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Eurasianet

Eurasianet

Eurasianet is an independent news organization that covers news from and about the South Caucasus and Central Asia, providing on-the-ground reporting and critical perspectives on…

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The Afghanistan Crisis Could Destabilize The Region

Governments across Central Asia appear as stunned as the rest of the international community in the face of the rapid disintegration of order in neighboring Afghanistan.

Some leaders have held snap consultations with security officials and defense allies. Others are choosing to remain mute in the face of rapidly unfolding events.

The potential for spillover looks limited for the time being, but multiple episodes of flight by defeated Afghan soldiers may be a troubling omen.

A representative of the Afghan Embassy in Dushanbe told Eurasianet that more than 140 servicemen flew into Bokhtar airport in Tajikistan on August 15 onboard at least 16 different aircraft. He said the pilots had commandeered the aircraft to ensure they did not fall into the hands of the Taliban.

RFE/RL’s Tajik service, Radioi Ozodi, cited its sources in the local Emergency Situations Ministry with different figures – 143 Afghan servicemen and three aircraft. The troops handed over 55 items of small arms and were later housed at the dormitory of a local university, the broadcaster reported. 

TOLOnews, the Kabul-based news outlet, published video footage of the Afghan ambassador in Tajikistan, Zahir Aghbar, welcoming a group of fugitives.

“What I see before me are heroes. The cowards are those people in the leadership who escaped, even though people sacrificed themselves for them,” Aghbar told an assembly largely composed of men in uniform. 

At least 84 Afghan soldiers managed to cross into Uzbekistan on August 14 in the wake of the Taliban’s capture of the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif. Images had circulated earlier in the day of a long line of vehicles carrying troops waiting for admission into the country across the Friendship Bridge.  

An official in the Afghan consulate in Termez, in southern Uzbekistan, told Eurasianet that the men were fighters affiliated with ethnic Uzbek commander and one-time first deputy president of Afghanistan, Abdul Rashid Dostum, and Atta Muhammad Nur, the now-former governor of the Balkh province. Many dozens of field commanders, as well as hundreds of Afghan civilians, were turned away by Uzbek border personnel, the official said. 

The Uzbek Foreign Ministry said in a statement over the weekend that it was negotiating with the Afghan government on returning soldiers to their home country. The government in Kabul has collapsed since that statement was issued, however. 

A reporter based in Termez with sources in Uzbek military forces told Eurasianet that 19 passenger planes have also landed in the city carrying refugees. The identity of those refugees is not yet known, and Uzbek officials have not commented on this development.

Even more desperate attempts at escape appear to have occurred. Tashkent-based website Gazeta.uz reported that an aircraft with Afghan air force markings crash-landed in southern Surkhandaryo region on the night of August 15. Aviation enthusiasts have identified the stricken craft as possibly being an A-29 Super Tucano light attack aircraft. The website reported on at least one fatality and cited sources as saying two Afghan servicemen were being treated for injuries at a hospital in Termez. 

The Uzbek Defense Ministry later confirmed that it had shot down the plane. 

Statements out of Central Asian capitals have largely been confined to dry updates on consultations over the situation in Afghanistan. 

Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev spoke by phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin on August 15. 

“An agreement was reached between [security] agencies of the two countries to ensure close ties and cooperation in ensuring regional security and stability,” Mirziyoyev’s office stated, providing no details. 

Presidential administrations in the other two former Soviet states neighboring Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, have failed to acknowledge events at all.  

As for Russia, while its security officials have for years been periodically fanning alarm about the alleged mustering of militants with the Islamic State along the border of Central Asian nations, its envoy in Kabul played down concerns this would happen now that the Taliban have taken charge.

“I have no such concerns,” Zamir Kabulov, Russia’s ambassador to Afghanistan, was cited as saying by Interfax news agency. “I have seen in practice how the Taliban, unlike the Americans, and NATO as a whole, as well as the fugitive Afghan government, fight with the Islamic State, and they fight mercilessly.” 

Officials in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, neither of which share a border with Afghanistan, have also mostly stuck to assurances that they are keeping a close eye on events. 

