Afghanistan under Taliban rule threatens the whole world – and not only through terrorism
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This article is part of a series from Fox News Digital exploring the fallout from the US military’s withdrawal from Afghanistan a year ago this week.
America and its allies face renewed terrorist threats and other dangers because of years of Taliban rule over Afghanistan, which has also violated human rights in the region, two former ambassadors told Fox News.
According to the former ambassadors, through a mixture of willingness and inability, the Taliban regime has created a long list of threats to the region and Western democracy: a proliferation of terrorist organizations; decreased heroin prices; restricted human rights; the empowerment of Russia and China; and a looming refugee crisis.
“What you see when the Taliban take control of Afghanistan is increasingly a failed state,” Kelley Eckels Currie, former US Ambassador for Global Women’s Affairs, told Fox News. “That happened last year.”
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“We are constantly faced with the consequences of this disorder, chaos and instability, mismanagement and all of that stuff,” Currie continued. “They will be knocking on our door in one form or another, whether it’s refugees or violent extremism.”
“Roll out the red carpet”
According to Currie and Nathan Sales, a former ambassador at large and counter-terrorism coordinator, Taliban rule has already thrived terrorist organizations in Afghanistan, and more will only grow. They said these groups see the US and its Western allies as prime targets.
“Afghanistan is poised to become a real petri dish for terrorist organizations,” Sales told Fox News.
In some cases, like al Qaeda, the Taliban are actively allowing terrorist organizations to expand, the former ambassadors said. But in others, like ISIS-K, the regime is simply unable to stem their growth.
“The Taliban will join forces with some of these groups and roll out the red carpet,” Sales told Fox News. “In other cases, terrorist groups might find Afghanistan hospitable because the Taliban are unable to control its territory, unable to put pressure on a group such as ISIS.”
In any case, allowing terrorist groups to grow “will inevitably bleed into the world in ways that are unpredictable and most likely dangerous and harmful to all of us,” Currie said.
It is already clear that the Taliban have given sanctuary to al-Qaeda, which Sales says allows the extremist group to once again strengthen its ranks.
“Unfortunately, the fact that al-Qaeda’s number one leader was within sight of living in a Taliban-provided safehouse really shows that some of the direst predictions about al-Qaeda’s relationship with the Taliban were spot on,” Sales said.
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A CIA drone strike killed Osama bin Laden’s successor, Ayman al-Zawari, in early August. The al-Qaeda leader spent years in hiding outside the capital, but in recent months he began stepping onto a balcony in Kabul every morning, with a Taliban faction well aware, the Washington Post reported.
Distribution welcomed the drone attack but said, “We also have to be concerned about what this means going forward.”
“Under the auspices of the Taliban, al Qaeda has been able to restore and rebuild their networks,” Sales told Fox News. “That’s how she’s spent the last year, to the point where her leader felt safe living in a safe house linked to a Taliban faction.
He also pointed out that al-Qaeda, while living under Taliban rule, had repeatedly attacked the US even before the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
“The more space, the more oxygen al Qaeda has in Afghanistan to rebuild their networks, make plans, raise funds, radicalize, recruit… the greater the risk that they will engage in counter-terrorism.” U.S. interests around the world and maybe even here at home,” Sales told Fox News.
But al Qaeda isn’t the only group that should affect the US, Sales says.
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“ISIS has a very active affiliate in Afghanistan which was responsible for a horrific suicide bombing at Kabul Airport during the US evacuation, killing a number of American military personnel and a number of innocent Afghans trying to escape from the rule of the US to flee the Taliban.”
Thirteen US soldiers and around 170 Afghan civilians were killed in the August 2021 ISIS-Khorasan or ISIS-K attack at Kabul Airport.
“An Explosion of the Opium and Heroin Trade”
Terrorism is just one threat emanating from Afghanistan. China and Russia will also take advantage of the Taliban, and poppy production is likely to explode, driving down heroin prices worldwide, Currie said.
“Historically, when there’s conflict and instability in Afghanistan … you see an explosion in the opium and heroin trade out of Afghanistan,” Currie told Fox News. “This has huge implications, not only for Europe, which is the main market for these poppies, but also for the world market.”
According to the United Nations, Afghanistan provides about 80% of the world’s opium and heroin supplies, despite America’s efforts to make the trade unpredictable. The Taliban banned cultivation in April but failed to eliminate the market during their previous rule and later turned to harvesting for profit.
“If a market flood lowers the price in Europe, it will impact the price of opioids here in the United States,” Currie said. “If the price of heroin falls, that means it’s more widely available and accessible.”
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Meanwhile, China immediately turned to the Taliban after seizing power in Afghanistan — a nation rich in critical minerals used in a variety of electronics, including electric car batteries and cellphones.
“You have China, which is very opportunistic in this situation to shut down rare earth stockpiles and mines, and also ready to support the Taliban,” Currie told Fox News.
Moscow has similarly exploited Taliban control.
Russia is “ready to support the Taliban for its own domestic reasons,” Currie told Fox News. She said the country has used its seat on the United Nations Security Council to diplomatically protect Taliban interests.
“They’re looking for someone who won’t criticize them for the situation in Ukraine,” Currie told Fox News. “And the Taliban certainly have said absolutely nothing about Ukraine’s territorial integrity and continue to court Russia for support.”
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“Worse humanitarian crises, more disorder, more problems”
Human rights have also suffered under Taliban rule, which will allow Afghanistan’s neighbors to adopt more authoritarian regimes, according to the former ambassadors, both now with the Vandenberg Coalition, a collection of foreign policy experts.
Women could work, girls could go to school, and freedom of speech and religion were respected before the Taliban took power, Sales said.
“The previous democratic government of Afghanistan was far from perfect, but at least it tried,” he told Fox News. “But all of that was washed away by the Taliban wave that swept across the country.”
This deterioration gives surrounding nations with human rights issues more breathing room, Currie said.
“Of course, if you have a neighboring country that’s really down the drain in terms of human rights, it’s going to draw some of the attention away from your less-than-attractive qualities when it comes to human rights,” Currie said.
“It certainly takes pressure off countries like Pakistan, which don’t have a good record on women’s rights, which don’t have a good record on human rights overall, on tolerance for other religious groups, particularly religious minorities like Christians,” Currie continued away.
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Because of the Taliban’s authoritarian regime and their inability to provide for Afghan citizens, Currie said the country will eventually see a mass exodus of refugees.
The Taliban are “unable to meet the basic needs of the citizens of Afghanistan, which will lead to even worse humanitarian crises, more disorder, more problems in this country, refugee flows and in turn regional problems that we can afford to suffer from.” ‘ Currie told Fox News.
“Letting issues like this simmer has never worked well for us,” Currie said.
Isabelle McDonnell contributed to the accompanying video.
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