Afghanistan in Anarchy: America’s Withdrawal, Taliban Rule and Regional Implications for Central Asia

AuthorCharles J. Sullivan
Published date01 December 2022
Date01 December 2022
Subject MatterResearch Articles
Research Article
Afghanistan in Anarchy:
America’s Withdrawal,
Taliban Rule and
Regional Implications
for Central Asia
Charles J. Sullivan1
This article analyses the geopolitical repercussions of America’s military
withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Afghan Taliban’s seizure of power in 2021.
Since the Afghan Taliban continue to disregard the principal terms of the 2020
Doha Agreement brokered by the United States, Afghanistan is descending into
chaos. The Afghan Taliban is unable to provide ordinary Afghans with basic living
necessities, lacks international recognition and must contend against other
violent extremist organizations operating within the country. Thus far, the Central
Asian republics (Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan) have exhibited varying
responses to the Afghan Taliban’s takeover. While the ‘Stans’ are all anxious
about the potential spread of radical Islam and a looming humanitarian crisis,
the greater threat to Ashgabat, Tashkent and Dushanbe, as well as Bishkek and
Nur-Sultan, lies with the United States pivoting away from Central Asia and the
Russian Federation acquiring greater leverage over regional security issues.
Afghanistan, Central Asia, Russia, terrorism, Afghan Taliban
Afghanistan is descending into anarchy. The Afghan Taliban seized power in the
wake of America’s haphazard military withdrawal and the concurrent collapse
of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, but the radical Islamic organization
Journal of Asian Security
and International Affairs
9(3) 513–530, 2022
© The Author(s) 2022
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/23477970221129908
1 Political Science and International Relations, School of Sciences and Humanities, Nazarbayev
University in Astana, Nur-Sultan, Republic of Kazakhstan
Corresponding author:
Charles J. Sullivan, Lexington, USA.
514 Journal of Asian Security and International Affairs 9(3)
has proved incapable of exerting its political authority across the entirety of
the country. Specifically, Afghanistan’s latest (entirely male and predominantly
Pashtun) (Gannon, 2021) government is facing severe financial constraints on
account of being locked out of the global economy (which is causing massive
food shortages and a spike in malnutrition among children) (Shah, 2022), as well
as challenges to its rule from other violent extremist groups such as Islamic State–
Khorasan (ISIS-K) (Mir, 2021). Meanwhile, Afghans are growing increasingly
desperate, with many taking drastic measures to survive as they are forced to
readjust to the Afghan Taliban’s harsh brand of rule (UN News, 2021). Yet how
will America’s exodus from Afghanistan and the restoration of the so-called
Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan impact the wider region? Can the Afghan Taliban
stabilize Afghanistan, and how does all this affect the Central Asian republics?
This article initially posits that the primary reason for Afghanistan’s current
troubles relates to the way in which the Afghan Taliban returned to power.
Considering the organizations’ disregard for the principal terms of the 2020 Doha
Agreement with the United States and its violent overthrow of the Islamic
Republic of Afghanistan, the Afghan Taliban has yet to be recognized by any
member of the international community and remains wholly isolated from the
global financial system. Second, this article maintains that, although all the ‘Stans’
are concerned about the threat that violent extremist groups with expansionary
aims pose to the region, some of the Central Asian republics have put forth
contrasting foreign policies vis-à-vis the Afghan Taliban. While Turkmenistan
seeks cordial ties with the Afghan Taliban, Uzbekistan is exercising prudence.
Tajikistan, by contrast, has assumed a hostile stance towards Afghanistan’s new
rulers because Dushanbe fears a potential spillover of troubles.
Finally, this article posits that America’s military withdrawal from Afghanistan
and concomitant shifting of priorities away from the greater Middle East will
greatly influence Washington’s relationships with the Central Asian republics.
The West in general, and the United States in particular, maintains sparse interests
in Central Asia nowadays, for none of the governments in the region appear to be
interested in liberalizing their political systems while few seek to implement any
meaningful economic reforms. Consequently, this has set the stage for the Russian
Federation to assume greater leverage over addressing all regional security issues.
As such, the concept of sovereignty1 will likely become increasingly fluid across
Central Asia as Russia moves to assert greater hegemony over the ‘Stans’, even if
few wish to recognize this development at this juncture.
Comedy of Errors
America’s abrupt military withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021 was
conducted in a disorganized and disgraceful manner. Although the Trump
administration, arguably sets the tone for America’s departure with the signing
of the 2020 Doha Agreement (Associated Press, 2021a, 2021b), the Biden
administration bears the brunt of the blame for this fiasco. The images of hundreds

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