As the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan draws to a close, news of Taliban military victories is frequent, and the movement appears to be poised to consolidate its control over most Afghan provinces.

That raises important questions about the nature of the security and political situation in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of US troops, and whether the country will once again be under mullah rule. Will terrorist organizations tap into the security vacuum left by retiring foreign forces?

Could Afghanistan once again become a haven for terrorist organizations such as Al Qaeda or Daesh, either under Taliban rule or due to the lack of full control over Afghan territory?

The evidence points to a growing trend of international engagement with the Taliban.

The most important reference was made by British Defense Minister Ben Wallace. The minister stated that Britain was prepared, if necessary, to work with the Taliban if they took over in Afghanistan.

“Whatever the government of the day is, provided it adheres to certain international norms, the UK government will engage with it,” Wallace said in an interview with The Telegraph. However, a pragmatic approach can be the basis for a lasting peace. “All peace processes require you to come to terms with the enemy.”

He said that what the Taliban “desperately want” is international recognition. “They need to unlock financing and support (for) nation building, and you don’t do that with a terrorist balaclava on,” Wallace added.

These statements point to an international conviction that the Taliban will regain power in Afghanistan and be accepted provided they abandon their extremist ideas and policies that previously led them to harbor Al Qaeda terrorist elements and allow the group to plan the 9/11 attacks from within Afghanistan.

The Russian president’s special envoy for Afghanistan, Deputy Director of the Third Department on Asia of the Foreign Ministry, Zamir Kabulov, said that a warning about the current situation in Afghanistan has been given by Moscow for years. He reiterated his country’s total rejection of the re-establishment of an Islamic emirate in Afghanistan.

But he suggested that it was possible to accept the presence of the Taliban on the Afghan political scene if they abandoned their traditional form of government. The Russian envoy acknowledged that the Taliban militants’ control of many parts of Afghanistan has deprived Daesh of the ground to launch attacks and sabotage in Central Asian countries.

He noted that the Taliban say they will not use Afghanistan as a launching point for attacks on neighboring countries.

The players - China, Pakistan, Russia, America - and ISIS

The idea of the Taliban’s presence on the Afghan political scene is no longer rejected by either the West or Russia. Meanwhile, China continues to monitor developments in Afghanistan.

The situation there may be of strategic importance to China. Taliban influence has reached Badakhshan province, near China’s Xinjiang region. Chinese authorities fear coordination and cooperation between the Taliban and armed movements in the Chinese province, although the group has reassured China and sent several signals that it does not want to worry Beijing.

Some Asia observers believe that Pakistan could play the role of “sponsor” of the China-Taliban rapprochement by virtue of Islamabad’s close ties with the movement and its willingness to ensure such cooperation, in Pakistan’s strategic interest. Indeed, China supports the government of President Ashraf Ghani.

It is satisfied with the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan. It has clear ties with the Taliban, whose representatives have made several visits to Beijing. China has even offered to host peace talks between the Afghan parties.

China may want to build strong relations with whatever party governs Afghanistan in the next phase, given the importance of leveraging Afghanistan as part of the “Belt and Road.” Afghanistan could be an ideal corridor for the transportation of Chinese goods to Pakistan.

The next generation of Taliban want to prove to the world that they have learned their lesson and are practicing politics according to the internationally accepted rules of the game. But such visions remain mere assumptions on the part of analysts. They have not yet been tested in practice.

The Taliban has pledged not to interfere in China’s internal affairs, despite the movement’s sympathetic attitude toward Uighur Muslims and its long-standing relationship with militants on Chinese soil.

In February 2020, the Taliban pledged to Washington that it would not allow the use of the country’s territory against other countries and would not accept any refugees or exiles outside of international immigration law, their spokesman Suhail Shaheen said. It may be noted that while in Qatar, Shaheen referred to Afghanistan as an “Islamic emirate.”

So, the fundamental issues have not changed much, especially in terms of the philosophy of governance and the ideology of the religious and political movement. This makes it difficult to construe Taliban attitudes, behaviors, and policies in the next phase.

Will the movement actually accept the rules of politics and international relations and operate in accordance with the UN Charter, or will it retain its narrow ideology that led to its downfall following the 9/11 attacks?

US intelligence warns that the Afghan government will collapse early next year due to continued attacks by Taliban militants. US officials say the US is leaving behind a remote air capability to support the Afghan government.

But objectivity demands that the US focus on keeping the capital, Kabul, solely under government control. The experiences of the recent past suggest that air support, no matter how large or superior, does not by itself guarantee control of a legitimate government on the ground.

Unconventional warfare often leads to outcomes different from what experts expect. Clearly, the Afghan government is rapidly losing the provinces it controls one by one, knowing that the US withdrawal from the country is not yet complete.

The Taliban recently claimed control of 218 of Afghanistan’s 370 districts, and the group claims to control about 85 percent of Afghanistan’s territory, while the government questions the veracity of these claims.

Another scenario is for Afghanistan to relapse into civil war much like the one that followed the Soviet withdrawal in 1989. The Taliban have denied their intention to militarily take the capital Kabul, while claiming that the Afghan government is “dying,” all of which place Afghanistan’s future beyond the US withdrawal in the face of scenarios open to any possibility.

Daesh elements stationed in northern Afghanistan, according to Russian official circles, further add to the complexity. This opens the door for a possible Russian intervention to strike the group inside Afghan territory before it enters the Central Asian countries of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.

Dr. Salem AlKetbi, UAE political analyst, studied in NYIT and the University of Morocco.