The Taliban Don’t Completely Control Afghanistan and May Never: China & Russia are right to be nervous anyway

By Steve Rothman, August 18, 2021 

New Jersey Globe– Thursday, August 18, 2021
The Jewish Standard– Friday, August 26, 2021 Times of Israel– Friday, August 26, 2021
The Record— Sunday, August 29, 2021


People who think they know what will happen in Afghanistan need to hold off on their predictions. 

The Taliban don’t have complete control over Afghanistan yet.  

And that country’s future is far from clear.

No Unified Command of Afghanistan; It’s a Narco State

Elena Suponia, an analyst with the Russian Institute of Strategic Studies, reports that the Afghan Taliban has no single command. There are other armed groups in Afghanistan who are unwilling to obey the Taliban. And regional and other powers will continue to play on these internal differences.

The Washington Post’s columnist Elaine Shannon writes that we may also be seeing the emergence of the world’s largest “narco-state.”  Afghan drug lords now “control 85 percent of the world’s opium supply” and have branched out into becoming “the world’s biggest producer of hashish” and a growing supplier of methamphetamine. The Afghan Taliban will need to come to agreement with these drug lords about the existence of their operations and the financing of the Taliban’s stay in power.

The Taliban’s Money Troubles

Also complicating the Taliban’s rule of Afghanistan—a country with a per capita annual income of approximately $508.00–is that the Biden Administration has just announced a freezing of billions of dollars in U.S. banks of Afghanistan’s reserve assets.

According to Reuters, about 80 percent of Afghanistan’s budget is funded by the U.S. and other international donors. Now this essential source of support is no longer guaranteed.

The Taliban Need Technocrats to Run The Country

As for the plight of all the Afghan people, especially its women and girls, the Taliban must now deal with the young Afghan men and women, and their parents, who welcomed the liberty, education and modernity provided over the last 20 years by the courageous and generous U.S. engagement and support. 

Many of these are now educated technocrats, many of whom worked in the previous Afghan government, who will be essential to running the country.

Will the Taliban murder, jail and oppress all of these individuals? We can’t be certain. However, historically, the Taliban have been vicious, brutal, and uncompromising.

The Taliban’s “Promises” of Amnesty for All and Women’s Rights Under Islam

According to NPR, while the Taliban has pledged not to go after their enemies, many fighters have lists of people who cooperated with the government and are seeking them out.

The Taliban, as reported by the BBC, also promise that “women are a very important part of our society. They can work. They can get education. They are needed in our society, and they will be actively involved. [And] the Islamic Emirate [of Afghanistan] believes that we have rights for women in Islam,”

However, what “women’s rights” means can vary amongst Islamic scholars and the Taliban have been absolute in their oppression and subjugation of women and girls.

One can only hope this “new” Taliban will be who they say they will be and, if not, that international sanctions and other persuasive measures can be taken to protect former supporters of the previous Afghan government and Afghanistan’s women and girls.

China and Russia Now Bear The Burden

In the weeks ahead, the U.S. will be taking a back seat to assuring the stability and peacefulness of Afghanistan, as its neighbors China and Russia now bear the immediate burden of trying to contain the radical Islamist Taliban and their ideology.

Only one country separates Afghanistan from China: Tajikistan, a former state in the Soviet Union and a close ally of Russia. Thus, China and Russia will now have their hands full containing the spread of Afghanistan’s radical Islamic law agenda–a situation they both greatly dread.

In addition, refugees from Afghanistan will now be on their way to the Central Asian countries at China’s and Russia’s doorsteps, which will create quite a bit of internal disruption, fear, great expense, and possibly worse for China and Russia.

Al Qaeda and ISIS

As for al Qaeda and ISIS, on July 8, 2021, President Biden sought to assure the American people by saying: 

“Our military and intelligence leaders are confident they have the capabilities to protect the homeland and our interests from any resurgent terrorist challenge emerging or emanating from Afghanistan. We are developing a counterterrorism over-the-horizon capability that will allow us to keep our eyes firmly fixed on any direct threats to the United States in the region, and act quickly and decisively if needed.”

We hope he is right.

The Biden Administration Must Use America’s Power and Influence

Having nearly completed its promised removal of all U.S. troops from Afghanistan, the Biden Administration must now use all of America’s power and influence—without re- occupying Afghanistan– to assure the safe passage of all Americans and those who helped us in Afghanistan, plus other Afghan asylum seekers; protect Afghans’ human rights, particularly for women and girls; and deny safe haven for al Qaeda and ISIS.

Afghanistan’s Future…

Afghanistan’s future was never certain. And it is not now.

Steven R. Rothman represented New Jersey in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1997 to 2013.