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Role of regional players in Afghan imbroglio

October 27, 2008

By Asif Haroon Raja
Asian Tribune
October 24, 2008

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.
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