[Debate] Asian powers anxiously contemplate Afghanistan sans America
Riaz K Tayob
riaz.tayob at gmail.com
Mon Apr 16 21:45:14 BST 2012
Published: April 17, 2012 01:56 IST | Updated: April 17, 2012 01:56 IST
Asian powers anxiously contemplate Afghanistan sans America
Fear Sunday's carnage may become daily occurrence if U.S. reduces its
Last week, President Vladimir Putin stunned Russia's Parliament with
these words for the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) soldiers
his own army is trained to fight: "God bless them," he said.
"We understand what is happening in Afghanistan --- right?" he asked
legislators. "We are interested in things there being under control,
right? And we do not want our soldiers to fight on the Tajik-Afghan
border, right?" "It is in our national interests to help maintain
stability in Afghanistan," he continued. "Well, NATO and the Western
community are present there. Let them do their work."
For weeks before Sunday's coordinated Taliban terror strikes, Asia's
great powers had been anxiously contemplating the prospect of an
Afghanistan without America. In 2014, the United States will reduce its
troop presence in Afghanistan to 20,000 or less --- and, given the
unclear road map to the future, many Asian leaders fear Sunday's carnage
might become a daily occurrence.
*Last month --- Indian diplomatic sources have told /The Hindu/ ---
Chinese and Russian diplomats at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation
(SCO) meeting in Beijing privately said they would welcome a long-term
NATO troop presence. Iran and Pakistan --- like India, observer-members
of the SCO --- are bitterly opposed to the prospect. However, NATO has
the backing of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, all of
which fear Afghanistan could become a haven for Islamist terror groups
and heroin-trafficking gangs. *
No clear road map for regional support to Afghanistan has manifested
itself --- but Russia is considering allowing NATO a logistical base at
Ulyanovsk --- perhaps ironically, the birthplace of revolutionary leader
Vladimir Illych Lenin.
No one knows for certain, though, just what kinds of regional support
will in fact be needed. Later this summer, at the upcoming NATO summit
in Chicago, President Hamid Karzai, is expected to sign on to a
strategic partnership agreement. India committed, last year, to train
Afghanistan's security forces through a similar agreement --- becoming
the first country Mr. Karzai chose to partner with. Donor-states will
also be meeting in Tokyo, to lay out a financial blueprint for
Afghanistan's aid-dependent government
In a best-case scenario, these partnerships will prove enough to hold
the Afghan state together after 2014.
Afghanistan's much-reviled security forces demonstrated considerable
skill on Sund, killed 36 jihadists while losing eight police, army and
intelligence personnel --- and this without allowing a single target to
be overwhelmed by the attackers. The country's troops have also held the
ground in troubled pockets of Herat, where NATO troops withdrew last
year; an imminent sweep into Ghazni, military strategists say, could
yield similar gains. Local political deals, the government said, have
led to at least 4,000 insurgents surrendering --- and another 1,000-odd
returning home to their villages.
It is also clear, though, that these gains are fragile. Afghanistan's
security force strength --- including its police --- will be cut from
3,50,000 to 2,30,000. The army itself will be slashed from 2,40,000 now
to 1,91,000. There is still no clear road map for how the army will
develop critical infrastructure to replace what NATO now offers. The
army is short of everything from close air-support capabilities to heavy
engineering infrastructure, and even workshops to maintain its jeeps.
Economic challenges will also stare Afghanistan in the face come 2014.
NATO expenditure is now estimated to account for 80% of Afghanistan's
gross domestic product, and no one knows just how this shortfall will be
"The troop cuts alone," says analyst Omar Sharifi, "could have a
crippling impact. There will suddenly be over a 1,00,000 men on the
streets, with no skills other than fighting."
*Karzai looks to Pak.*
Mr. Karzai, sources close to the President have said, is convinced
Pakistan will hold the keys to the future after 2014 --- but there are
few signs it is willing to use them to open the door to peace. The
Taliban's core leadership is based in Pakistan, and important elements
of the jihadist coalition, such as Islamist warlord Jalaluddin Haqqani's
networks, have the support of that country's military establishment. In
recent months, Mr. Karzai has lobbied Pakistan to allow Afghan peace
negotiators direct access to the Taliban leadership, and to exercise
pressure on the organisation to scale back attacks.
Little reason has emerged so far to believe that his efforts will yield
results. Taliban leaders, believing their negotiation prospects will
improve after 2014, walked out of talks with the United States in Doha
last month --- and, on Sunday, signalled that they will continue to use
terror to disrupt the Afghan state.
That is bad news for Afghanistan's anxious Asian neighbours, who must
now find means to solve a problem NATO's colossal resources failed to fix.
Keywords: Kabul blasts
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