During the early 70s and late 80s Afghanistan was the center-piece of the foreign policy objective of Moscow, Washington and Beijing. They used Afghanistan as a Grand-chess-board and established three strategic triangles in the country. Each tried to play the role of Bishop, the said three economic, military and political giants convinced to finance and mobilize their proxies in Afghanistan. The KGB supported the Communists, the MSS held up Maoists and the CIA sponsored the Islamic fundamentalists “the so-called freedom fighters” including Osama Bin-laden the master mind of the nine eleven. After the defeat and collapse of Soviet Union, America, China and Russia invigorate their foreign policy objectives. They redirected their focus on Asia-pacific and Middle-east and left the country as result the civil war took place in Afghanistan.
For a while, Afghanistan has once again perched at the forefront of attention of the mentioned three military giants.
So that, I would like to very precisely concentrate on the scenarios of the said countries in Afghanistan.
The Russian scenario
On the basis of data analysis, the Russian security agencies directly or indirectly encouraged and facilitated the departure of radical Islamists abroad. For instance Saadu Sharapudinov, 39 told Reuters that in December 2012 Russian intelligence officers presented him an unexpected offer. If he agreed to leaves Russia, the authorities would not arrest him; in fact they would facilitate his departure. A few months later he was given a new passport in a new name and one-way plane ticket to Istanbul, shortly after arriving in Turkey, he crossed in to Syria and joined an Islamic group called Sabri Jamaat that would later pledged allegiance to radical Sunni group the Islamic State.
Reuters has identified five other Russian Islamic radicals who left the country with direct or indirect help of the authorities and ended up in Syria, the scheme continued until late 2014. The departure of the Dagostani radicals in large number made the situation in the republic healthier.
In addition, Russian state establishment has got communication channels with main terrorist groups in middle-east and central Asia including Islamic State likely to be used by Kremlin to coordinate efforts in order to fulfill the country’s foreign and internal policy objectives. Through such channels Moscow provides the outflow of radical elements from Russia to local conflict zones abroad, in order to minimize internal risk posed by Muslims.
As Russia has reached its goals in the middle-east, the country for quite some time redirected the outflow of the radical elements to Afghanistan. Most of Russian and central Asian Islamic radicals who were fighting in middle-east under the banner of Islamic State appeared in Afghanistan most likely the Russian security agencies collaborate their safe exodus from middle-east in to Afghanistan. In fact Russia endeavors to kill two birds with one stone, the Russians for while use the emergence of Islamic State in Afghanistan as a pretext to consolidate its efforts in order to deploy its footprints in central Asia countries. The Russians narrative is, if we do not station our troops in central Asia bordering Afghanistan; the Islamic State would infiltrate into central Asia and disrupt the security situation in the whole region. As soon as their footprint is reinforced, they would have an upper hand in the entire region including Afghanistan.
Actually Russians try to get control of the flow of the white Gold (heroin) in to central Asia, because half of the Afghan precious Heroin makes its way through central Asia in to Russia and from there to the entire European continent. After the imposition of American and European sanction and the decline of oil price, the Russia economy has badly damaged. It is unlikely for the country to reach its goals solemnly and solely with the oil revenue; therefore Russia needs to get full control of the Heroin ending up in to Europe. While, the Afghan Heroin generates around 60 billion dollars annually, a large share of which flows to defense budget of the country in order to wage the war abroad.
Furthermore, Russia opposes the long-term presence of the US in Afghanistan. Gone are the days when Russia wanted the US to stay in Afghanistan. Russia has expressed its position on several occasions against long-term military presence of the US in Afghanistan including through the Secretary of the Russian Security Council Nikolaiy Patrushev, therefore, they use every possible means to get rid of the US.
The American scenario
The fact of the matter is that ever since its official launch on October 7, 2001, the US war in Afghanistan has been an open-ended war. Its endgame depends on US’s hegemonic goals in the region. In other words, the US is pursuing a strategy of perpetual war in Afghanistan irrespective of which president holds office.
Under the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA), the US maintains nine military bases at strategic locations across Afghanistan including those bordering Iran, Pakistan and Central Asian Republics. The Afghan airspace is controlled by the US for all practical and strategic purposes. The latter, thus, enjoys a unique geopolitical lead to project power beyond Afghanistan. The infrastructure allows the US to deploy up to 100,000 troops in two to four weeks.
