Monthly Insight

Risk Intelligence Report

DRI Monthly Reports are rigorous research investigations that go beyond reportage and commentary to add permanent value for clients.

Focusing on specific, topical issues and created through innovative methodologies and inputs from globally renowned experts, DRI Monthly Reports cut through noise and ephemera to tell you what you absolutely need to know – today and tomorrow.

Report No. 07 | July-August 2021

Afghanistan and Taliban 2.0 International Security and Geopolitical Implications

The return of the Taliban to power in Afghanistan—following a swift advance and complete and sudden capitulation of the Ghani government in Kabul— is likely to carry with itself significant regional and international security risks. They include the possibility of the Taliban continuing to provide a degree of patronage, albeit covert, to old compatriots including known transnational terrorist organizations. These organizations include those who have demonstrated intent and capability to harm American and Western interests across the world, including in the Indian subcontinent. At the same time, Afghanistan’s immediate neighbors—Iran, Pakistan, and several Central Asian countries—remain cautious about what Taliban 2.0 means for their own security, even though some of them continue to view the new regime in instrumental terms, within a larger geostrategic frame. The same holds for major regional powers such as China, India, and Russia.

In this edition of the DRI Monthly Report—the second and concluding part of a major Diplomat Risk Intelligence project on Afghanistan after the fall of Kabul to the Taliban on August 15, and based on exhaustive in-house research and interviews with 10 leading experts— we look at the Taliban’s relationships with key terrorist organizations and Afghanistan's neighbors. We also examine the Taliban’s convoluted relationships with major regional powers who could prove to be key in granting the new regime in Kabul a veneer of international legitimacy provided, of course, that their own interests are guarded by Taliban 2.0.


Terrorist Outfits and the Taliban

This chapter traces the Taliban’s relationship with multiple terrorist organizations, including those with extra regional reach, which have operated out of Afghan soil in the past. However, the compulsions of a changed geopolitical environment together with the group’s quest for sanctions relief, recognition and international assistance, places them in an unfamiliar terrain, possibly forcing them to reconsider their relationships with extremist groups, including ones that are extremely deep-rooted. Drawing on expert insights, we provide you possible trajectories of what these relationships could look like in the future.

The Taliban and Afghanistan’s Neighbors

The fate of Afghanistan’s stability, to a large measure, will be decided by policies pursued by countries in its immediate neighborhood. Conversely, regional political stability and economic prosperity depends on Afghanistan’s internal security situation. Keeping this in mind, the chapter provides crucial insights into the Taliban’s complicated relationship with Iran, Pakistan and major Central Asian players. Together they reveal crucial tensions despite outward signs of amity. It concludes with expert assessments of the Taliban’s relationships with these powers in the short and medium terms.

The Taliban and Major Regional Powers

Notoriously famous for being the “graveyard of empires,” the Taliban’s return to power raises questions not only for its immediate neighbors, but also for other major regional powers. This chapter delves deep into the history of Taliban’s relationships with three major regional powers: China, India and Russia. It also delineates geopolitical compulsions that compel all three actors to revisit their past postures. It concludes with expert assessments of the likelihood of international recognition (de facto if not de jure) of Taliban 2.0 especially by these actors.


Ibraheem T. Bahiss

Consultant, International Crisis Group

Michael Kugelman

Asia Program Deputy Director and Senior Associate for South Asia, Woodrow Wilson Center, Washington, D.C.

Franz J. Marty

Independent Kabul-based journalist

Dr. Asfandyar Mir

Affiliate, Center for International Security, Stanford University, and Senior Expert, United States Institute of Peace

Dr. Avinash Paliwal

Senior Lecturer in International Relations, SOAS University of London and Deputy Director, SOAS South Asia Institute

Dr. Nilofar Sakhi

Nonresident Senior Fellow, South Asia Center, Atlantic Council

James Schwemlein

Nonresident Scholar, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and former Senior Advisor to the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan at the U.S. Department of State

Chayanika Saxena

President Graduate Fellow and PhD candidate at the Department of Geography, National University of Singapore

Col. David O. Smith (Retd.)

Distinguished Fellow, South Asia Program, the Stimson Center, and former senior executive, U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency

Elizabeth Threlkeld

Senior Fellow and Deputy Director, South Asia Program, the Stimson Center, and former Political and Economic Officer, U.S. Consulate-General, Peshawar, Pakistan


Kriti Mathur Shah

Kriti M. Shah is an Associate Fellow in the Department of Strategic Studies at the Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi. Her research primarily focusses on Afghanistan and Pakistan, where she studies their domestic politics as well as their relationship with each other, the Taliban, the United States, and the larger South Asian neighborhood.

Rushali Saha

Rushali Saha is Research Analyst at Diplomat Risk Intelligence. Previously, she served as a Research Associate at the Centre for Air Power Studies, New Delhi. She holds a Master’s degree in International Relations from Jadavpur University. She graduated first in her class from the same university with an undergraduate degree in political science.

Abhijnan Rej

Abhijnan Rej is Director of Research at Diplomat Risk Intelligence. His areas of expertise include Asian geopolitics, India’s defense policy, emerging technologies, and geopolitical risk. Rej also has significant professional experience as a quantitative researcher in academia and the private sector.

Malvika Rajeev

Malvika Rajeev is Research Analyst at Diplomat Risk Intelligence. Her work focuses on conducting statistical analysis of economic, demographic, and public health data, along with data visualization. She has worked as a graduate statistics instructor at UC Berkeley, where she also received her Master's.