Mineral deposits and geostrategic location of Afghanistan made it a coveted prize for the empires of the past and present-day political players from around the world. The American presence in the country has continued since 2001. Afghanistan has become infamous as “the graveyard of empires”. Now Americans, too, can’t leave it. The United States’ new policy in Afghanistan, contrary to Trump’s pre-election promises, doesn’t suggest withdrawal of troops from the country. America cannot win, but it also cannot leave in fear that it would strengthen China and Russia. Now Washington plots to get India involved in the Afghan game as a counterweight for China. What’s the underpinning of the US policy in Afghanistan? What game is being played by China, Pakistan and Russia? Can America realize its “Big Central Asia” project by dragging CARS into Afghanistan? Lieutenant General Javed Ashraf Qazi, Senator in the Parliament of Pakistan and ex-head of the Inter-Services Intelligence answers those questions specially for «Eurasia.Expert»
To understand the great game being played one has to first study and understand the significance of Afghanistan. It is a treasure house of mineral deposits some of which are rare and valuable. The US would like to keep control over these deposits. The other great advantage is the geostrategic location of Afghanistan. It is a buffer between South Asia and Middle East. It is also a buffer between the CARS and the Arabian Sea. The Gwadar Port being developed by China on the mouth of Persian Gulf and located as a deep sea port on Arabian Sea can give a huge relief to CARS and Russia by giving them access to the Sea through the shortest route. This route will however have to traverse through Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Having spent trillions of dollars and lot of lives the Americans have come to a conclusion that they cannot defeat Taliban through increasing their forces. If they could not achieve victory by deploying over one hundred thousand troops, they will not be able to do so by marginal increases. Despite all the modern weaponry deployed by the US, the Taliban today control over 40% of the territory.
Trump before his elections had promised to withdraw troop from Afghanistan but after his elections he was told that it would be a strategic blunder to do so. He has been convinced to change his stance and now wants to stay in Afghanistan.
The lure of huge mineral deposits and the advantages of a strategic location would not let the US leave the field open for China and Russia to move in.
The US has now opted for a choice which will see few body bags of Americans going back to the States but they will continue to hold Afghanistan. A marginal increase in US troops will only strengthen their presence in the selected bases. The fighting against Taliban will have to be done by the Afghan Government forces with the US providing Air Support.
China has moved in through contracts which will help the Afghan economy and also enable them to exploit mineral resources. Russia too has shown no inclination to adopt its past blunder of use of force but would like to also participate in mineral exploration and exploitation. The CARS provide access and the communication infrastructure to further develop relation between the two emerging great powers of China and Russia which together is the only challenge to American domination in the world.
The new American strategy seems to be to ensure continuity of American presence in Afghanistan through using its proxies i.e. the Afghan Government and her new ally in India. The military option is not the first choice but through use of its dollars continue to dictate policy while having enough forces to retain huge American bases like Bagram.
The American are prompting India to move in as their partners in the economic sphere to counter the Chinese moves in Afghanistan. The development of roads and other infrastructure has to be developed by India to keep the Chinese and Russia at bay.
The CARS are by themselves not in a position to take active participation in this great game intended to be played by the Americans.
Pakistan is considered a nuisance but not a threat to the US interests in the region. It today controls the logistics on which the American and NATO forces depend for their sustenance in Afghanistan. All their equipment and supplies come through the port of Karachi and travel on Pakistani roads to Afghanistan. This supply line was briefly shut down for three months after the Americans destroyed a Pakistani post at Salala on the Afghan border through their Air Force and refused to apologize diverting their supply lines through CARS and Russia.
They soon realized that it was a hugely expansive undertaking since they had to pay for the transit while they have been having a free lunch through Pakistan. The amount which Pakistan has not charged since 2011 when the Americans moved into Afghanistan exceeds the so called billions of dollars which Trump mentioned in his speech.
The US quickly apologized and got their lines of communications restored.
One more aspect which Trump mentioned in his speech was the so called sanctuaries to Taliban in Pakistan. He seems to be ignorant of the facts. Pakistan has been engaged in military action against the Taliban and other extremists for the last five years. We have suffered over 60000 civilian and 6000 military casualties in this battle for our survival as a modern state. Today we have cleared over 90% of the territory from their presence and in some cases control. All those defeated have moved into Afghanistan.
The bases exist today in Afghanistan and not in Pakistan but Americans avoid accepting these facts because they do not have the stomach to go for military action against Taliban.
The Afghan forces have been losing ground and now 40% of the territory is out of Government control. Pakistan has offered to the Americans to come and visit any area of their choice to see that the Taliban no longer have their presence in the suspected areas. Their military delegations have visited areas like Waziristan which were once a hub of Taliban activity but are now fully under Government control. They acknowledge it in their meetings but not in public. There is a good reason for that. The American Generals have to find excuses for their failure in Afghanistan. They find it convenient to make Pakistan as their scapegoat and blame it on so called sanctuaries in Pakistan.
There is not going to be any role or coordination of Americans with CARS without accepting and respecting the American interest in Afghanistan. CARS on their own neither pose a threat nor are considered as allies since the US considers them part of Russian sphere of influence. The Indians have been preferred as allies because they are considered a counter weight to the Chinese.
The importance and significance of CARS lies in their proximity to both China and Russia. The US would like to wean them away from China and Russia. The possibility of use of bases in lease in these states is very attractive for US. The Indians too have been fishing for bases in Tajikistan since it would enable them to have their presence in close proximity to China and Pakistan. They could also act as proxies for United States when required.
There is no military victory for the US in Afghanistan. They have realized it but at the same time they would not like to vacate. They are therefore going for an option of minimum required presence mainly on fortified bases.
They and their allies in Afghanistan will have to ultimately accept the Taliban as a reality since control of 40% territory makes them necessary stakeholders. The neighbors of Afghanistan i.e. Pakistan, the CARS, China, Iran and Russia will all have to be involved in reaching a durable solution to stabilize Afghanistan. Americans cannot go it alone. The peace in Afghanistan is more elusive because of historical enmity between the Tajiks dominating the current Afghan Government and the Pashtuns who are the majority tribe and mainly represented by the Taliban. Fair share to all communities will have to be agreed to. Peace will not return if the Kabul Government continues to insist on Taliban accepting them and which is not likely to happen with Taliban considering themselves on a victory march.
Lieutenant General Javed Ashraf Qazi, a Senator in the Parliament of Pakistan, ex-head of the Inter-Services Intelligence.