The Taliban just captured Zaranj, the capital of Nimruz Province and the entry point for the eastern branch of India’s North-South Transport Corridor (E-NSTC+) into Afghanistan. This is a pivotal development because it shows how serious the group is about obtaining control of the Iranian border and thus preventing foreign players such as the Islamic Republic and India from exploiting that frontier for the purpose of arming various anti-Taliban forces.
Those two countries can still cooperate to that end such as if Iran allows India to use its airspace for dispatching arms to Kabul and its allies, but their possible efforts to that end are now greatly limited by what just happened.
Furthermore, Zaranj is the first regional capital that the Taliban captured during its latest nationwide offensive of the past few months. Others in this part of the country are currently besieged and might soon fall as well. This development shows how serious the Taliban’s campaign is, which will put further pressure upon Kabul to compromise with the group during the upcoming round of peace talks in Doha.
Should the Taliban be able to hold and possibly even expand its control over symbolic urban areas like Zaranj, it’ll also send a message to the international community that the group is rapidly transforming into the country’s so-called “government-in-waiting”. This would especially be the case if it respects minorities’ and women’s rights like it promised to do.
Taliban captures Sheberghan city in Jawzjan, less than a day after taking over Zaranj city in Nimroz.
— Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) August 7, 2021
Why is Zaranj’s capture important?
Zaranj’s significance is therefore three-fold. Firstly, its capture has significant strategic implications for shaping the on-the-ground realities of Afghanistan’s rapidly intensifying civil war by depriving foreign players like Iran and India of the opportunity to exploit this border area as their entry point for arming anti-Taliban forces.
Secondly, it signals that the Taliban is asserting its political credentials as Afghanistan’s so-called “government-in-waiting”, though the litmus test for approval from the international community will be whether it respects minorities’ and women’s rights.
And thirdly, it goes without saying that the unlikely scenario of the Taliban losing control of Zaranj or other symbolic urban areas it might capture would reverse its aforementioned gains.
Andrew Korybko is a political analyst, radio host, and regular contributor to several online outlets. He specializes in Russian affairs and geopolitics, specifically the US strategy in Eurasia. The views in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.