The US-Taliban Peace Agreement is under pressure due to tensions between both sides while regional powers are jumping in to exploit the volatile situation, argues Azzam Muhajir. The long time observer of Afghanistan’s current affairs offers an analysis of economic and strategic opportunities for regional and international cooperation, rather than malicious interference.
After twenty years of war and countless complicated sessions of negotiations, the two major sides in Afghanistan’s conflict reached a consensus to put an end to the longest war in American history. On 29 February 2020, the Taliban and US signed an agreement in Doha, Qatar, in the attendance of representatives from more than 28 countries, whose presence was intended to serve as witnesses to the deal.
The agreement, broadly violated by the US side, according to statements issued by the Taliban, contains some key elements, which can be summarised into four and considered as the essence of the document. The first two, the prevention of the use of Afghanistan’s soil by any individual or group against the security of the United States and its allies, and the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan. These elements are interrelated, therefore they fall into one category. The other two, the start of intra-Afghan negotiations and a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire, make a separate section.
While The US and the Taliban have signed the agreement, there are still disputes between the two sides. The Taliban accuse the US of violating the agreement countless times by carrying airstrikes, whilst the US blame the Taliban for not cutting ties with Al-Qaeda. Exploiting the ambiguity of the situation, the Biden administration has authorised itself to review the agreement, while some regional players are trying to jump into the field. The pioneer is Afghanistan’s Western neighbour: Iran, which has been interfering in Afghanistan’s domestic affairs for a lengthy period.
The latest findings and the acknowledgments by the Iranian officials show that Iran is backing Shia Fatemiyoun militia in Afghanistan. Giving an interview to Afghan journalist Lotfullah Najafizada, the Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif openly expressed Iran’s willingness to regroup its Shia Afghan militant forces to combat terrorism in Afghanistan. Zarif’s statement caused a stir in Afghanistan and around the world. During the interview, he referred to the Fatemiyoun as ‘the best force with a military background against ISIS’. More recently, an advanced anti-aircraft weapon was used by the indocile Shia militia of Abdul Ghani Alipour to down one of Afghan government’s helicopters in Behsud district of Maidan-Wardak province. Many observers believe that the weapon is most likely provided to the militia by the Iranians. The hashtag “We Are Alipour” began trending soon afterwards, heavily promoted by what seemed to be Iranian bot accounts, indicating government approval, and convincing many as to Iranian designs in Afghanistan.
India is another country in the region not willing to see a stable and independent Afghanistan. In pursuit of its interests in uncertain circumstances, New Delhi is trying to cause turbulence and instability in Afghanistan. The more the security conditions in Afghanistan are fragile, the better for India to pose a threat to its arch rival Pakistan. In the previous years, India has, multiple times, provided Kabul’s forces with military equipment to further fuel the flames of war. When the US-Taliban Peace Agreement was signed, and the US announced that it was intent on withdrawing all foreign forces from Afghanistan, the former governor of Balkh province, Atta Mohammad Noor, visited India to seek its assistance in forming a militia to combat the Taliban. On 21 October 2020, the Hindustan Times revealed India’s long standing overall support of the Northern Alliance against the Taliban, writing: “Noor is the third leader from the erstwhile Northern Alliance, which was backed by India in its campaign against the Taliban, to visit New Delhi in recent weeks.” This is, by all means, a blatant interference by India in Afghan internal affairs. Noor, including some others, still have India’s hand on their backs. This stance of India has caused major concerns for Pakistan as well. The Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, shared his concerns with some Afghan politicians during their visit to Pakistan in recent months. Imran Khan said that Pakistan’s only wish from Afghanistan is to be assured that its territory will not be used by India against Pakistan’s interests.
US-China rivalry in Afghanistan
Aside from Iran and India, the United States and China have their own political and economic interests in Afghanistan. Despite Afghanistan being a landlocked country, which adversely impacts its economic situation, it sits, according to US-geologists surveys, on three trillion-dollars of wealth. This consists of raw materials such as industrial minerals, rare earth oxides, hydrocarbons, and other precious metals. In an era of tough competition between the US and China, competitive countries have little choice but to enrich themselves with rare earth elements indispensable to their industry, economy and military.
Afghanistan could present the global market with disruptive new supply of raw materials indispensable for production of electric vehicles, laptops, mobile phones, lithium-ion batteries, satellites, aerial drones, guidance systems, and hypersonic weapons. Afghanistan is a unique country in the world that can quench the thirst and fulfil the demands of advanced technologies. This was further emphasised by the former US President Donald Trump, as he bluntly spoke of mineral extraction with his Afghan counterpart in 2017.
For the Americans, Afghanistan presents an opportunity to reshape the market for rare earth substances and shift production dependence away from China. The Pentagon, in particular, is apprehensive of its defence technology relying heavily on Chinese minerals. As such, American policymakers have been trying to secure new suppliers to preserve their domestic supply chains. In 2015, the United States won a case against China at the World Trade Organization, which forced Beijing to remove its export quotas on rare earth elements. It was a US victory against China, but a minor one. Other than China, Washington still needs to find alternative sources for its long-term necessities, and Afghanistan might be the key to the fulfilment of these needs. Besides other motives, America’s economic interests related to Afghanistan were the dynamics that grabbed it into the longest war of its history, costing over 700 billion dollars and the lives of 2,300 American troops.
Chinese interests in Afghanistan
Meanwhile, China is interested in Afghanistan’s resources to maintain its market share in rare earth metals. For the time being, Beijing is the top supplier in the market, but its own rapidly growing domestic demands due to renewable consumption have reduced its exports. Thus, to meet its domestic needs and supply foreign associates, China seeks to find alternative sources and exploit them. Afghanistan not only presents a new market but also provides new opportunities, and its adjacency to China makes it the perfect partner for Beijing. As such, in 2007 Kabul signed a $3.4 billion deal with two Chinese state-owned entities to mine Afghanistan’s largest copper deposit at the site of Mes Aynak. The Chinese companies planned to extract the copper worth about $100 billion, but it was then delayed due to archaeological discoveries.
To conclude, it is fair to say that global powers have always made Afghanistan a battlefield for their rivalries, which has caused the country both human and economic losses, let alone benefiting it. But, luckily, all have faced strong resistance from the Afghans, and no invader has found the Graveyard of Empires a soft and convenient bed. Afghans are increasingly aware of the nature of their compatriots, their aspirations and opportunities. Therefore, as a nation, Afghans insist on all regional and international actors to stop dreaming of bridling this nation by force and the barbarism of modern warfare.
History is not unjust. To know the consequences of invasions and power users in Afghanistan, policymakers would be better served by studying the land’s history, so they may avoid committing any possible mistake in judging this piece of land. The path ahead for Afghanistan is one of regional economic and political cooperation instead of force and nefarious interference.
Afghans implore on all sides to seek a path of diplomacy and cooperation creating mutually beneficial agreements. If the regional and international powers are just intent on availing from Afghanistan no matter by what means, undoubtedly, they will repeat the failures and humiliations of their predecessors.
The views expressed in this article, like other articles by guest contributors, are the author’s own, and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Afghan Eye.