Pakistani, Russian and Iranian weapons arm Taliban advance
by Emanuele Scimia

Islamic fundamentalists now control half of the Afghan provincial capitals. Arsenal bought on Pakistan’s black markets. Former deputy minister of Kabul: The Taliban have complex relations with countries in the region. Their growing contacts with China could alarm Russia.

Rome (AsiaNews) - The advance of the Taliban continues in Afghanistan. They now control half of the 34 provincial capitals, directly threatening Kabul. The Islamist rebels rapid advance has been favoured by the withdrawal of the U.S. and its allies after 20 years of military presence in the country. Yet it also raises the question of where they find the resources and weapons to repeatedly defeat the Afghan army, who on paper should be better trained and equipped (by Washington).

Speaking to AsiaNews, Kabul-based researcher at the International Crisis Group, Saifullah Ahmadzai, cites local media reports that describe the weapons and military equipment taken from the Taliban by government forces as advanced and very expensive. Most of them are of Pakistani, Iranian and Russian production.

There is no evidence that these armaments are supplied by the aforementioned countries. Ahmadzai points out that in the Pakistani province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa there are many black markets where all kinds of weapons can be found and purchased. He explains that the Taliban have also appropriated U.S. weaponry abandoned by fleeing Afghan Security Forces.

Ajmal Shams, a former deputy minister in the first government led by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, points the finger at the Taliban's "complex relations" with countries in the region, especially those that have always been concerned about the U.S. presence in Afghanistan. Ghani's former political advisor, now vice-president of the Afghan Social Democratic Party, does not name names, but the clues lead to Russia, China, Iran and Pakistan: all countries that have criticized the rapid US and NATO withdrawal to varying degrees.

Without U.S. air cover, the regular Afghan army has weakened operational capacity, explains Shams: " It is also to be noted that Afghan forces are fighting on multiple fronts and fighting insurgency is more challenging than regular warfare." He adds that “there is no reason that the international community, especially the US and our European partners, will abandon Afghanistan after investing in and partnering with the country for about two decades. However, Shams points out, "there is consensus among our international partners that there needs to be a political settlement for the conflict to end.”

The Taliban offensive at the moment leaves little room for hope that the rebels will accept a negotiated solution. The Taliban are Islamic fundamentalists of Pashtun ethnicity, originating in the south of the country. Washington and the Afghan forces of the Northern Alliance (formed mainly by Tajiks and Uzbeks) overthrew their government between the end of 2001 and the beginning of 2002, immediately after the attacks of September 11: the extremist group hosted the leaders of al-Qaeda, masterminds and authors of the attacks on the Twin Towers in New York and the Pentagon.

According to several observers, the current scenario is not only worrying for the United States and Europe, but also for China. Since the announcement in April of the U.S. pull-out, Beijing has intensified contacts with the Taliban's political leadership. As Ahmadzai notes, the Chinese want to prevent Uyghur Islamists from installing themselves in Afghanistan to launch attacks against Xinjiang, their homeland they call East Turkestan. China also wants to protect its investments on Afghan soil.

Ahmadzai emphasises that if the Taliban takes control of Afghanistan, their relationship with Beijing will become strategic. This situation, he adds, "will, however, fuel Russian suspicion in that China is becoming the dominant power in Central Asia." In other words, leading to even greater instability in the region.