ISSN 2330-717X

Afghanistan And The Emerging Triangle Of Crisis – OpEd

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The expected hand over of Hamid Karzai International Airport to Turkey has been faced with a mixed reaction in Afghanistan. Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai in reply to a question by a reporter on 13 July 2021 in Kabul said that Turkey and Afghanistan have a long historic and friendly relation and they can play an important role in solving the Afghan conflict. 

However, the Taliban in a statement on 24 July 2021 warned Turkey against its decision to remain in Afghanistan and said: “The decision … is ill-advised, a violation of our sovereignty and territorial integrity and against our national interest.” 

“We consider stay of foreign forces in our homeland by any country under whatever pretext as occupation,” France24 quoted the Taliban as saying.   

Meanwhile, Afghans are also dubious about the Turkey’s intention. A Kabul resident has recently said that Turkey would use the airport as a cover to bring in mercenaries from Syria and other parts of the world to Afghanistan. This view supports some of the recent media reports which say that the Turkish government has been in the process of recruiting mercenaries from amongst a number of factions, including Samarkand Brigade, that have been fighting against the Syrian government in Syria. The reports say that Turkey will recruit around 2,000 mercenaries with an expected US$2,000 to US$3,000 monthly payment per head.

There is a higher possibility of a link between the newly recruited mercenaries, who will be moved to Afghanistan by Turkey, and those who have already been reportedly transferred to Afghanistan. There have been numerous reports in the past couple of years in Afghanistan about mysterious helicopters bringing in foreign fighters to northern parts of Afghanistan. The Jamestown Foundation in 2009 reported that [Former] President Karzai suggested the reports of helicopters delivering terrorists to north Afghanistan were true, saying, “We have received reliable reports from our intelligence service. We have received reliable reports from our people, and today I received a report that these efforts [to transfer Taliban fighters] are also being made mysteriously in the northwest. The issue of helicopters has also been proved. We do not make any more comments now and investigations are under way to see to whom and to which foreign country these helicopters belong.”

Meanwhile, Ahmad Wahid Mozhda, a prominent Afghan political analysis who was mysteriously assassinated on 20 November 2019 in Kabul, had told Sputnik  in February 2018 that: “Many members of Afghanistan’s parliament, as well as ordinary citizens, are saying that Daesh terrorists are being brought here by unidentified helicopters. There is a great deal of evidence to support this. Afghans believe in a kind of ‘mysterious hand’ working to strengthen Daesh’s positions.” 

These reports indicate that either the allied forces based in Afghanistan or some individual countries had tried to change the northern parts of Afghanistan to a terrorist hotbed with an intention to expand the conflict into the Central Asian countries and China but feared that justifying such activities under the Russians and Chinese nose would be arduous and adversely affect the NATO’s credibility. 

To bring it about, the US in April 2021 decided to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan once and for all. The departure of the US and international forces from Afghanistan has caused significant concerns in Russia and China and brought the conflict closer to their doors. 

A former Russian diplomat and two analysts were quoted by the Reuters as saying that the U.S. exit from Afghanistan is a headache for Moscow which fears spiralling fighting may push refugees into its Central Asian backyard, create a jihadist threat and even stir civil war in one ex-Soviet state. 

By withdrawing its forces from Afghanistan, the US may want to achieve a number of vitally important objectives. Firstly, there are all the signs to demonstrate that the US and its allies clearly want to create a new global crisis at the Russian, Chinese and Pakistan (I call it the triangle of crisis) doorstep and let them cope with the aftermath mess of the US and international forces exit from Afghanistan. 

Secondly, the security gape after the exist of the US and international forces in Afghanistan guarantees the continuation of conflict in Afghanistan which will severely interrupt the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) whose success very much depends on peace and security in the region, especially in Afghanistan. The connectivity of Eurasia, Central and South Asia is not feasible without peace in Afghanistan. 

Thirdly, the US want to do away with the huge financial burden of keeping its forces in Afghanistan, gain public support and focus more on other global priorities which best serve its national interest while keeping its two rivals, Russia and China, busy with what is left behind as a result of the US and international forces departure from Afghanistan. 

There is a substantial possibility of taking the war into Tajikistan which has about 9.3 million population and is one of the most politically, economically and security wise vulnerable Central Asian countries. This will get Russia, the strongest supporter of Tajikistan, trapped in a protracted war and pave the way for the expansion of conflict to the rest of the Central Asian countries and China, particularly Xinjiang.  

