Afghanistan: Taliban regaining control city by city

In Afghanistan, the Taliban captured five provincial capitals on the weekend, including Kunduz, an important trade hub near the border with Tajikistan. The advance was to be expected after the withdrawal of the US and Nato troops, commentators note, and warn against further inaction by the West.

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Zeit Online (DE) /

Kabul must not be taken

Money and condolences alone won't be enough here, warns Zeit Online:

“To avoid a humanitarian disaster of dreadful proportions, the war must not be allowed to reach the city limits of Kabul. There are already bombings, attacks and assassinations there every day, but no street fighting yet. The consequences would be horrific. If that happens the UN predicts one of the greatest disasters of recent times. But only new military aid, and yes, the renewed deployment of international military, can save the city from tragedy. ... But we won't help, we'll just give money. And dry expressions of sympathy from our foreign ministers. And negotiations that are only meant to feign action.”

Der Standard (AT) /

A foreseeable disaster

The return of the Taliban began even before the withdrawal of the US troops, Der Standard points out:

“The states that have been heavily involved in Afghanistan have accompanied their own helplessness with assurances about how much has been achieved in the twenty years of building institutions and fostering social development. The only hope is that the wheel cannot be turned back completely. ... Without the US, Nato will not be able to maintain a meaningful military presence in Afghanistan. The return of the Taliban had already begun long before first US President Donald Trump and then Joe Biden gave the signal to withdraw.”

Radio Kommersant FM (RU) /

Better to talk to the Taliban now

In Russia the Taliban are a banned organisation on the one hand, but on the other hand Russian diplomats receive their delegations for talks. Radio Kommersant FM understands Moscow's logic:

“It is based on hard geopolitical realities. The Taliban are not about to disappear; they're already on the borders of the ex-Soviet republics of Central Asia and will only strengthen their positions in the future. At some point the West will have to talk to them anyway. And that being the case, it would be better to do so now, while we have the advantage and can come across as a kind of 'good cop' and potential partner rather than as Western 'occupiers' or 'crusaders'.”

Milliyet (TR) /

A real threat to Turkey

Milliyet warns:

“The airport in the Afghan capital Kabul will [potentially] be guarded by Turkish forces. Because of this critical task and the accelerating migration from Afghanistan, the Taliban are at the top of the Turkish agenda. If Afghanistan once again becomes the epicentre of international jihadism, this combination could become an even more serious threat for Turkey. ... True, it no longer seems possible for IS fighters driven out of Syria and Iraq to seek refuge in Afghanistan. ... That's a plus. But for al-Qaida, whose wings have been seriously damaged, it's a different matter.”

Satori (LV) /

Ignorance is no solution

Even even after the end of the Afghanistan mission it is imperative that the West continues to show a global presence, web portal Satori points out:

“The terrorist threat will neither decrease nor increase. The region will continue to be a major contributor to migration flows because it doesn't matter whether people who go abroad in search of happiness do so out of fear of Islamic radicals or private feelings of desperation. ... One should not conclude from this that the result of Western missions shows that the West should completely ignore what's happening in other parts of the world. The West will continue to have its hands full in contributing to climate and environmental protection - and the pandemic problem.”

Neue Zürcher Zeitung (CH) /

Cultivate regional partnerships now

Russian economist Vladislav Inosemtsev admonishes the West in an opinion piece for the Neue Zürcher Zeitung:

“The withdrawal of the US and the other Nato states from Afghanistan will tear a gaping hole in the regional security structure. It is all the more important that the West now works directly with the regional powers. It will help the region free itself from its status as Russia's backyard. Given Russia's nascent cooperation with the Taliban and Moscow's geopolitical rivalry with Washington, it would be advisable for the West to cultivate diverse relations with regional partners like Kazakhstan. Once a security gap has been created in the heart of Eurasia, it will not be easy to close it again.”

Yeni Şafak (TR) /

Taliban just want to liberate their country

Turkish President Erdoğan has said that Turkey can negotiate more easily with the Taliban because it has no problems with their religious views. The Islamic conservative Yeni Şafak agrees:

“The faith is the same but the practice is different, and because of this difference, we definitely do not have the privilege of always placing ourselves above the Taliban. ... In fact, at the time of the US invasion, the Taliban formed a government that had been running the country for seven years. With the occupation, it went over to resistance. ... Its sole mission is to save its own country from occupation, and it seems that it has been successful in this regard. ... So on what just and reasonable grounds could Turkey treat the Taliban as terrorists?”

Yeni Şafak (TR) /

Taliban are not the only problem

Afghanistan is too interesting from a geo-economical point of view for the world’s great powers to ever leave it alone, comments Yeni Şafak:

“Afghanistan is very rich in natural resources. Russia is interested in the natural gas reserves in the north. China is interested in uranium, gold and iron, in addition to lithium, which is used for new generation technologies and in the automotive industry. And European countries also have their sights on its lithium resources, starting with Germany. ... Capitalism is always lurking in the wings, eager to spread its tentacles to even the most pristine spots of this earth.”