The office of Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said he had ordered security officials “to comprehensively monitor the development of the situation in Afghanistan, as it is extremely important for making decisions regarding further cooperation with that country.”

In neighboring Kyrgyzstan, President Sadyr Japarov issued similarly broad instructions.  

These two have to date differed in their humanitarian response, however.

A Kazakh Foreign Ministry spokesman told journalists on August 15 that it did not, contrary to what was being stated in social media reports, have any plans to accept refugees from Afghanistan.  

“The information that has been disseminated does not correspond to reality. The situation in Afghanistan is changing hourly, so it is premature to talk about any concrete decisions,” the spokesman, Aibek Smadiyarov, told TASS news agency. 

Tokayev’s office has since said that no final decision has been taken on this matter. 

Kazakhstan’s poorer neighbor Kyrgyzstan, meanwhile, has said it is prepared to issue 500 humanitarian student visas to young Afghans. 

“We are well aware that it is impossible to get a quality education amid an armed political confrontation, when the economic life of a country is paralyzed and thousands of families are being forced to leave their homes,” Kamchybek Tashiyev, the head of the State Committee for National Security, or GKNB, said in a statement carried by local media. “For this reason, we consider it our duty to provide all possible support to talented Afghan students by providing them with visas to study in the universities of Kyrgyzstan.” 

Tashiyev said that he was particularly concerned about the fate of young Afghan women amid the ongoing unrest.

By Eurasianet.org

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Leave a comment
  • George Doolittle on August 17 2021 said:
    "There's nothing there" which is the whole point of why one goes there in a military sense in the first place.

    "No way in.
    No way out."
    Nothing is "destabilized" should the Taliban take ahem *control* ahem insoafar as Afghanistan is concerned.
  • Mamdouh Salameh on August 18 2021 said:
    Taliban mark 2 could at last bring stability to Afghanistan or the country could disintegrate into a more backward restrictive society as it was in the first time the Taliban took over. Where the latter alternative to emerge, Afghanistan could become breeding grounds for terrorism and a refuge for them and also the world’s largest supplier of heroine.

    Whilst the heroine trade is serious enough, the Afghan crisis could unwittingly have a huge geopolitical impact not only in the regional sense but globally.

    It could foment trouble and spread terrorism in the neighbouring Islamic republics of the former Soviet Union. Internationally it could embolden China over Taiwan.

    The withdrawal of the United States from Afghanistan and the collapse of the American-trained and armed Afghan forces in the face of the Taliban advance have evoked images of Vietnam.

    The similarities are uncanny. In both cases, the United States lost the war, departed in a hurry and rescued its diplomats and citizens by helicopters taking off from the roofs of US embassies in Saigon and Kabul.

    Seizing the opportunity presented by the Biden administration’s abandonment of Afghanistan to the Taliban following the fall of Kabul, the Global Times, a mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, warned Taiwan that in the event of a confrontation with mainland Communist China, the U.S. would abandon its long-time ally. This has dealt a heavy blow to the credibility and reliability of the US.

    The paper referred to Vietnam saying many people cannot help but recall how the Vietnam War ended in 1975: The US abandoned its allies in South Vietnam; Saigon was taken over; then the US evacuated almost all its citizens in Saigon.

    Addressing its message to Taiwan, the Global Times said “How Washington abandoned the Kabul regime particularly shocked some in Asia, including the island of Taiwan. Taiwan is the region that relies on the protection of the US the most in Asia, and the island’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) authorities have made Taiwan go further and further down the path of independence. The situation in Afghanistan suddenly saw a radical change after the country was abandoned by the US. Is this some kind of omen of Taiwan’s future fate?”

    The paper warned the Taiwan leadership that once a cross-Straits war breaks out, the island’s defence will collapse in hours and the U.S. military won’t come to help. As a result, the Taiwan leadership will quickly surrender, while some high-level officials may flee by plane.

    Global Times advised the Taiwan authorities to keep cross-Straits peace with political means, rather than acting as strategic pawns of the US and bear the bitter fruits of a war.

    Dr Mamdouh G Salameh
    International Oil Economist
    Visiting Professor of Energy Economics at ESCP Europe Business School, London

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