CPC and NESA Center Host Inaugural Caspian Security Conference to Discuss the Impacts of the Taliban Resurgence on Afghanistan and Caspian Region
Author: Caspian Policy Center
Nov 19, 2021
Experts from academia, think tanks, and government discussed the security, economic, political, and cultural impacts of the Taliban takeover in both Afghanistan and the neighboring regions and solutions on how to support intraregional security cooperation.
Washington, D.C. — ON NOVEMBER 16-17, the Caspian Policy Center (CPC) and the Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies (NESA Center) of the U.S. National Defense University hosted the inaugural Caspian Security Conference with experts from think tanks, government, and academia to discuss the next steps for the Caspian region following the U.S. and other NATO forces’ withdrawal and the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan.
DAY 1: Formulating a Unified Regional Response to Afghanistan
On the first day of the conference, the live discussion was focused on formulating a unified regional response to Afghanistan and the role that Caspian countries can play to further engage the country in regional discussions.
“This summer, we've witnessed the end of America's longest war, and with its conclusion, new questions emerged about the relationship between the United States and the Caspian region,” said Efgan Nifti, Chief Executive Officer of the Caspian Policy Center, who kickstarted the conference with his welcome remarks. “The goal of the conference is to bring together those who were affected by the events in Afghanistan so that we may all understand what has happened and how to proceed with unfinished work,” he added.
The panelists, Victor Kipiani, Chair of Geocase; Yar Mohabbat, former Charge d’Affaires of Afghanistan to the United States (1994-1997); Ambassador (ret.) Farid Shafiyev, Chairman of the Analysis of International Relations Center; Dr. Timur Shaimergenov, Vice Minister of Defense and Aerospace Industry of Kazakhstan; and Dr. Akram Umarov, Fulbright Visiting Scholar at the University of Pittsburgh, discussed the future of Caspian engagement with Afghanistan and presented important steps for approaching the Taliban.
“All the countries in the region need Afghanistan,” said Mr. Mohabbat, noting the importance of Afghanistan for Caspian connectivity and security. “I’m afraid that Al-Qaeda will emerge again under the leadership of the Taliban,” he added.
“What is happening in Afghanistan will hopefully push Central Asia countries for very pragmatic reasons to combine their efforts to come together and accomplish something that we in South Caucasus haven’t accomplished so far, which is to provide for a more regional and sustainable framework,” Mr. Kipiani highlighted.
The webinar, moderated by Brianne Todd, Professor at the NESA Center, facilitated an open and honest assessment of the legitimacy of a Taliban government and the dilemmas of balancing trade, security, and humanitarian assistance with the ongoing terrorism activity supported by the Taliban.
The panelists highlighted the importance of drawing on international partners when engaging with the Taliban.
“Turkey and other countries can provide assistance and act as mediators in Afghanistan,” said Ambassador Shafiyev.
Mr. Mohabbat also echoed similar sentiments, claiming the Taliban don’t see Iran as their enemy.
“Iran has a big role in peace and stability,” he said.
Dr. Umarov and some others were not as optimistic and argued that the Taliban will try to acknowledge some of Iran’s issues.
“Iran has good links with different factions of the Taliban. It had very comprehensive relations but does not mean that it has huge influence in Taliban movements. Therefore, the Taliban will try to acknowledge some of Iran’s issues,” said Dr. Umarov.
Although panelists warned not to expect too much from the Taliban, broader strategy towards Afghanistan, involving more actors, was a central theme throughout the conversation on Day 1 of the conference.
“The Shanghai Cooperation Organization will have a new mission – how to solve Afghanistan over the next 10 years,” said Dr. Shaimergenov, pointing out the regional ripple effects caused by the fall of Kabul.
Dr. Roger Kangas, Academic Dean of the NESA Center, closed the first day of the conference by noting that the security challenges surrounding Afghanistan remain complex and warrant further conversations on the second day of the conference.
DAY 2: Supporting Intraregional Security Cooperation
On the second day of the conference, the live discussion was focused on supporting intra-regional security cooperation and the economic impacts of the Taliban takeover in both Afghanistan and the neighboring region.
