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Central Asian spillover

Source: Oxford Analytica

Russia and Central Asian governments are watching as conflict unfolds swiftly along the frontier with Afghanistan, expressing concern but not overt hostility to the rapid Taliban takeover of territory in Afghanistan as the NATO-led coalition withdraws its troops. Since May the Taliban have taken control of almost all areas adjoining Central Asian borders. A remaining stretch between Turkmenistan and north-western Afghanistan is likely to follow soon.

The Taliban's bilateral agreement with the United States in February 2020 included a commitment to expel global jihadist groups. This works for Islamic State (IS), to which the Taliban is hostile, but is less clear-cut for some smaller groups, especially as the Taliban say foreign militants can stay as long as they sign a pledge to abandon global jihad. The Kremlin seems to have resigned itself to Taliban domination in northern Afghanistan, but it has expressed concern that IS may fill the vacuum created by the collapse of state structures in Badakhshan, where the Taliban are struggling to gain full control.

Disrupted trade and a possible refugee influx are not the only worries for regional governments; the presence of Central Asian jihadists in areas captured by the Taliban is cause for concern. Even the most reluctant Central Asian policymakers will have to engage with the Taliban to press them to keep other jihadists in check. The immediate question is whether Central Asian states can avoid being sucked into expanding border chaos, rather than cross-border insurgency. The Taliban promise not to advance northwards is probably genuine. 

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