In the grand geopolitical chessboard of Afghanistan, the US is left with the military option only which it pursues, at this stage, through a combination of terrorist proxies, drone attacks and Special Forces operations. It has locked itself in at a geopolitical space surrounded by hostile regional powers like Russia, China, Iran and Pakistan.
More recently, by elevating terrorists’ presence in Afghanistan and their level of threat to US enemies such as Russia, China, and Iran, the US is elevating the justification for its own military options intended to go beyond Afghan strategic geography.
The US is essentially playing a destabilizing role in the region as it aims at establishing world-tyranny. Its strategy revolves around the so-called Wolfowitz Doctrine which aims at preventing the emergence of a regional or global power that could challenge US’s sole hegemonic status.
However, US’s attempt at establishing its hegemony in Afghanistan and beyond is being challenged by a de facto strategic alliance involving Russia, China, Iran and Pakistan. In other words, the US-NATO coalition is facing a formidable enemy – three of which are nuclear powers – determined to contain US’s hegemonic ambitions in the region.
China and Russia are at the forefront of shaping this new geopolitical reality. At first glance, it seems that China has made lucrative deals at the expense of the security cover provided by NATO-US troops.
However, the start of extraction work of the Chinese workers at Mes Aynak copper mine under the security coverage by 2,000 government troops coincided with the popping up of armed groups which specifically targeted Chinese workers forcing a halt to extraction and their return home.
In the meantime, two governors of Logar province namely Abdullah Wardak and Arsala Jamal, both tasked with facilitating extraction at Mes Aynak, were assassinated in September 2008 and October 2013 respectively. Taliban claimed responsibility for the assassination of Wardak but no group claimed responsibility for assassinating Jamal. Ten years on and the project remains in a limbo.
Similarly, the start of extraction of crude oil by the Chinese in Sar-i-Pul and Faryab provinces was met with attacks by armed groups targeting the Chinese and efforts to destabilize these provinces. Six ICRC staff members were killed in Jawzjan province in February 2017 with no claims of responsibility by any group.
There are also intensified efforts to destabilize Xinjiang and encourage separatism there through the Afghan northeastern province of Badakhshan, a main route in the ancient Silk Road, which shares borders with Tajikistan to the north and east and China’s Xinjiang and Pakistan to the east through the historical Wakhan Corridor. The separatist East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) is believed to be mainly operating in Badakhshan.
Xinjiang is an important region of China as it borders eight countries: Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.
China is taking precautionary measures as it expands its economic, security and political role in Afghanistan through bilateral, trilateral and quadrilateral arrangements.
In August 2016, the Quadrilateral Cooperation and Coordination Mechanism in Counter Terrorism, comprising the militaries of Afghanistan, China, Pakistan, and Tajikistan, was launched, symbolically, in Urumqi, capital of Xinjiang. In one of the most dramatic turn of events, Chinese military was spotted in early 2017 conducting “anti-terrorism” patrols deep inside eastern Afghan territory marking the presence of Chinese military involvement in Afghanistan and signaling China’s readiness for potential military engagement should developments necessitate. As China expands its security stakes in Afghanistan, it has also started supplying military aid to the Afghan army.
At the December 2017 trilateral dialogue in Beijing, China, Pakistan, and Afghanistan agreed to joint cooperation against terrorism tied to Xinjiang specifically against ETIM.
China is also proactively increasing its political influence in Afghanistan in concert with its economic and trade interests. Recently, China stepped up its efforts as a mediator and broker of peace in Afghanistan. In fact, the first round of the trilateral dialogue at the level of foreign ministers of China, Afghanistan and Pakistan in December 2017 is an indication of the shifting geopolitical landscape in the region.
These Chinese efforts are in line with that country’s economic projects in Afghanistan, Pakistan and beyond.
China is also a party to the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) involving the US, Afghanistan, and Pakistan which mediates talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban. China consolidated its efforts to disqualify Americans in Afghanistan in order to pave the way for its role in the country.
The mentioned, economic, military and political giants, tries each to secure and expand its national interest in order to achieve its foreign policy objectives all through Afghanistan.
Apiece attempts to play the role of Bishop on the grand-chess-board to debar the other, but they are the Afghan innocent people who pay the price. This situation must come to an end enough is enough the Afghan blood is as precious as of Americans, Russians and Chinese.
