World politics has reached a worrying phase of polarization. The struggle between the US-led democracies and the Russian-Chinese-led autocracies mainly underlies this development. But there is also another dangerous dimension: the emergence of close relations between autocratic powers and extremist theocratic forces like the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991 certainly inspired a new era of optimism in the West. In the view of many, especially American leaders at the time, this marked the end of the Cold War as we knew it, marking the triumph of democracy over communism and free enterprise capitalism over centralized socialism. stuffy. This led a thinker like Frances Fukuyama to claim “the end of history”. Few have seen the lateral shift of power from the West to the East, with the rise of a very difficult autocratic communist China and an assertive Russia.

Similarly, few could foresee, as Joe Nye has described, the diffusion of power exemplified by transnational violent extremist groups and networks, such as Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. It was also generally unthinkable for the United States and its NATO and non-NATO allies to withdraw from Afghanistan in defeat, allowing the Taliban, the protector of al-Qaeda who perpetrated the terrorist acts of 9/11 September 2001 in the United States, to return to power in the country. Or, for that matter, that Russia would invade Ukraine as the embodiment of the power ambitions of a modern-day autocrat, Vladimir Putin.

Meanwhile, the most disconcerting development is that the two rival power pools no longer care which countries they pull into their orbit as long as they are on the right side of their conflicting interests. The US administration under President Joe Biden has abandoned its initial focus on human rights and the promotion of democratic values ​​in foreign policy. China and Russia are closing in on forces that actually or potentially oppose the United States. For example, while Biden now returns to the country he once declared an outcast (Saudi Arabia) and relinquishes any pretense of pressuring Israel to end its brutal occupation of Palestinian territories, his Chinese counterparts and Russians are very supportive of the Taliban.

Beijing and Moscow no longer see the Taliban as an extremist force but as a potential ally. Failing to officially recognize the group’s regime in Afghanistan, the two have established close diplomatic contacts, as well as trade and economic ties.

Beijing has welcomed the Taliban leaders with open arms and the Chinese foreign minister has visited Kabul to promote bilateral relations. China now presents itself as the largest potential investor in Afghanistan, particularly in the minerals sector, and has removed tariffs on imports of Afghan products. Beijing is emerging as a very influential player, taking advantage of the Taliban’s declaration that China is their preferred economic partner.

China’s influence, along with its economic and strategic partnerships with Afghanistan’s two neighbours, Pakistan and Iran, and Pakistan’s critical patronage of the Taliban, provide Beijing with a fairly formidable regional grouping. It is remarkable how China’s “godly” secular communism has come to interact favorably with the extremist Islamism of the Taliban, as it has also done with Iran’s politically pluralistic theocratic order.

The same goes for Russia, which only recognized the Taliban regime. He allowed the Taliban to run the Afghan embassy in Moscow, the only state to do so after Pakistan. Putin’s envoy for Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, recently announced that for all intents and purposes, Russia deals with the Taliban regime as a recognized entity.

Russia has offered to sell discounted gas to Afghanistan, although it is unclear through which pipelines. The Taliban supported Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and it is possible that some of the group’s seasoned fighters will be deployed on this front. Russia has all but abandoned its fear of the Taliban’s radical Islamism spreading through its Central Asian backyard, and the Taliban has apparently forgotten the Russian atrocities during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s and ignored Putin’s renewed faith in Christianity in support of his autocratic rule.

The United States and its allies have prepared for the long term to support Ukraine. They pointed to Putin’s Russia as an enemy seeking to change the European order and, for that matter, the world order, and China as a threat in the Indo-Pacific. Both Eastern powers have sought to get into bed with the support of anyone they can enlist. This even includes theocratic forces, such as the Al-Qaeda-linked Taliban and their affiliates in different parts of the world, especially Asia, the Middle East and Africa.

The battle lines currently being drawn make the world situation more precarious and more dangerous than it was during the Cold War.