Intractable Issues of Afghanistan
By Sajjad Shaukat
While Afghanistan has already been facing intractable issues internally and externally, some latest developments will create more complications, darkening the future of the war-torn country in wake of new emerging geo-political scenario.
At a time when Afghan President Hamid Karzai was making strenuous efforts to have a long-term strategic partnership with the United States for the survival of his regime, also indicating that sovereignty of Afghanistan should be respected in that partnership which has faltered due to some recent events. In this regard, position of US which reached its lowest level after the desecration of the copies of Holy Quran at a US military base on February 20 this year—sparked six days of angry riots across Afghanistan that left 40 people dead including six US troops who were killed by Afghan security forces, another incident came like a sky from the blow when on March 12, an American soldier broke into three village homes in Kandahar province and brutally killed 16 people including women and children. This massacre has further intensified criticism of Afghan president within the inner circle.
While acknowledging that the mission has been complicated by recent events including the loss of six British soldiers in a roadside bomb in Afghanistan, US President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron declared on March 14 that they would stick to a timetable for winding down the war by the end of 2014. They also insisted that the American-led coalition was helping Afghans to provide their own security. In this connection, on March 16, US President Barack Obama agreed to Karzai’s concerns about night raids, house searches and the presence of foreign troops in Afghan villages.
Recently, Karzai told visiting US Defence Chief Leon Panetta that Afghanistan wants to take over control of the nation’s security in 2013 rather than 2014 when withdrawal of from troops will be completed. Panetta stated that the US and Afghanistan would work out a treaty allowing US military presence in the country beyond a pullout in 2014.
However, after the departure of foreign troops, US has decided to establish six permanent military bases in Afghanistan, having eyes on the energy resources of Central Asia, with multiple strategic designs against Pakistan, China, Iran and Russia.
In this context, on January 5, 2012, US President Obama had unveiled a new defence strategy which calls for greater US military presence in Asia, after cutting troops from Europe—the strategy calls for the US military to “rebalance toward the Asia-Pacific region…even US troops continue to fight in Afghanistan, the tide of war is receding.”
Nevertheless, American military presence in Afghanistan, a country of geo-strategical importance, will further deepen the intractable issues of the country. Iran fears that US bases in Afghanistan will enhance its ability to gather intelligence on Iran which could give the US and Israel a major strategic advantage, if they attack Tehran in relation to its nuclear programme, though immediate invasion has stopped temporarily.
Especially, America wants to protect Karzai regime and Indian influence in Afghanistan. It has already been supporting cross-border infiltration in Pakistan with the assistance of American CIA, Indian, RAW and Israeli Mossad which have well-established their tentacles in Afghanistan to ‘destabilise’ and ‘denuclearise’ Pakistan. For this purpose, highly trained militants, equipped with sophisticated weapons are being sent to Pakistan’s various places, who are regularly conducting suicide attacks, targeted killings, ethnic and sectarian violenc, while committing similar acts in Balochistan by assisting Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) and another separatist group, Jundollah (God’s soldiers) which have kidnapped and murdered a number of Chinese and Iranian nationals in the country. Jundollah is also involved in subversive acts in the Iranian Sistan-Baluchistan. Particularly, While, Balochistan’s mineral resources and geo-strategic location with Gwadar seaport, connecting rest of the world with Central Asia have further irritated the US and India because China has already invested billion of dollars to develop this seaport. It is due to secret strategic designs that the US which signed a nuclear deal with India in 2008, intends to control Balochistan, contain China and subdue Iran.
US double game with Pakistan could be judged from the fact that at present, Islamabad is redefining its relationship with Washington after the US-led NATO air attack on Pakistan Army border posts on November 26 last year. While, America has also requested Islamabad to play a key role in the peace talks with the Afghan militants, recognising the fact that without Pakistan’s help, stability will not be achieved in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of foreign troops. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has reaffirmed American commitment on March 14 to remain engaged both with Afghanistan and Pakistan even as the US works to end the Afghan war. On the other side, US has again started drone attacks on Pakistan’s tribal areas, which have killed several people the past few weeks. The main aims behind the new phase of drone strikes are to sabotage the recent offer of the Pakistan government and the militants for peace talks and to provocate the insurgents for more suicide attacks inside the country and on the security forces.
In this backdrop, a shift has already occurred in the foreign policy of Pakistan. In this context, Islamabad which had already having cordial relationship with China, has also cultivated its relationship with the Russian Federation. Moscow and Islamabad agreed to enhance the bilateral relations in diverse fields. In 2010, the then Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin publicly endorsed Pakistan bid to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). Putin also remarked that Pakistan was very important partner in South Asia and the Muslim world for Russia. During the trip of Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar to Moscow, on February 9, she stated that SCO was an exceptionally important forum within the region to counter regional challenges.
In their summit of August 16, 2007, the leaders of the SCO had displayed strength against the US rising dominance in the region and NATO’s military presence in Afghanistan, near the region of Central Asia.
Nonetheless, by ignoring the interests of other stakeholders like Pakistan, Iran China and Russia in Afghanistan, America will fail in safeguarding its clandestine aims. Besides, India has illegitimate interests in Afghanistan; hence it is involved in illegitimate activities under the umbrella of US. While, Pakistan wants stability in Afghanistan, which is not possible due to Indian presence—Pakistan has legitimate concerns in Afghanistan, sharing common geographical, religious and cultural bonds.
Meanwhile, conflicting reports are coming about US peace dialogue with the Afghan militants in Qatar. In this regard, on March 10, Karzai’s spokesman said five Taliban detainees held at the US Guantanamo Bay military prison had agreed to be transferred to Qatar to boost a nascent peace process. On the same day, White House spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden pointed out that the US had not yet agreed to transfer a detainee from Guantanamo as an incentive for the Taliban to participate in peace talks. Besides Taliban commanders have refused to talk to Karzai whom they consider imperial puppet.
Now, question also arises that if well-trained and well-equipped NATO troops could not succeed in defeating the Afghan militants as to how Afghan forces, with the limited support of American troops, will cope with them. In this respect, Taliban may wait till the other NATO troops withdraw from that country.
According to a defence analyst, “The Taliban are now a battle-hardened guerrilla group…whom many believe have little incentive to accept American conditions…at present they are far stronger than Afghanistan’s police and army.”
Despite the military presence of the US, after the withdrawal of NATO forces from Afghanistan, the Karzai regime will fall like a house of cards due to stiff resistance of Afghan Taliban. US also believes that India can be a player in any future arrangement of Afghanistan for stability. But Even India which has already invested billion of dollars in Afghanistan, and signed a strategic partnership agreement with that country to further fortify its grip there to get strategic depth against Islamabad, will not be in a position to maintain its network in wake of the successful guerrilla warfare of the Taliban.
There are a number of complexities in connection with Afghanistan. In this regard, some political experts opine that the Afghan Taliban are irreconcilable because “stocked hatred, opening old wounds and deepening ethnic tensions in an already volatile country where fear of civil war is growing after the withdrawal of foreign forces.
Consequently, after the withdrawal of occupying forces, US ambivalent strategy will throw Afghanistan in an era of further uncertainty and chaos, intensifying country’s intractable issues.
Sajjad Shaukat writes on international affairs and is author of the book: US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power: Dangerous Shift in International Relations