For London and Washington, the Russian and Chinese posture is a possibility for peace.
Written by Lucas Leiroz, research fellow in international law at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.
Apparently, the future of relations between Afghanistan and the West will depend on the level of influence of Moscow and Beijing over the Central Asian country. In a recent statement, UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said that his country would have to ask the Russian and Chinese governments to exercise a “moderating influence” on the Taliban. This would possibly be the only way to pacify the Taliban’s actions and prevent the new government from taking unwanted actions by the international society – such as the spreading of terrorism.
These were Raab’s words: “We’re going to have to bring in countries with a potentially moderating influence like Russia and China, however uncomfortable that is.”
Despite its discomfort at “needing” to negotiate with some of its biggest geopolitical rivals, the British government appears to be willing to do anything to prevent the situation from getting worse in Kabul. However, a long way will have to be traveled by London to normalize its relations with Moscow and Beijing – a fundamental step for such a request for help on Afghanistan to be carried out.
Relations between Britain and China have recently deteriorated significantly. Adhering to the Washington-led global anti-China campaign, London has taken a series of genuine anti-diplomatic measures, which strongly hurt Chinese interests and principles. For example, London granted a permanent passport to Hong Kong citizens interested in migrating to the British territory, encouraging a policy of mass migration in the region. The British government has also been sharply critical of China, sanctioning the Asian country, for alleged human rights “violations” against the Uighur ethnic group – even though such allegations of violations have never been proven. Even on military matters, British attitudes have been reprehensible in recent times, as we can see, for example, with the recent naval incursion of the Royal Navy in the South China Sea.
Between London and Moscow, the situation is similar. Since 2018, both countries have kept their ties practically “frozen”, with strong diplomatic instability. That year, the British government accused Moscow of ordering the assassination of Sergey Skripal, a former agent who provided confidential Russian government information to British intelligence agencies and was condemned in a Russian court under the accusation of treason. There has never been any convincing evidence for the possible involvement of official Russian agents in the assassination attempt, however, the government’s narrative remains and serves as a justification for adopting a policy of open opposition to Russia.
Faced with so many problems, the question remains: how to reverse all this negative legacy in such a short time? In fact, this is a challenge that belongs exclusively to London. It was the United Kingdom that took the initiative to damage its relations with Moscow and Beijing, creating unnecessary diplomatic tensions. Russia and China’s stance in this regard has been only defensive in recent years, with moderate responses to an increasingly aggressive policy by London – and Washington, its biggest ally.
Day after day, the need to seek a “solution to Afghanistan” grows among the British. Since August 13, British forces have evacuated 3,821 people from Kabul, according to the UK Defense Ministry. These include British embassy staff, British citizens, and civilians eligible under the Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy (ARAP, a program created to facilitate the migration of Afghan citizens living at risk in their homeland).
Last month, Boris Johnson had announced the end of the British military mission to Afghanistan, concluding the 20-year collaboration with the US in the occupation of the country. Apparently, Johnson’s plan was to evacuate British troops quickly, before the full withdrawal of American soldiers, to avoid any risk of participating in Washington’s imminent defeat, but the speed with which the Taliban advanced impressed the entire world. Within days, Kabul was seized and what was supposed to be a “troop withdrawal” on the part of the US and UK turned into a shameful escape. So, now the West needs help.
Russia and China are acting to secure peace in Afghanistan as soon as possible. Moscow has not changed its view about the Taliban, which is still considered a terrorist group and remains banned on Russian soil but is taking a more pragmatic stance to try to promptly achieve peace in the region. In the same sense, China acts in accordance with its traditional principles in foreign policy, which highlight the notion of non-intervention in the internal affairs of states. For the Chinese, it doesn’t matter who is in power in a country, there is only concern about maintaining good relations with the Chinese state – and this posture is repeated in Afghanistan, so Beijing is willing to negotiate with the Taliban and establish strong commercial ties with the country, integrating it into its Belt and Road Initiative. Acting together, Russia and China can achieve peace in Kabul and collaborate towards the political stabilization of Afghanistan – and more than that, they can demand in exchange for political recognition that the Taliban assume a more moderate stance and not act with the same terrorist modus operandi that shocked the world in past decades.
However, “moderating the Taliban” does not mean demanding a peaceful stance towards the West. Russia and China prioritize civil peace in Afghanistan and good relations with their respective states when negotiating with the Taliban, but perhaps they are unwilling to demand good relations with the rest of the world – even more so with countries that do not care to maintain good relations with them. So, in the current scenario, Russian and Chinese active involvement can prevent the Taliban from acting violently against any UK and US remnant forces in Afghanistan, as well as against Western embassies and NGOs.