Ambassador (ret.) Richard Hoagland, Senior Fellow at the CPC, moderated the insightful panel analyzing current engagement from the Caspian region, India, Pakistan, Turkey and beyond, and the role the United States can play in supporting regional security.
The panelists, Ambassador (ret.) Ronald Neumann, President of the American Academy of Diplomacy and Former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan (2005-2007); Ambassador (ret.) Alper Coşkun, Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; Ambassador (ret.) Ali Jalali, Distinguished Professor at the NESA Center and Former Interior Minister of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (2003-2005); Dr. Rashmini Koparkar, Assistant Professor at the Center for Russian and Central Asian Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University; Dr. Jennifer Brick Murtazashvili, Director of the Center of Governance and Markets at the University of Pittsburgh; and Salman Zaidi, Director of Programs at the Jinnah Institute discussed the need for an international effort to assist the regional countries who have been left to deal with the consequences of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Mr. Zaidi expressed this sentiment, citing that it cannot be down to the regional actors alone to do the heavy lifting.
“This is an international problem,” he added.
Ambassador Coşkun recalled that President Biden made a statement that it is time for regional actors to step up to the plate.
“This is where the challenge is now,” he said.
This concern over the lack of substantial international support for regional actors, stemming from a lack of cohesive and comprehensive policies towards Central Asia, was shared among many of the panelists.
“The de-Americanization of this region this gives the opportunity for countries in the region to really exercise their sovereignty and engage in these positive-sum interactions,” said Dr. Murtazashvili.
Some of the panelists also expressed doubts over the future of Afghanistan.
“This [Taliban] government in Afghanistan has not yet proved that it is capable of governing Afghanistan,” said Dr. Koparkar on the Taliban’s ability to effectively govern the country.
Ambassador Neumann called attention to the instability of the current security landscape in Afghanistan.
“We actually don’t know if the situation we are looking at now will be what we’re dealing with in the future,” he stated.
Many states neighboring Afghanistan have been forced to make pragmatic choices in dealing with the Taliban, in hopes that the new leadership has the potential to combat extremism and insecurity in the region.
“They [regional states] are hoping that the Taliban will provide social order and prevent threats from spilling over into the region,” said Dr. Murtazashvili.
Resolving these issues in Afghanistan and the impacts on the region will require collaboration not just from Caspian states, but with international actors and organizations as well.
Dr. Roger Kangas, Academic Dean of the NESA Center, closed the 2-day conference with his final remarks noting that despite the concerning trends and uncertain future of Afghanistan, the conference brought voices from across the Caspian, Central Asia, and South Asia.
“The Caspian Security Conference pointed us in the right direction as we look ahead for the next year,” he concluded on the last day of discussions.
ABOUT CASPIAN POLICY CENTER
The Caspian Policy Center (CPC) is an independent, nonprofit research think tank based in Washington D.C. Economic, political, energy, and security issues of the Caspian region constitute the central research focus of the Center. CPC aims at becoming a primary research and debate platform in the Caspian region with relevant publications, events, projects, and media productions to nurture a comprehensive understanding of the intertwined affairs of the Caspian region.
With an inclusive, scholarly, and innovative approach, the Caspian Policy Center presents a platform where diverse voices from academia, business, and the policy world from both the region and the nation’s capital interact to produce distinct ideas and insights about the outstanding issues of the Caspian region.
Learn more at caspianpolicy.org.
ABOUT NESA CENTER
Based at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C., the NESA Center is the preeminent U.S. Department of Defense institution for promoting security cooperation with partner countries in the NESA region.
Established in 2000 when the U.S. Department of Defense recognized the need for an organization dedicated to the challenging region extending from North Africa across the Arabian Peninsula and into South Asia, the NESA Center works to enhance security cooperation between the U.S. and the Near East and South Asia by providing a collaborative space for policymakers to build security strategy and cultivate partnerships.
The NESA Center has the unique ability to leverage the collaborative interests and knowledge of U.S. military organizations including U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM), U.S. Army Central (ARCENT), the Joint Staff, as well as the U.S. Department of State, to render specialized conferences, seminars, workshops, and Track II diplomatic efforts.
Learn more at nesa-center.org.
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