The Taliban’s rapid takeover of Afghanistan has left regional heavyweights Iran and Turkey with a headache – both countries may see an opportunity to strengthen their influence but neither want a new influx of refugees.
This is particularly the case at this time as the two countries battle the coronavirus pandemic and face economic hardship.
Analysts say it all depends on an unknown factor – whether the Taliban presents a more moderate position that allows for international cooperation or whether it is returning to the unbridled extremism that led to their overthrow in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks. .
“The situation represents a huge risk for Turkey, there is no doubt. Iran will also be the loser if the Taliban revert to their old ways and provide refuge ”to Islamist extremists, Asli Aydintasbas, senior researcher at the European Foreign Affairs Council. External relations (ECFR), told AFP.
Iran and Turkey both risk seeing substantial influxes of refugees, many of whom cross from Iran to Turkey in the hope of reaching Europe.
The two are already hosting large refugee populations – 3.6 million Syrians in Turkey and 3.5 million Afghans in Iran – and tolerance among them is running out.
The Covid-19 pandemic has hit Iran hard, pushing the sanctions-stricken country even deeper into crisis, while in Turkey the economic growth that has always been the bulwark of Erdogan’s popularity has subsided. passed out.
Turkish President Recept Tayyip Erdogan said last week he was ready to meet with Taliban leaders in an effort to secure peace while radical new Iranian President Ebrahim Rasi said the US military “defeat” in Afghanistan was a chance to bring peace to the country.
On Tuesday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu spoke of “positive messages” from the Taliban on the protection of civilians and foreigners, expressing the hope that they would follow up on positive actions.
– ‘Time bomb’ –
But analysts say the Taliban takeover deprived Erdogan of a strategic card he was eager to play – an offer to provide military security at Kabul airport that could have improved relations with the US president. Joe Biden.
“The whole Turkish mission is in danger as well as the idea of using Kabul airport as a lever to relaunch Turkey’s relations with Washington,” Aydintasbas said, adding that it was “difficult to imagine “that the Taliban would let Turkey control the airport.
“A few days ago it looked like a golden opportunity for Turkey. Now that’s a huge time bomb. “
Meanwhile, “the most pressing problem” for Erdogan is the possible influx of refugees from Afghanistan at a time of growing unrest in Turkey over the long-term presence of Syrians in the country, she said. declared.
Aydintasbas said neighboring countries “have no idea what Taliban 2.0 will look like”.
“If the Taliban became more moderate, Turkey could engage with them,” she said.
The International Crisis Group argued in a research note that the Taliban’s diplomatic engagement “has shifted towards a region-centric approach,” emphasizing dialogue with Iran, Russia, Central Asian States and China.
– Stability led by the United States –
Rouzbeh Parsi of the Swedish Institute of International Affairs said that the departure of US forces from the region was Iran’s stated goal, but their departure was far from entirely welcome for Tehran.
“US support to the governments in Afghanistan and Iraq has also served Iran well as it provided stability and the United States has done the heavy lifting,” he said.
The predominantly Shiite Iran, which shares a border of more than 900 kilometers (550 miles) with Afghanistan, appears keen to achieve peaceful coexistence with the Sunni Taliban, he said.
“Iran has for some time, pragmatic as always, accepted that the Taliban will not disappear and that no foreigner can defeat them militarily,” he said.
“Iran is a country heavily beset by Covid, corruption and a faltering economy. The capacity and willingness to take in more Afghan refugees is probably not great. “
Parsi added that Iran’s future relations with the new rulers in Kabul “depended on the pragmatism of the Taliban,” noting that Tehran would pay particular attention to the well-being of the Hazara minority, mainly Shiite and Persian.
Marc Pierini, visiting researcher at Carnegie Europe and former EU ambassador to Turkey, said Europe was anxiously monitoring potential migrant flows after a million people reached its shores mainly via Turkey in 2015, when the Syrian conflict was at its peak.
“Managing this emergency will require confident humanitarian cooperation between the EU and Iran-Turkey, which will be difficult to achieve,” he told AFP.
© 2021 AFP