Saudi Arabia seeks low key affect in Afghanistan

In an indication of renewed curiosity by Saudi Arabia in partaking with the Taliban, the dominion’s former head of intelligence, Prince Turki al-Faisal, met with prime Taliban officers Mullah Baradar and Mullah Yaqoob in Qatar simply days earlier than the announcement of their interim authorities.

Having served as intelligence chief from 1979 to 2001, Prince Turki helped with Afghan efforts to finish the Soviet occupation of their nation and has been near the Taliban hierarchy. The final time the Taliban was in energy, from 1996 to 2001, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE had been the one international locations to acknowledge their authorities.

In 1998, Riyadh closed its embassy when Kabul refused handy over Osama bin Laden, the chief of Al Qaeda, who was sheltering in Afghanistan. After the assault on the World Trade Center in New York in 2001, Riyadh fully broke off ties.

However, Saudi Arabia can not afford to stay out of the image for much longer.

“Riyadh is, indeed, seeking a new role in post-US Afghanistan,” Mohammed Soliman, a scholar at the Middle East Institute, told Al-Monitor. “In the 1990s, it was among the few capitals that recognized Afghanistan. Currently, however, there are minimal relations between Saudi Arabia and the Taliban.”

After a protracted hole, what challenges will Riyadh face?

For starters, a number of regional rivals akin to Iran and Qatar have managed to achieve direct entry to the brand new Taliban regime. Nowadays, Qatar is within the limelight as it’s serving to to run the Kabul airport and getting concerned in evacuation operations.

In reality, it has been an indispensable ally for the United States on Afghan issues since 2013, when the Taliban opened an workplace in Doha. In 2016, a peace course of between the group and the administration of deposed Afghan President Ashraf Ghani was initiated in Qatar.

Iran has maintained covert ties with the Taliban since 2015. Having found a standard menace within the Islamic State Khurasan Province, Tehran collaborated with the Taliban to assist include the brand new terror outfit. Since 2018, Iran additionally negotiated and hosted talks between Ghani’s authorities and the Taliban.

Consequently, these rival international locations have direct ties with the brand new incumbents in Kabul. If Riyadh can not restore ties with the Taliban to the identical stage as 20 years in the past, Tehran will most likely make extra headway.

“Saudi Arabia perceives Afghanistan as a vitally important landscape within its peripheral neighborhood,” Caroline Rose, a senior analyst at the Newlines Institute in Washington, said to al-Monitor. “Riyadh finds it imperative to stave off Iranian influence in the country, particularly among proxy forces and the Taliban.”

Also, Turkey is trying to lengthen its affect by working with Qatar in working the Kabul airport, but it surely will not be prepared to be a part of the airport mission until its items are concerned in managing safety.

“Turkey’s entrance into Afghanistan and its deepening security partnership with Pakistan further complicate Saudi Arabia’s policy options,” said Michael Tanchum, a senior fellow at the Austrian Institute for European and Security Studies and a non-resident fellow at the Middle East Institute. “Riyadh cannot afford to become isolated in Afghanistan, but it will need to engage Pakistan and Afghanistan in a way that is congruent with its own reform agenda and ambition to become the premiere Middle Eastern business hub.”

Riyadh want to forestall Kabul from changing into “an ideologically driven state that adopts an extremist interpretation of religion in all its forms,” according to Mohammed Al-Sulami, head of the International Institute for Iranian Studies in Riyadh. “That could turn Afghanistan into a new global terror center, attracting extremists and redeploying them across the world; as was the case with the rise of Al-Qaeda.”

Sulami added in his interview with Al-Monitor, “It is often forgotten that Iran facilitated the passage of Al-Qaeda operatives who carried out the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Therefore, it is extremely important to continue to closely monitor the close relations between Iran and the Taliban.”

Commenting on the identical angle, Tanchum informed Al-Monitor, “The advance of Iranian influence in Iraq has proven disastrous for Saudi Arabia’s security. Riyadh cannot afford to allow the expansion of Iranian influence in Afghanistan. However, while Saudi Arabia’s basic security interests remain the same, the strategic chessboard has changed.”

Having turn out to be extra liberal and fewer fundamentalist, the Saudis have little frequent floor left with the Taliban, they usually want to keep away from any comparability to the Afghan non secular group. 

Contradicting the newest Saudi-UAE campaigns towards militancy, the Taliban comply with the Sunni college of thought like the dominion, however they’re Deobandis and never Wahhabis just like the Saudis. In reality, their interpretation of Islam is now nearer to Tehran than Riyadh. Even Iran’s political system of governance might go well with the brand new regime.

Therefore, Sulami recommends that the area’s international locations “devise a watertight strategy that prevents the formation of a dangerous alliance between the two ideological extremes” — Iran and the Taliban. “These countries should work to reconcile Afghanistan’s warring political factions in order to establish a unity government that does not espouse a reactionary ideology, but rather considers the interests of the Afghan people, establishes balanced relations with neighboring countries, and combats sectarian groups and armed militias with cross-boundary loyalties.”

There has been a sure formality between Riyadh and Washington ever since US President Joe Biden assumed energy, fairly in contrast to the shut ties throughout the time period of former President Donald Trump.

Having confronted criticism from Washington on human rights situations within the kingdom, Riyadh might want to keep away from being put in the identical bracket because the Taliban. These days, most Western international locations simply need to be sure that the Taliban respect basic rights — notably these of ladies — and that any terrorist outfits should not supplied area to proliferate.

Consequently, it’s unlikely that Riyadh will acknowledge the Taliban authorities any time quickly. Instead, it will look forward to the United States and the remainder of the Western bloc to cleared the path, then comply with go well with. Till then, Riyadh would possibly avoid controversies by conveying messages to the Taliban by way of Islamabad.

“Before, Riyadh used to hedge against Tehran in Afghanistan through support of the Afghan Republic,” Rose said. “However, with a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia is recalculating its strategy. Despite recently strained relations, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are deepening cooperation due to their shared interest in countering Iranian influence in the region. Riyadh will also explore additional, alternative strategic partnerships in Afghanistan and the region, such as deepened ties with India and Central Asian republics.”

In Soliman’s opinion, “The kingdom is likely to use its relations with Islamabad to restart its engagement with Afghanistan. The kingdom will pursue a pragmatic policy towards Afghanistan and try to use its religious status to moderate the new government.”

In the meantime, one of many Taliban’s fundamental considerations is getting acknowledged as a reputable authorities, to expedite receiving assist or buying overseas funding. Therefore, the “Taliban 2.0” might take a barely softer line than it previously did.

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