Since the deterioration of relations between America and Pakistan, several foreign writers have been suggesting the Obama administration to expand its cooperation with Russia that has been playing an important role in transiting military goods to and from Afghanistan. Had Russia not been wary of the Taliban during their stint in government, it may have supported the Afghan insurgency to make Afghanistan another Vietnam for the US to avenge its defeat in the 1980s.
Afghanistan was the site of a nearly decade-long struggle between the USA and Russia, when the former had facilitated the jihadis to fight with the Red Army, and was also instrumental in USSR’s demise. Despite this, Russia does not want America to leave Afghanistan without destroying the Taliban fighters and terrorists hook, line and sinker. At the same time, it does not want to see the US having a permanent foothold in Afghanistan, because it could impede the Russian efforts to negate us influence in the Central Asian Republics.
It has been more than two months since Pakistan closed the routes that were used to deliver supplies to the Nato forces in Afghanistan. In view of the strained relations between Pakistan and the US after the Raymond Davis episode and the Abbottabad attack, Washington had been working on alternative routes, but the cost has been enormous rather prohibitive. ABC news quoted a Pentagon official, who said: “The cost of supplies to Nato/Isaf troops in Afghanistan is now $104 million a month, against cost of $17 million to transport supplies through Pakistan.” In other words, the increase is 512 percent in monthly costs, resulting from Pakistan’s shutdown of the border crossings at Torkham and Chaman shortly after a Nato strike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers at the Salalah border post. The American movers and shakers must be ruing for being so arrogant and neglectful about Afghanistan’s ground realities, since it has become the Achilles ’ heel of the superpower. Now, it is a matter more of an honourable exit for the US, rather than alternative routes for the Nato forces.
The US military planners expanded ground supply routes known as the Northern Distribution Network (NDN), coursing its way through Russia and the former Soviet Republics bordering Afghanistan. But they were the main entry points for non-lethal supplies. Nato has two main transportation routes via NDN, which connects the Baltic and Caspian ports with Afghanistan via Russia, Central Asia and the Caucasus: The NDN North and NDN South. The NDN North transit route initiates in Latvia, crosses the Russian territory and enters Afghanistan via the Afghan-Uzbek border. Richard Weitz, Director of the Centre for Political-Military Analysis at Hudson Institute, in a treatise wrote: “Even before the latest incident (attack on Salalah border post), Western governments had sought permission for the reverse flow of transit along the NDN so that their forces could exit through the former Soviet republics, rather than Pakistan, where they’d be more vulnerable to retaliation by the Taliban and its Pakistani allies.”
But the fact remains that supplies to Nato through NDN are also vulnerable, as the Taliban has its pockets in north, south, east and west. After the demise of Soviet Union, its influence had waned. However, with petro-dollars flowing in, especially as a result of phenomenal increase in petroleum prices, its dependence on the West has declined; and it has been able to enhance its influence in the world. Secondly, there is no free ride, like Pakistan, as the Central Asian Republics charge for the transit facility. Thirdly, they do not allow the transport of military equipment through their territories. Russia’s Ambassador to Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, recently stated: “It’s not in Russia’s interests for Nato to be defeated and leave behind all these problems.......We’d prefer Nato to complete its job and then leave this unnatural geography.” But Russia has to understand that if the US and Nato troops decimate or make the Taliban ineffective, the US would maintain a contingent of few thousand troops plus a strong air force base in Afghanistan to meet any eventuality and pose a palpable threat to it.
As a result of its leadership’s monumental stupidity, America is now in a pickle with their peace foray with the Taliban turning into an intractable dilemma for them. The venture has run into troubles that, probably, it had not even imagined. Also, its erstwhile-pampered Afghan minorities, who were pitted in a fierce civil strife with the Taliban before their ouster by the US-led foreign armies, are furious with them for keeping them out of the parleys, even threatening to take to the gun again, if the Taliban are brought into the power structure. President Hamid Karzai, too, is very sour for being kept out of the loop. The Americans with their peace wand have thus veritably walked into a minefield of uncertainties, all of which could have been avoided had they kept in mind the Afghan polity and deeply held ethnic and tribal fault lines. It really is so stupefying that they could be so ignorant of these slippery slopes when they were no stranger at all to Afghanistan or its people.
The writer is a senior journalist and freelance columnist.