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Afghanistan’s Neighbors Prepare for Taliban Rule

Although regional powers have little to gain materially from one of the world’s poorest countries, ongoing stability will be a unifying concern.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid
Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid at his first press conference after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, in Kabul on Aug. 17. HOSHANG HASHIMI/AFP

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Regional powers prepare for an Afghanistan under Taliban rule, New Zealand enters national lockdown after discovering a single coronavirus case, and Peru’s foreign minister resigns.

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Regional Powers Assess a New Afghanistan

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Regional powers prepare for an Afghanistan under Taliban rule, New Zealand enters national lockdown after discovering a single coronavirus case, and Peru’s foreign minister resigns.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


Regional Powers Assess a New Afghanistan

As the United States continues to mount an evacuation effort from Afghanistan, not all foreigners are headed for the exits, with regional powers beginning to assess their positions as the country comes under a new regime.

No immediate bonanza awaits Afghanistan’s prospective partners. It remains one of the poorest countries in the world, with a now-enhanced reputation for humbling great powers. A country that relies on international aid for 80 percent of its budget is unlikely to have much to trade with, and dreams of unlocking Afghanistan’s rare-earth deposits will depend heavily on stabilizing the war-torn nation.

The major players. China, Iran, and Russia, which have been engaged in public diplomacy with Taliban leaders for years, are staying put. With most of China’s investments elsewhere in Central and South Asia, concerns about security will likely remain front and center for Beijing. “Chinese investment there is likely to be short-term and easily pulled out in the likely event of further instability,” Azeem Ibrahim writes in Foreign Policy. “It can be deployed—or withdrawn—on largely immediate political terms.”

Russia shares China’s concerns about instability, especially when it comes to the former Soviet states in Central Asia. Just as China will not want the Taliban harboring ethnic Uyghur groups, any support for Islamist movements in its backyard would be unacceptable for Moscow. As Foreign Policy’s Amy Mackinnon writes, Russia is likely to view the Taliban as the lesser of regional evils.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi welcomed the Taliban victory as an “opportunity to restore life, security and durable peace in Afghanistan.” Iran has promised to temporarily accommodate those fleeing Afghanistan, although with an estimated 2.8 million Afghans already there and with a broken economy, it’s not clear how many more refugees Iran could support, or would want to support, in the long term.

Pakistan’s moment. Pakistan’s leaders have not disguised their glee at the Afghan government’s dissolution as Prime Minister Imran Khan praised the Afghan people for breaking “the shackles of slavery.” Still, like in Iran, one immediate effect of the Taliban’s ascent will likely be a refugee exodus, with Pakistan expected to remain the No. 1 destination.

In Foreign Policy, C. Christine Fair outlines the steps Pakistan has taken to shield and support the Taliban and, taken together with U.S. incompetence, set the stage for the group’s reemergence.

India’s scramble. While Pakistan gains a firm ally, India loses out. As Sumit Ganguly writes in Foreign Policy, India—the fifth-largest donor to Afghanistan—now faces serious fears about its security interests in the country.

New Delhi was the last regional power to start diplomacy with the Taliban as it stood by the Afghan government almost to the end. Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen put it bluntly when speaking to Foreign Policy’s Anchal Vohra in July: “We have political relations with Russia, Iran, and China not for one or two but many years … India was siding with the government installed by foreigners. They are not with us.”

Turkey waits. Turkey’s initial plan to secure Kabul’s airport following U.S. withdrawal—and at the same time repair its fractured relationship with Washington—went up in the air as soon as Afghan President Ashraf Ghani did. Turkish officials have said they may provide “technical support” at Kabul’s airport if the Taliban ask. “We are keeping up dialogue with all sides, including the Taliban,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Tuesday, welcoming recent Taliban statements regarding a peaceful transition.


What We’re Following Today

New Zealand’s lockdown. New Zealand has entered a three-day nationwide lockdown—its strictest in over a year—after discovering a single case of COVID-19. Authorities have not been able to tie the case to international travel and do not yet know whether the infection was caused by the delta variant. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has vowed to “go hard and early” to prevent the virus spreading further, while Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield has warned that more cases are likely to emerge in the coming days.

Peru’s foreign minister resigns. Peruvian President Pedro Castillo is without a foreign minister—just weeks after swearing in a new cabinet—after Héctor Béjar handed in his resignation on Tuesday. No reason has been given for the minister’s departure, although opposition politicians had criticized Béjar for past comments calling the Shining Path terrorist group a creation of the CIA and alleging that the Peruvian navy had carried out terrorist attacks. Béjar’s resignation bodes ill for the fate of Prime Minister Guido Bellido, who is under investigation for being a terrorism apologist over alleged sympathies with Shining Path.

Iran’s uranium enrichment. The International Atomic Energy Agency has reported that Iran has increased the enrichment of uranium to levels above those allowed under the 2015 nuclear deal, adding a second cascade of centrifuges to one that began enriching uranium to the 60 percent level in May. Although still far short of the 90 percent level needed for a nuclear weapon, Iran’s enrichment has raised concerns among U.S. and European officials. Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said that Iran’s “mitigation and countermeasures will be reversible” if the United States lifts its sanctions and other global powers agreed on a return to the 2015 deal.


Keep an Eye On

China’s drills. China conducted assault drills with warships, fighter jets, and anti-submarine aircraft close to Taiwan on Tuesday in response to what Beijing has called “provocations” threatening China’s sovereignty. Taiwan’s defense ministry has responded coolly, saying it “has a full grasp and has made a full assessment of the situation in the Taiwan Strait region, as well as related developments at sea and in the air, and is prepared for various responses.”

The drills came after Washington approved a weapons sale to Taiwan in a deal valued at up to $750 million two weeks ago, and as Beijing has ramped up military activity around the island in recent months. In June, China’s air force flew 28 fighter jets into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone, the largest daily incursion on record.

Poland vs. the EU. Poland appears to have avoided European Union sanctions after it agreed to close a chamber of its Supreme Court dedicated to disciplining judges, a move demanded by a 2020 European Court of Justice ruling. In a statement released on Tuesday, the Polish government said it would dissolve the chamber as part of ongoing reforms, but it insisted that Polish law still held primacy over EU law—a major bone of contention between Warsaw and Brussels. The European Commission said it was reviewing Poland’s response but had no further comment.


Odds and Ends

Japan may have just increased its territory without firing a shot, after its coast guard discovered a new island formed from an undersea volcanic eruption that began last week. The crescent-shaped island measures roughly 1 kilometer (0.62 miles) across and was found 30 miles south of the island of Minami-Ioto, part of an archipelago that includes the World War II battle site Iwo Jima. It’s not clear whether the new formation will withstand the forces of erosion for long enough to join the island chain, and even if it does, its proximity to other islands means it’s unlikely to extend Japan’s exclusive economic zone further into the Pacific Ocean.

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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