When US President Joe Biden announced earlier this year that he intended to withdraw American forces from Afghanistan by 11 September 2021, international observers warned that it could have serious regional consequences.
Recent events confirm these fears. Afghanistan is on the verge of collapse, with various European intelligence services predicting that the impact will be felt as far away as Europe by the end of 2021.
The Taliban are advancing steadily in provincial areas of Afghanistan. Their forces have attacked several areas in the north of the country, and in a desperate retreat, thousands of Afghan soldiers and members of pro-government militias crossed the border from Badakhshan province to Tajikistan.
“Afghanistan’s northern border areas are raising concerns about the spillover of the conflict to Central Asia as US forces gradually withdraw”
Once a bastion of the alliance against the Taliban, today northern Afghanistan is becoming a springboard for attacks on major cities in the region, including possibly the capital Kabul.
Afghanistan’s northern border areas are raising concerns about the spillover of the conflict to Central Asia as US forces gradually withdraw, including from the iconic Bagram airbase, from where they conducted their main operations.
Against this backdrop, Tajik President Emomali Rahmon ordered the mobilisation of around 20,000 reservists to the border and the country is already building refugee camps in the event of an influx of fleeing civilians.
Tajikistan is the poorest country in Central Asia and any political tremors would have serious consequences. For now, Tajik authorities have left the border crossings currently held by the Taliban in Afghanistan open, including the main bridge at Shir Khan Bandar, built by the US Army Engineer Corps in 2007.
According to US media, the Taliban are already collecting customs duties on the main trading post between Tajikistan and Afghanistan, and there are similar reports coming from other border areas.
The speed of both the withdrawal of US forces and the Taliban offensive – surprising even for the government in Kabul – will cause geopolitical shifts, and worries both international observers and regional governments.
Humanitarian organisations warn of the potential for another major refugee crisis if the conflict deepens, while since January more than 270 000 civilians were displaced, according to UN figures.
The security situation is deteriorating dramatically, including in the capital Kabul. Several terrorist attacks on civilians and public figures have taken place since last autumn.
Against this backdrop of instability, there is also movement from the local branch of the Islamic State (IS), which has de facto control in part of Jalalabad, east of Kabul.