Jul 032010
 

MEHMOOD-UL-HASSAN KHAN

In recent times, Afghanistan has become the hub of regional and international power game. Hot pursuits of socio-economic dominance, geo-political superiority and above all geo-strategic presence have already made Afghanistan a flash-point of regional and international power politics. New chess-board has been staged in and around Afghanistan. New guidelines, reformation of foreign policies and the last not the least, strategic rethinking has been reshaped and remerged among the power brokers and main stakeholders. Hectic efforts show that time is short and interests are too big to handle with ease.

To secure their short and long terms geo-political and geo-strategic interests composed main key players in the region have already paid personal visits to Kabul for new geo-political and geo-strategic alignments. The surprise visit of US and Iran’s presidents and others high officials indicates that rethinking and regrouping are taking place. An intensive US and NATO military offensive against the Taliban is underway in southern Afghanistan, neighbouring countries are thinking the Americans as good as gone. The old rivalries are renewed and hidden diplomacy is at its peak.

Geo-political and geo-strategic priorities/End-Game

According to many political scientists every main stakeholders in and around Afghanistan is trying its level best to gain lion share in the emerging scenarios. From civil diplomacy to top military brasses, from ethnic pressure groups to different political factions, and from fugitives to democratic junta every one is making overlapping and move around the centre of gravity i.e. Afghanistan. The ongoing diplomacy surge also shows signs of displeasure of the West especially the US-UK and defiance of Afghan president Karazi. It also indicates the efforts of a falling horse rider that wants to be remain on the top. It tells us the complication and complex compulsions in the game of power. It unearths the old philosophy of “survival of the fittest” and above all in the chess board of power only interests’ remains and personalities have no sway. Last but not the least, it projects the doctrine that enemy’s enemy is my friend.

The above diagram clearly shows that issue of peace in Afghanistan is a complicated thing which needs rigorous diplomacy and alternative/regional solution

USA

Pentagon believes that durable peace and defeat of Al- Qaeda & Talban in Afghanistan can bring stability in the region and good for hegemony of the US political clout and military might too. It may give required political berating space to Obama’s administration. Last but not the least, it may facilitate US long terms goals in the region and especially in the Central Asia Countries

UK

It badly wants peace in Afghanistan so that its endangered national security concerns may be strengthen. UK is also one of the active power players of great game and it needs things get settled in Afghanistan to achieve its short and long terms geo-political and geo-strategic goals.

Pakistan

The government of Pakistan needs political stability in its Eastern Boarders. For revival of socio-economic activities in NWFP and other areas adjacent to Afghanistan, the government of Pakistan is trying its levels best to bring peace in Afghanistan. Terrorism has badly damaged our socio-economic fabric and it is hoped that peace in Afghanistan may bring stability in the country. Many mega energy projects with the Central Asian Countries are getting time bared due to deteriorating law and order situation in Afghanistan. The best utilization of Gwadar Sea-Port can not be achieved until there is durable peace in Afghanistan. Moreover, peace in Afghanistan may strengthen our national security apparatus and give strategic depth too. Pakistan has the longest adjoining border with Afghanistan. It is the natural window to Afghan needs as a trade corridor and for essential provisions for survival.

Iran

Peace in Afghanistan would be instrumental for Iran to initiate lots of energy projects with Central Asian Countries. It would enhance bilateral or trilateral trade volumes among Iran and other countries of the region. It would enhance infrastructure and transportation facilities in the region which would definitely bring socio-economic prosperity throughout the region. Iran is also victim of terrorism and peace and stability in Afghanistan may lessen the chances of aggression against Iran. Last but not the least; Iran does not like Taliban-dominated Afghanistan in the future.

China

China has remerged a new powerful stakeholder in the region and especially in central Asian region. Its diversified economic integration and collaboration within the region heavily relies on the peace in Afghanistan. Peace in Afghanistan would also bring geo-strategic cushion for Chinese government in absence of NATO, allied forces and especially US in the region. China believes that US will like to maintain its influence over Afghanistan even after withdrawing its troops. It means it would not allow regional powers such as China to play a greater role in Afghan affairs. The US’s consolidation of its military presence in Central and South Asia on the pretext of the Afghan war put extra pressure on China’s defense and security interests. Last but not the least, China believes the Afghans of all ethic groups and political parties should decide on what form of government they want based on their culture, tradition and domestic conditions. It is feared that the continued political instability and deteriorating law and order situation in Afghanistan may further threaten national security of China at its northwestern side. Furthermore, a weak set-up in Kabul could increase the incidents of drug trafficking and arms smuggling and consolidate the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous region.

