Russia: The New Player in Afghanistan
After suffering an embarrassing defeat at the hands of the US-backed ‘Mujahideen’, Russians adopted a hands-off approach towards Afghanistan. Having realized that they had no say in the political landscape that existed in Afghanistan post Soviet-Afghan War, Russians separated themselves from the affairs which thereafter existed between Washington and Kabul. Unable to influence the decision-making apparatus of the world arena, Russia resorted to being the ‘underdog’.
But as “the only thing constant in this world is change”, we have all been witnesses to Kremlin’s shifting policies regarding Afghanistan. Russian-Afghan relations have in the past two years, presented a very rare example of alliance-building. The association between the two countries has drastically improved since 2015, with the considerable exchange of information and intelligence sharing.
Both states signed a security agreement: “Military-Technical Cooperation Agreement”, in April 2016, in Moscow, where they agreed to jointly fight against terrorism and drugs and exchange sensitive information among security institutions.
Henceforth, we have seen Moscow extend great military and economic assistance to Kabul. But Russia getting on the Afghan bandwagon is pestering America, which believes that the cooperation is aiming to sabotage US operations in Afghanistan.
But what resonates in International Relations, more than this newly found affection between Afghanistan and Russia, is something many have termed as the “Russian double game.” And the protagonist of this play is none other than – “The Afghan Taliban”.
It’s common for states to have links with Taliban but the relationship between Russia and Afghan Taliban is today the ‘talk of the town’. Russia disclosed its ties with them in Dec, 2016 and made clear that their cooperation together was to counter “ISIS”.
Vladimir Putin’s special envoy to Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, in 2016 remarked: “the Taliban’ interest objectively coincides with ours”. Taliban spokespersons have shared similar comments.
But the common sentiment is that Russia is using the ‘slogan of fighting ISIS’ as an excuse for their presence in Afghanistan and is penetrating into its grounds using this fabricating strategy.
US senator, John McCain, had said that Russia was “propping up the Taliban” to undermine US efforts but this statement and those alike, have always been contradicted and countered by Russian analysts and spokespersons, who accuse America of masking their own failures through this ‘blame game’.
News has sparked that Russian-Taliban connection is just not limited to intelligence sharing. Many have accused Russia of providing ground support to Taliban and equipping them with weapons and ammunition- a claim Russia has always denied.
Rumors are that the provincial capital of ‘Kunduz’ fell into Taliban’ hands due to Russian material support to them.
Afghanistan too has now become critical in viewing their relations with Russia and is threatened by the Russian-Taliban cooperation.
Governor of Afghanistan’s ‘Farah province’ claimed that the Russians provided Taliban insurgents with sophisticated weapons like mortars, night vision devices, and missiles.
But yet no proof of such military assistance to Taliban has been provided either by Afghanistan or The USA.
Russia today is becoming part of the war which was never theirs, but the question arises why?
Why is Russia meddling into an affair which has so far inflicted vast implications on our world?
The answer is complex but easily comprehensible. Russia is seeking, what every country strives for – “Geopolitical Dominance”. Knowing the fact that USA’s efforts are going in vain, Russians see the country as their ‘playing field’ in post-NATO Afghanistan. They are keen to make it into a satellite state of theirs, from where they can control the neighboring Central Asian Nations.
Secondly, by penetrating into the buildup of Afghanistan, Russia will gain the ability to strengthen their ‘bargaining position’ with the USA on issues such as “Crimea and Ukraine”. Russia will use their emerging position in Afghanistan to extract concessions from America.
Moreover, involvement in Afghanistan will enable the them to achieve the security as well as economic hegemony they always wanted to create over Central Asia.
Central Asian nations will have to rely on Russia greatly for the security of their borders and will seek their assistance for negotiating with the Taliban. Current policies of Russia in Afghanistan will ensure their economic stronghold over the region in the years to come.
Once able to root themselves in Afghanistan, Russia will be able to limit the natural gas supply to South Asia by Central Asia via Afghanistan, making themselves the major buyers in the region’s natural gas market.
What today is perceived as Russia’s double game will tomorrow result in “Russia’s new great game.” Russia is keenly observing the anomalies of the world politics and especially the changing Afghanistan scenario. It is sensing the coming of a “new order” and is ready to jump at any opportunity that comes its way.
A new “trilateral bloc” is underway- China, Russia and Pakistan- ready to challenge the prevailing status quo. Russia understands quite well that for this bloc to dominate, embedding itself in Afghanistan’s social as well as political fabric is crucial and mandatory.
The writer is a student of BS-International Relations at Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org