The Taliban retaking Kabul has been inevitable for almost the entirety of the 20 year war, and certainly since Barack Obama announced the US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2011. And yet the manner in which Kabul has fallen, with images of despair and the Taliban’s unopposed march to the presidential palace, heralds a global tectonic shift. For Islamist militia, regardless of their orientation, it signifies jihad’s biggest win of the decade.
Jihadist outfits from Africa to the Middle East and South Asia, including groups that have been facing off against the Taliban in Afghanistan, will bask in the ‘triumph of Islam’. The Taliban’s win will also be widely interpreted as the fulfilment of the jihadist prophesy of a ‘Muslim army defeating infidels’ in a decisive battle in Khorasan, a historical region which includes parts of modern-day Afghanistan.
The likes of Isis, al-Qaeda and Boko Haram, who have faced recent losses, will have to settle with the Taliban becoming the face of radical Islam. This will especially be the case in South Asia where jihadist factions, having gravitated toward Isis, will likely begin operating again under the more lucrative Taliban umbrella. Elsewhere, jihadist groups will try to imitate the Taliban’s modus operandi in what will soon be recognised globally as an Islamic Emirate.
Pakistan recently completed fencing its border with Afghanistan, just in time for the fall of Kabul – more than hinting that Islamabad knew when the Taliban would take over – which means that most of the Afghan exodus is likely to go westward via Iran. This would allow jihadist groups to once again infiltrate refugees rushing towards Europe.
After the sudden takeover of Kabul, groups like Boko Haram and Isis know that like the Taliban they just need to bide their time, incentivise influential warlords in their regions, and wait till foreign powers retreat.