The great game in Hindu Kush
Ghani assured his audience that this land-locked yet strategically located state, connecting central and south Asia, will never ever host terror groups even as a “dark cloud” of extremism looms over the region. He, rightly, want to steer Afghanistan out of bitter proxy wars and turn it into a “graveyard of Al-Qaeda and their foreign terrorist associates.”
And to that end the Afghan president has no inhibition in allowing his country to continue as a frontline state in America’s seemingly unending global war on terror. Ironic it is because Al-Qaeda was an “unquestionable product of western intelligence agencies” as former British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook candidly confessed in the House of Commons. Gen. William Odom, former director of America’s national security agency, had also gone on record acknowledging, “the US has long used terrorism.” Indeed, Afghanistan’s mystical tribal attribute — of immense self-pride — was completely misread by the leading Cold War protagonists. Even the most seasoned strategic security expert cannot deny that this intriguing failure to make an objective appraisal of ground realities and tribal psychology has put Afghanistan into a quandary. A strategic expert of India’s external intelligence once told this author that Afghanistan’s varied societal dynamics — due to multitude of ethnic groups and sub-groups — makes this country unique and challenging for any intelligence officer, with each ethnic affiliation shaping-up the country’s political architecture. “Anybody who has the rewarding experience of working in Afghanistan precisely know how difficult it is to reconcile the interests of myriads of Afghan sub-tribes, clans and sects with that of the strategic objective of the nation one represents,” asserted the gentleman, going on to add “the Afghans may be a bitterly divided lot but they will not hesitate to come together to punish the common enemy.” Unfortunately, some self-serving local religious leaders, who more often than not have little knowledge about the true meaning of Islam, helped spy agencies to effectively balkanize Afghanistan by sowing the seed of discord from within, confessed the official. Perhaps, this is the reason why durable peace in war-ravaged Afghanistan is becoming increasingly elusive, forcing even US President Barack Obama to tinker with his exit-plan so as to prevent consolidation of IS foothold in the region. According to Ghani, there are confirmed reports of IS having started its field operation clandestinely in Afghanistan’s southern Helmand province. Reportedly led by a local commander, identified by intelligence agencies as Abdul Rauf, IS foot-soldiers are operating in Zamindawar, Sangin and part of Kajaki districts inhabited by the Pashtun tribes, renowned for their tactically superior tip-and-run skill. With heavy combat casualties and desertions leading to serious deficiencies — including a decline of 8.5 percent in the number of available troops on the ground — in the Afghan security forces, Obama was virtually forced to fall in line with his Afghan-policy detractors who strongly believed that the Presidential “policy preferences were divorced from security realties.” Though, Obama might just fall short of his commitment to wind-up US military operation in Afghanistan by the end of his term in office in 2017, Ghani’s fairly successful America sojourn is reflective of a deftly handled behind-the-scene diplomacy by the US foreign office and strategic establishment.
Many believe, slowing down of scheduled drawdown of American ground troops stationed in Afghanistan along with the $800 million “New Development Partnership” — to help Kabul achieve economic self-reliance and combat corruption effectively — will give the US a strategic leverage in finalizing a long-term strategy in South-Central Asia. Undoubtedly, any war fought on Afghanistan’s soil is bound to be driven by profit motive because of the country’s vast minerals and natural gas reserves and enviable geographical location at the crossroads of critical energy-pipeline routes as well as the great Silk Road, linking China with the West.
In fact, American agencies have identified vast mineral riches estimated to be of $1 trillion. That Afghanistan will continue to be at the center-stage of US foreign policy planning is therefore a foregone conclusion. Moreover, Obama has the luxury to extend American presence in Afghanistan so long as US troops do not take heavy casualties. After all, Washington’s strategic objective in the Hindu Kush is to maintain a permanent military presence in proximity to China’s western frontier and keep Central Asia under strict watch to counter possible Russian influence. And the US has surreptitiously used the Taleban to further their objective in the region by subtly recasting the international sanctions regime and enabling Taleban to open a political office in Qatar so that a negotiated settlement on the Afghan crisis can be arrived at. While, Pakistan, China and even Turkey have assumed active role in the Afghan-led and owned inclusive peace-process, India seems to be losing the edge as the Modi government is caught in a fix.
The fresh spurt in violence in Kashmir is linked to developments in Afghanistan, especially Islamabad’s role in brokering a deal between Ghani’s unity government and Taleban, reveals an intelligence source, who also believe that “the Yemen conundrum has blunted India’s Iran-card vis-à-vis Afghanistan.” With ex-President Hamid Karzai trying to throw a spanner into the Afghan peace process, apparently at New Delhi’s behest, India might end up losing face — despite her huge contribution in Afghanistan’s reconstruction process — if the hard-liners are allowed to dictate terms.
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