can do to develop human rights policies in Afghanistan?

DP: Celso Amorim says a lot that you only get the interlocutor’s trust and, therefore, that he fulfills some agreements, if you actually produce affinity. How to ask for something more intimate without intimacy? First, you establish a dialogue of trust, then you say: look, I’m very interested in investing in rare earths and promoting regional development, but for that we need to moderate certain postures. Embargoing and putting the knife to the neck is not enough to ask for anything. China can dialogue with the Taliban in moderation, in favor of engagement, development and regional integration. Disruption and threat implode any possibility of moderation.

CC: The United States says it intervened in Afghanistan to fight terrorism. Were these your real interests?

DP: In an explanatory chain, what least explains is the capture of Osama Bin Laden and the fight against terror, because, if terrorism is organized in a network, there is no territorial intervention to fight it. Nobody intervenes and occupies a state to fight organized crime. Al-Qaeda is a multi-point network.

What explains the intervention in Afghanistan is the military-industrial complex, the expansion of the projection of American power in the 21st century, the gas routes and the encirclement of Russia and China. So much so that then comes the invasion of Iraq, which had nothing to do with al-Qaeda, nor with fundamentalist Islam. And then it’s Syria, and then it’s Libya, countries either secular or antagonistic to Al-Qaeda and the Salafis. Finally, Iran, of the “axis of evil”, is Shiite and has nothing to do with al-Qaeda’s Sunism.

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