The withdrawal of the United States and NATO forces from Afghanistan has put a crucial choice before the country’s neighbours. As foreign troops are leaving and Taliban fighters are advancing, they will have to decide whether they will cooperate to stabilise the country or turn it yet again into a battlefield of regional interests. This decision will determine the course of events not just in Afghanistan, but the whole region.
So far, all indications point to the latter. Regional players have extended support for the Taliban and the ISIL (ISIS) group, which have intensified their violent attacks in Afghanistan. Having little leverage over regional powers to stop their interference, Afghans will do what they have always done – fight back against advancing militants, flee abroad, or die.
But the chaos will not be contained within Afghan borders. It will inevitably spread beyond and destabilise the whole region. If our neighbours want to ensure peace within their own borders, they will have to leave behind backdoor deals and embrace a paradigm shift in their approach to Afghanistan, pursuing rigorous regional cooperation to stabilise the country.
In the past couple of weeks, the emboldened Taliban has made tremendous advances on the battlefield. It has captured more than 100 districts and its fighters have besieged most of the provincial capitals, preparing to launch major offensives to capture them.
They have also taken control of some key border crossings, which allows them to generate large amounts of revenue from goods coming to Afghanistan and cut supply chains when they choose to intensify pressures on the government and the Afghan people. Afghan forces, unprepared for the sudden onslaught of the Taliban and suffering from poor leadership and an extensive morale crisis, have failed to stop its advance.
Meanwhile, the Afghanistan branch of ISIL has extended its presence and operational capacity, carrying out large-scale attacks in Kabul and other major cities.