First the background and the mess
A strange thing happened in 9th September of 2001. A man named Ahmad Shah Massoud was assassinated in northern Afghanistan, by men who came in the disguise of journalists. At that time (and even now) not many paid attention to this event. However this minor event turned world politics upside down and reshuffled the Central Asian ‘Great Game’.
A few days later on 11th September 2001, in New York, the world trade center buildings fell to the ground, apparently after collision by two planes. The United States a few weeks later bombed and invaded Afghanistan.
The events of 9-11 and the invasion of Afghanistan in itself was a paradigm shift in international political order but what was even more strange, is how the US managed the operation and the group of people who assisted them, The Northern Alliance.
The northern Alliance helped the US topple the government of the Taliban in Kabul and Karzai was installed as the president.
This is mind boggling. Why? Let me explain.
Up till 9-11 Afghanistan was in a civil war since the early 90s. The northern Alliance was fighting the Taliban government.
The Taliban, on the other hand, was created and sponsored by the US (Saudi and other allies) through Pakistan. The main reasons being to counter Iranian Shia theocratic revolution and to counter Russian interests in the region.
By some strange ‘miracle’ the US had succeeded in hijacking the Pro Russian-Iranian alliance to become its partner while it abandoned its blued eyed boys, the Taliban, whom uncle Sam created a few years earlier.
Central Asian politics through 9-11 had been blown to a million pieces. After 10 years the dust is finally setting and things are becoming clearer.
So what now?
Pakistan and Russian relations before 9-11 were viewed through the prism of Afghan war of 1980s. Through Pakistan, the US succeeded in bleeding the USSR to disintegration and Russia becoming the inheritor of the spoils of the USSR. 9-11 has shattered this view and everything has turned upside down.
As a result of 9-11 the US has now become the invader in Afghanistan. Pakistan was forced to abandon its ties with the Taliban, and had become unwilling partner in the ‘War against terror’. The Islamic jihadist were a strategic asset to Pakistan, now arch enemies of the state. This tension in last few years has exhausted Pakistan from all sides.
The jihadist organizations are now at war against Pakistan. On one side it is being attacked by US drones while on the other it is being attacked by the Jihadist for helping the US. Pakistan is sandwiched by the two extremes.
Russia views Central Asia as their backyard and even China for various reasons has accepted this. Russian strategist believes that in order to have stability in Central Asia Afghanistan must be stable.
All the central Asian countries along with china, Iran and Pakistan have strategically come to the conclusion that US presence in Afghanistan will never bring stability. Also it seems that the US has been exhausted financially and militarily. It is logically impossible for the US to maintain its stronghold in Afghanistan.
Eurasians countries are now finalizing strategies for the period post US withdrawal.
Pakistan is under tremendous pressure from the US for aiding the Afghani Taliban. At the same time the US cannot operate in Afghanistan without Pakistani support. To break free from the US grip, Pakistan needs to find alternative political outlets. Russian and China are part of this strategy.
Vladimir Radyuhin, writing for the Hindu, says, “ What has made Moscow turnaround is the realization that seeing Islamabad as part of the regions problems does not help to advance the Russian goal of playing the bigger role in the region. The Kremlin finally decided that Pakistan must be part of the solution. The format of four way cooperation with Pakistan Afghanistan Tajikistan should help Moscow prepare for the eventual pullback of the us led forces from Afghanistan : Engage Pakistan and return to Afghanistan and tighten Russian hold over the former soviet central Asia.”
Post ‘war on terror’ world politics will be dominated by economic and financial interests. The BRIC countries (Brazil, Russian India and China) will be playing a greater role in world politics. It seems that economics are playing a major part in shaping the policies of these countries. Apart from India, the rest are all maneuvering to end US dominance in world politics and economics.
The Russian and Chinese politics in Central Asia are dominated by the fact that Russian is the world’s largest oil producer, while china is becoming the world’s largest oil consumer. This economic fact is going to ensure stability in their bilateral relations.
The land locked Central Asian countries are dominated by Russian oil companies. They need a market to export their products to china and the rest of the world. Stability in Afghanistan is will help a lot. They need access to world markets through Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Nandan Unnikrishnan, Russian expert at the observer Research foundation says “The Russians feel they need to open a channel with Pakistan. Their concern is driven by the situation in Afghanistan and its impact on central Asia and the southern caucuses. There could be a possibility that china is pushing them this direction. It will be driven by the situation in Afghanistan. “
In order to put its foot hold in the oil rich Middle East china needs access through Pakistan to the Indian ocean and Arabian Sea. The journey by land from China to Pakistan’s Gwadar port is far more economical then journey by sea from China through the Far East to the Middle East. By pushing Russia to support this corridor will add to the stability for region. Currently to counter this the US is pushing for destabilization of Baluchistan province in which lies the Gwadar port.
Pakistani and Russian relationship is economically and geographically is unavoidable. In the near future- multi-polar-world International relations will be dictated by strategic and economic interests.
Ambassador to Pakistan Andrey Budnik said “Russia attaches great importance to cooperation with Pakistan in the sphere of Afghan settlement.” This cooperation was based on a shared understanding that the quest for peace in Afghanistan “must not become the prerogative of solely external players”, an obvious reference to the U.S.
In the short term Russia will lend more support to the negotiated settlement with the Taliban in Afghanistan. Through Pakistan and Turkey dialogue will be pursued and a coalition government with Taliban and the former Northern alliance will be formed. Russia will increase its investment and will revive its previous industrial assets in Afghanistan. Social and cultural relations will increase as the more than 200,000 Soviet educated Afghans, who fled Taliban rule return.
Pakistan will gain a stable neighbor in Afghanistan supported by the Central Asians nations, Iran, Russia and China.
In the long term Pakistan will gain access to the Central Asian republics through the Wakhan Corridor in north east Afghanistan which will form the new silk route connecting to Karakoram highway forming a link with China and finally reaching the sea ports of Gwadar and Karachi.
The historic dream of the Russian Tzars gaining access to the warm waters of the Arabian Sea may finally become a reality, not by wars and invasion but just economics.
Tajwali Khan Sultan is an independent researcher and anti-war activist from Pakistan. ORIENTAL REVIEW thanks the author for his kind contribution.