Taliban takeover of Afghanistan will reshape Middle East, official warns

Gulf states are having to reconsider their alliances and especially whether they can still trust the US, says senior source

The Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan is a shattering earthquake that will shape the Middle East for many years, a senior Gulf official has said, warning that – despite the group’s promises of moderation – the militant group is “essentially the same” as last time it was in power.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, the official also said that the rapid and chaotic US withdrawal also raises serious questions for Gulf states about the value of US promises of security over the next 20 years.

“Afghanistan is an earthquake, a shattering, shattering earthquake, and this is going to stay with us for a very, very long time,” the official said on Monday. He added that the episode marked a complete break with the outdated Carter doctrine – a commitment that an oil-dependent US would use military force to defend its interests in the Gulf.

“Can we really depend on an American security umbrella for the next 20 years? I think this is very problematic right now – really very problematic.”

He suggested that 20 years of warfare, supposed to be “a battle against those who had hijacked Islam”, had left no legacy in Afghanistan, and predicted that the Taliban’s seizure of power would prompt concern among leaders in West Africa and the Sahel about the rise of a newly confident Islamic extremism.

The official added he had no expectation that the Taliban would behave differently from when it was previously in power, saying, “They are essentially the same, but just more world-savvy.”

The biggest surprise, the official said, was the sheer incompetence of the US operation and the signs of bureaucratic infighting that marred US thinking.

Afghanistan, he said, will probably come to be seen as a Pakistan victory, and a Chinese opportunity – with the US playing a minimal role. “If there is a geopolitical struggle over Afghanistan, we will see Pakistan and China on one hand and India, Iran and Russia on the other hand,” the official said. “And I don’t think the Americans are going to be a part of the geopolitical struggle over Afghanistan.

Many Gulf states have already begun recalibrating their foreign policy to take into account declining US dependence on oil and the growing popular insularity of the US, but the official said he now expected that process to speed up, leading to realignments in alliances and a desire for some historical rivals to establish more pragmatic relations. The general aim will be to de-escalate tensions in the region, the official said.

The official added that he expected to see greater discussions between Saudi Arabia and Iran in the future, as well as between the United Arab Emirates and Iran. The official also pointed to the signing of a defence agreement between Saudi Arabia and Russia as a sign that in a post-carbon age, the Gulf states wanted to diversify their sources of security away from the US.

Iran, under its previous government, led by Hassan Rouhan, had started to hold discreet talks with Saudi Arabia at an intelligence cooperation level, but that may now become more open. Bahrain has already been seen to look for new alliances in the region including through the Abraham Accord with Israel, and in the UAE’s case by restoring diplomatic relations with Syria.

The emphasis will be on “trying to make this region less of a pressure cooker”.

Contributor

Patrick Wintour Diplomatic editor

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Obama v Romney: around the world in 90 minutes
The third presidential debate made it clear: from Israeli-Palestinian affairs to the eurozone crisis, foreign politics will have precious little part to play in this US election

Harriet Sherwood, Tania Branigan, David Smith, Jon Boone, Miriam Elder, Ian Traynor, Angelique Chrisafis, Jonathan Watts and Kate Hodal

23, Oct, 2012 @2:01 PM

Article image
Nearly half of US arms exports go to the Middle East
Saudi Arabia is world’s second biggest importer, with global US sales up by 25% in past five years

Saeed Kamali Dehghan

12, Mar, 2018 @1:01 AM

Article image
Taliban fears over young recruits attracted to Isis in Afghanistan
Generous resources and a powerful brand lure would-be jihadis to group

Emma Graham-Harrison

07, May, 2015 @11:17 AM

Article image
9/11 anniversary: across the Islamic world opinion is against the militants

Attacks on US, and the violence after, drew Muslims away from militancy, but new events are of more concern

Jason Burke in Delhi and Riyadh, Declan Walsh in Islamabad, Harriet Sherwood in Gaza, Jack Shenker in Cairo, Kate Hodal in Jakarta, Nora Fakim in Rabat, Jon Boone in Kabul and Giles Tremlett in Madrid

08, Sep, 2011 @6:32 PM

Barack Obama's election 2012 win: the world reacts

Countries around the globe have welcomed the re-election of the US president. But there are some notable exceptions

Tania Branigan in Beijing, Howard Amos in Moscow, Saeed Kamali Dehghan, Emma Graham-Harrisson in Kabul, Jason Burke in New Delhi, Martin Chulov in Beirut, David Smith in Pretoria and Angelique Chrisafis in Paris and Jonathan Watts, Latin America correspondent

07, Nov, 2012 @4:22 PM

Article image
Hazara Shias flee Afghanistan fearing Taliban persecution
Attacks on religious minority prompt exodus of thousands across border to Pakistan to seek safety

Shah Meer Baloch in Chaman

29, Aug, 2021 @1:45 PM

Article image
America isn't leaving the Middle East, unfortunately | Seumas Milne

Seumas Milne: The Iran nuclear deal is a product of the failure of the war on terror. It should at least hand more control to the region's people

Seumas Milne

27, Nov, 2013 @10:00 PM

Article image
How the world views the US elections, from Israel to North Korea
While many countries have shown a preference for Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump has pockets of support, as Guardian journalists around the world explain

Guardian staff

31, Oct, 2016 @10:00 AM

Article image
The Guardian view on religious intolerance: the burden of the cross | Editorial
Editorial: In much of the world, and many Islamic societies especially, Christians are oppressed. The rights of humans should always come before the proclaimed rights of God

Editorial

25, Dec, 2014 @7:05 PM

Article image
Simon Tisdall's 2010 world review: so you thought this year was tough …
WikiLeaks changed the face of diplomacy, and sabres rattled in North Korea and Iran, but worse may be to come

Simon Tisdall

30, Dec, 2010 @7:30 PM