SocraticGadfly: So, are the Taliban really undisputed masters of Afghanistan now?

September 16, 2021

So, are the Taliban really undisputed masters of Afghanistan now?

At Counterpunch, that certainly seems to be the opinion of Patrick Cockburn. He semi-sneered at the idea that ISIS-K and the Taliban were separate entities, even though the animosity between parent ISIS and the Taliban has been well known for years. For real insight about the Greater Middle East, you should start with James Dorsey. Dorsey wrote precisely about this same issue on the same date.

To some degree, Cockburn and Dorsey have different focuses. Patrick, like his brother, the late Alexander Cockburn, is in part trying to flog the U.S. bipartisan foreign policy establishment, and when the backside of the establishment is presented any tool becomes a whip, while Dorsey is focused on the Greater Middle East on its own terms. That said, for all the reflexive anti-Americanism both Cockburns show at times, why can't THEY on occasion do just that? Robert Fisk did. As part of that different focus, Dorsey also looks beyond just ISIS-K to other challenges the Taliban may face from alternative militant groups.

In all that, though, there's some degree of straight disagreement about how much the Taliban have to fear, Dorsey indicates it's more a real thing than Cockburn does. (And, although Dorsey doesn't go into it, this may be another reason why the Taliban put preconditions on surrendering bin Laden. They didn't really want to, because it might threaten their control over Afghanistan; preconditions gave them an out.)

Beyond all that, though, Cockburn can't be troubled, after his beating U.S. foreign policy with a cudgel, to understand Afghanistan much better or much further than the U.S. foreign policy establishment he hates.

In a new piece, Dorsey notes Iran has already cooled to the Taliban somewhat do to its freeze-out of ethnic Hazaris, who are also religiously Shi'ite and who comprise 20 percent of Afghanistan's population. Again, you won't likely find stuff like this in the more simplistic pages of Counterpunch.

Nor will you find nuance on great power or superpower issues at Counterpunch. But you will from Dorsey.

Dorsey writes about all the above in light of Iran's hope to move beyond observer status to full membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization this weekend. Membership is by consensus vote, but any group that can include both China and Russia, and even more, both Pakistan and India, can surely make room for Iran.

As Dorsey notes, it probably won't help Iran's isolation much, nor cut sanctions much. After all, this IS a country that, after the election of Biden and some small loosening of relations, asked for all sanctions to be removed before talking about whether it would accept going back to the Obama nuclear control deal while at the same time, this summer, running the most rigged presidential election in its history — an election so rigged that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei's Guardian Council booted former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad off the ballot, as well as Ali Larijani.

Dorsey adds that this may not be Iran's goal. Rather, if it gets full membership, since full membership is by consensus, it can then block Gulf Arab states from joining.

He also notes that the application process for the SCO is two years, and that if China, Russia, Pakistan, or the "-stans" of former Tsarist/Soviet Central Asia  have concerns about Iran in general or vis-a-vis Afghanistan in particular, they have two years to deal with that.

If Iran IS accepted, that would make Afghanistan totally surrounded by SCO states, another reason to reject Cockburn's thinking that it will "run wild."

Dorsey, who's on a roll recently, offers another reason to challenge Cockburn. At some point, Uyghur mujahideen, or hell, to riff on Reagan and kick Max Blumenthal in the nads, "freedom fighters," are going to flee to Afghanistan. What's the Taliban-led government going to do when Beijing knocks at the door, Dorsey wonders

This isn't idle speculation. Leaders in the former Afghan government claim Uyghurs gave major help to the Taliban.

It's not idle speculation for another reason. Contra Alex Cockburn, the Taliban has regularly resisted turning over outsiders that have given it assistance.

That said, the rhetorical question cuts both ways. Having seen both the U.S. and the Soviet Union get mired there, what will Beijing do if the Taliban says no?

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