Since the time immemorial, Afghanistan has been a battleground for World Superpowers. The reason being is its strategic location. It forms the passage to West if we travel through the East and vice-versa.
It was its location which motivated British to attack Afghanistan in the 18th century. Later, when Russia intervened it served as a buffer between British-India and Tsarist-Russia.
The great game continued in the cold war era. Afghanistan first came under influence of Soviet. In response the USA supported Taliban to topple the government. It was driven by the fear of creation of “Great red wall”, if Pakistan would fall off to the communist. After the withdrawal of Soviet support to the government of Afghan, Taliban came to the power. This regime was opposed by Iran, Russia, and India.
After the 9/11 attacks, USA joined the chorus too. In 2001 it attacked Afghanistan to flush out Al-Qaeda. Though not successful in this objective, USA overthrew Taliban rule to install a democratic government.
In 2011 Barack Obama decided to withdraw NATO forces till 2016 due to rising economic cost and political backlash at home. In between this period, numerous attempts were made to find a strike a deal with Taliban and strengthen the government.
But no significant progress is achieved. In this scenario, the great game has become a little more complex, with new stakeholders with varied interest emerging –
- Russia– its interest includes safety and security. The vacuum created by the withdrawal of forces has led to the entry of ISIS in Afghanistan. Further, it suffers from drug trafficking, money laundering business due to its proximity to “Golden Crescent” drug trade route.
- China– its interest includes safety of “One Belt One Road” in the area. Further XINJIANG province is close to Afghanistan border. This area has been witnessing separatist tendency. China fears that an anti-Chinese government in Afghanistan may harbour separatists. Also, the drug trade creates problems.
- Pakistan– its interest includes having a government oriented against India. It is fueled by a perception that India might use Afghanistan to squeeze it.
- India– its interest includes having an alternate route to central Asia, bypassing Pakistan. Chahbar port in Iran is the primary focus area. As Afghanistan forms a gateway into Central Asia, its importance has increased. Further India like China does not want Afghanistan to be used as safe haven for militants fueling Separatist activity in Kashmir.
- Iran – similar to Russia, it fears rise of ISIS which threaten its security.
- USA– the present policy is to help the national government and strike an accord with Taliban for smoother transition, if any, in future.
Thus game is now played between 3 contenders Taliban, ISIS and National government of Afghanistan. Taliban is supported by Russia, China, Pakistan, and Iran while USA and India support the National government. The situation become even more complex when Russia is fighting against Taliban in Syria, the to-be President Trump reinvigorating relationship with Russia, India has given ‘moral support’ to Baluchistan(which comprises of large part of Afghan).
With these complexities, future sure is uncertain. One can only wait and watch to see how the situation unfold.