Questioning the Novelty of India’s New Normal
In recent years Indian notions of Pre-emption and so-called surgical strikes have been referred to as the ‘new normal’ by many in India. These have contributed to further affecting the security, stability and strategic equilibrium in the South Asian region. This is evident in how the top-brass within the Indian military has repeatedly asserted that India reserves the right to punish Pakistan with such notions of preemptive strikes across the Line of Control (LoC) under its limited war doctrines, which themselves belie a desire to wage a low-intensity conflict across the border. At the doctrinal level, India has been planning for this for quite some time as evident from its 2004 Cold Start Doctrine (CSD)as well as its more recently released doctrines such as the 2017 Joint Doctrine of the Indian Armed Forces (JDIAF) and the 2018 Land Warfare Doctrine (LWD). These doctrines are all based upon proactive strategies and indirect threats of preemptive strikes against Pakistan. Based on the current patterns of Indian aggression these ideas hold immense significance when considering the latest rounds of tensions over the disputed territory of Kashmir as witnessed in the short-lived military engagement between the two countries in February 2019.
Inspired by such notions and in typical fashion, the new Army Chief of India Gen. Manoj Mukund Naravane wasted little time in blaming Pakistan for sponsoring terrorism in India. The same day he took charge of his new appointment he claimed that India reserves the right to respond in the same way it had previously done through its so-called ‘surgical strikes.’ Moreover, he openly asserted to physically taking control of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) if his government ordered him to do so.
However, such assertions from the Indian political and military leadership are simply repetitions of the same statements that have been made by Prime Minister Modi, Mr. Rajnath Singh, and former Army Chief Gen. (R) Bipin Rawat in the recent past. Representing the same aggressive and jingoistic posturing, there is not much novelty in these statements. In fact, even in this so-called ‘new normal’ which these leaders have repeatedly described over the last few years, there is nothing new at all.
Even the oft-quoted notion of a preemptive ‘splendid first strike‘ is not new for Pakistan as it had already formed a key part of the discourse surrounding the Indian and international strategic community since the years 2016-2017. According to this, if in India’s assessment, Pakistan was found to be deploying nuclear weapons, as a contingency, India would likely resort to such a splendid first strike which it has always hinted as being a nuclear strike. As such all this does is prove Pakistan’s pre-existing doubts over India’s long-debated ‘No First Use’ (NFU) Policy. Yet, what’s worth noting here is that this overt shift towards declaring a more offensive doctrinal posture from India represents a more focused attempt at undermining the deterrent value of Pakistan’s own nuclear posture, thus ultimately destabilizing the South Asian region.
Instead, the only thing new to come out from all these assertions from Indian leaders is the prevailing fascist mindset within India that is being fueled by a false sense of racial superiority and hatred against Muslims. This was clearly stated by Prime Minister Imran Khan in his tweet when he attributed the cause of such provocations to the RSS’s extremist ideology. Hence, Pakistan perceives the recent statements from India’s top military brass as also being wholly politically inspired and as a routine attempt to divert attention away from the rampant domestic socio-economic issues currently plaguing India. The fact remains that Pakistan’s response to this Indian self-proclaimed ‘new normal’ which was on full display during the Balakot crisis itself set a clear example of its full spectrum deterrence. Contrary to the notion that a conventional asymmetry of sorts exists between the two countries, Pakistan had responded conventionally and more befittingly while holding its own toe to toe. In other words, Pakistan proved that it can also restore deterrence via conventional means despite the quantitative edge of India’s conventional forces and military hardware.
It is also worth noting that while India is spending billions of dollars on its military modernization program both in terms of its conventional and unconventional acquisitions; allocating billions for defence spending does not necessarily guarantee military supremacy. Especially if the adversary is determined to thwart any such attempts right from the outset. India’s actual capabilities still differentiate widely from what its political and military leadership inspires and projects itself to be. In fact, there is a huge gap between the Indian leadership’s expectations and what its military can actually deliver. As apparent not only in the absurdity of Gen. Naravane’s statement but also in Prime Minister Modi’s and others, the credibility of such threats already remains highly questionable.
