IISS[1]:  Adapting to a new reality in Afghanistan (How neighbors and partners ought to approach Taliban?)

How will regional states respond to the Taliban’s victory in Afghanistan? The IISS research team offers their insights into how governments will be carefully recalibrating relationships after a tumultuous week for the region.  IISS experts answer the question for all Afghanistan’s neighbors and partners. PA Turkey focused on Turkey, Qatar, Russia and Iran only, Turkey’s partners or neighbors.


Turkey: an uncertain and dangerous balancing act

Turkey faces a highly volatile future in its relations with Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, marked by high risk and few tangible rewards. It sees an opportunity to recover some of the legitimacy and soft power that it has lost as a result of its foreign-policy blunders over recent years. As the only Muslim-majority member of NATO, it is likely to seek to balance competing interests and allies.


Ankara will seek to shore up credibility with the Biden administration and other Western partners, and use its close relations with Qatar and Pakistan (both of which have cultivated close ties with senior Taliban commanders) to position itself as a mediator between the Taliban administration and the outside world. But in the absence of a clear legal framework, and the cover of a NATO mission, Turkey faces an uncertain and dangerous outlook in Afghanistan unless the terms of its political and diplomatic engagement are clearly spelt out. Additional pressure from Russia, Iran and, to a lesser extent, al-Qaeda, which all play significant roles in Afghanistan, will add to the precarious nature of Turkey’s position.


Moreover, Turkey faces a fresh refugee crisis: even in the weeks before the fall of Kabul, between 500 and 2,000 Afghans were estimated to be arriving on its soil each day. Ankara lacks a comprehensive settlement policy and is struggling to limit irregular migration into the country. It cannot cope indefinitely with a new surge in its refugee population and sees the uptick in conflict-related refugee flows as a global crisis that is being delegated to neighboring countries.


Burcu Ozcelik

Associate Fellow; Research Fellow, Department of Politics and International Studies, University of Cambridge




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Russia: opportunity to exploit weakened Western resolve?

Russia’s official public mood is one of calm equanimity. The ability of its Kabul embassy – under apparent Taliban protection – to work largely unhindered is a stark counterpoint to the evacuations of Western missions. Although the Taliban remains a banned organization in Russia, the Kremlin appears ready to engage with it, and has not issued its usual protests at the overthrow of a recognised government. The failure of America and its allies, a source of intrinsic satisfaction, has further domestic uses ahead of next month’s Duma elections.


But recent history gives Moscow more reason than most to worry. In the 1990s, Islamic extremism from Afghanistan sought to undermine not only Central Asia but Russia itself. Partly for this reason, President Vladimir Putin welcomed the US intervention in Afghanistan in 2001. For a time, Russia and the US shared a commitment to fighting international terrorism. Even before the Taliban’s seizure of Kabul, Moscow had begun to anticipate the resurgence of risks familiar from its last period of rule, notably by conducting military exercises with Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, which border Afghanistan. Nikolai Patrushev, Secretary of the Security Council, has since highlighted the threat of destabilising flows of drugs and militants.


Like others, Russia is watching closely to see how the Taliban’s intentions evolve. If Afghanistan again radiates extremism beyond its borders, Russia may seek limited cooperation with the West in an otherwise largely zero-sum relationship. But it may also seek to exploit perceptions that Western resolve has weakened. Patrushev has already drawn a parallel between the US withdrawal and its relationship with Ukraine. The implication is that Russia may step up its pressure there and elsewhere.


Nigel Gould-Davies

Editor, Strategic Survey; Senior Fellow for Russia and Eurasia




Qatar: seeking to maintain relevance with an emboldened Taliban

Qatar is the Gulf state that has maintained the best relations with the Taliban movement and, as such, it appears best positioned to benefit from the power shift in Kabul.


The Taliban opened an office in Doha in 2013, which became its diplomatic hub. Senior Taliban officials lived in the country, most notably Mullah Baradar, the Taliban co-founder and deputy leader who led the negotiations with the US and later with the Afghan government.