It seems that the socio-economic, geo-political and geo-strategic stakes are high for all main stakeholders in the region and the new battle lines are being drawn.

Role of Armed Forces of Pakistan

The successful operations against insurgents in Sawat, West and East Waziristan and in many agencies have given armed forces of Pakistan a country-wide respectability and international recognition. Even in recent Pak-US strategic dialogue Pentagon has extended its support and appreciation for armed forces of Pakistan. Before going to US for Pak-US strategic dialogue army Chief Pervez Kiani visited Kabul to discuss matters of mutual interest with the President of Afghanistan Karzai. It is crystal clear that without the support of armed forces of Pakistan NATO and allied forces can achieve nothing in Afghanistan. Even US president Obama in his surprised visit to Kabul acknowledged the support of government and armed forces of Pakistan. The Pakistan army has also offered to help train the Afghan army, which will be a key instrument of power for the Afghan state.

Cross-Checking Missions

Since Afghanistan has become epicenter of diplomacy, dialogue and deterrence no major power player wants to stay away from the real politics. That is why, rigorous spells of diplomacy, checking and even rechecking missions are being staged in troubled soil of Afghanistan. The two-day unplanned mission by US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to Kabul was nothing but to check out on the intensifying exchanges between Kabul and Tehran in recent times. Iranian President Mahmud Ahmedinejad’s paid personal visit to Kabul for further strengthening of socio-economic cooperation in the days to come. Afterwards, Karzai’s own two-day trip to Islamabad which indicated nothing but secretive power-play overlapping phenomena in the region and among the power-players. In the near past US and UK were not in favor of Karzai’s plan to hold the grand loya jirga. Now it seems that they both are stuck with it and are fully determined to influence its formation and proceedings. According to many experts their preference will be that the loya jirga leads to a consensus favoring formation of an interim government which would ultimately force Karzai to step down from the presidency.

UK immediate decisions

Being a important stakeholder in the region and Afghanistan too, the government of UK has taken many meaningful measures to stay-alive in the race of power. UK placed Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, Britain’s special representative for Afghanistan and formerly ambassador in Afghanistan before loya jirga. It shows that UK believes in muscular diplomacy in the region. Moreover, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband’s major speech at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) “The war in Afghanistan: How to end it”, clearly portrayed the intensions of his country to be in the main frame of expected geo-political and geo-strategic change in Afghanistan. British Foreign Secretary stressed to avail Pakistan support for achieving ant workable solution and also strongly recommends that the status quo in Afghanistan hurts al stakeholders in the days to come.

Conflicting Realties on Loya Jirga/War against Terrorism

The above diagram indicates that short and long terms of US war against terrorism or presence in Afghanistan taken as huge security risk by all the main stakeholders in the region namely, China, Iran, and even Pakistan.

President Karzai

He wants to give some durability to his regime. He wishes stability and continuation of his rule. He plans to gain popularity and acceptability among the different socio-politico-ethnic factions of Afghanistan. He tries to seek support from Iran and Pakistan on holding of loya jirga. Because many countries in the region do believe that if the US-British end-game plan succeeds, it will increase geo-political and geo-strategic influences of the US in the region. It is hoped that Karzai can have breathing space with the support of Iran, Turkey, Russia and even China. Moreover, he can hope to achieve the political support even from the Northern Alliance. Karzai has also reached out to Hizb-i-Islami leader, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar who is interested in a political accommodation in the power structure in Kabul.

Western Countries (US-EU)

Smart move to extract legitimacy for continuing as president. They want interim government and ultimately his step down. Diversified efforts to achieve sustainable Afghan government with more inclusive ethnic Pashtun participation, primacy on regional governors and governing councils, a pronounced shift of the locus of constitutional power away from the president to the parliament and a political leadership in Kabul that will forcefully address the pervasive problem of corruption in the Afghan government. International players are now exploring the possibility of forming a broad-based government in Kabul if the Taliban leadership agrees to join such a setup.

It seems that role of Pakistan would be vital for regional geo-political and geo-strategic equilibrium in the days to come. In this context, government of Pakistan has been consulting with Iran and Turkey to achieve regional solution for Afghanistan.