President Vladimir Putin, according to Reuters, told Rakhmon on Monday [12 July 2021] that Moscow would help Tajikistan handle any fallout if needed. Rakhmon has ordered the mobilisation of 20,000 military reservists to bolster the border and asked a Russian-led regional military bloc for help.

“The most vulnerable seems to be Tajikistan where the state is brittle and in the midst of the hereditary succession to (President Emomali) Rakhmon’s son,” Vladimir Frolov, a former senior Russian diplomat, told Reuters and added: “The risk is in jihadi forces exploiting the existing social divisions and the clamour for justice to reignite the civil war.” 

Tajikistan is host to the largest Russian military base where a significant number of various military equipment including tanks, helicopters, drones and around 6,000 soldiers are stationed. Tajikistan was also engaged in a civil war against the extremist militants from 1992 to 1997.  

Meanwhile, Xinhua quoted a Chinese envoy in the United Nations as saying that terrorism remains a severe challenge facing Afghanistan and regional countries. All parties should step up their efforts to fight terrorist organizations such as al-Qaida, the Islamic State, and the East Turkestan Islamic Movement to prevent the resurgence of terrorist forces. China firmly opposes any politicization of counterterrorism or double standards in this regard.

Qian Feng, Director of the Research Department at the National Strategy Institute at Tsinghua University was recently quoted by the Global Times saying that a better regional connectivity in this region relies heavily on the situation in Afghanistan, thus making such a proposal a concrete plan from China to glue regional powers together in finding solution for the Afghanistan situation. Qian added that since a grand peace solution will take time to frame, such smaller steps can serve as kick start. 

On the other hand, Nury Turkel, who is an Uyghur- American lawyer and vice-chairman of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), a bipartisan and independent federal government body, told Radio Free Asia that for the USCIRF, religious freedom in China was a grave concern. Since 1999, the commission has designated China as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC). In 2020, we have seen a serious deterioration of religious freedom in China, especially for practitioners or believers of Abrahamic religions –Muslims and Christians specifically. And we are very concerned that the Chinese authorities perceiving and treating Uyghur Muslims and Chinese Christians as a source of future political unrest or political opposition. 

“Also they are perceiving Abrahamic religion faithful as disloyal to the Communist Party and a potential challenge to the party. It is very clear that the Communist Party, the Xi Jinping administration, will not tolerate any Western influence — religious freedom, freedom of the press, and freedom of speech. So, we are gravely concerned about the deteriorating situation in China,” Turkel said.

Earlier this year The New York Time reported that the State Department declared on Tuesday [19 January 2021] that the Chinese government is committing genocide and crimes against humanity through its wide-scale repression of Uighurs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities in its northwestern region of Xinjiang, including in its use of internment camps and forced sterilization.

Chinese government is also widely accused, by the western powers, of keeping a close eye at the Xinjiang ethnic minorities that comprise more than half of 25 million population in the region. The majority of them are Muslims with Turkic language and culture. 

According to the New York Times the tensions sharply worsened from 2009, when Uighurs taking part in ethnic riots killed about 200 Han in Urumqi, the regional capital, after earlier tensions and violence. Chinese security forces began a sweeping crackdown. Attacks and more crackdowns occurred across Uighur towns in the years afterward, as well as in some cities outside Xinjiang.

All these could justify the US decision to support Chinese dissident groups such the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) which the US and the United Nations designated as a terrorist groups in 2002, but was last year removed from the US terrorist organisations list. The China’s foreign ministry spokesman on Friday [6 November 2020] urged the US, according to DW, to “stop backpedalling on international counter-terrorism cooperation” and voiced China’s “strong dissatisfaction and firm opposition to the US decision.”

Meanwhile, in the past two decades, the US policy about how Pakistan deals with the international community efforts to restore peace in Afghanistan was very much resembling to the famous Muhammad Ali’s Rumble in the Jungle rope-a-dope technique. This means that enough opportunity was given to Pakistan to throw as many heavy punches at the Americans and its allies faces as they could, and it is now the Americans, and their partners turn to give to Pakistan a knockout punch. 

Therefore, the punches will come in the form of new extremist militants who will soon come to the fore and they along with the Tahreek-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Baluch insurgents will pose a substantial security threat to Pakistan that is distancing itself from the US and sliding closer to Russia and China. It should be kept in mind that Pakistan is a potentially vulnerable country where the Pashtuns, Baluch and Sindhis are always at odd with the dominant Punjabis who most of the time rule the country, politically and economically. Each one of these ethnical groups strive for their own independence, but their leaders and important figures are usually assassinated, and the finger of blame is pointed at the Pakistani establishments.   

