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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2955

Role of regional players in Afghan imbroglio

By Asif Haroon Raja

USA having bungled up in Afghanistan is constantly blaming Pakistan since 2005 for the ever growing militancy in Afghanistan. It has somehow got fixed with the misplaced idea that but for continued infiltration from FATA; insurgency in Afghanistan by now would have been controlled. It fails to understand that only 1400 km Afghan border is contiguous to Pakistan and the rest attached with Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, China and Iran. Out of 34 provinces only seven are linked with Pakistan. All these countries are playing their role in one way or the other in keeping the Afghan cauldron boiling.

Russia

By virtue of its geographic contiguity, Russia has enjoyed influence over Afghan affairs right from the very beginning. After the end of monarchy and take over by Daud in 1974, Soviet influence in Afghan affairs increased manifold. All governments in Kabul were Moscow installed. After physically occupying it in December 1979, USSR pumped in 160,000 troops and structured 100,000 Afghan militia and KHAD. Its heavy influence diminished after its defeat and its nominee Dr Najibullah was ousted from power in 1992. With its military and nuclear strength intact, it gradually came out of its economic crisis and under Valadin Putin regained its economic health due to oil and gas price spiral. Russia has now begun to assert its authority in the world affairs more aggressively.

During the Taliban rule in Afghanistan, Russia continued to provide military support to Ahmad Shah Masood and Dostum led Northern Alliance forces. With this background it can be deduced that Russia still retains sufficient pockets of influence in Afghanistan. Apart from selling war munitions to Karzai regime, it must be providing funds, arms and explosives to the Taliban, Hikmatyar and Al-Qaeda through Central Asian states to keep the flames of insurgency burning.

Notwithstanding that USA, the west and India are making strenuous efforts to expand their influence in Central Asian Republics and wean them away from Russia because of economic interests; the ex Soviet Republics are still under the strong influence of Russia. The latter has developed close relations with Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan and had played a role in closing down American bases in Uzbekistan in 2006. Russian forces Georgian adventure must have dispelled any misperceptions among the Republics about Russia’s assertiveness in the region when its interests get threatened. It must have been quite easy for Russia to funnel in war munitions because of America’s entire focus of attention towards mounting insurgency in southern and eastern Afghanistan and its fixation that all the supplies are coming from Pakistan.

Russia has not forgotten or forgiven USA for its perverse role in the Afghan Jihad in which it suffered a humiliating defeat and got truncated from super power to Russian federation. It also must not have forgotten that supply of stinger missiles to the Mujahideen in 1988 turned the tide against the Soviet forces. It is a great opportunity for Russia to avenge its humiliation by converting American venture in Afghanistan into another Vietnam for America and would be too pleased to see American military might sink into the quagmire of Afghanistan. It is likely that Russia may supply ground to air missiles to the militants at an opportune time to take on the American helicopter and predator threat. Once the aerial edge gets neutralised US-NATO troops would be like sitting ducks for the resurgent Taliban. Russian assistance to the Al-Qaeda in Iraq is a distinct possibility since that is another venue to bleed the Americans. Coming years cannot rule out the possibility of recommencement of cold war between USA and Russia duly aligned with China.

India

When USA had decided to invade Afghanistan after 9/11, India had offered its services and had strongly recommended that both Afghanistan and Pakistan should be dealt with simultaneously, otherwise no worthwhile results would be achieved. USA however considered it prudent to adopt a piecemeal approach by first pitching one against the other and then deal with its prey one by one. In conjunction with Northern Alliance, CIA and Israel, India wove a web of deceit around Pakistan and is playing a major role in destabilising Pakistan. It has played a key role in colouring the perceptions of US leaders and Karzai against Pakistan to spoil Pak-US and Pak-Afghan relations and is now working hard to create misunderstandings between China and Pakistan and between Iran and Pakistan with a view to isolate Pakistan. India is however maintaining friendly relations both with China and Iran and had a hand in the development of Iranian nuclear program. Nuclear material is still being funnelled into Iran through private sources.

India has succeeded in establishing a strong foothold in Afghanistan after 9/11 and has cultivated deep economic, intelligence, cultural, and educational ties. It is now all set to enhance its military presence so as to assume pivotal position in the affairs of Afghanistan. Induction of 150000 troops would allow yet another corridor for invasion against Pakistan to India. It looks forward to fill the vacuum once US-Nato troops decide to abandon Afghanistan in not too distant future and to ensure that the Taliban do not return to power. Opening up of a land link from Chahbahar would facilitate India’s mercantile goods and military supplies into Afghanistan. It enjoys best of relations with Russia and is still dependent upon Russian armament. Well knowing US-Russia antagonism, it is playing a double role and acting as a conduit to receive and distribute arms and equipment from Russia among the militants in Afghanistan to earn money. It is feverishly engaged in training, motivating, arming and funding militants in Afghanistan and launching them into Pakistan to destabilise it. However, a good portion of Russian arms are being utilised within Afghanistan against US-Nato forces since the Afghans as well as Indian trainers are well versed with them.

