Will Pakistan, Iran and Turkey take power after the US pulls out of Afghanistan?

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Turkey, Pakistan and Iran are underway to fill the void the US left when Washington withdrew its last troops from Afghanistan after two decades of war. The Taliban are advancing on various fronts and there are concerns that instability and terror could spread if the US and US partner forces from other NATO countries withdraw.

Turkish media boast that Ankara could rush US withdrawal by taking over Kabul International Airport. But Turkey will no longer send troops to secure the airport, Ankara’s media report. Turkey probably understands the vital importance of airport control. Ankara, for example, has recent experience with sending mercenaries to Libya, Syria and also with involvement in Azerbaijan and Northern Iraq. Turkey also has experience with airports. In the 2000s, a Turkish construction company helped modernize Erbil International Airport.

Ankara’s model for airport control and influence could be to watch Iran use its role in the airports of Baghdad, Damascus and Beirut to build control over the arms trade and other activities. Iran and its network of militias and proxies play a key role at these airports in the region. Turkey might want a hand in Kabul for reasons of its own. Turkey has close ties with Pakistan and both countries have extreme right religious leaders trying to assert their power. Pakistan has long been accused of assisting the Taliban through its intelligence services, and Turkish-Pakistani relations could result in them dividing Afghanistan or making it easier for the Taliban to take over part of the country.

Iran now has its own interests in Afghanistan. It has long tried to target the US forces there and drive the United States out. It also has plans for a larger presence in Central Asia. This could be interlinked with the Pakistani-Turkey plans, but it could also lead to competition or hot spots. Iran allegedly wants to protect the Hazzara Shiite minority in Afghanistan. Islamist extremists linked to Pakistan and ISIS, as well as the Taliban, have targeted Shiites in genocidal bombings. These attacks do not spare anyone, including attacks on girls’ schools and children. Iran would not welcome any more such attacks. But Iran has flirted with al-Qaeda in the past, welcoming its members and other extremist groups. How this fits in with the goals of Turkey and Pakistan is not yet entirely clear.

It is clear from the press reports that each country has its own policy and is preparing for the day after the US leaves. Even if the US leaves, there will be hundreds of American soldiers in Afghanistan. Around 650 soldiers are reportedly staying. The Taliban say they have a “right” to react if the troops remain. Basically, the Taliban now appears to be dictating terms to the US, a major turning point since 2002 when the US helped crush the Taliban.

Evidence that Iran and Pakistan could work together can be found in a press TV article highlighting that Pakistan will no longer allow US bases in Pakistan. In recent interviews, senior Pakistani officials have hinted at how they are approaching China and have made anti-Semitic allegations. Iran also has a new 25-year deal with China. However, Iran’s goal will be to increase trade with Pakistan and China, and instability in Afghanistan would not help. As far as Pakistan supports the Taliban, the aim is to facilitate their conquest of the country. Turkey’s entry into the airport could also fit into this design.

Afghan leader Ashraf Ghani was in Washington late last week for a meeting with US President Joe Biden. He compared Afghanistan’s current predicament to a moment in the US Civil War of 1861. Joe Biden said, “The senseless violence must stop, but it will be very difficult,” the president said. “But we stay with you and will do our best to ensure that you have the tools you need.”

The comparison with 1861 indicates that the Afghan leadership wants to mobilize the country to stop the Taliban’s offensive. However, you might find that Iran, Pakistan, Turkey, and other countries have different plans. It remains to be seen where these countries will position themselves and whether Afghanistan will fall to extremists and become a base of terror, or whether stability can be maintained and the Taliban offensive controlled. Given the religious extremist nature of the governments in Ankara, Tehran and Islamabad, things are not a good sign.



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