The Taliban's return has left Afghanistan's neighbors scrambling to adjust

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Afghan people sit as they wait to leave the Kabul airport in Kabul on August 16, 2021, after a stunningly swift end to Afghanistan’s 20-year war, as thousands of people mobbed the city’s airport trying to flee the group’s feared hardline brand of Islamist rule.

Wakil Kohsar | AFP | Getty Images

The Taliban’s swift return to power after two decades has left Afghanistan’s neighbors scrambling to figure out how to adjust to a shifting geopolitical outlook, experts told CNBC.

President Joe Biden in April ordered the Pentagon to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, effectively ending America’s longest war.

As U.S. military presence wound down, the Taliban made rapid battlefield advances despite being outnumbered by the Afghan military. In recent weeks, the group seized major cities and provincial capitals before entering capital Kabul on Sunday and taking control of the presidential palace.

“Much is in geopolitical flux right now, as Afghanistan’s neighbors figure out how to adjust to an emerging Taliban regime,” Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia program at the Woodrow Wilson Center, told CNBC.

Political risk consultancy Eurasia Group said in a note last week that neighboring countries are worried about political instability, likely refugee inflows and the prospect of Afghanistan again becoming a haven for terrorist activities.

Pakistan

Pakistan held a significant amount of leverage and influence over the Taliban in the past, according to Eurasia Group analysts. It was one of the few countries that recognized the group as a legitimate government when they were last in power.

Pakistan has also long been accused of covertly aiding the Taliban in Afghanistan — a charge that the country denies.

The analysts said, however, Islamabad’s influence has waned over the years and Pakistan would likely be on guard over potential violence on its borders. Reports said the Taliban’s return in Afghanistan could potentially embolden terror groups in Pakistan, including the Pakistani Taliban, which could affect the country’s security.

“More broadly, Pakistan will see the rise of the Taliban as a major setback for its arch-rival India, and thus a positive outcome,” the Eurasia Group analysts said.

Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said on Twitter that the country is working to evacuate diplomats and other personnel from Afghanistan. He also called on the international community to “remain engaged and involved in Afghanistan in a constructive manner.”

India

China

Russia

“China is worried about what might happen in Xinjiang. Russia is worried as to what can happen in Central Asia and we have seen overtures being made by these countries already to the Taliban,” he said Monday on CNBC’s “Street Signs Asia.”

“This is going to have reverberations across the region, in terms of how it will give fillip to once again extremist ideologies, radical ideologies,” Pant said.

Experts pointed out that one of Russia’s immediate priorities would be to limit the risk of spillover fighting or the movement of organized extremist groups into the Central Asian states along Afghanistan’s northern border.

Wilson Center’s Kugelman added that Moscow’s main concern is the Islamic State, instead of the Taliban. “It will want to ensure that the Taliban, though it’s a rival of ISIS, is attentive to the regional threat posed by ISIS.”

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