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The Killid Group

In the Snarl of the Region

Written by Killid
Saturday, 04 September 2010 13:10

In the Snarl of the Region

Afghanistan faces a complex political situation with regional countries becoming active in trying to pursue their own interests in this country which has always been at the core of the regional power games.

A flurry of increased activity from regional countries has drawn attention to the complexities of competing regional interests which centre on Afghanistan, sometimes working at cross-purposes and puttng Afghanistan in a difficult and sensitive political situation.

There is hardly a day when there is no visit by a leader of a regional country to Afghanistan and recently high-ranking Afghan government officials have also stepped up the frequency of their visits to neighboring countries. President Hamid Karzai has recently participated in a four-nation summit that included Russia, Tajikistan and Pakistan, which was followed by his visit to Iran and Tajikistan. Vice-President Mohammad Karim Khalili visited Pakistan, which was followed by the visit of Foreign Minister Zalmay Rasoul to India.

In recent weeks the Turkmenistan Foreign Minister announced his country's intention to host an international conference and Iran also invited Afghanistan to take part in a regional conference. Russia, Iran, India, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, China, Uzbekistan, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and Turkmenistan are all concerned about the regional power balance and are engaged in a tussle with Afghanistan as their hub, a re-creation of the great game scenario.

Russia, the inheritor of the Soviet Union and Czarist Russia, feels its interests are being challenged with what is happening in Afghanistan. It has also stepped up its overt criticism of western policy on counter narcotics trafficking which, it says, impacts directly with the flow of drugs into Russia.

In recent months it has moved swiftly to secure its interests by stepping up its role in Afghanistan with more active participation here. Russia's influence over the access routes into Afghanistan, especially the alternative supply lines that have been sought by NATO and U.S forces, also gives its considerable leverage internationally, something that it has been exploiting to great effect. Russia has also been concerned over the increasing insecurity in Afghanistan including the spread of the insurgency to the northern borders of Afghanistan, believing that this constitutes a direct threat to its own safety.

Iran has benefited from access to Afghan water sources. It is keen to have very close political links with Afghanistan, especially since it is concerned about the presence of U.S. military forces in such close proximity. Iran has always maintained that the U.S. has been trying to interfere in Iran's domestic affairs, a charge that was repeated by the Iranian foreign minister during the Kabul Conference. It therefore has every reason to want to ensure there is a friendly government in Kabul.

Pakistan feels it will be the eventual inheritor of the western engagement in Afghanistan after the departure of western troops and considers Afghanistan to be part of its own backyard. It therefore feels it is its right to influence the Afghan government and to counter Indian influence inside Afghanistan. Currently there are 4500 Indians working in Afghanistan and Pakistan wants to restrict the role of the Indian diplomatic corps in the country. India on the other hand wants to take steps to counter-act Pakistani moves. The Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh says Pakistan is a threat to Indian citizens in Afghanistan.

The Central Asian countries have keen economic interests in Afghanistan. Turkmenistan has its eye on the gas pipeline which will pass through Afghanistan to Pakistan and India. Tajikistan, which has a long border with Afghanistan, is worried about the narcotics production and trafficking and the increasing presence of fundamentalist insurgents in northern Afghanistan. Gulf countries are also keen to expand their influence in Afghanistan, especially as a counterbalance to Iran.

In the immediate aftermath of 9/11 regional countries played a more marginal role. Sensing the retreat of the western forces however, these countries have become more active and stepped up efforts to try and meet their own strategic interests. Unfortunately the strategic interest of these countries often lies in contradictory directions, something that is likely to push Afghanistan into deeper chaos and violence.


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