When the Trump administration sought to exit Afghanistan by striking a deal with the Taliban, it found a willing enabler in Qatar. Since 2018, Qatar has been the key facilitator of US–Taliban negotiations, which culminated in 2020 in the deal that set a strict timeline for the US withdrawal. Qatari negotiators have been intimately involved in mollifying the Taliban. This role generated US goodwill for Qatar at a time when it was the subject of a brutal Saudi–Emirati boycott.


It is not clear what Qatar has promised the Taliban to induce it to enter political talks. That said, Doha has been trying to impress on the Taliban the importance of international recognition through diplomacy. But the lightning speed at which the Taliban has taken over Afghanistan has severely weakened Qatar’s hand. At this point, the Taliban needs Qatari friendliness and mediation a lot less: the US is out and the Afghan government has ceased to exist, so there is no need for further negotiations. Major powers are rushing to recognise the new political reality in Kabul. Qatar’s influence over the Taliban has likely peaked.


That said, Doha’s financial power and strong relationships with Turkey, Iran and Pakistan guarantee political relevance and a role in the economic future of Afghanistan. Given its knowledge of the Taliban leadership, many will also expect Doha to spend political capital to moderate the fundamentalist group and to secure United Nations and humanitarian access.


Emile Hokayem

Senior Fellow for Middle East Security



Iran: strategic alignment with the Taliban, for now

Iran and the Taliban were adversaries in 2001: Iran supported the Taliban’s nemesis, the Northern Alliance; the Taliban murdered Iran’s diplomats in Mazar-i-Sharif; and Iran connived in the Taliban’s overthrow. Now the Taliban is back, and that’s better news than it might once have been for Tehran.


In the intervening two decades, the Iranian regime has steadily and stealthily moved into strategic alignment with the Taliban. They may not share the same creed, but for the moment they share strategic interests. At the very least, neither side has an interest now in alienating the other.


First, they share a passionate rejection of US influence in the region. Iran has made its strategic objective the eviction of the US from Iraq on its western border, the Taliban has done just that in Afghanistan on its eastern border. As well as this shared objective, there will be reciprocal admiration and possibly emulation. The Taliban is looking for an example of how, this time round, to ensure the Islamic Emirate survives: Iran, still here despite everything, will be a good source of inspiration.


Secondly, Iran and the Taliban both need strategic depth. Iran needs an ally in Herat and western Afghanistan, while the Taliban needs strategic depth on all sides to compensate for what will, it knows, be at best limited support in the international community. It already has Pakistan. Iran balances it up nicely and brings reach into the Arab Levant.


Alignment doesn’t spare the two countries bilateral problems such as water sharing, narcotics or refugees. They also have to work out what to do with al-Qaeda, which Iran has been sheltering, although, conveniently, both sides want rid of Islamic State Khorasan Province. Sectarian differences, while buried beneath a strategic partnership, are a potential powder keg, in particular over the Hazara community from whom Iran’s IRGC–Quds Force recruited its ‘Fatimiyoun’ division. Tehran may conclude that these issues are better handled within a working relationship with the Taliban rather than as adversaries. Expect cooperation to be more pragmatic than visionary. Iran now has a neighbour that has humiliated the US and with which it can work. To the new hard-line President Ebrahim Raisi, that will look like a result.


John Raine

Senior Adviser for Geopolitical Due Diligence




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[1] International Institute of Strategic Studies

Published By: Atilla Yeşilada

GlobalSource Partners’ Turkey Country Analyst Atilla Yesilada is the country’s leading political analyst and commentator. He is known throughout the finance and political science world for his thorough and outspoken coverage of Turkey’s political and financial developments. In addition to his extensive writing schedule, he is often called upon to provide his political expertise on major radio and television channels. Based in Istanbul, Atilla is co-founder of the information platform Istanbul Analytics and is one of GlobalSource’s local partners in Turkey. In addition to his consulting work and speaking engagements throughout the US, Europe and the Middle East, he writes regular columns for Turkey’s leading financial websites VATAN and www.paraanaliz.com and has contributed to the financial daily Referans and the liberal daily Radikal.