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Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi meets with Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban's political leader. Photo: Li Ran/Xinhua via Getty Images

The Taliban’s total victory has major implications for Afghanistan's neighbors and the broader region, with countries vying for influence while preparing for potential instability, refugee flows and the threat of a terrorist safe haven.

The big picture: It’s largely a strategic victory for Pakistan, which has assisted the Taliban and harbored its leaders, and a defeat for India, which invested heavily in an Afghan state that has now collapsed.

  • For China, it’s both a source of concern and of opportunity, and the Taliban has already made clear that it is depending on close relations with Beijing.

“On the one hand, it is a strategic victory for Pakistan to have a pro-Islamabad government in Afghanistan for the first time in more than 20 years, and that’s no small matter,” says Michael Kugelman of the Wilson Center.

  • But the Taliban’s capture of Kabul also raises security concerns for Islamabad and has sent tens of thousands of Afghans fleeing to the border.
  • Pakistan will clearly have influence with the Taliban, but it could also now have less leverage, Kugelman notes: “Now that the Taliban is completely in control and no longer fighting this war, it doesn’t need to depend on Pakistan as much.”

India, meanwhile, had been the Afghan government’s closest friend in the region, investing in aid projects, close diplomatic ties, and even building the parliament building in Kabul.

  • Now New Delhi has been forced to deal with the Taliban. The first known meeting between the sides took place just last week.
  • "India was late to come to the realization that engaging with the Taliban is a necessary evil, so to speak," says Kugelman. He says New Delhi will be in no rush to recognize a Taliban government, and could continue to support groups that are still resisting the militants.

Iran and the Taliban were bitter foes in the 1990s, but they have built ties gradually since, and the Taliban's insistence that it will protect Afghanistan's Shia minority is at least partially designed for Tehran's consumption.

  • Like Pakistan, Iran already hosts upwards of one million Afghan refugees and is attempting to avoid another influx. The land borders on all sides of Afghanistan have been closed to refugees since Kabul fell.

America’s humbling exit from Afghanistan provided a propaganda coup for China.

  • A Foreign Ministry spokesperson chided that another U.S. military intervention, justified on the grounds of "democracy" and "human rights," had ended in “turmoil, division, and destruction.”
  • Beijing will have few qualms with the Taliban’s record on human rights, and a Taliban spokesman said Thursday that, with western assistance drying up, the new government would rely on China to “invest and rebuild our country.”
  • China has kept its embassy open in a signal that it’s ready to deal with the incoming government, but is unlikely to make such large-scale investments any time soon. Its main concern in Afghanistan is security, and in particular that Islamist groups with roots in China could take inspiration from the Taliban.

The threat of Afghanistan again becoming a hub for international terrorism is much more acute for countries in the region than for the United States, at least in the near term. ISIS looms particularly large.

  • “Many of the regional players can live with a Taliban government as long as they get assurances about security, because for most regional players — excluding India, but Iran, China, Russia, the Central Asian states — ISIS is a bigger concern than the Taliban,” Kugelman says.

Go deeper

Scoop: U.S. begins denying Afghan immigrants

Afghan refugees on a bus bound for temporary housing after arriving in Greece. Photo: Byron Smith/Getty Images

The Biden administration has begun issuing denials to Afghans seeking to emigrate to the United States through the humanitarian parole process, after a system that typically processes 2,000 applications annually has been flooded with more than 30,000.

Why it matters: Afghans face steeper odds and longer processes for escaping to the U.S., despite the earlier sweeping efforts by the Biden administration to assist its allies. Immigration lawyers and advocacy groups say the government has set untenable barriers to a safe haven in the U.S.

Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers

President Biden speaking from Eisenhower Executive Office Building on Jan. 21. Photo: Yuri Gripas/Abaca/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A federal judge in Texas blocked the Biden administration from enforcing its coronavirus vaccine mandate for federal workers on Friday, citing the outcome of last week's Supreme Court ruling that nullified the administration's vaccine-or-test requirement for large employers.

Why it matters: It's a blow to President Biden's efforts to increase the U.S.' vaccination rates, though much of the federal workforce has already been vaccinated against the virus.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations, CDC finds — Omicron pushes COVID deaths toward 2,000 per day — The pandemic-proof health care giant.
  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Starbucks drops worker vaccine or test requirement after SCOTUS ruling — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America.
  3. Politics: Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults.
  5. Variant tracker