By Michael Hughes
Afghanistan will likely pay a steep price for its “partnership with a reckless superpower”, according to Afghan journalist Akmal Dawi, especially after NATO exits the region in 2014 and forces the Afghans to explain themselves to a host of unfriendly neighbors.
U.S. meddling in Afghan affairs for the past forty years has put Kabul unduly at odds with many regional capitals from Tehran to Islamabad, mostly on issues that, as Dawi says, are beyond Afghanistan’s control. According to Dawi, “Afghanistan was once butchered by great powers in the 19th Century’s Great Game. It is being abused again.”
Both Iran and Pakistan seem to be informally at war with the U.S. which has used Afghanistan over the past decade as a launching pad and listening post not unlike the way it used Pakistan to go after its enemies during the cold war and the war against terror. Dawi claims that Afghan efforts to assuage its neighbors has been an exercise in futility:
President Karzai called on Pakistani leaders to adopt an independent policy towards Afghanistan and stop looking at Afghans through their anti-Indian and anti-US prisms. His plea is likely to fall on deaf ears.
Of course Pakistan has never considered Afghanistan anything but a pawn in its strategic depth doctrine since the Pakistani state was created in 1947. Plus, Karzai’s bipolar diplomacy has done nothing to stabilize the situation as he calls Pakistan his brothers one day and flies off to strike deals with New Delhi the next.
Russia isn’t delighted with Karzai for striking an agreement to allow the U.S. to establish long-term military bases in Afghanistan while the House of Saud has ignored Kabul’s beseeching for the Saudis to play a role in the reconciliation process.
America’s covert maneuverings to strike a quick deal with the Taliban has also severed a relationship with an unlikely Muslim actor: Qatar. The Gulf monarchy agreed to host a Taliban office in Doha but Kabul reacted by recalling its ambassador because Qatar neglected to keep Karzai in the loop. U.S. regional ambitions have put the Afghans in a precarious situation, as Dawi writes:
From Doha to Islamabad to Tehran, Kabul’s relations are strained by Washington’s strategic mistakes: Despite its extensive military, political and developmental engagement Washington has no viable and reliable friend in the region. For years, the US has filled the coffers of rogue Pakistani military and intelligence institutions with billions of dollars. In return Pakistan has sent improvised bombs and suicide attackers that kill Americans troops in Afghanistan. Inside Afghanistan, the US has partnered with some warlords and has waged an open-ended war against others. America is also lying to Afghans. It says the Taliban are defeated, the government is competent and democratic, and foreign-sponsored development is great. The reality, at least from an Afghan perspective, is quite the opposite.
As hawks in Washington beat the war drum to strike Iran, Afghanistan becomes an even more strategic asset from which to launch operations against the Persian republic, who recently threatened to shut down the Strait of Hormuz because of U.S. saber-rattling amidst calls for increased sanctions. The West also has its eyes on gas pipelines and Afghanistan’s mineral resources, so is bound to retain a foothold in Central Asia, which only invites more suspicion from regional actors.
Prior to the cold war Afghanistan saw peace and stability when it enjoyed buffer-state status, but Afghan neutrality has been compromised by U.S. imperial designs. As Dawi concludes:
Americans often contemptuously say Afghanistan is not Switzerland. This is obviously right in many ways, except that like Switzerland, Afghanistan’s survival inevitably lays in neutrality and non-interference. But Switzerland’s neutrality has been respected by its prudent and democratic European neighbors - unlike what Afghanistan currently faces from the states that surround it.