The Taliban capture of the capital city Kabul surprised the world, including the United States and its Western allies which were planning for a withdrawal on August 31.
The US-trained Afghanistan national army collapsed without putting up a fight in the face of a concerted push by Taliban forces, who are back in control after two decades.
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Commentators have written about why the outcome in Afghanistan matters to the rest of the world.
Human rights problem
While Taliban spokespersons and some of their leaders have called for calm and project a sense of civility, outside Kabul in the provinces they had captured, reports suggest that the extremist group has hardly changed.
Denying education to women, carrying out public executions of their opponents, persecuting minorities, and destroying the priceless antiques and heritage structures like the giant stone Buddhas at Bamiyan.
Husain Haqqani, a former Pakistani ambassador to the US, told NPR that there's no reason to think that a new Taliban regime won’t be another humanitarian eyesore.
So far, in the areas of the country where they have regained control, the Taliban “have been executing people summarily, they have been lashing women, they have been shutting down schools. They have been blowing up hospitals and infrastructure,” he warned.
Ronald Neumann, a former US ambassador to Afghanistan during President George W. Bush's administration, told NPR that “thousands, probably hundreds of thousands of Afghans” who believed in the US are suddenly finding themselves the subject of Taliban reprisals, and been assassinated during the past year.
A safe haven for extremists
The main reason for the US-led invasion of Afghanistan following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks was the Taliban refusal to hand over al-Qaeda mastermind Osama bin.
There is no guarantee that Afghanistan wouldn’t once again become a safe haven for terrorists — either those intent on doing harm to the US or other foreign powers.
In the assessment of former US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, Taliban will become a national security threat to the United States.
“The Taliban are terrorists, and they,re going to support terrorists."
“If they take control of Afghanistan, there is no question in my mind that they will provide a safe haven for al-Qaeda, for ISIS and for terrorism in general,” he said.
Ghulam Isaczai, Afghanistan’s representative to the UN, warned that in “deliberate acts of barbarism, the Taliban are assisted by transnational terrorist networks.”
Destabilizing neighboring Pakistan
Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI — the country’s equivalent of the CIA — is believed to have helped foster the Taliban prior to the religious movement’s 1996 takeover in Afghanistan.
The idea was to use the strategic depth provided by a Taliban ruled as a bulwark against its traditional rival, India.
But the long, porous border Pakistan has with Afghanistan has brought it as much trouble as brotherhood.
For years, Pakistan had to carry the financial and political burden of of thousands of Afghan refugees in border camps.
A Taliban government in Afghanistan will embolden Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, more commonly known simply as the Pakistani Taliban even though leaders of the two groups are reportedly at odds.
Haqqani, the former ambassador who is now director for South and Central Asia at the Hudson Institute, is also of the view that the ascendance of Taliban next door “will only embolden radicals” in Pakistan.
China gaining ground
Notwithstanding Taliban’s past record of brutal tactics on the ground in Afghanistan, in recent weeks, its leaders pressed ahead diplomatically and reached out to gain allies and influence abroad.
The last time the Taliban were in power, Afghanistan was shunned by virtually the rest of the world, except for a few countries. But recently, top Taliban leaders toured abroad to Iran, Russia, and China.
Reports say that Beijing is preparing to formally recognize the Taliban even as the group is firmly in control of the country, and had even promised investments in energy and infrastructure projects, and is also eyeing the country’s vast, untapped rare-earth mineral deposits.
US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad had already made it clear that the US would not recognize a Taliban government that comes to power through force.
Meanwhile, the Taliban could be pushing China and Russia closer as the two countries seek a hedge against the potential for instability in Afghanistan.
Both China and Russia are concerned about possible influence of Islamist extremism and have reportedly deployed 10,000 troops, as well as planes and artillery pieces, to China's Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region as part of a joint exercise.
The exercise was meant to demonstrate “the determination and ability of Russia and China to fight terrorism, and jointly protect peace and stability in the region,” according to a statement released by Russia's Ministry of Defense.
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