Russia’s recent diplomatic intervention in Afghanistan elicits old categorizations of a ‘new Great Gamer’ in the making among traditional rivals Moscow and Washington. However, attempts by regional and global powers to resolve the Afghan conflict has ironically contributed to exacerbating the situation. A new set of literature goes deep into history and international relations to seek answers to the wicked problems in and around Afghanistan.
At Synergia Conclave – Security 360, Shakti Sinha, former Principal Secretary to Prime Minister AB Vajpayee, Nehru Museum, Delhi and James Creighton, former COO of East West Institute, Colonel, United States Army were at hand to discuss how best Afghanistan can be addressed by the international community.
Landlocked and mountainous, Afghanistan is one of the most unstable nations in the world. Much of its economy and infrastructure are in ruins and the nation relies heavily on foreign aids. The region is home to multiple terror groups such as ISIS, Taliban, al Qaeda and Daesh. The Taliban, who imposed strict Islamic rule following a devastating civil war, were ousted by a US-led invasion in 2001 but have recently been making a comeback.
This chronic instability has forced many citizens to become refugees. The region is plagued by multiple terror attacks. In 2016, 4,561 people were killed by terrorists in Afghanistan. There were 1,340 terrorist attacks that year alone.
The number of terror attacks have continued to rise in the recent years. Vanda Felbab-Brown, an expert in the field, testified to the Sub committee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, & Trade of the House Foreign Affairs Committee noting that there has been a resurgence in terrorism in the country. Nicholas Haysom, the U.N. special envoy in Afghanistan noted in March 2016 that if Afghanistan merely survived 2016, the UN would consider its mission a success. In May 31, 2017, Kabul witnessed one of the deadliest attacks the region has ever witnessed. A suicide truck bombing killed 80 and wounded hundreds. In July 2017, 31 people were killed in a Taliban-claimed suicide attack on government workers in Kabul.
US forces have been systematically targeting ISIL in Afghanistan. In April 2017, US military dropped America's most powerful non-nuclear bomb called the ‘Mother of all Bombs’ (MOAB) at an ISIS stronghold in the country. It reportedly killed 94 ISIS fighters.
In 2017, Russia has increased its involvement in Afghanistan. For many experts, this is surprising, because Moscow had maintained an apparent distance from the Afghan conflict for many years. In the past, Russia supported the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and the subsequent toppling of the Taliban regime.
At Synergia Conclave – Security 360, Shakti Sinha related how India was always seen as a world model, and how the current situation on the world scenario with Afghanistan is a chance for India to do something positive for Afghanistan. With the rise of ISIS, the Taliban are being projected as the moderate group in the region. He raised the question of ‘who benefits from portraying the Taliban as the good guys?’ the reality is that many countries have been allying with and helping the Taliban for years, and in reality, ISIS is a very minor factor in Afghanistan, with a few disgruntled factions in a few places. But it is useful to a lot of people to show ISIS to be much bigger than they are.
For one, it enables Russia and Iran to move closer to Afghanistan. The Taliban are using more and more violence to undermine the credibility of the Afghan state. He stated that the local political maneuverings is getting more and more serious, which sometimes give the feeling that one groups ganging up against everybody else. But even the best of Afghan governments cannot succeed if a neighbour trains and houses insurgents. And so to reimagine Afghanistan, Rawalpindi will have to be involved.
James Creighton spoke about the challenges involved in changing or envisioning a change in the situation in Afghanistan. Speaking from eleven years of working in Afghanistan, he said that coordination and cooperation with its neighbors is a significant part of change in the region. Part of the complication is from Pakistan not being too warm due to India having a close relationship with Afghanistan. The Taliban and the enemy threat is an interesting thing to look at, he said – which cannot be separated from ‘seas of poppy’, the existence of which is part of the violence, and the threat over and above the Taliban. The soldiers are well trained, the police are well trained, but the leadership is the weak point.
In order to reimagine Afghanistan, the first point would be a stable government said Crieghton, which although steps have been taken, has not been successful. A big step forward that the country has already taken is in bringing women businesses to the forefront, which is a sector that is clearly growing. Afghanistan needs the assurance of long term support in order to succeed – which is NATO, US and India. He said it is important to bring Russia and China in on the equation in a constructive way rather than with a ‘hedging’ method. He pointed out that the media plays an important role in the discussions that are unfolding. He was quite clear that ‘A lot of it has to do with building trust within the regional and international community’. At the end of the day, Afghanistan is in a fragile position, he said. But they are also making progress, and with a ‘concerted international support over time…and Afghanistan taking advantage of the opportunities that they have. These are – their youth and their significant economic resources which can be used to build their infrastructure.
Our assessment is that a functioning and stable government in Afghanistan would prevent it from devolving into a failed state. This will require coordination and cooperation with its neighbours as a significant part of change in the region. India, which has already made significant investment in Afghanistan’s infrastructure, can continue to play a pivotal role in aiding the region.