Hence at the present, it seems that India is more keen on simply projecting military supremacy vis-à-vis Pakistan as opposed to actually attaining it, as reflected in the statements of its political and military top brass. Its favored notions of preemption at the doctrinal and strategic levels are evidence of such aspirations. As such the increasingly provocative posturing against Pakistan in the form of this so-called ‘new normal’ seems to represent simply a jingoistic approach to manipulate Indian public sentiment in the ruling government’s favor. However, the fact remains that Pakistan has already nullified such notions of preemption in the recent past and has proved it time and again. As such India’s aggressive posturing seems to be collapsing on itself with its self-proclaimed ‘new normal’ unlikely to pose any serious challenges to Pakistan’s strategic posture at least for the time being.
From Scapegoat Back to Key Ally: Pakistan and the Perils of US Maximalism
In the two years since President Trump accused Pakistan of giving nothing but deceit and lies, relations between both countries seem to have undergone a dramatic turnaround. This is evident not only in the official narrative being put forth by both countries with respect to one another, but also in how this growing sense of cordiality has culminated into a series of high-level visits and meetings between key representatives. For instance, the icy indifference with which US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was greeted with in Islamabad back in September 2018 now stands in stark contrast to the frank more amicable meetings that have been held between Prime Minister Khan and President Trump thrice since then. Not to mention the back to back visits from Alice Wells, the current US government’s focal representative for South Asia, that have further accompanied a steady yet gradual thawing of tensions.
Signs of this turnaround are further evident in how last month’s resumption of military education and training programs for Pakistani Officers marks one of the first steps towards renewed strategic cooperation. This represents an important milestone since President Trump had announced the cancellation of all forms of US military aid to Pakistan in early 2018. Similarly, acknowledgments of the progress made as per the requirements of the FATF review, as well as the ‘concern’ expressed over India’s recent actions in Kashmir are all signs aimed at placating some of Pakistan’s most pressing interests. Thus, hinting at what more cordial relations with the US could look like for Pakistan, while just stopping short of making any concrete commitments.
Yet, to say that Pak-US ties have begun to ‘normalize’ or ‘revert’ towards a mutually beneficial status quo would be ignoring the age-old complexity that has characterized relations between both countries. Especially for a relationship that has been long described as blowing hot and cold, on and off, as a rollercoaster ride, or simply a love-hate one. History has borne witness to the fact that US foreign policy towards Pakistan has more than often been based on a ruthless pragmatism and maximalism. This all or nothing approach has brought immense amounts of aid and funds for Pakistan which have been always cut off just as abruptly as they were initiated. Often without any long-term assessment or appreciation of what such actions are likely to lead to beyond the US’s more immediate goals.
None of this has been more evident than in US expectations from Pakistan regarding Afghanistan and the Taliban. It’s no secret that the very inception of the Taliban came from US funds and training during the waning stages of the Cold War for which Pakistan played the role of an indispensable intermediary. Yet following the 9/11 attacks, US policy towards the Taliban changed overnight when the US in lumping the Taliban together with Al-Qaeda brought down its military might on the entire Afghan State. What’s more it forced Pakistan to join its War on Terror almost at gunpoint. The infamous statement attributed to then US deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage where he allegedly threated ‘to bomb Pakistan back to the stone age’ stands as a stark reminder of how even labeling this relationship as ‘complex’ is simply an understatement.
This aspect is further reinforced in the damning revelations of the Afghanistan Papers that were released just last month. Representing a cache of candid interviews of key officials responsible for formulating and implementing the US’s Afghanistan policy, these interviews have been used to piece together crucial mistakes at the strategic and policy levels made by successive US governments over the last two decades. One of these mistakes has been highlighted as ‘trusting Pakistan as a friend’ where Pakistan has been repeatedly accused of providing sanctuary and support to certain militant groups. Hence, accusations of Pakistan playing a double game, as well as the confusing distinctions between good and bad Taliban all contributed to a narrative that Pakistan was doing more to upend US progress than support it. This had caused much of the resentment and mutual distrust specifically during the Obama years which starting from calls to ‘do more’ resulted in the US unilaterally and covertly taking out Osama Bin Laden deep inside Pakistani territory. As ties worsened, the advent of the Trump presidency brought with them an overt sense of finality in the form of his new year tweet that was referred to in the beginning of this article.