Politiken (DK) /

Stop states that help the Islamists

The Taliban are supported by Pakistan, notes Politiken, drawing parallels with Lebanon, which also threatens to descend into violence:

“For that reason the international community must put pressure on governments that speculate on fragmenting states or on promoting parallel societies there. Massive pressure must be exerted on Pakistan to stop the jihadists from trading in weapons and drugs with the Taliban in Afghanistan. Pressure must also be put on Iran to stop supplying weapons and money to Hezbollah in Lebanon and militias fighting against the governments in Beirut and Baghdad.”

Novaya Gazeta (RU) /

Paying the price for an apolitical army

Vasily Kravtsov, an expert on Afghanistan, explains in Novaya Gazeta why Afghan army soldiers are defecting to the Taliban:

“This result was to be expected with the system for building up the army that was put in place by the Pentagon. They did things the way they do them at home, because they think their system is the most effective. They relied on contracts without any consideration of the interests of the state or the people. ... This effectively turned Afghans into mercenaries in their own country. That's risky. Secondly, no political organs whatsoever were set up in the Afghan army. They implemented the principle of an 'army above politics and ideology'. No political or ideological work was carried out among the troops.” (UA) /

It's every land for itself

One lesson from the US withdrawal is that no country should rely too much on allies, comments Ilya Kusa of the Ukrainian Institute for the Future in

“Even if you have a reliable and strong partner ready to provide support, it is no substitute for your own forces. ... As soon as a state relaxes and passively waits for miracles from abroad, depending more and more on free aid or on loans, without contributing to strong structures itself, it becomes a suitcase without a handle that you will want to get rid of at the first opportunity. That's how it was with Afghanistan.”

El País (ES) /

Silent disaster for the EU

The withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan also highlights how far the European Union is from having its own military strategy, El País observes:

“While for the US this represents the latest defeat in its latest imperial war, for the Europeans it is a silent disaster. Everything they invested there, especially in human lives, just about met the requirements of transatlantic solidarity but barely advanced the fight against terrorism or the freedom of the Afghans. Without troops of their own on the ground, they don't even have the option to ensure the continued existence of their embassies in Kabul. The geopolitical vocation and the language of power are still very much out of reach for Brussels.”

The Spectator (GB) /

Don't repeat past mistakes

Afghanistan threatens to be destabilised in the same way Lebanon was after Israel withdrew its troops in May 2000, warns The Spectator:

“It is dangerous to pull out your forces in a way that makes your enemies seem victorious. Doing so can motivate and encourage terror organisations ... A precipitate retreat from Afghanistan could open the way to increased Russian intervention in the same way Iran intervened in Lebanon. It's also important to take actions to reduce the chances that the Afghan army will collapse and to sustain government autonomy. Lebanon's government was weakened by the strengthening of Hezbollah and Iran in the country. A plan should be put in place for responses should the Taliban break the terms of its agreement. Israel chose a policy of containment, which failed.”

The Irish Times (IE) /

Awaiting the inevitable

The Irish Times also sees a historical precedent:

“The city [Kabul] resembles Saigon after the US left Vietnam, nervously awaiting inevitable overrun. Government passport offices are overwhelmed, humanitarian groups are pulling out expats, contractors are leaving, and those who worked with the US anxiously wait for word they too will be shipped out. ... The delusion of security provided by the Americans, whose determination to leave was never fully believed by Afghan leaders, has left a woefully weak government and a conventional army barely able to confront the more flexible and nimble guerrilla Taliban.”

Radio Kommersant FM (RU) /

Grim outlook for Central Asia and Russia

Radio Kommersant FM also sees only negative scenarios for the post-Soviet area:

“The Taliban could expand into Central Asia, or they could also just force their adversaries from 'Islamic State' in that direction. Tens of thousands of Afghan Tajiks and Uzbeks could flee to Tajikistan and Uzbekistan to escape the new rulers, which would inevitably increase social and political tensions in these countries that already have enough problems as it is. ... Moscow can't abandon the secular regimes in Dushanbe, Tashkent, Ashkhabad and Bishkek to their fate. A radicalisation of the population of Central Asia is a disastrous prospect for Russia, because millions of people who come from there work in our country.”

De Standaard (BE) /

Free run for the Chinese

According to media reports, China has offered to make huge infrastructural investments in Afghanistan. Beijing will exploit the vacuum created by the troops' withdrawal, De Standaard fears:

“Beijing is no stranger to Machiavellian calculations. While the Communist Party does business with Islamist Afghan rebels, it is also oppressing its own insurgent Muslim population in Xinjiang. Joe Biden has decided to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan to focus all energies on the 'strategic rival' China. The irony of this decision is that now Afghanistan is being left wide open for China to expand its influence there.”