V council talks about Afghanistan, what do the great powers want with it?

The UN Security Council is discussing the situation in Afghanistan today. It will include the stalemate in the peace process and the rapid rise of the Taliban, as Western countries have withdrawn their soldiers.

The discussion becomes extra urgent by the news that the Taliban today took Zaranj, the capital of Nimruz province in the west of the country. It is the first provincial capital to conquer the Taliban.

The Russians and the Chinese, both permanent members of the Security Council, have lately been having talks with the strict Islamic group that now controls much of Afghanistan. Moscow and Beijing want mostly stability in the country. Anyone who holds the strings exactly there seems to be less important to them.

Russia

The Russian army is currently performing exercises on the Afghanistan border, along with neighbouring Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Immediate reason is the Taliban‘s big terrain gain in the border area over the past few weeks.

The Russians say they are happy with the departure of Americans, but the fact is that Moscow sees the changing situation in Afghanistan as a potential threat. If the country does not stabilize quickly, insurgents from there can attack the Central Asian countries on the Russian southern border.

That’s why the Kremlin has been in contact with the Taliban for a long time. Because no matter what, Moscow always wants to have an interlocutor in Kabul.

The Russians say they don‘t believe that the Taliban is looking for an armed takeover of power from the capital. President Putin’s envoy to Afghanistan said last month that their offensive is intended to have a stronger position at the negotiating table in peace talks.

But that Russian analysis is questionable, as the Taliban has continued to conquer territory ever since. And the peace process has long been silent, without any serious sign that it is resuming. The Russians want safety on their southern flank, without having to be militarily involved in Afghanistan, said Alessio Patalano, security expert at Kings College London.

China

Remarkably, China criticizes the withdrawal of its biggest competitor on the world stage, the US. You‘d think they just applaud it. But it’s mostly about how the Americans leave: hasty, in Chinese eyes. And according to them without leaving a safe and stable situation.

Because that‘s what it’s China to do: a stable Afghanistan, whoever‘s in power. Afghanistan is, after all, the missing puzzle piece in the New Silk Road, the economic program that China seeks to gain a stronger grip on the global economy. Pakistan is already connected, but without the Taliban cooperation, that last piece of puzzle will never be completely in place.

It

is certainly equally important for China that Uyghur militants do not gain a foothold in Afghanistan, which shares a border with the stirring Chinese region of Xinjiang. They can only prevent that with the help of the Taliban, especially if the Taliban passes to Kabul.

In that respect, the Chinese have few scruples, says Goos Hofstee, safety researcher at the Clingendael Institute. Most of all, they don’t want their interests to be at stake. If that means they have to do business with the Taliban, or if necessary with a patchwork of warlords across the country, they will.

America

Washington would rather keep the current Afghan government in the saddle. The Americans, who fought against the Taliban for twenty years until their withdrawal this year, have seen their ambitions for Afghanistan go up in smoke. A takeover by the Taliban would complete the humiliation.

It is a bitter pill for many people that the Western ideal image of a free Afghanistan, including equal rights for women, threatens to disappear from sight. That‘s painful, that’s why the Americans prefer not to talk about it, says Hofstee.

The moral blamage for the US is somewhat mitigated by economic figures. Until the end of 2020, Washington had spent some 978 billion dollars on the Afghanistan war. After the withdrawal, those costs stop.

What remains for the Americans is that there should be no international jihadist groups that plan attacks on American interests from Afghanistan. It was the presence in Afghanistan of al-Qaida, which was behind the 9/11 attacks, which prompted Americans to invade nearly twenty years ago now.