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Why is US afraid of a Russian role in Afghanistan?

The two seemingly unconnected developments in Afghanistan last week  the controversy over First Vice-President Rashid’s Dostum’s excessive behaviour towards a political opponent and the Afghan government’s public displeasure over the trilateral Russia-China-Pakistan meet in Moscow on Tuesday  would seem to have a common thread running through them, which has something to do with the United States. Dostum has been an eye sore for the Americans much of the time since their invasion of Afghanistan in 2001  although the CIA and the Special Forces had heavily depended on him to lead the first major assault on the Taliban forces ensconced in the strategically important northern city of Kunduz in October-November that year. Simply put, the US has been unhappy with the fact that Dostum has enjoyed the backing at different stages from Russia, Central Asian states and Turkey and is not under American control, exclusively serving US interests. So, from time to time, the US media would carry motivated stories about Dostum’s ‘warlordism’. As pressure tactic to bludgeon Dostum into submission, he has been constantly threatened with trial over his alleged ‘war crimes’.

Once again, Dostum is in

the headlines. Why now?

President Ashraf Ghani knew well enough who Dostum was when he picked him as his running mate in the 2014 presidential election. In fact, Ghani who is a Kochi and has no Pashtun base himself, would not have won the election without the support of Dostum, who delivered the support of the Uzbek community lock, stock and barrel. To say the least, it is strange that Ghani now is preparing to get rid of Dostum. And that too, so soon after Ghani recommended to the United Nations Security Council to remove the embargo on another notorious ‘warlord’  Gulbuddin Hekmayar.

In fact, what is ‘warlordism’ in the Afghan context? It is a manifestation of the violence that is endemic to all tribal societies that do not have rule of law. Hekmatyar actually killed by far more Afghan rivals than Soviet troops during the Afghan jihad in the eighties. He was also infamous for his brutality. However, Ghani now needs Hekmatyar and, therefore, his past reputation for ‘warlordism’ no longer bothers the Afghan president.

Can it be that the concerted campaign to oust Dostum from the government and the induction of Hekmatyar as Ghani’s latest ally in the US-backed power structure  inter-connected? The fact of the matter is that there is no love lost between Dostum and Hekmatyar and their groups have been adversaries from time immemorial. More importantly, Hekmatyar also happens to be a colourful personality with old connections with the CIA. A disproportionate share of U.S. arms went to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a particularly fanatical fundamentalist and woman-hater. According to journalist Tim Weiner, ” Hekmatyar’s followers first gained attention by throwing acid in the faces of women who refused to wear the veil. (CIA and State Department officials have described him as  ‘scary,’ ‘vicious,’ ‘a fascist,’ ‘definite dictatorship material.)

The pattern that is emerging is that a concerted media campaign is being orchestrated to kick out a likely proxy of Turkey and Russia from Ghani’s set-up and to induct a favourite of the CIA. Of course, if reports are to be believed, Dostum subjected a political rival to brutal treatment. But then, is it really an uncommon event in the Hindu Kush? (Read a shocking report by the New York Times on how rampant sodomy is among the Afghan armed forces.) Ironically, the Americans have patronised at various times such horrible fellows in Kandahar and elsewhere in southern Afghanistan who have been no less brutal than Dostum or Hekmatyar. To my mind, the campaign against Dostum and the demarche made by Kabul on the trilateral meeting in Moscow are at the behest of the Americans who would seem to be getting nervous that the Russians are becoming proactive in Afghanistan, finally. It cannot be overlooked that the trilateral meeting in Moscow is the third such event. Why was it that Kabul didn’t mind on the two earlier occasions? It stands to reason that this time around, the difference is that Ghani got the instructions from the Americans to make a public demarche.

What is the American game plan?

The Afghan demarche about the Moscow meet dovetails with the US allegation that Russia is in touch with the Taliban. The idea seems to be to rake up anti-Russian feeling in the Afghan public opinion that will make Moscow think twice before making any intervention in Afghanistan. That brings up the question: Why are the Americans so nervous about a Russian role in finding solution to the Afghan problem? Shouldn’t the US and Russia be on the same page in Afghanistan? After all, Russia’s credentials in fighting extremist terrorist groups are impeccable.

Arguably, Russia has the will and the capability to succeed in Afghanistan where the US and its NATO allies have failed to produce results even after 15 years of fighting. Perhaps, that is precisely what unnerves the Americans. In Afghanistan, nothing is as simple as it may seem on surface. There’s some food for thought here for Indian commentators who move around in the Track II circuit in the western capitals, who in sheer naivety or ignorance (or both) blithely parrot the American fable about Russia’s alleged nexus with the Taliban without questioning the veracity or the motivations behind the US campaign. Interestingly, the US’ top commander in Afghanistan Gen. Nicholson recently visited New Delhi to personally disseminate the anti-Russian propaganda.

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