This week President Trump said that India should start helping out with the burden of Afghanistan. It’s clear that being in office is different than running for office (remember Obama and single payer health care?). The rhetoric of leaving the region (which would be preferable) has been replaced with the declaration that we’re not in the nation building business, we’re in the killing terrorist business. Well, cousin, business is a boomin’!!! We broke it, so we bought it I guess…
Frame this Kodak moment…I agree on his stance with India…
India and Afghanistan have long enjoyed a technological and economic relationship, edging out India’s rival Pakistan. The Pakistanis don’t like this at all. Especially, since they helped the Afghanis by smuggling Israeli captured Russian weapons from Egypt into Afghanistan to fight the Russians in the 80s, which many say is the reason Communism fell in 1989. Famously, it was called the Russian Vietnam.
However, because of this favor, we have allowed Pakistan unfettered access to develop and house nuclear weapons, which in and of itself is a powder keg. George Crile, Jr.’s book, “Charlie Wilson’s War,” detailed the exploits of then Congressman Charlie Wilson and his brokering of the deal Ronald Reagan made with General Zia al-Haq, which many dubbed the “Islamic Bomb.” This part wasn’t in the movie starring Tom Hanks…
The population of India is 1.3 billion people, roughly the size of China. The population of Afghanistan is 34 million, roughly the size of California. Despite this, India along with China and Russia has enjoyed extracting various minerals and gold out of the Afghan ground. Rough estimates place Afghan mining potential at roughly $3 billion a year (U.S.). Meanwhile, as the U.S. enjoys a near unlimited supply of opium from the region, it’s Big Pharma, who have made a fortune processing opium into a United States prescription epidemic (Percocet, Oyxcontin and Prozac don’t just make themselves), while the U.S. has profited little from the other resources of Afghan land. The Indians, the Russians (of all people!) and the Chinese have been winning the hearts and mind of the people and thus the Taliban through two Afghan presidents and now three American presidents.
Granted, the Indian GDP ($2.2 trillion) is dwarfed by even South Korea and they have problems to be sure; rampant poverty, low education, poor infrastructure, bad sewers, etc. However, the president’s call for them to pony up in helping either oust the Taliban or get them to the negotiation table, is not without merit; why should the U.S. bear the burden (2,000 dead American kids and a $10 trillion war bill and counting), if we’re not getting the most we can out the situation?
So what’s in it for us?
The relations between India and Afghanistan can be traced back to the Indus valley civilization. The relationship is not limited to the governments in New Delhi and Kabul, and has its foundations in the historical contacts and exchanges between the peoples. Following the 9/11 attacks and the resultant US-led war in Afghanistan, the ties between India and Afghanistan grew strong once again. India’s interest is always in seeing Afghanistan move towards greater peace and prosperity. India is one of the closest regional powers, geographically, and it has invested in institution and infrastructure building in Afghanistan. There is more trust among the people of Afghanistan towards India because it has made significant investments in developmental projects in the war-torn country. It enjoys immense goodwill among ordinary Afghans which it has earned due to its decades long investment in Afghanistan.
Publicly, Russian President Vladimir Putin claims that his interest in Afghanistan is based on self-defense, because Russia wants to prevent Afghanistan from turning into a staging ground for ISIS expansion. Nevertheless, Trump should seriously reconsider his demand that US defense officials include Russia as a top partner in the fight against ISIS, as there is evidence that the Kremlin is actively supporting the Taliban. In February, the Russian Foreign Ministry revealed that Moscow is sharing intelligence with the Taliban, ostensibly to counter the threat of ISIS. Russia admits to extensive contacts with the Taliban, and the Taliban has disclosed that the alliance resulted from “a common enemy,” the United States. Afghan officials assert that covert meetings took place between Taliban leaders and the Kremlin multiple times, in both Tajikistan and Moscow.
Russia’s partnership with the Taliban automatically puts Moscow at odds with the U.S. and undermines the progress made by the Afghan armed forces. Russia’s dangerous rhetoric, that the Afghan government has not been effectively tackling ISIS, empowers the Taliban and dissolves the public’s faith in the fragile Afghan government, which has been wildly viewed as no more than a puppet of the U.S. Hamid Karzai enjoyed a near ten year reign, “waiting for the country to stabilize,” before free elections could be held. The skepticism is a result of blowback from the Arab common man’s knowledge of CIA interference in the Middle East for the last 70 years.
Given that the Islamic State is contained in a small part of Afghanistan, the heavy Russian response to the group’s presence in the country may be a result of other incentives. The combination of military moves in Afghanistan, such as partnering with the Taliban, and diplomatic efforts, such as organizing a strategic plan on Afghanistan with other regional powers, is a sign that Moscow is after more than defeating ISIS.
The Chinese have also started to take steps to make their presence known in Afghanistan after years of historical disengagement and a “low-profile approach” to their neighbor. As Central Asian states increasingly fall under Chinese influence, the U.S. needs to cautiously take stock of Beijing’s recent actions in Afghanistan. It’s not like Moscow and Beijing have ever ceased being friendly. Beijing has mixed an unusual combination of military and economic measures in Afghanistan, possibly opening a new front of strategic geopolitical competition. China’s new security and economic partnerships in Afghanistan suggests that Beijing is trying to compete with the U.S. as a heavyweight in the country.
For example, according to the Pentagon, the Chinese have reportedly initiated military patrols on the Afghanistan-China border, but Beijing continues to deny any presence in the area. First of all, the continued denial of a troop presence is concerning because it raises suspicion about maligned Chinese incentives. The recent Chinese deployments have been too quickly dismissed as minor maneuvers to prevent terrorism in China’s Xinjiang province. Instead, these maneuvers should be seen as the provocations they truly are, if only because the patrols have upset and alarmed India, a key partner of the United States in the peace negotiations in Afghanistan.
— Department of State (@StateDept) August 24, 2017
So what’s happening here is not only are “hearts and minds” being won by India, Russia and China, but we’ve been footing the bill. Even the Iraq War, which saw us kill a million Iraqis, lose 8,000 American soldiers have the Chinese buying their oil cheaper than we do, never having fired a shot or spent a nickel there! It’s time that stops. I’m for getting out entirely but if we have to be there, it shouldn’t just be the U.S. and NATO doing all the heavy lifting. The President has to start demanding some heavy lifting…