Pakistan has got to bite the bullet and needs to choose either to jump off the Chinese arms at a very high cost and get closer to the US or come to grips with the consequences of being a glutton for punishment. However, the retribution will not only push Pakistan to fight the extremist groups, but it will also decrease or even cut off Pakistan influence over those terrorist groups which have been fighting a proxy war in Afghanistan. 

Chris Alexander in his report, Ending Pakistan’s Proxy War in Afghanistan published by Macdonald Laurier Institute Publication, argues that Pakistan’s military supports the Taliban as part of a national strategy for Afghanistan and Kashmir that Pakistan has pursued consistently since 1947 when Kabul voted against Pakistan’s membership in the United Nations. Today’s conflict is effectively the result of a sustained failure, over nearly three-quarters of a century, to achieve a comprehensive political settlement between Islamabad and Kabul, including with regard to borders. 

Pakistan’s hegemonic regional policies in the past few decades have bought them a good number of internal and external enemies who can be exploited and used against them. Meanwhile, creating and sustaining a “triangle of crisis” in the north in Central Asia, in the northeast in China and in the east of Afghanistan Wakhan Corridor in Pakistan will require armed fighters, equipment, financial and logistical supports and it is here that bringing in  mercenaries and support of certain countries to facilitate their recruitment and transportation  into Afghanistan will be instrumental. Therefore, it can be argued that handing over the security of Hamid Karzai International Airport to Turkey is crucially important. This will help Turkey to step in in support of the majority of the Xinjiang population who share the same language and culture and are ready and willing to fight for their freedom. On the other hand, this will help Turkey to emerge as a champion at the upcoming drama, which is going to be payed in the “triangle of crisis” and, expand its influence in the Central Asian countries.   

Supporting and involving these mercenaries will gradually reduce the Taliban influence who are at odd with the ISS.  In a purported letter dated (21 June 2020), ISS leadership, in the northern Afghan province of Baghlan, has appealed to the Taliban fighters in Afghanistan to join the ranks of Khalafat-e Islami. The letter reads: “The Taliban are affiliated with the Pakistani intelligence and they have become so insignificant and decrepit that it has become their jihad to damage the electricity pylons, collect taxes from the oppressed people and cause trouble to civilians and to those who travel on the highways in the north and northeast and this is to defame the true Mujahideen. Don’t be cheated anymore by these slaves and get out of the incorrect path of jihad and the ranks of wrong doers. Your acceptance of the Khalafat-e Islami will lead to destruction of the enemies.” 

In the letter ISS has called the Kabul government and the Taliban as their main enemies and stated: “The enemy of Islam and their slaves, the corrupt, self-sold and self-proclaimed Emirate of the Taliban has put on the yoke of slavery on their neck, and they demonstrated that they are affiliated with the western countries.” They like many Afghans believe that the Afghan government and the Taliban will comprise on making a coalition government in Afghanistan. 

The letter’s language clearly demonstrates the level of hatred and hostility between the Taliban and the ISS whose prominent role in the upcoming drama matches Zbigniew Brzezinski’s doctrine of using extremists in conflicts.

While talking to reporters on 13 July 2021 in Kabul, Karzai said that once he asked ZbigniewBrzezinski, who was a prominent American scholar, if it was true that he was the mastermind behind the use of religious extremism theory to weaken the former Soviet Union and call it a green belt around the Soviet Union. Karzai said that Brzezinski replied: “Yes, I was the mastermind of that theory, but what you say green belt, it was not a green belt from our points of view. What they called it was the circle of crisis against the Soviet Union.”

“I said that Mr. Brzezinski, at what cost in the world? Look what is going on in Afghanistan, what is happening in the world …”, he said, “No, from our point of view and from a history point of view there is a very big difference between the fall of the Soviet Union and a few extremists in the world. Those extremists who can’t reach us they hit you and it is not important for us.”

“The bloodshed in Afghanistan is the result of this policy, ISS is the result of this policy,” Karzai stated and added: “We hoped that this policy might have changed and the big powers in the world don’t use extremism as a means, but unfortunately we see that it is going on.”

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Ahmad Masoud

Ahmad Masoud has worked for more than one and half a decade for a number of national and international organisations, including the United Nations, in Asia, Africa and Europe. He has been writing on political, security, and social developments in Afghanistan and his articles have been published by numerous highly prestigious print and online newspapers around the world.

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