Afghanistan-Iran-China: New emerging Geo-political & Geo-strategic Alliance

Afghan President Hamid Karzai is fighting against all odds for his political survival. He is making all possible measures to remain in the power. His diplomatic visits to Pakistan, Iran and then China all shows that he is all out for new geo-political and geo-strategic alliance in the region. The Western capitals are not happy with Karzai’s new calculated diplomatic surge. To counter the increasing presence and demands of USA, UK and NATO and allied forces, Karazi visited several regional countries and tried to make alternative group of power within the region. It seems that the USA is angry with him and US president Obama flew into Kabul on unannounced trip to Kabul. The Americans are furious that Karzai is steadily disengaging from the US’s grip and seeking friendship with China and Iran. Collective regional efforts of Afghanistan, China, Iran and the member countries of SCO must play facilitating role to achieve peace in Afghanistan. It seems that without Pakistan’s diplomatic support and contribution the SCO-led reconciliation and reconstruction process is an unrealistic proposition.

The presidents of both the countries (Afghanistan-China) agreed to enhance socio-economic, technical training, and the granting of preferential tariffs for some Afghan exports to China. Chinese side also urged economic cooperation in mining, agriculture, hydroelectric, irrigation, and infrastructure projects too. China has already initiated many big projects in many Central Asian Countries along with Afghanistan i.e. development of gas fields nearby in eastern Turkmenistan. In December 2009, a gas pipeline was opened near the Afghan border that links western China to Turkmenistan through Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. In 2007, the state-owned China Metallurgical Group won a tender to develop one of the world’s largest unexploited copper reserves at Aynak in the province of Logar, south of Kabul. The US$3 billion project represents the largest foreign investment in Afghanistan’s history.

Central Asian’s countries concerns over talks with Taliban

Recently, US Af-Pak special representative Richard Holbrooke made his maiden tour of Central Asia and the Caucasus and tried to remove the geo-political and geo-strategic fallout of renegotiations with Taliban.

Afghanistan has been remained central point of all the Central Asian Countries foreign policies since their independence. It is crystal clear that absence of a stable and functional government in Afghanistan has been creating economic and security challenges for the Central Asian countries. They all have concerns about the rise of Talban in Afghanistan which may produce multiplier effects in their regions. In fact, the long-term security challenges faced by the Central Asian states seem to be increasing, given the current situation in Afghanistan. It is feared that sudden NATO withdrawal would be very damaging for the Central Asian states and would greatly exacerbate the deteriorating economic and security conditions in some of these states. The lack of political stability in Afghanistan seems to be a great serious security for Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan that share its borders.

Central Asia is blessed with huge reservoirs of oil and gas which can be imported to regional countries. They have already finalized agreements of energy import with many regional countries namely, China, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan and India. New hydroelectric stations in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan producing electricity to be marketed in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India are supposed to be prime examples. The TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan- Pakistan-India) gas pipeline also has not progressed due to continued political instability and deteriorating law and order situation in Afghanistan.

Major GDP % of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan economies are partially based on transparent market but again due to not so good and conducive environment in Afghanistan they are not getting maximum benefits. Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan have comparative advantage in natural resource extraction, oil & gas reservoirs, and agriculture, especially the cotton sector primarily in Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan are hoping to become suppliers of goods and services, and energy resources for the regional countries after achieving any kind of political stability and societal sustainability in Afghanistan.

In its latest research study the ADB study identified 52 potential road corridors through Afghanistan connecting Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan with five seaports in Pakistan and Iran. Thirty-one of these roads would link to Pakistan ports and the other twenty-one to ports in Iran. Furthermore, report says that the total distance of the combined corridors is about 13,586 kilometers or 8,444 miles. It is estimated that the corridors are to originate in Dushanbe for Tajikistan, Tashkent for Uzbekistan, and Ashgabat for Turkmenistan and then enter Afghanistan from Tajikistan at Shirkhan Bandar or Hairatan, from Uzbekistan at Hairatan and from Turkmenistan at Aqina or Torghandi. The corridors exit Afghanistan from Nangargar province to Pakistan’s ports at Torkham leading to Karachi/Port Qasim or via Afghanistan’s Kandahar province at Spin Boldak (leading to Karachi or Gwadar.

The ADB found that once the corridors are built total regional trade will increase by 160 percent and combined transit trade will grow by 113 percent. Total exports among the participating countries by 2010 will increase by 14 percent or $5.8 billion and total imports will grow by 16 percent or $6.7 billion. It would have multiplier effects in the days to come and it is estimated that the combined GDP of the regional countries in the region will increase by over 5 percent per year during the next five years, for a total growth of $5.9 billion.

Concluding Remarks

Afghanistan has become epicenter of all kinds of diplomacy and dialogue. Efforts are being carried out to secure geo-political and geo-strategic edge and cushion in and around the region. From armies to civilian governments every one is eager to be the part of new power game to be played on the soil of Afghanistan. Role of Pakistan’s armed forces and government would be very deceive and curial in the days to come. Regional power brokers must follow a concrete regional solution based policy to bring peace and stability in troubled country Afghanistan.

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