Yet, even now as both countries come full circle with the US asking for help in bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table, one fears that the US may still not have learnt anything from its adventurist debacles. As the Afghanistan Papers themselves testify, Pakistani officials have remained quite candid in their desire to hedge their bets against the US by maintaining limited ties with the Taliban. This was made clear to Ambassador Ryan Crocker who had served as the US ambassador in Islamabad from 2004-2007. In one of his interviews in the Afghanistan Papers, the former ambassador directly quotes a conversation he had with Gen Ashfaq Kayani who was then the DG ISI.As Mr. Crocker himself recounts, the general had quite explicitly made clear his reservations against an abrupt US withdrawal that would force Pakistan to once again pick up the pieces while having made the Taliban a mortal enemy. Hence justifying the reasons behind Pakistan’s so-called duplicity.
But considering how it is in fact the US now that is pressing Pakistan to use those same ties to help extricate itself out of the Afghan quagmire, Pakistan’s strategy against the Taliban seems to have stood wholly vindicated. In fact, it appears downright visionary considering how in hindsight, Pakistan had repeatedly called on the US to consider negotiating with the Taliban – especially when the US had the upper hand following its initial successes back in the early 2000s.However,the US after squandering its own reputation and credibility and already having missed multiple chances to engage with the Taliban are now ironically banking on Pakistan to help secure an exit. A kind of exit that not only allows the US to perhaps save face at the international level, but also offer something palatable to the American people during an election year. Thus, once again reeking of the reactionary maximalism that has so often brought into question the US’s reliability and trustworthiness as an ally. Not to mention President Trump’s own ‘America First’ policy, which already risks squandering whatever little credibility the US has been left with in the first place.
India’s Modi: Messiah or Menace
When the Hindu sages developed their way of life, they divided people into four castes: Brahmins, the thinkers, scholars and priests at the top for they were the guides; Kshatriyas, the soldiers including the king second for they protected and governed society; Vaishyas the merchants third with their commerce facilitating daily living; and Shudras who were the laborers and service workers at the bottom.
Well, the world has changed as it should but perhaps they had a point as there is a Vaish — not one at the top of the class but a tea-seller from a shop that would be at the other end of the spectrum from those charming English tea shops in Devon — now running the country. Of dubious education that has been challenged and a beginning in the ultra-nationalist RSS (once outlawed by India’s founding prime minister and known also for producing Gandhi’s assassin) Narendra Modi is at India’s helm. His BJP party’s rise is linked to stoking up tensions between Hindus and minority Muslims, whose suffering has been well documented. Police powers have been increased and Muslim Kashmir is now under direct rule from Delhi, while new laws are disqualifying Muslims from citizenship. So reports The Economist in its special issue, The State of the World in 2020 (p. 53).
Better known is the pogrom of Muslims in Modi’s Gujarat when he headed the provincial government there, and his party’s role in the destruction of a 500-year old mosque built by Babur so that the fictitious birthplace of Ram would be holy to both religions. Having overthrown the Muslim Lodi dynasty and with a tenuous hold, Babur was seeking friends among Hindu Rajas who generally owed fealty to the Delhi sultans. The Mughal Emperors also started the custom of marrying Hindu royalty to cement relationships and ensure loyalty. And this Mughal openness to other religions reached its apex under Emperor Akbar who founded a new religion, Din-i-Ilahi, attempting to incorporate the best from all faiths but which, lacking roots, died with him.
After the Indian rebellion against British rule, the British saw advantage in fostering division among communities in the infamous divide-and-rule maxim, now changed by Modi into suppress-and-rule, as the left-over Muslim community is poor and weak after the emigration of many to Pakistan following partition and independence in 1947.
Gandhi and founding prime minister Nehru’s vision of a secular India is enshrined in its constitution, which Modi and the BJP’s Hindu nationalist agenda subverts. Its Hindutva, a Nazi-like ideology holding Hinduism supreme, wants India to be an exclusively Hindu nation noting that Hindu and Muslim cultures are different, without regard to the similarities. As a video demonstrating the new ideology in practice points out, it is safer to be a cow than a Muslim in Modi’s India.
It is what one can expect when an ill-educated, charismatic tea-seller takes over the world’s largest democracy offering cultural superiority and its false pride, hare brained schemes like a deadline declaring old high denomination banknotes illegal causing chaos at banks. Poorly managed plans like toilets and gas cookers for the poor are touted as successes. But the toilets are not used because the plans did not include maintenance, and gas cooker distribution is riddled with corruption. Meanwhile, the economy suffers and the country ranks 102 out 117 on the Global Hunger Index (between Sierra Leone and Niger) and far behind Bangladesh. So much for the hype.
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