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Time Line to the “Afghan Question”

 

Afghanistan is one place which can in alternate words, be named as the place where “hunters get hunted”.  This label has been acquired by this land from its track record in history, but unlike Mongolia whose history only stands out now, Afghanistan retains this label from the way events have unfolded in the recent past and as far as we can say, same will be the case in near future.

                President Obama has set the entire stage on fire in this land locked state after announcing the deadline of June 2011 for the extraction of US troops from active duty in Afghanistan. When I say setting stage on fire, it is not only the allies and their Afghan counterparts who have to worry for post 6/2011 situation in Afghanistan, but rather it’s the immediate neighbors as  well as the other parties interested in this region who have found themselves sleepless as the date approaches. From the day US invaded Afghanistan chasing the perpetrators of 9/11 episode, skeptics expressed their reservation toward the “end game” or more precisely how US and its allies will end this assignment they have taken upon themselves. From the initial victories it seemed that somehow Western allies have rewritten history by conquering Afghanistan from the Taliban and Iraq from Saddam Hussein. So fast was the time wheel moving in their direction that a humble George.W.Bush jr was seen celebrating an  end to the main combat operation on both frontiers back in 2004. This shouldn’t surprise those who have known the Texan well, because of his inability to take right decisions.  Anyhow what happened next is now the part of the “ darkest pages in US history” as both Iraq and Afghanistan exploded like time bombs. US somehow managed a graceful departure from Iraq in cover of night this year, leaving a weak Iraqi administration at the mercy of Iranians next door. In Afghanistan the situation is no different. After calling them “rats hiding in caves” of Tora Bora, soon the ISAF found Taliban making a comeback never perceived by them. Now when US President has rolled out his plan for the retreat, it comes in a situation where nearly 80% of Afghanistan is out of their jurisdiction, a government under Karzai which  has failed to reach the people and a future more sketchy than the day US bombers dropped 1stdaisy cutters” over Kabul.

                Without any doubt the race for “Afghan end game” has started between all the parties involved directly and indirectly in the region. In order to understand the complexity faced by parties involved, it will be better to break down this issue with respect to the stakes different parties have in Afghanistan. Lets start with US which has the steering in its hand, as long as the theory goes. With the magnitude of loss suffered, public opposition back in America, Obama’ s re-election and above all the condition of their economy, it will be ideal for the US and its allies to leave Afghanistan as planned by Obama or maybe earlier than that.  But having said this, undoubtedly its the Americans which has the most at stake in this episode.  As the timeline is approaching, their seems a rift between White House and Pentagon in this regard. One shouldn’t be surprised because in situation like this its very hard to make different opinion holders to agree on a single point. Just a few months back US Supreme Commander for Afghanistan Mc Crystal was sent home by Obama after the General expressed his reservation over Obama and his team ability to handle the situation. That’s not all some reports have quoted US envoy to AFPAK Richard Halbrooke saying that Obama’s timeline of June 2011 is not logical and it means a lot to the execution of this plan. To quote the US situation in Afghanistan honestly, they “have swallowed a bone which neither they can spit nor swallow”. The day US troops will retire from active combat role in Afghanistan, the Taliban will run down the so called domain of Mr Karzai limited to Kabul alone in a matter of days. Having said this, US till now has failed to secure any concession from the Taliban forces, in terms of their future outlook toward West and US specifically. In these circumstances Mr Karzai has started an all out desperate effort to gain access to the Taliban leadership. During the past few months he has surpassed his US masters in this process and still seems upbeat for this cause.

