Emerging dynamics of Afghan peace
Iqbal Khan
4/7/2017

 

Air is full of Russian aroma back in Afghanistan and this time for a noble cause-restoration of peace.America may not be interested in peaceful Afghanistan, peaceful Afghanistan does not suit the ongoing Asia-Pacific theatrics of America focused at containing China.

Russian may be interest in, at least a notionally, stable Afghanistan.Russia and China are increasingly concerned that volatile security situation in Afghanistan could allow Daesh to gain foothold in Afghanistan. Recently, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has also stated that ISIS was recruiting people from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq.During recent months, Russia and China have been spearheading efforts to revive the peace talks between the Taliban and Kabul. Their efforts, however, are being seen with undue suspicion in the West, especially in the United States.Pakistan will attend forthcoming twelve party conference; Russia has invited representatives of Afghan Taliban as well, and they are likely to attend.Two earlier smaller level- 4 and 6 nations- consultative meeting have vow matured into a Russia (may be China also) led multi-national peace initiative on Afghanistan.Conference, shall focus on coming forth with ways and meansto bring the Afghan conflict to a close. Beside the host, meeting shall be attendedby Pakistan, China, Iran, India and several Central Asian states. Americahas turned down the invitation, on the flimsy pretext that it was not consulted in advance; andfaithfully towing “Master’s” line Afghan government is also skeptical about Sino-Russian initiative on the pretext that is apparently “in tune with Pakistan’s policy”.Associated Presshas reported that the seven-member Taliban team stayed in Pakistan for a week and met officials to discuss peace efforts.Speaking at a weekly news briefing spokesperson of Pakistan Foreign Office has said that he was not in a position to say whether or not Taliban representatives would attend the meeting. “However, Pakistan firmly believes in an Afghan-led peace and reconciliation process, aimed at bringing all warring factions, including the Taliban, to the negotiating table,” he added.”We hope the deliberations in this meeting would be focused on this objective,” the commentedadded.Pakistan Army on March 30 took a high level Russian military delegation to Miramshah in order to give them the firsthand account of the country’s anti-terror gains. This is the first time a Russian military delegation has been flown to the region.It suggests warming up of ties between the two countries. The delegation was also briefed on the Pak-Afghan border management.The Russian military officials acknowledged and appreciated Pakistan Army’s achievements in the fight against terrorism and efforts to bring stability in the region. Relations between Pakistan and Russia have seen significant improvement over the past few years with both countries looking to bury their animosities of the Cold War era. Last year, the Russian military for the first time took part in joint war games with Pakistan.Two countries have also convergence of views on the current unrest in Afghanistan. Given the current regional security environment, Pakistan and Russia ‘are natural allies’, both could form an alliance for regional peace and stability. They are already in talks on how to deny Afghanistan to Daesh.During a recent congressional hearing, General Joselg L Votel, Commander of the US Central Command (CENTCOM), narrated before the House Armed Services Committee that Russia was trying to revive its influence in Afghanistan. He also believed that Russia was providing some sort of support to Taliban in terms of weapons and other things.Earlier Pakistan had warned the United States to step in to resolve the lingering stalemate in Afghanistan otherwise Russia will fill the vacuum.Russia certainly has an interest in Afghanistan, may be it wants peace there due to Afghanistan’s borders with its erstwhile former Republics, which it still considers its area of influence.Assessments regarding spillover of Afghan conflict into these republics are not mere speculative. Through its prudent conduct since 9/11 Russia has established its credentials for instituting an initiative forAfghan peace.Of late, two interesting articles on Afghanistanhave appeared in the American media. Both having strikingly similar assessment about the way American military command behaves and misleads its national leadership about “impending victory”. Stephen M Walt in his piece, “Mission Accomplished Will Never Come in Afghanistan”carried by “Foreign Policy” on March 28has raised a pertinent question: “Will the Trump administration put American interests first, or the president’s own obsession with “winning”?”.Drawing an interesting parallel between winning Afghan war withbelieving that a “sheep could fly”, Walt of is the opinion that if Trump is biased towards a win, military leadership will continue to tell him that the sheep would ultimately learn to fly. And”if you were one of the commanders who have overseen the US military effort in Afghanistan, force of habit and professional culture would nudge you toward saying “can do” and then designing a new campaign in ovine aeronautics”.While concluding Walt make a pointed reference towards the US National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster who has had :”personal experience in Afghanistan but he is also the author of Dereliction of Duty, a famous study of the US military’s failure to give its civilian overseers accurate and honest advice during the Vietnam War… The question is: At this point, does he appreciate… the impossibility of trying to teach sheep to fly? And if he has figured this out, will he tell the president?”A day later, another opinion was inked by Richard G Olson,”The Art of a Deal with the Taliban”, for New York Times. Olson was the US ambassador to Pakistan ( 2012-15) and t Presidential Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan ( 2015-16).In all likelihood caption of his column is inspired by President Trump’s 1987 book: “The Art of the Deal”. In this book, Trump, then 41, explained the power of psychology and deception – calling it “bravado” or “truthful hyperbole”.Doing the national duty, Olson pleads: “And make no mistake, it is a war…in 2016, [Afghan] government security forces suffered more than 15,000 casualties and more than 5,000 killed…the insurgency is controlling or contesting 149 of the country’s 402 districts….The Taliban now control more territory than at any time since the US invasion in 2001… Taliban recently captured the Sangin district in Helmand…Not surprisingly, the top US commander in Afghanistan is asking for additional reinforcements”. He cautions “Remember: It was generals like Stanley McChrystal who urged Obama to escalate the war in 2009, to little avail”.Guessing Trump’s likely courses, Olson says “Donald Trump has said very little about Afghanistan… But the tea leaves are not encouraging. On the one hand…[Trump] might be inclined to cut US losses and get out. But on the other hand, he’s fixated on “winning” and won’t want to enter the history books as the president who let the Taliban best him”. An interesting paradox indeed!Like Walt, Olson is also convinced that “As long as the president and Congress will go along, in short, the military will continue to kick the can down the road, even if this does not alter the strategic situation in the slightest and continues to distract and divert the country from more pressing tasks”. To conclude, Olson pins on the ultimate hope: “We have a president who believes in the art of a deal. We should negotiate a hard bargain with the Taliban”.Russia is well on its way to take the lead role in determining how Afghanistan may look like, or may not look like, in medium to long timeframe. However, it is too early to conclude whether key to solution of Afghan turmoil has changed hands.