Disclaimer: This article was first published elsewhere and is republished here with recommendation and full permission of the author.
By Mushtaq Rahim
On December 27, 1979 Russian forces invaded Afghanistan through a direct military intervention, commencing a disastrous epoch of Afghan history. Exactly 37 years later, Russia was once again meddling in Afghan affairs by hosting a trilateral meeting involving China and Pakistan in Moscow on December 27, 2016. The aim was to discuss Afghan security issues, but Kabul was neither invited nor consulted.Since the first intervention to this day, Afghanistan has been a physical battlefield for a number of enemies: the United States versus Russia, India versus Pakistan, and Iran versus Saudi Arabia. China, the latest addition to the list, is also pursuing its regional economic and political interests. Turkey, too, has joined in, supporting Uzbek ethnic groups based in Northern Afghanistan in a bid to expand its influence.
No doubt there have been ups and downs in terms of benefits for the interfering nations; but the only consistent loser has been Afghanistan itself. The country has suffered the collapse of its social, economic, and physical infrastructure, lost over two million human beings, and has inherited over 800,000 disabled people while millions more Afghans are living as refugees.
The post 9/11 intervention of international community under the auspices of United Nations (UN) brought hope that Afghanistan could return to normalcy, reconstruction, and economic development. Afghans started thinking about taking a sigh of relief after more than two decades of destruction. However, once again, regional neighbors started intruding into Afghan affairs through their proxies.
The interfering countries have used different pretexts to pursue their agendas in the country. The Soviet Union intervened in 1979 in a bid to further its regional presence under the guise of supporting the Afghan Communist government against insurgency. At the same time, Pakistan played the role of broker for the United States, utilizing Saudi money to confront the Russians in Afghanistan. Once the Russians were defeated in late 1980s, the Americans and Saudis left the country at the mercy of the same warlords created by Washington during the face-off with the Russians. This was followed by interference from Pakistan in the fate of the post-communist regime, resulting in civil war. Iran, India and Pakistan picked their favorites among the warring groups. While Afghanistan kept bleeding during all those years, no one cared much about it, except as the chaos impacted their own regional strategic objectives.
The latest trilateral meeting hosted by Moscow is a fresh sign of such meddling. The recent diplomatic maneuvers by the meeting participants — China, Pakistan, and Russia — were based on their concerns about regional security and stability being threatened by the militant groups operating inside Afghanistan. And yet the meeting asked for the Taliban leadership — the largest militant group operational in Afghanistan — be removed from the UN sanctions list. Interestingly, the three countries discussed Afghan matters and the effect on the region without engaging Afghanistan, a common practice of the key stakeholders for the last four decades.
As usual, the pretext is regional stability and security, but purpose is pursuing strategic agendas. The Russians want to contain expansion of the U.S. influence in the region as well as highlighting Moscow’s role on the global political scene as a superpower. China aims to bring the regional economy under its control and continue its rise as global economic giant. Pakistan, as usual, is playing the role of broker. It is trying to once more gain a stronger hold on Afghanistan and its affairs, besides remaining a key player in the region, which will allow Islamabad to further its rivalry with India. The three countries are more worried about presence of the United States in the region than overall stability and security.