Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 20 March 2018

Unpicking American intentions in Afghanistan

Shaukat Qadir examines the geopolitical shifts at work in Afghanistan and its neighbourhood

The US is seeking ways to clear the Taliban out of their strongholds in southern Afghanistan. AFP
The US is seeking ways to clear the Taliban out of their strongholds in southern Afghanistan. AFP

For some years, the general view among critical thinkers has been that the US is in the process of losing Afghanistan. And, while it still needs Pakistan and has strategic interests in it, it needs a scapegoat more; for which role, Pakistan is made to order.

However, there were still interests that were common between the US and Pakistan. If there was stability in Afghanistan, the US would again desire to access natural resources of Central Asia and Afghanistan.

Throughout history global powers have waned to be replaced by others, but never before has a waxing global power, China, begun to spread its wings, when the current one, US, had only begun to visibly wane.

As the foregoing fact became visible, the US had two choices. It could turn inwards and consolidate; which Donald Trump promised during his electioneering, or it could seek to “contain China”. Before Mr Trump, US policy did seem to vacillate between the two alternatives but “containment” now seems to be the top priority.

Apart from Pakistan, Afghanistan shares borders with Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Iran, and through the narrow Wakhan corridor, with China as well.

All the countries it borders, have a potential or existing threat from fundamentalism. And Afghanistan now hosts, not just the Afghan freedom fighters and the Taliban, but also ISIL. They will willingly threaten all neighbours.

To add icing to this cake, Afghanistan is already hosting elements hostile to Pakistan by stoking insurgency and attempting to sabotage China's dream project, its economic corridor.

Gwadar port, on Pakistan's southern coast, is invaluable to China as a key staging post along its economic corridor. Exiting from Gwadar, there is no impediment possible until the Gulf of Aden. And, while the US has presence there, so does China; a strong protective presence. Both are based in Djibouti.

Thus if Gwadar is invaluable to China, if China has to be contained, Gwadar must be denied to it or, at the very least, made a sufficiently threatening security challenge, for China to think twice before braving it.

This leads me to a troubling question: does it now serve US interests best if Afghanistan is destabilised?

Brig Shaukat Qadir is a retired Pakistani infantry officer