                Now lets discuss what other parties/ states have for themselves in Afghanistan in pre and post June 2011 Afghanistan. We can see the classical “balance of power” in action some time soon. As it seems  today Iran, India, China, Pakistan, Russia & Saudi Arabia have their stakes attached to the outcome of Afghanistan. India has for long invested heavily in Afghanistan, and its interest  are of   multiple dimension. For its growing economical need India needs a friendly Afghanistan for its drive into Central Asian  and Caspian region. On strategic  front it needs to do everything to neutralize its archrival “ Pakistan’s strategic depth” but more than this Indians want a projection as the primary regional player of the region in comparison to China and to some extent Pakistan. If it joins hand with Iran and Russia, this axis can become the king maker of the Afghan future as well as the affairs of the region. But as we move forward we see many diverging interest in this axis. Russian has failed when they were USSR and in no way they will allow US to take credit of a peaceful Afghanistan in post June 2011 scenario. In this context what serves Russian most is a divided Afghanistan or one in civil war for a few years after US withdrawal. For Iran the stakes are pretty high as well. It has a long history of involvement in Afghanistan and will give everything to have a lion share in Afghanistan of post June 2011. With India it goes on well but the only hindrance to this axis of Iran and India is the growing relationship between Washington and New Delhi. The way Tehran has locked its horns with Washington, it seems that this orientation is under serious threat and Washington will oppose any Iranian role in Afghanistan. Having said this, Tehran may find some reservation on Indian intended plan for the tribal region of Pakistan and in others word Indian will be more than pleased with Pakistani army fighting terrorist within its territory. The reason for Iranian cold shoulder is because of the fact that via Balouchistan Pakistan has the potential of unsettling Iranians and in the past we have seen both countries at odds over groups like Jandollah.

                For Pakistan it is a matter of survival when it comes to Afghanistan. The clear alliance Pakistan can pick is the time tested Chinese and Saudi’s. With Pakistan giving China the due place, Beijing wont have any problem on Pakistan taking front seat in Afghanistan. For Beijing an exit of US from the region and its influence in post June 2011 Afghanistan will be enough as It seems in terms of its strategic desires. On the economical front it will have its say on the energy route of the region. The Saudis have a long and vested intrest in Afghanistan and it will continue with this. At the core it has to safeguard its version of Islam and also check the growing role of Tehran in this region. Also the Taliban forces in post June 2011 Afghanistan with Saudi role will be a “deterrent “ for all the forces working against the kingdom. On the other hand Pakistan has to come out with a strong role in Afghanistan. After the invasion by the allies in 2001 we have to keep in mind that it’s Islamabad which got dethroned from the seat of power in Kabul. The Taliban from Afghanistan have not harmed Pakistan that much and it is believed that most of them will remain loyal to Islamabad if they are reached in pre and post June 2011 scenario. But loosing Afghanistan will mean that for infinity Pakistan will be locked in an internal warfare imposed from outside. Unfriendly Afghanistan setup will play in the hands of any outside stake holders and the militancy from tribal Afghanistan will be exported into Pakistan as we see right  now. No one can afford an enemy in the back yard and a strong presence of either Russia, India or Iran will give Islamabad nightmares of every sort. Even as we asses the situation, the proxy war is on in Afghanistan between the two archrivals of South Asia, India and Pakistan. The last thing Pakistan needs is an Indian hand in Kabul and it knows the implication from what it has seen in the shape of terrorism coming from the consulates of New Delhi across the border. With Iran it can compromise and China can be an ideal watch dog in this setup. In the past few months some positive development  has taken place between Tehran and Islamabad and a crackdown on anti Iranian Jendollah can be taken as an example, but this setup will face serious limitations from US and Saudia.

                On the other hand there are secondary actors which can also play their tune. Israel would like to have a share with India in Afghanistan to destabilize Iran and it will be willing to extend help to New Delhi when it comes to its desires for Pakistan. UK and France will also like to play a  role but it will be secondary and symbolic. To sumup, situation in Afghanistan is as complex as it can get. US will need a cooperative Pakistan to guarantee no future threat to its mainland emerging from Afghanistan. Having said this, both militaries have immense data sharing in the post 9/11 scenario and a prolong trusted bond can be build. Pakistan desires this role even more and should  look forward to some alignment in this direction along with China and Saudia onboard. Having said this, I must say that Washington can pass green signal to Pakistan’s military to take over the affairs in this transition period, as its pretty clear that the current regime is in no position to handle something at this magnitude.

                Only time will tell but the countdown has begun and it wont be long for events to unfold right before our eyes with Kabul being the centre.            

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