US – Russia Face-off in Afghanistan
Moscow and Washington seem to be heading for a face-off in Afghanistan. Last December, Moscow initiated a regional dialogue on Afghanistan. It has held three meetings of the group which contains Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, China, India and a few Central Asian republics. The US declined the invitation to attend the last meeting saying that the agenda of the meeting was unclear. The US sees the Russian initiative as a counterweight to its influence in Afghanistan. US President Donald Trump is still in the process of shaping his Afghanistan policy. Recently, he sent his National Security Adviser General H.R. McMaster to Kabul, Islamabad and New Delhi to take stock of the situation. On April 13th, 2017 the US dropped its largest non-nuclear bomb in the Nangarhar province of Afghanistan, ostensibly to destroy some caves being used by the Islamic State fighters. This happened on the eve of the third multinational meet on Afghanistan conveyed by Russia. It also preceded General McMaster’s visit to the region.
US has used Afghan Mujahideen to remove the Soviet Union from Afghanistan during the cold war era. This situation is unlikely to be created again to settle current rivalries.
Russia is allowing the northern route to operate in Afghanistan for supplies to the region. United States has a role to play in defining the ambitions of IS in the region which is well known to Russia, but it also doubts the intentions of the US in manipulating these extremist groups to its advantage. This American support for Islamic militancy in Afghanistan might destabilize Central Asia with spillover effect on the Russian federation. Russia has not taken any significant political stance on Afghanistan yet except taking action against the drug trafficking business emanating from Afghanistan borders
Threats posed by IS in Afghanistan are nowhere close to the threat of Taliban. Afghan ISIS consists of Pakistan-backed Taliban, Pakistani terrorists, Afghan Taliban, a few local criminals and a force of Salafists in Kunar and Nangarhar provinces of Afghanistan. Hence, it might be premature to conclude that IS will be a direct threat to the region beyond Afghanistan itself.
The people following the IS militants very closely in Syria confirm that the second most spoken language in the IS is Russian. This indicates that a number of people from the Central Asian republics who speak Russian language and Chechen rebels are growing in ISIS. Once they are squeezed in Syria by a strong attack on Raqqa initiated by the anti-ISIS forced, they will possibly gravitate to another ungoverned territory, most probably, Afghanistan. Hence, the Islamic State militancy at the doorstep of Central Asia is not a non-serious threat for the Russians.
America continues to suffer from a basic dilemma of how to contain Taliban, even after two decades of entanglement with the Afghan affairs. Russia has alerted America that until the safe havens in Pakistan are destroyed, Taliban will continue to flourish in Afghanistan.
The military aid given to Pakistan is being used to flourish Taliban in madrasas of Pakistan. Until these are destroyed, the issue cannot be resolved. The Americans understand this, yet they prefer to surrender themselves to Pakistan for petty contemporary interests. Russian peace initiative in Afghanistan undermines the efforts of NATO in the region. NATO wishes to keep the pressure high on Taliban to improve the security situation and streamline Taliban into the political process.
India should take the Afghan Government into consideration to ensure stability and peace in the region. It is high time for the Americans and the Russians to realize that a Pakistan engineered Taliban would be deplorable for not just India and Afghanistan, but for the rest of the world too.