Why would, after 15 years of NATO and its allies failure in Afghanistan , still global and regional powers put themselves in a risky spot in Afghanistan?
Lakhder Brahimi, former UN special envoy for Afghanistan, a guiding principle was set up to build up the Afghan capacity. The merit of Bonn accord primarily was to rely on a small-scale international presence supported by a wider numbers of Afghan’s staff. Unfortunately this “light footprint” approach went wrong completely for many practical reasons from day one.
The role of the Taliban as the major political and military power in the Afghan conflict was completely ignored in the “light footprint” approach. Secondly, the requirement of the donor countries with an international liberal agenda focused more on political luxuries; human rights, democracy, gender equality and rule of law with a tight time line Afghanistan could not simply afford.
The Taliban resurgent in 2007-2008 and their recent military achievements around the country means that the power sharing mechanism in which the Northern Alliance decisive military victory (backed by the United States’ heavy air strikes) seized and shared unequally the political power among themselves in 2001, have failed completely.
In the words of Afghan military observers and analysts the Taliban are back and active in 310 out of 376 districts around the country. According to the United Nations documents, neither NATO and ISAF nor Afghan Authority could have provided sufficient permanent security in the country.
It is widely believed by the observers and some political analysts that the war in Afghanistan is not anymore only about the Taliban. It is more about Russia, China, Iran, Middle East, Central Asia and ultimately all about oil, water and energy resources. Hegemonic and prestige hungry global and regional powers do not want less but each and everyone wants more, and apparently they are preparing themselves to act with all aspects of their power (forces, communications, information, technology, organizations, efficiency, leadership, and group consciousness) to compete in Afghanistan. Beside the state powers, there are non-state actors (Islamic State, Hezb-ul-Tahrir a Central Asian militant group and Counsel of Tahrek Taliban a new faction separated from Taliban) competing with one another for controlling the battle ground.
Russia which joined the fight in Syria to bolster President Bashar al-Assad and his regime, has created a new circumstance in the region in which NATO and particularly the Untied States was obliged to reconsider its military presences and further involvement in both Middle East and Afghanistan. In such circumstances both sides have already started allegations and fabricated stories as part of an “information war.”.
Russia is accusing groups and individuals from 40 countries including some G20 members for funding and providing technical support to the ISIS . In the same manner a counter allegation came from the West accusing Russia for funding and technical support to Taliban. The Russian officials have confirmed the contact between Moscow and the Afghan Taliban only involves intelligence-sharing and information exchange regarding the fight against ISIS. Russia sees ties between ISIS and the insurgency in the north Caucasus and some Muslim Central Asian countries. The fact that there are people from the north Caucasus and Central Asia fighting in Syria including in leadership roles means that Russia does see ISIS and a lot of the other Islamist groups as a particular threat, in a way that maybe the Taliban is not.
The tension between regional powers has been increased recently. Tension between Iran and Suadi Arabia over Syria and relations between Iran and Turkey are at lowest point. Therefore, not only the resurgence of the Taliban and failure of the liberal agenda by the donor countries, but also the situation around the world, particularly in the Middle East have created a circumstance that once again all global and regional power, to secure their interests in the international anarchistic system, put themselves in the risky spots in both regions.
Tension between Iran and Saudi over Syria are likely to spin out of control. The decision to add Nimr in the list of 47 militant opponents executed on January 2nd this year, the largest mass execution since 1979 in which 63 persons was executed, would have been chosen by the Saudis for different reasons; mainly to polarize the Muslim World around Sunnis for victory against opponent Iran and its Shiate allies in the Middle East and else where.
The death of Nimr resulted in further acts of aggression; attacking the Saudi consulate in Iran, and bombing Iranian consulate in Yemen by the Saudis. Also Saudi could not hide its dissatisfaction on Iranian nuclear deal with the West and Russians presence in Syria bolstering Assad and his regime. Overall, Saudis feels betrayal by its Western allies, therefore, it is going to respond with all aspects of its power to recover the humiliation. Afghanistan, having a minority Shiite with majority Sunnis bordering both Iran and Russian, is likely to invest widely in building threat to both its arch enemies. The recent terror attack on Indian Airbase at Pathonkut jeopardized the already improved relations between Pakistan- India.
Afghan governments have spent decade and plus years laying out strategies for handling a peace process with the Taliban that has hitherto failed. It is more difficult now as the war in Afghanistan has turned into every one’s war. The country has turned into a hornet’s nest in which Global and regional powers through their proxies poke their finger by pursuing favourable deals or confronting each other. Therefore, in such intense international political relations between the states and non-states actors, the peace talks between the Taliban and Afghan government is very unrealistic as the Afghan’s war external sponsors not willing to support the peace process but more likely back their Afghans proxies in the war.
In the debates about mainstreaming or bringing peace and security in Afghanistan, one comes across all sorts of opinion and suggestions such as how can a country balance relation with the world global and regional power, not favouring one over another. For instance United States over Russia or China, Iran and India over Pakistan, Saudi and Turkey over Iran.
In this hostile situation in the world as well as in the region and not be involved in risky presumption that who is evil and who is less evil, Afghanistan needs to learn from its history. Particularly, in the history of last forty years almost each every Afghan ruler (Babrak Karmal, Dr. Najibullah and Hamid Karzai) after being thrown out of power have clearly admitted that relying on foreign countries to defend Afghanistan’s interests has been their biggest mistake.
All of them recommended; stand on our feet, standing where we sit is the only way to defend the country’s interests. Thus, geographically where Afghanistan sitting is a cross road and gateway to connect East and the West. And where it has been standing historically and traditionally is neutral during the world’s conflicts. At the same time Afghanistan is a country that the central, local and tribal affiliations are powerful and they have record of well-founded mistrust of foreign interference in their affairs. Therefore, Afghanistan needs to fully apply neutral and non-allegiance approach with an active “ Friendly No” foreign policy in the conflicting and hostile international political relations to avoid further insecurity and damage to the country and its people.