In the past, Afghanistan was an object of contention: between England and Russia in the 19th century, and between the U.S.S.R. and the United States in the second half of the 20th century. The current American military campaign in Afghanistan enjoys the support of most of the world, and Afghanistan itself is a global problem. Afghanistan is almost the only area in which Russia eagerly cooperates with the United States. And yet, despite this broad international solidarity, the problems of Afghanistan remain practically insoluble. Experts from around the world prefer analysis of the reasons why Obama’s “Afghan affair” is hopeless to discussion of any potential pathways of peaceful development in the country. The contributors to this issue of Pro et Contra are no exception.
A Permanent Crisis?
The Afghan conflict – which rather than being truly Afghan, has been international since 1979 – cannot be left unattended. Nor can it be “frozen”: it will inevitably grow, which is particularly dangerous given the links between the Taliban and international extremists. The decisive battle with the Taliban has yet to be fought. And while the Taliban declare confidence in their ultimate victory, their opponents cannot even agree on the best plan of action. Moreover, while the Taliban are prepared for a drawn-out war, the U.S.-led coalition is pressed for time. Their primary goal is to reach a turning point within the next two years.
An Alternative Strategy for the Afghan War
The pertinent question is not the adaptation of the U.S. army to counterinsurgency, but the use of these resources to build an Afghan partner. There has been an excessive focus on the number of the international coalition’s troops, instead of on how they are used, and not enough attention given to the Afghan army. It is more efficient to cap the overall costs of the war and to progressively redirect resources to an Afghan partner. More money will certainly help, at least to ensure that soldiers are not paid less than the Taliban, as is the case now.
Regional Stability and the New U.S. Strategy in Afghanistan
Najeeb ur Rahman Manalai
Despite President Obama’s strong commitment to follow the new U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, it is still a hard task and a long road ahead. In addition, it is not clear to what extent this strategy will be backed by the world. The most serious challenge, meanwhile, seems to be changing the situation in Pakistan, especially in FATA, and the region. Without further clarification about what steps would be taken ahead to tackle the relevant issues at the regional level, it seems very difficult to see any clear prospect.
The Risk of Jihad in Central Asia
Obviously, if state power fully collapses in Afghanistan the security challenges for all of the Central Asian states will increase, but the greatest risks will come through in the opium and heroin trade that this would likely create. The current levels of trade are corrosive in all five countries, and most corrosive in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, where the authority of the state could be fatally undermined if the value of the narcotics trade was, for example, to double. The threat of “Islamic contagion” is a far more modest one. Afghanistan could once again become a more active training center for global jihadist groups. However it is very difficult to imagine that a resurgent IMU could enjoy even the success that the organization had in the mid to late 1990s and into 2000.
Pakistan and Afghanistan: Un-separated at Birth
President Barack Obama’s plan for Afghanistan has drawn attention to the country’s neighbor, Pakistan. Washington places particular emphasis on Pakistan’s role in combating the Taliban and Al Qaeda, but Pakistan’s role is ambiguous. Islamabad is a key American ally, two important military supply routes cross Pakistani territory on the way to Afghanistan, and the Pakistani army is fighting to rid the border regions of armed groups. At the same time, however, parts of Pakistani territory have become a base for the Taliban and other fighters, who oppose the Afghan government, led by Hamid Karzai.
The Myth of a No-NATO-Enlargement Pledge to Russia
The purpose has been to determine whether Russian and Western observers and officials are justified in arguing that the U.S. government, and perhaps some of the other NATO governments, made a “pledge” to Gorbachev in 1990 that if the USSR consented to Germany’s full membership in NATO after unification, the alliance would not expand to include any other East European countries. Declassified materials show unmistakably that no such pledge was made. Valid arguments can be made against NATO enlargement, but this particular argument is spurious.
Runet as an Adaptation Tool
In the Russian context, at present at least, new communications developments are not breaking down well-established patterns of power. The state remains the main mobilising agent. Following a few years of spontaneous — and inexpensive — “anarchy”, Runet currently does operate as a device to spread and share information, but largely among closed clusters of like-minded users who are seldom able or willing to cooperate. However, it does operate as a platform which the state uses increasingly successfully to consolidate its power.
Andrei Ryabov, Aleksandr Kustaryov, Andrew Kuchins, Nikolay Pobol, Pavel Polyan