India must realise that placement of its security forces in Afghanistan would not be without a price it will have to pay. It must learn lesson from its debacle in Sri Lanka and refrain from adventurism. Should it not concentrate more on putting its own house in order by tackling over fifteen insurgencies on its soil instead of meddling in others affairs?

Iran

Iran has its own axe to grind in Afghanistan; it desires continuation of pro-Iran Northern Alliance led regime in Kabul. Growing influence of Pakistan in Afghanistan during and after the Afghan Jihad and later on Pakistan having played a role in the establishment of Taliban rule in Afghanistan which led to growth of very close ties between the two neighbours had been viewed by Iran with concern. Its relations with the Taliban were unfriendly and at one stage it had offensively deployed its forces along Afghan border. It had hosted the entire leadership of Northern Alliance when it was pushed out by the Taliban and was in control of less than 10% territory of Afghanistan in the north. It had allowed Indian military to impart training to Ahmad Shah Masood?s men and was glad to see the demise of Taliban rule at the hands of Americans. Undoubtedly, it is maintaining contacts with the elements it had hosted. These contacts helped in linking Road Zaranj-Dalaran with its port at Chahbahar which has economic and military implications for Pakistan. It will reduce the dependence of landlocked Afghanistan on Pakistan and also help in spreading the influence of Iran in Afghanistan.

Although like India, Iran also does not desire the Taliban to regain power, there are reports that Iran has of late cultivated contacts with the Taliban and is providing material support. Israel had provided military assistance to Iran during the Iran-Iraq war to ensure that none of the rivals win the war. Likewise, Iran too would like USA to remain stuck in the minefields of Afghanistan and Iraq for as long as possible and get enfeebled to an extent that it is unable to mount an offensive against its nuclear sites or destabilise Iran through southern Iraq and Baluchistan. It is keen to buy time to be able to complete its nuclear program. Its intimacy with Russia because of latter’s assistance in development of its missile and nuclear programs is well known and a cause of worry for USA. Both must be working in unison to bring down USA.

China

Although China has decided to continue with its defensive strategy till 2025 to be able to fill the technological gap, it cannot remain oblivious of US economic interests in Central Asian States and establishment of military bases in Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. It is fully conscious of American containment policy and conversion of Afghanistan into a strong military base to monitor its activities. It is also mindful of India’s burgeoning military strength and latest Indo-US nuclear deal and America’s efforts to convert India into a bulwark against China. Having gone through the rough experience of Indo-US sponsored riots in Tibet recently; it understands the implications of growth of Indian influence in Afghanistan which allows additional venue to India to keep an eye on China and to possibly exploit Chinese Ughuir Muslims in Xingjian province.

While Pakistan’s hobnobbing with USA doesn’t bother China, strategic partnership of India with USA does bother her. The US effort to make India the permanent member of UNSC and to acquire a central position in the Afghan affairs must not be to its liking. Friendship with Pakistan and development of Gwadar Port help China in breaking the encirclement. Knowing the designs of USA, China would like to befriend India and America to remain bogged down in the swamp of Afghanistan. China may be deriving satisfaction from the fact that USA is its largest debtor and has now further plunged into economic crisis.

Other countries.

In Uzbekistan, there is strong Islamic movement in progress which is linked with the Afghan Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Uzbeks had taken part in Afghan Jihad and are now fighting the Americans in Afghanistan alongside Taliban. Some are settled in certain parts of FATA and in Swat and are reputed to be ruthless and robust fighters. Muslim fighters from Tajikistan and Turkmenistan too are extending a helping hand to the Taliban in Afghanistan. There is a regular inflow of Al-Qaeda members from Chechnya, Iraq, Far Eastern, African and Arab countries and also from European countries to strengthen the hands of the Taliban. They are bringing in sophisticated weaponry and refined tactics to conduct guerrilla warfare. All these factors put together have increased violence and fatalities of foreign troops in Afghanistan.

Us Naivety and flawed policies

US military command in Kabul is under the spell of Indian, Israeli and Northern Alliance advisers and is thoughtlessly ignoring the above noted threats emanating from multiple directions. The trio is anti-Pakistan and hence their efforts to cause maximum harm to Pakistan from behind the US cover. The latter is naively spending all its energies against its ally viewed as the chief suspect and supposed to be harming American interests. It has become so thoroughly brainwashed by its confidantes that instead of appreciating and rewarding Pakistan for all the sacrifices rendered by Pak army it has of late adopted a hostile policy. It refuses to acknowledge the fact that Pakistan has always come to its aid whenever in distress irrespective of the fact that it was constantly ditched by USA after its interests were served.

Even now, losses incurred by Pak army are much larger than any other country taking part in the war on terror. Besides the human losses, the leadership and the army in particular had to bear the stings and arrows from its own people for fighting US war and killing its own people. USA also ignores the fact that without Pakistan’s all out support it could neither occupy Afghanistan with so much ease nor can it hope to win the war at its own. Instead of extending all out support to its principal ally to turn the tide in its favour, USA discourages it and misses no opportunity to deride and denigrate Pakistan. On the contrary, USA has given all the goodies to India which had remained a strategic partner of former Soviet Union till 1991, has befriended China and is playing a double game and failing USA. Its skewed approach reinforces the general impression that USA has immense wealth and power but lacks good sense to appreciate its true friends. It has inadvertently allowed itself to be sucked into the web of the Jews who have their own Zionist agenda to dominate world affairs. Britain and India are also among leading advisers counselling the super power how to harness resources of the Muslim world. This weakness allows the trio space to exploit the sole super power to serve respective interests.

