Taliban's border tensions with neighbors; Reasons, dominations, and implications
Following the rise of the Taliban, the region’s atmosphere has become much securitized. The increase of border tensions and using these tensions to gain the attention of the regional and global rivals of Afghanistan's neighboring countries can have severe consequences for the complex situation of the country. The escalation of the Taliban government's border tensions with Afghanistan's neighbors has several factors, including Attracting the attention of the rivals of regional powers, dominating the drug trafficking routes, and cutting the access of the anti-Taliban forces to weapons and other facilities. Meanwhile, it is important to understand that increasing the border tensions is neither in favor of Afghanistan nor the Taliban government, because as violence escalates in the bordering areas, the regional powers may resort to using the anti-Taliban forces; And in certain circumstances, there is even the possibility of limited military action against the Taliban, especially by its northern neighbors.
By: Hasiboullah Shahin
Afghanistan's relations with its neighbors have always had many ups and downs, and some even consider it as the main factor intensifying the war in the country. But the issue of borders and rising tensions with neighbors after the Taliban’s rise to power on August 15, 2021, reinforces the hypothesis that the Taliban seek to create an external enemy in order to gain internal legitimacy and consolidate the foundations of their government by taking advantage of the war. Rising tensions provide an opportunity for Afghanistan's new rulers to carry out internal repression, label the opposition negatively, and use their power beyond their legal authority.
This article tries to investigate the Taliban's border tensions with Afghanistan’s neighbors and explain them in detail. The author assumes that securitizing the border issues and using them as a tool to achieve the domestic and foreign goals in the short-term has polluted the relatively secure atmosphere of the region and deepened Afghanistan’s internal identity differences. This approach not only has not led to the expansion of the Taliban’s rule, but also will pave the way for the Taliban’s fall.
The issue of security has historically been a major human concern. This concept has gone through many ups and downs in history, and any change in it has had numerous consequences for the human societies. The end of the Cold War and the growing trend of globalization have once again changed the concept of security and extended it from the limited military realm to other areas of human life. In fact, the Copenhagen School uses the philosophy of language to bring security into the realm of language and to define it as a threat. Moreover, what adds to the importance of the Copenhagen School is its focus on language, which considers security to be a verbal act.
This movement takes the issue of security out of the military - governmental boundaries, and expands it into the vast realm of human life. This movement considers language not only as a means of expressing reality, but also as a tool for social activities. In this process, securitizing is considered as a process in which the actor declares a particular issue, campaign or actor as an "existential threat" for a specific subject. Following this announcement, if the audience accept this threat, the possibility of suspending the normal policy will be provided and the way will be paved for the implementation of an emergency policy.
In order to distinguish the security issues properly, the Copenhagen School draws a vertical line with non-political issues on one side and political issues on the other. As much as the non-political issues cross the equilibrium line towards the political issues, or in other words become politicized, the issue turns more securitized. When the issue is changed from non-political to political, it automatically sets the stage for an emergency situation desired by the security actor, and the actor uses the available condition in order to achieve everything that exists.
It should be noted that securitizing the non-political and political issues and transforming the normal environment into a security environment will put the tools of repression in the hands of those who are in power. This prepares the ground for the repression of the internal opposition and exposes various socio-political groups to repression. Therefore, a securitized situation will affect the lives of individuals and divides the citizens into two groups for and against the issue, which will result in a tense social environment.
Reasons behind escalation of Afghanistan's border tensions with neighbors
Afghanistan is in a privileged position geopolitically and geo-strategically, and any change in the country will have a significant impact on the regional countries. The recent developments of Afghanistan, including the fall of the republic, withdrawal of foreign troops from the country and re-emergence of the Taliban have not only changed the regional balance, but also has securitized the region. The re-emergence of the Taliban in Afghanistan, in addition to undermining the global position of the United States and its Western allies, has raised widespread security concerns in the region, and all of Afghanistan's neighbors are concerned about growing insecurity in their border areas with Afghanistan.
