Afghanistan’s ripple effects | WORLD

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: It’s Thursday the 26th of August, 2021. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Myrna Brown.

PAUL BUTLER, REPORTER: And I’m Paul Butler. First up: geopolitical ripple effects.

It’s week two of the U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, and thousands of people are still flooding Kabul’s airport. That includes both U.S. citizens trying to evacuate and Afghans fleeing the Taliban.

BROWN: Meanwhile, those who have no hope of leaving are facing the hard realities of their country returning to the brutal reign of the Taliban. But the consequences of our troop drawdown go beyond the borders of Afghanistan. WORLD’s Jill Nelson reports.

AUDIO: [Crowds talking, shots fired]

JILL NELSON, REPORTER: The blundering U.S. exit from Afghanistan has turned into a nightmare for this administration and a blow to Joe Biden’s presidency.

But the damage goes beyond American politics and Afghan turmoil. Here are five geopolitical consequences that could play out over the coming months and years.

First, an increase in global jihadist activity. Husain Haqqani is a former Pakistani ambassador to the United States and a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.

HAQQANI: The extremist jihadis are seeing this as a moment of triumph. They now have a narrative. The narrative is that jihad was successful in bringing down one super power, the Soviet Union, and now jihad has forced America out of Afghanistan. So Jihad is the way forward.

The Trump administration forced the Afghan government to release 5,000 jihadist prisoners as part of its peace deal with the Taliban. Haqqani says that’s contributing to the problem. Many of them now run terror networks in other countries.

HAQQANI: Will the Taliban arrest them just because these people are running Isalmist movements in other countries? I don’t think so. So yes, all of a sudden the Islamist global jihadist movement has a home once again.

That leads into the second global consequence: Pakistan could become less stable and more isolated.

Haqqani says Pakistan is in a difficult position. The West sees Islamabad as having supported the Taliban for the last 20 years. But at the same time, Pakistan can’t fully rein in the Taliban. And its success in Afghanistan could embolden a related group of Pakistani militants.

HAQQANI: There is a group called the Pakistani Taliban, which after the Afghan Taliban’s success will try and put pressure inside Pakistan for a similar system that they want to establish in Afghanistan. So Pakistan will come under a lot of pressure from the international community over having supported the Taliban and from the Taliban over not being Islamic enough in its own conduct.

The third global consequence of the Afghan pullout: Our allies are questioning our commitments. Bilal Wahab is a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He was in Iraq a month ago and says fear, not logic, permeated his conversations with Iraqis.

WAHAB: The policy itself that the United States is giving up on the mission in Afghanistan sends chills down the spines of the Iraqi leadership.

Wahab says we’re unlikely to leave Iraq any time soon given its strategic value and strong institutions. But Iraqis haven’t forgotten the U.S. departure at the end of 2011. That opened the door to ISIS three years later. And the wide political swings in Washington have eroded confidence in the United States.

Husain Haqqani says that could have ripple effects across the region.

HAQQANI: America’s friends and allies, whether they are individuals or relatively weak governments, will think twice about committing themselves to the United States after the way they feel the Afghan government was abandoned.

Our allies in the Middle East and beyond may begin to look elsewhere for patrons, such as Iran or Turkey. And Wahab says Russia and China are already there.

WAHAB: Russia has significant investments in Iraq’s energy sector, and China is definitely eyeing to link up Iraq to its Belt and Road Initiative.

That ties into global consequence number four: China and Russia stand to gain from our departure.

It’s unlikely either country wants to be too entrenched in Afghanistan’s chaos. But Haqqani says they could find new ways to sabotage U.S. interests.

HAQQANI: America’s enemies, like China and Russia could try and do the reverse of what America did in the 1980s when American used Islamic jihadists against the Soviet Union. They could get into the game of supporting the jihadis and saying, “Don’t attack us. Attack the United States or the West.” That will be a very dangerous game if it gets started.

And China could strike a deal with the Taliban that allows it to exploit Afghanistan’s mineral resources. Those are estimated to be worth trillions of dollars. China already dominates the global rare earths market. The minerals are commonly used in automobiles and high-tech devices.

Finally, global implication number five: A refugee crisis that could snowball in the months and years to come. Husain Haqqani warns the Taliban hasn’t unleashed the full ferocity of its beliefs on Afghans.

HAQQANI: Once the economy becomes less functional and the Taliban’s rule becomes more brutal, the prospect of a refugee crisis cannot be ruled out.

Wahab recently appeared as a guest on Arabic television programs and says the hosts laughed at him for suggesting we made mistakes in our exit from Afghanistan. In the region’s conspiratorial mindset, the disastrous U.S. pullout was all part of a grand scheme to sow chaos in the Middle East. He says Washington needs to get busy addressing these misperceptions and reassuring our allies of our commitments.

WAHAB: These are all parts of the conversation in the Middle East, and Washington right now is just busy justifying why it did what it did. And that just adds to this world of perception.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Jill Nelson.

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