As a consequence to US flawed policy and warped thinking, it is now finding it exceedingly hard to contain insurgency which has spread to almost all parts of Afghanistan including non-Pashtun areas which sooner than later may get converted into a people’s liberation war. One of the principle reasons for chaos is the iniquitous role of six intelligence agencies based in Kabul (CIA, MI-6, RAW, Mossad, German Intelligence, RAM) each having its own agenda. There is no proper mechanism to coordinate and control the working of these agencies. Another reason is lack of coordination between US troops, NATO troops, Afghan army and troops from other countries. Integrated approach is lacking in Afghanistan. Lure of big money through drug trade is yet another motive for all the forces to get distracted from adopting a mission oriented focussed approach. Sidelining of the Sunni Pakhtuns from power that are predominant in whole of the country less northern Afghanistan and depending upon untrustworthy, inefficient and corrupt warlords and non-Pashtun Northern Alliance elements, and putting faith in unpopular Karzai were blunders for which USA is paying a price. The US stooge Karzai heads unrepresentative, inefficient, corrupt regime.

Instead of carrying out a critical appraisal of threat perception at the global level, Bush and even the presidential hopefuls are trying to win the election race by making Pakistan the scapegoat and antagonistically stating that it will be slaughtered to make America safe. It is high time USA should admit its own fault lines and put its act together rather than blaming others for its failures.

US dependence on India

USA has been instrumental in paving ground for expansion and consolidation of Indian influence in Afghanistan because of mutuality of interests. It has now given a green signal for gradual induction of 150000 Indian troops in Afghanistan by December 2009. USA must know the track record of Indian military on which it has decided to lean on heavily in South Asia. India succeeded in cutting Pakistan to size and creating Bangladesh in the hope of making the two countries client states of India. Contrary to its expectations, the two countries have emerged as strong Islamic states thereby posing a threat to India from either flank. India’s policy of sabotage and subversion in Bangladesh and Pakistan has inflamed anti-Indian sentiments in both the Muslim countries and drawn them closer to each other and both view India as common enemy.

India was the leading ally of former USSR; it had all along supported USSR occupation of Afghanistan and had condemned American interventionist policies. It’s RAW in conjunction with KGB and KHAD played a key role to destabilise Pakistan through sabotage and subversion but failed to save Soviet forces from getting defeated. Over 100,000 Indian forces had uninvitingly barged into Sri Lanka in 1987 as peacekeepers to defuse ethnic war. After bloodying their nose, they had to beat a hasty retreat after two-year fighting with the LTTE with its prestige rolled in the dust.

Over seven lacs Indian security forces are pitched against few thousand Kashmiri freedom fighters since 1989 but have miserably failed to extinguish the flaming torch of liberty lit by the Kashmiri Mujahideen. Till recent, India was throwing the entire blame on Pakistan for supporting the freedom struggle inside occupied Kashmir. This so-called grouse of theirs was removed by Gen Musharraf by reining in all Jihadi forces in Pakistan and letting India fence the entire length of Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir. Indian civilian and military leaders confirmed several times that cross LoC movement from Azad Kashmir had ceased. The Kashmiris have once again surged with full force and this time the movement is unarmed which has unnerved Indian leaders.

Indian security forces are fighting series of separatist movements and insurgencies in various Indian states, some as old as over five decades and none has been quelled despite using excessive force and applying draconian laws. India has so far played no active role in war on terror except for covert operations and that too against Pakistan which is US ally in this war. Yet it wants to capture central role for itself in Afghanistan. One fails to comprehend why did USA rope in Nato when Indian forces were available next door? Why could Pakistan be assigned the role which USA intends to hand over to India? Although placement of foreign forces in Afghanistan is least desirable, US should have known that Pak troops as peacekeepers may be acceptable to the Pashtun Afghans but they would certainly not welcome Indian troops on their soil.

End piece food for thought

Having been repeatedly betrayed by USA, it is for certain that Pakistan would think hundred times before falling into the trap of USA once it lands itself into another soup. It will surely miss the crucial support of Pakistan that had always staked its security to bailout untrustworthy USA. God forbid if this so-called most dangerous country in the world gets destabilised because of machinations of our so-called friends, would it sink alone or take the entire region along with it? I leave this to the good judgement of think tanks in USA.

Pakistan having suffered a great deal on account of putting all its eggs in the American basket and getting repeatedly ditched, isn’t it high time for our leaders to come out of the American spell and carve out a more realistic and balanced foreign policy. China, Russia and Iran provide some space for refurbishing our US centric policy.

Asif Haroon Raja is Rawalpindi based defence and political analyst and contributes articles to several national and foreign newspapers and exclusively for Asian Tribune.

- Asian Tribune -

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