However, the issue of borders in Afghanistan has always been a problem, because Afghanistan's borders are drawn in such a way that divide not only the geographical areas, but also the identities, and this has greatly affected Afghanistan's relations with the regional countries. There is also a speculation that says the issue of increasing tensions along Afghanistan's borders with the neighboring countries has been more deliberate and politically-motivated rather than unintentional. For the past nine months, the Taliban forces have clashed with Iran, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Pakistan.
During the past nine months, more than four major conflicts have taken place between the Taliban forces and the Pakistani soldiers in the bordering areas of Spin Boldak, Kandahar, Nimroz, Kunar and Paktia provinces, and casualties were reported on both sides. Moreover, four major conflicts have also been reported with the Iranian border forces in Nimroz and Herat provinces. During this time, the Taliban have repeatedly clashed with the Tajik troops, and even verbal clashes have escalated between the high-ranking officials of the two countries.
Different aspects of border tensions
The increase in border tensions with Afghanistan's neighbors, assuming it is intentional, have three dimensions: domestic, regional and global. At the domestic level, the escalation of tensions is seen as a show of strength against the neighboring countries which are facing economic crises, and sends a clear message to them that must avoid supporting the anti-Taliban groups. The Taliban, who have been unable to gain the necessary domestic legitimacy after nearly nine months, are concerned about the public uprisings. They are well-aware that the regional countries can play a significant role in these uprisings. Therefore, by creating border tensions and even a limited war with one of the regional countries, they are trying to provide the grounds for gaining internal legitimacy and suppressing their opponents through negative labeling. On the other hand, the increase of border tensions is not only political, but also economic, and they are manifestation of the internal rivalries between different Taliban groups over economic resources. Because domination over the bordering areas can pave the way for domination over the financial resources as well as drug and arms trafficking routes, which can guarantee the political survival of figures claiming Taliban leadership.
At the regional level, it can be said that the Taliban, by increasing these tensions, want to warn the regional countries not to interfere in Afghanistan’s internal affairs. Meanwhile, the policy of border tensions can bring many benefits for the Taliban at the regional level. Particularly, border tensions with the Islamic Republic of Iran will prepare the ground for gaining the support of Iran's regional rivals, especially some of the Arab countries of the Persian Gulf; and if it turns into a permanent practice, Iran will face with a new challenge on its eastern borders. As a result, Iran's focus will shift from the developments of the Middle East to those of Afghanistan. Therefore, one possibility is that the Taliban resort to some calculated border tensions with Iran, in order to gain the political-economic support of the Persian Gulf countries, which, of course, could serve as a double-edged sword for the Taliban and endanger their survival.
By increasing border tensions, The Taliban are also trying to create a kind of unity within the country, and so creating an opportunity for their internal legitimacy. As historical experience in Afghanistan shows, the only way towards internal unity is creation of a common enemy.
Meanwhile, the escalation of border tensions with Afghanistan’s neighbors has also a global aspect, as the United States and its western allies are seeking to involve the Russians and Chinese into a proxy war with Afghanistan. This proxy war would be a war of attrition for the Russians who are already grappling with the war in Ukraine and sanctions. Such a war can also disrupt the upward trend of China's economic movement. The recent actions of the Taliban are a good proof of this claim, because the group has entered into a kind of verbal conflict with the Central Asian countries, and even in the recent days there have been some attacks from Afghanistan on the territory of these countries. This comes as the Central Asian countries have been the source of no tension throughout Afghanistan's contemporary history and there have been no border disputes between them and Afghanistan. The Taliban, however, may be seeking to draw the attention of the Americans and their western allies through creating tensions with the Central Asian countries as well as Iran. In that case, the United States and its regional allies will certainly enter the battlefield to support the Taliban.
The continuation of such ill-considered policies can once again turn Afghanistan into a quagmire of proxy wars between the regional countries and the world, the main victim of which will be the Afghan nation. If the Taliban do not handle the border issues carefully and continue to securitize the region, the region’s shaky situation will be disrupted and this will turn Afghanistan into the arena of global rivalries between the West and the East.
