Friday, Mar 31, 2023

And The Great Game Will Continue

And The Great Game Will Continue

Beyond 2014, as US troops prepare to leave —and Pakistan wants India out of —Afghanistan, the region is poised for yet another round of geo-strategic repositioning

The US hopes to soon sign a long- term strategic partnership with Afghanistan which would enable the presence of US troops beyond 2014 on Afghan soil. The situation is quite different from US negotiating something similar with Iraq. A US-Afghan accord should not pose problems with a weak government in Kabul and resilient insurgency coupled with prospects of a likely Pakistan- backed Taliban offensive, should US withdraw in totality.

US is already building sophisticated drone facilities in Afghanistan along with expansion of few bases that will likely be retained, including for special operations. Such a posture envisages main fighting done by the Afghan National Army and reduced US casualties on the frontline. However, we forget that terror is borderless and without a frontline. Such a dispensation, may actually increase terror attacks in Afghanistan’s heartland as with exit of the NATO- led ISAF, Taliban- controlled territories will most likely expand. Considering the possibility of the Taliban going north into Central Asian Republics (CAR), the US is constructing a $100 million Special Operations Complex near Mazar-e-Sharif, across the border from Uzbekistan and a similar one reportedly in Osh, Kyrgyzstan.

The prospect of a Taliban ruled Afghanistan is giving jitters to CAR region, who are looking for ‘some force’ guarding the Afghanistan-Pakistan border when the NATO / ISAF withdraw. There has been talk in some forums of an ‘Islamist UN Force’, which is ridiculous. An Islamist force can hardly be termed a UN force and in a situation as envisaged in Afghanistan, any UN Force will be simply ineffective.

In the absence of an effective international military presence on Afghan-Pakistan border, the threat will be similar to June last year when Pakistan fired some 470 missiles and artillery in Kunar, Nangarhar, Khost and Paktia provinces of Afghanistan followed by Pakistani Taliban raids backed by helicopters, killing dozens of civilians. The July 4, 2011 resolution of the Afghan Parliament urged the UNSC and the OIC to mount diplomatic pressure on Pakistan, describing it an "act of invasion" by Pakistan.

The Taliban have, not surprisingly, broken off talks but Uncle Sam still hopes for a Taliban reconciliation through Taliban leaders like Mullah Mohammed Fazl (close associate of Mullah Omar) held in Guantanamo Bay despite his reported involvement in butchering over 5000 Shiite Hazaras in Mazar-i-Sharif in 1998 including women and children. But so is an equally radicalised heinous Shiite ethnic cleansing happening within Pakistan. To bank on any semblance of sincerity from Taliban would be another milestone in Uncle Sam’s naiveté. Lessons from perpetual double crossing by Pakistan, the so-called front-line GWOT partner, don’t seem to have gone home— with the irony of the situation being that US all along battles forces sponsored and supported by its ally, Pakistan. Egged on by China, the actions of Pakistan in Afghanistan beyond 2014 may come as a rude shock to the US who then can hardly accuse Pakistan of double jeopardy.

General Kayani told Chris Alexander, former Canadian envoy to Pakistan last year that he wants Indians out of Afghanistan. How does Kayani get India out of Kabul if not through Pakistan Taliban, Al Qaeda and Haqqanis? The New York Times reported last October: “The Haqqani family, which runs the network like a mafia, maintains several town houses, including in Islamabad and elsewhere, and they have been known to visit military facilities in Rawalpindi, attend tribal gatherings and even travel abroad on pilgrimages. Experts say leaders of the Haqqani network may be hiding in plain sight in cities rather than in remote tribal areas.”

Chinese specialists have reportedly been training Taliban fighters in the use of IR SAMs and advising the Taliban how to fight NATO. China views Afghanistan as part of the Sino-US game to influence Eurasia and wants the US and NATO out, to enable it to build an energy based Eurasian Security Architecture in a corridor connecting Turkey and China. Though the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) is not a military alliance, Chinese scholars have been hinting on an Asian Collective Defence Alliance based on SCO Members and the CSTO (Collective Treaty Organisation) spearheaded by Russia, since SCO already has cooperative relations with CSTO.

China eyeing the $3 trillion of mineral wealth in Afghanistan is natural but with expanding Chinese strategic and economic footprint, the PLA is already garrisoned as infrastructure workers and security guards for Chinese energy and infra-structure projects throughout Afghanistan. China had inducted some 15,000 PLA in 2001 itself even as US was invading Afghanistan. A 75 km-long road extending 10 kms beyond the China-Afghanistan border, through the Wakhan Corridor is being built for use by Chinese frontier patrols and for transportation of supplies to border units with provision of operating mobile devices, web connection and internet access. View this with 11000 PLA already in Pakistan and POK and reporting of vernacular Pakistani media that Gilgit-Pakistan area may be leased to China for 50 years.

China may not want to commit regular troops militarily in the region, but most likely will employ the PLA in areas of its strategic interest if required. Amir Mir, Senior Pakistani Journalist, wrote on 26 Oct 2011: “While Pakistan wants China to build a naval base at its southwestern seaport of Gwadar in Balochistan province, Beijing is more interested in setting up military bases either in the FATA of Pakistan or in the Federally Administered Northern Areas that border Xinjiang province”. Chinese scholars also visualize a China-Afghanistan-Pakistan Trilateral Alliance (Pamir Group), with Chinese investments integrating AfPak with China. There is already an active plan for a quadrilateral freight railroad from Xinjiang through Tajikistan, Afghanistan to Pakistan, where Gwadar port would bring in Middle East energy supplies.

The China-Pakistan collusive strategy appears to be shaping up on the following lines:

  • Pakistan backed Taliban take control of bulk Afghanistan.’
  • Pakistan gets her cherished ‘strategic depth’.
  • Hamid Karzai becomes a Chinese protégé.
  • China becomes the bridge between Afghanistan-Taliban and Afghanistan-Iran.
  • China and Pakistan reap the benefits of Afghanistan reconstruction – lion’s share going to China.
  • US and NATO are thrown out of the region.
  • India’s land route to Afghanistan / CAR is effectively blocked or becomes contingent upon Chinese terms.
  • China gains global prominence and clout to deal more aggressively with South China Sea, IOR, Taiwan, India and Bhutan.

India needs to weigh all its options.