Afghan fallout leveraged in Kazakhstan’s Hybrid War

A destabilizing geopolitical pattern is emerging as Central Asia and neighboring Afghanistan are embroiled in a new wave of proxy battles. The main players are America and Russia. As the Ukraine crisis spilled over into Kazakhstan, the United States managed to leverage the fallout in Afghanistan as the main driver of instability, according to Central Asia observers.

West Asia politics stirred when border skirmishes between Turkmenistan, Iran, Pakistan and China involved a proxy group of local Taliban fighters. To make sense of what the region has been through, we need to understand the context of the Ukrainian crisis. The Russian strategic objective behind its massive deployment on Ukraine’s borders was regime change in Kyiv and the subsequent annexation of the country. This plan was leaked and the United States assembled its counterattacks and chose the theater of Central Asia and Afghanistan, employing the dynamics of hybrid warfare.

There are five countries around Afghanistan with which Washington has deteriorated its bilateral relations to varying degrees, i.e. China, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Russia – as a power resident in Central Asia. The United States has extensive experience with regime change in Central Asia in the past using NGOs to support proxy groups and support their kinetic actions.

This time Tajikistan was chosen and its anti-government forces were targeted. The proxy forces were mainly made up of secular and extremist militants comprising a mix of Turkestani militants – who were under the protection of the Taliban – and the relocated pro-Taliban group in the border region. The forces raised by the anti-Moscow secular government were the opposite side, with clandestine help from the deep, distant state of India – a strategic partner of the United States.

The main objective of a possible implosion of Tajikistan would serve another purpose: its security is closely linked to Afghanistan and by extension to the stability of Afghanistan’s neighbours. Some Afghan Taliban proxy groups have also been used against Iran, Pakistan and Turkmenistan by engaging in border skirmishes, provoking actions and removing fences on the Pakistani border respectively. The same will likely be repeated with China as anti-China militants are drafted and deployed along the Afghan border stretching all the way to Beijing. China is likely to react publicly to such events that are about to unfold on its border with deep concern for its security in Xinjiang province.

Moreover, these proxy kinetic moves have however sent shockwaves through Moscow, Tehran, Islamabad and now Beijing, fearing another theater is unfolding on their doorstep.

To unbalance Moscow in Eastern Europe, for a reversal of behavior in Ukraine in particular, an additional distraction – on a larger scale however – has been created for Russia in Kazakhstan. The usual suspect was the NED (National Endowment for Democracy) and it was proxy funding that became kinetic, taking advantage of inflation and local issues. The money trail is set because many Central Asian observers believe that the NED is a front for the CIA, although the United States has never acknowledged this, nor has the CIA due to the risk of backfire. And millions of dollars have been poured into groups with hostile goals.

Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said militants from Afghanistan and the Middle East were being used as proxies in this crisis. While the model was successfully piloted in Ukraine in 2014, it was repeated in Kazakhstan. The NED has also sponsored public relations campaigns and anti-government bodies in Pakistan investing around $4.5 million in 2020 alone.

This latest chaos in Central Asia has turned Russia away from Ukraine and delayed the annexation plan until Moscow stabilizes its sphere of influence. However, it is not yet clear whether this would have any deterrent value in Ukraine.

Yet another distant crisis in Eastern Europe has found strong traction in Central and West Asia as the main theater involving Russia, to a lesser extent Turkmenistan, Iran, Pakistan and now China.

This brings us back to the US hybrid strategy (aimed at deterrence and changing the behavior of countries): the group or groups drafted into the ranks of the Afghan Taliban have irritated the countries in the region supporting the Taliban, much to the delight of Washington. Going forward, the Afghan Taliban will be viewed with deep suspicion from Moscow, Beijing, Islamabad and Tehran, as they have so far refused to neutralize potential and actual proxy groups focused on Afghanistan’s neighbors.

The stakes for the region are high, as they are for Pakistan. Here’s what Pakistan can do to stabilize Afghanistan and calm nerves in the region in an effort to improve the difficult situation. Islamabad has no substantial influence over the Taliban. However, it can be improved by taking these three steps, namely: a: almost recognizing the Taliban as a legitimate government of Afghanistan; b: send doctors and engineers to take over collapsed hospitals left behind by Western NGOs; c: Form the Taliban intelligence team by drawing from disbanded members of the regime’s NDS.

The above strategy will provide the Afghan Taliban with enough incentive to prevent Afghanistan from becoming the focus of a new round of insurgencies and deny asylum to stability-oriented militants from neighboring countries. Of course, this is a kind of pushback when it comes to Pakistan.

Meanwhile, paranoid Moscow and the region will connect the dots as they witness overt US support for NGOs and covert aid to overthrow governments and destabilize other countries perceived as hostile or less friendly to states. -United.

This is why Moscow showed greater determination during the recent talks with the United States on the Ukrainian crisis. Given the zero return from the overt use of proxy NGOs as a front and through them of kinetic operations, the US is well positioned to set up a deterrent for reversals on certain issues such as the Russian withdrawal of Ukraine, the stopping of the BRI and the Chinese CPEC in its tracks and the belligerence of Iran.

In a nutshell, it is a geopolitical contest without borders involving, in large part, the interstate rivalry between China and the United States, Russia and the United States, Pakistan and the United States, the Iran and the United States, manifested in proxy warfare in gray areas and non-viable states and regions in Central Asia. and West Asia. A pushback of varying degrees from all of these countries is imminent – ​​welcome to a new version of the Cold War.

Jan Achakzai is a geopolitical analyst, politician from Balochistan and former adviser to the government of Balochistan for media and strategic communication. It remained associated with BBC World Service. He is also the President of the Institute of New Horizons (INH) and of Balochistan. He tweets @Jan_Achakzai

Christi C. Elwood