Consequences of border tensions for Afghanistan and the region
The border tensions between Afghanistan and the regional countries have had devastating consequences, which can be divided into the short-term and long-term ones. A: The short-term consequences:
1- Securitizing the region and increasing Afghanistan’s threat for the neighboring countries, which can negatively affect the economic and security situation of Afghanistan;
2- Creating pessimism due to the constant threat, and increasing the pressures on the Afghan refugees in other countries;
3- Spreading insecurity inside Afghanistan and increasing the efforts to remove the Taliban from power;
4- Expanding the influence of terrorist networks in the bordering areas, and the possibility of a reciprocal reaction to Afghanistan from neighboring countries;
5- Termination of economic relations, and aggravation of economic situation in Afghanistan.
These cases can be immediate and have a direct impact on the political-economic situation of Afghanistan.
B: The long-term consequences:
1- Giving an identity aspect to the war in Afghanistan, and pushing the conflicts towards the civil wars which could provoke the support of the regional countries, because it is cheaper and more effective.
2- The possibility of Afghanistan breakdown if the war continues, and the growth of number and activity of terrorist groups;
3- Complete paralysis of Afghanistan's political, economic and social institutions and turning Afghanistan into a proxy war zone for the countries of the region and the world;
4- Creating a new wave of migration, which this time can have many negative consequences for the host communities.
The long-term consequences of such a policy would be more dangerous for Afghanistan, which has been at war for nearly half a century.
Meanwhile, adopting aggressive policies to attract the attention of powerful countries is not a rational choice and instead of securing the Taliban’s survival, makes them more likely to be removed again from Afghanistan’s political scene.
The support and tolerance that the regional countries as well as the international community have shown towards the Taliban was to get the United States out of one of the most strategic parts of the world, but now that this goal has been achieved through the Taliban, threatening Russia, China or Iran’s security could jeopardize the group's presence in Afghanistan. Although the Taliban have also had border tensions with Pakistan and even Pakistan has carried out military operations by air and land over various bordering areas of Afghanistan, all these operations have been covered up due to the Taliban’s undeniable affiliation with Islamabad.
Following the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan, the region’s atmosphere has become much securitized, and all the regional countries are concerned about the security of their borders. Increasing the border tensions with the neighboring countries as well as using these tensions to gain the consent of the regional and global rivals of Afghanistan's neighboring countries could have serious consequences for the complex situation of Afghanistan and once again fan the flames of proxy wars.
The escalation of the Taliban's border tensions with Afghanistan's neighbors has several reasons. Attracting the attention of rivals of powerful regional countries; controlling the drug trafficking routes; containing border areas in order to exporting terrorism to various regional countries, including Central Asia and Russia; and making it difficult for the anti-Taliban forces to access to weapons and other facilities are among these factors.
However, what is important is to understand that the increase of border tensions is in the interest of neither Afghanistan nor the Taliban, because the escalation of violence in the bordering areas would raise the possibility of using the anti-Taliban forces by the regional countries and in some cases may lead to a limited military action against the Taliban, especially by Afghanistan’s northern neighbors. The policy of creating tension along the borders not only does not guarantee the survival of the Taliban, but also threatens to destroy the group through changing the current approach of Afghanistan's neighbors. If the Taliban fail to stop the terrorist groups in the bordering areas, it may persuade the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) member states, other than Pakistan, to take a joint action against the Taliban. On the other hand, if border tensions continue and public discontent with the Taliban grows, the likelihood of a new identity war in Afghanistan increases, which could even jeopardize the country's geographical unity.
Meanwhile, another assumption is that these clashes are occurring due to the inexperience and ignorance of some Taliban elements and there is no thinking behind it. Apparently, the border conflicts with Iran have been more of this type. Obviously, this statement cannot be true in all cases because, for example, some clashes with the Pakistani border forces are meant to show the Taliban’s independence from Pakistan, or border tensions with Tajikistan are a show of strength to influence the country's behavior.
Hasiboullah Shahin,is an expert in international relations