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Afghanistan Updates for August 2018 - Arindam Mukherjee

Afghanistan Updates for August 2018

Afghanistan. Means very little to the rest of the world. In the language of magazines like Foreign Policy it is a ‘forgotten war’. To Pakistan, it is ‘backyard’ — a dumping ground/open-air toilet — somewhat like Kashmir. But for Indians, specifically those Bongs who have read DesheyBideshey by Mujtaba Ali, Afghanistan is simply too awesome a place. If you have been bitten by Mujtaba-bug, you would love Afghanistan; most likely, forever. So Afghanistan kept me interested even when Yankee Uncle asked the rest of the world to forget it.

Seems there is a renewed interest in Afghanistan these days after a speech made by Trump. My first reaction was: not a good sign; the place is gonna turn into a live minefield again. Anyway… getting to the point…. the USA is gonna increase its military presence in Afghanistan. What does that mean?

To New Delhi, it is probably exhilarating. Because India gets to become the latest entrants in the Great Game. Getting recognized by Yankee-whites as a partner is a BIG thing for the average Indian. Besides, the various establishments’ conventional belief is that the Talibans are medieval radicals; and Obama was wrong to minimize US footprint there. A second concern was Pakistan and its proxies. Trump has addressed both of these in his speech; plus provided an extra — his wish to synergize with India in the South Asia Strategy of USA. India would be welcome to step-up its involvement in Afghanistan not only in the economic, but also in the political arena!

No one knows if this would be a good thing or not. But in a world largely driven by ego, it comes as a mini-victory to India and all those involved who sincerely believed that the US haplessness in Afghanistan was not because the Talibans were too strong; it was because their strategy was severely flawed (because they enlisted Pakistan as an ally). And Obama’s unwillingness to clamp down on Pakistan and its sanctuaries compounded that. India did always believe in this mantra: Take a tough stance with both Pakistan and Taliban — and you can get your peace back in Afghanistan. Incidentally this exactly is what Trump ‘says’ he ‘believes’ in too. And that is gonna be positioned as a major FP win for Modi. To follow it up and through to minimize US dependence on Pakistan, it is within the scope of consideration that India might offer the US and NATO to use its military bases for its Afghanistan chapter.

Trump, who was the Champion of Isolationism in Jan 2017, or the GWOT loving deep-state Neo(lib)cons? Isn’t there a whiff of Eric Prince and his mercenaries trying to win contract to get into Afghanistan, making rounds? In other words, isn’t an official outsourcing of the Afghan Intervention under process already?

To get out of the India-prism to look at what happening there:

Just about a few days ago, Russia alleged that NATO controlled choppers took off from a NATO controlled airbase in Northern Afghanistan, and flew ‘foreign fighters’ into Shia majority Sar e Pol to massacre the Hazaras. Iran is unhappy with this; as was the intended result perhaps. Among others, there has been a massive increase in opium production — so much so that nearly 30% of Afghan population is now involved in this trade, with countries like France and Netherlands supplying illegal chemicals required to process narcotics (not that their governments are involved or anything like that; but then — when have they ever been?).

So… Is there a strategy in place? Or is it just about making money? Opium, TAPI, rare earth minerals — we all know. Add to that the upkeep of the security establishments of Afghanistan; that is gonna be a big cost. Add to that the cost of destabilizing this region that might include this time, Pakistan. (Obama made money for the elite through his drone programme — one reason why he did not clamp down on Pakistan that New Delhi so badly wanted.) The auxiliary chaos could upset the CPEC; it could rekindle the hopes of TAPI; it could propel arms sale to the stratosphere, it could lead to some form of balkanization in the long run — all “good biziness”. This is after all a favourable spot in Asia where the Big Game can go on for a few years. And the intent of expanding the Arc of Chaos to include India is probably NOT because Pakistan supports terror groups, but because Pakistan is partnering China in BRI/CPEC. Which might mean that the focus of Uncle’s targeted destabilization — that was earlier Afghanistan — could include Pakistan in this round; and India would be the peripheral host to this initiative. Like Pakistan it was during the past 20–25 years. Or India might just be another carrot to dangle in front of China and Pakistan to get their acts together: Pakistan in terms of getting the Talibans to the table to talk; and China to carry on with its investments in Afghanistan once a pro-West regime is established. As of now, both have been shaken a bit by Trump’s intention of including India. 
Russia is not gonna get inside Afghanistan. So they have spiked up their military presence in countries (Tajikistan, for example) around, and are keeping a close watch. Because it is true that renewed destabilization of Afghanistan — through ISIL for example — might turn entire Central Asia into one large pot of mess, and neither Russia nor China.. or Iran are willing to let that happen. If that happens, would India like to be hailed as one of the partners in crime? Who ‘thought’ it was helping Afghanistan stabilize, and landed up in messing it up farther?

Loads of ifs and buts — and no one man in this world knows for sure about the real intent, let alone the possible outcomes. There are plenty permutations and they are in flux. For example, India might invest a lot of money in Afghanistan and not get any returns; Pakistan might go back to being a friend rather than an enemy simply because it is financially worthwhile for Uncle; or China might be lured to play a role in the region with “US forces are keeping the terrorists off CPEC” carrot intended to drive a wedge in its relation with Russia — no one knows.

What we do know is that Great Game loving Old Uncle wants a pro-Uncle regime in Kabul. And for that, Afghanistan has to turn itself into a proxy-war zone again; because there is NO coherent strategy in place. 
Western journalists are already romanticizing the scope with that Kipling poem: 
“When you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s plains,
And the women come out to cut up what remains,
Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains…” to show how deadly is Afghanistan.

And I am thinking that Kipling should have removed his colonizer sunglasses, and tried visiting Afghanistan as just a traveller. He was a prolific writer; sure he would have many good things to write about the place.


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