Every few months a US official accuses Russia of arming its old foe the Taliban. The claim is entirely absurd not only because there is no evidence that Russia is arming a group that remains illegal in the Russian Federation, but moreover, the Taliban represents an outgrowth of the US backed Mujaheddin of the 1980s that waged war against Soviet troops and their allies, the forces of the legitimate government of Afghanistan. But far from just being a randomly absurd allegation, there is a calculated motive behind these increasingly frequent insinuations that somehow Russia is backing its old foes in Afghanistan.
As Russia continues to develop an increasingly important partnership with Pakistan, as Pakistan and Iran continue to engage in a rapprochement and as China becomes more assertive of its own security interests in neighbouring Afghanistan, one sees the emergence of a ‘coalition for peace’ that threatens America’s unilateral role as a permanent destabiliser in Afghanistan. Russia, China, Pakistan and Iran each have clear overlapping interests in securing peace in Afghanistan.
For Pakistan, Iran and China, interests in Afghanistan are based on concerns with securing their borders while also drawing Afghanistan into cooperative win-win trading initiatives, most notably One Belt–One Road. As a key partner of China, Pakistan and Iran, Russia not only wants to help foster economic connectivity in Afghanistan, but also wants Afghanistan to be rid of terrorist elements that endanger Russia via its vast Central Asian frontiers.
While many honest Americans are quick to point out the fact that Afghanistan is the longest war that the US has ever been in and that victory remains not only illusive but difficult to define, in reality, the Pentagon and broader US deep state do not intend to win what is clearly an un-winnable war. Instead, the US wants to play the role of obstructionist for as long as economically viable, in order to achieve the following:
2. Make sure to get US hands on as many Afghan resources as possible, including minerals, poppies (as cultivated in the lucrative narcotics trade) and precious metals.
3. In the event that the US is unable to obtain Afghanistan’s resources, make certain that countries like China are not allowed to do so by using an endless US military presence in the country to disrupt any One Belt–One Road links through Afghanistan.
4. Use Afghanistan as a terrorist base from which to launch attacks on Pakistan’s strategically important Balochistan province, which is home to the Chinese built Gwadar Port.
5. Use Afghanistan as a terrorist base from which Daesh and other Takfiris can enter Iran.
6. Use US control of the roads in Afghanistan to sow further conflicts between India and Pakistan, using Iran’s Chabahar Port’s proximity to Afghanistan to trap Iran into taking an overly pro-Indian side vis-a-vis the longstanding Indo-Pak disputes, due to Indian investments in Chabahar.
These are the complex but self-evident reasons that the US refuses to leave Afghanistan even though for the American public of all political persuasions, mission creep has metamorphosed into war fatigue which in turn has metamorphosed into collective disengagement. While the wars in Syria and Iraq fill headlines internationally, the war in Afghanistan is a largely forgotten war for those outside of the region.
While many of the US goals, particularly in respect of sowing discord between Pakistan and Iran are already showing signs of failure, if the US can even partially realise their devious goals in Afghanistan, received wisdom in Washington is that it was ‘worth while’.
For Afghanistan itself, the country is trapped in a helpless position, caught between the potentially positive inevitability of an all-party peace process, which is negatively off-set against the fact that moderate elements of the Taliban will not come to the peace table being set by Russia and China until the US vacates the country.
In order to exacerbate this tension, many suspect the US has and will continue to airlift Daesh terrorists from the Levant to Afghanistan. Today’s announcement from Iran merely confirms what many already suspect and what some claim to have documented. Such a scenario not only worsens the security situation in the country, but from the calculating US perspective, it will cause a prolonged three way fight between the government, Taliban (and other local rebels) and Daesh.
The US is also counting on Daesh in Afghanistan causing internal rifts among radical elements of the Taliban. Most importantly, the US could use Afghanistan as a base to send Daesh terrorists into Pakistan’s Balochistan Province where the Chinese built Gwadar port is located. The love affair between the US and India could be used to supply such terrorists with Indian intelligence about Balochistan, as Delhi has long been accused of aiding terrorism against Pakistan in the region. The US could likewise attempt to get Daesh terrorists into Iran, although Iran’s Afghan border is generally more stable than the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, which the US has frequently attacked without mercy, in spite of an increasing number of official protests from Islamabad.
It is a potentially gruesome situation where the only solution is for increased unity between Pakistan, Iran, China and Russia. It is in the interests of all four countries to push for both a peace process and a concerted anti-terrorist security presence in Afghanistan, even as the US remains in the country. Such a process will be difficult, but by trying to make a peace as inevitable as the lingering US war, there is a chance that Afghanistan’s two unwelcome ‘guests’, the US and Daesh, might both be kicked out.
While elements of the Taliban remain deeply hostile to peace, part of this hostility is due to the widespread resentment among ethnic Pashtuns as well as elements of Afghanistan’s non-Pashtun minorities towards the seemingly endless US occupation of their country. While the Taliban remains illegal in Russia and universally condemned for their atrocities such as the one they claimed responsibility for in central Kabul today, it is imperative to realise that only a dialogue based peace process, the kind of which has been proposed by China, Russia and Pakistan, can ever hope to solve the crisis. Iran, in spite of its justified opposition to the Taliban, also understands that only a post-US peace process can bring any modicum of stability to the country.
Against this background, it becomes apparent why the US is struggling to form any narrative it can to justify its presence in Afghanistan. Allegations of Russia aiding the Taliban, all of which are vehemently denied by Moscow, are just the most crude weapon of mass distraction employed by Washington to justify a war that most Americans cannot wrap their heads around and for good reason. For the average American, the war in Afghanistan makes no difference. It has nothing to do with US national security and everything to do with spreading instability among Afghanistan’s neighbours and potential partners.