The USA has been making a quick retreat out of Afghanistan and it has started the process of creating a void in the region. This has brought to fore a revitalised power struggle with other world powers flexing their muscles to fill this power void. While China is trying its best to enter the resource-rich yet war-torn Afghanistan, Russia has decided to not let Beijing have its way and made its biggest move towards Kabul.
The USA came into Afghanistan after ousting the USSR from there and it also in many ways led to its disintegration. Russia under Vladimir Putin is all set to reclaim the lost glory by accomplishing what USSR was not able to, that is, an unchallenged dominance in Afghanistan. If historicity is one reason, then the other two reasons for the sudden fast-tracking of events is the security crisis that a power void may create for Central Asian countries which may challenge Russian influence there and the other reason is China.
China along with Pakistan as well as on its own, is trying to do what it always does, fill in the voids that the USA creates. As per the previous TFI article and assessments by analysts, China wants to replace the US as the principal regional force by gaining favour with both the Afghan civilian government as well as the Taliban. Vikram Singh, a former top official at the Pentagon said, “If the Chinese are bringing Pakistan more ‘behind the curtain,’ in terms of intelligence and military cooperation, it will be tailored to their common interests like confronting India over territorial disputes.” The best example of the extent of Beijing’s cooperation with the Taliban is the offers of building roads and other infrastructures if they can maintain peace in Afghanistan.
If the example of Syria is a testament, if the Russians are trying to prove that there will be a security threat and the void will lead to a surge in terrorism, then they are most certainly looking on prospects to become the protectors of the region and become the main military power there. On November 24, 2020, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, in a video message to the participants of the Geneva International Conference on Afghanistan, expressed concerns about the ongoing escalation of violence in Afghanistan on Moscow’s stead. He emphasised on the fact that the Islamic States militants and organisers are drifting towards Afghanistan and many have already made their entry.
The US moving out of Kabul means that these forces will possibly get in action and as a result will destabilise the Central Asian countries, which have been able to be out of Islamists by a very small margin. This, in turn, will create a two-pronged problem for Russia, one, it will jeopardize its influence in Central Asia and two, it will, in turn, become a national security problem in Russia’s southern borders. The obvious and only solution is, for Moscow to fill this void in Afghanistan and redeem the failure of 1980s USSR.
When the motivations are becoming clearer, the obvious question is, why now? Why act so fast suddenly? The answer is as obvious as the question, the departure of the USA, and a possible Biden presidency from February 2021. The entry of the infamous war lobby means that it can reverse the efforts by Donald Trump and it will be detrimental for Russian designs. This is why Putin has a very small window to establish Russian influence in Afghanistan. Putin needs to act fast and to his credit, he is trying to pace up the efforts. This is the reason why Moscow is trying to maximise its gains and consolidate its position in Afghanistan in any way, shape or form so that, its master plans do not stand defeated even before taking shape.
Afghanistan is going to see the development of a big power vacuum, and as it naturally happens, other powers will come to fill the void in this low-pressure zone. Russia has many reasons why it does not want to give way for another USA to China power transition, thus, it has been working on its own plans to supersede others and consolidate itself. However, with a Biden victory seemingly certain, Putin finds it to be a difficult situation, as it has become a race against time. The war lobby of Joe Biden will try to keep its share of the pie in Afghanistan and Putin knows it that is why he is trying to gain the minimum required influence in the region, in this small time window before February 2021.