Friday, July 15, 2011

From the Great Game to endgame; Militants may end up owning half the world after the draw-down….

 “Give me a place to stand and with a lever I will move the whole world.” Archimedes
The super powers, in possession of some kind of a lever, have been trying to find a place to move the whole world. And this has been going on  since ages but this race to occupy a strategic lever-point in Central Asia started in eighteenth century. Tsarist Russia and Imperial Britain have been competing with each other to occupy Central Asian states and Afghanistan where, in their view, lied the point for fixing their lever. This war between them fought with covert operations, military conflicts and infrastructure development is known in history as the Great Game. The Game is still on with the only difference that this is now being played by a sole contestant who is nowhere near the victory. The war has been lost and with it, trillions of dollars of American taxpayers who were made to believe that their warmongering leaders were going to fight a great war. The loss of human lives may be insignificant as this is only a “collateral damage” which can be written off by the corporate mindset, but certainly not by the ruthless historians.

The sole contestant possesses the biggest lever ever available to mankind and it has the means to fix it but, sadly, it lacks the heart, and the moral ground. The end-game will, therefore, be a game-changer. Militants may end up owning half the world after the draw-down comes to an end. Emboldened by the end-game, they will have South and Central Asia to themselves and will have the lever too. And they have proved that they can fix the lever wherever they want. They will move and shake the whole world at will and with incredible ease. South and Central Asian region will not be the only candidate for destabilization. The instability has the inherent tendency of travelling faster than the bush fire. 

The fallout of drawdown may not figure in the calculations for winning the second term of office but there are people who have made chilling calculations. "The countries in the area that border Afghanistan are going to have a problem on their hands," Seth Cropsey, a former assistant to the U.S. secretary of defense, warns of the gradual drawdown of international troops there, "because even if the Afghan forces have been trained to defend their country from the Taliban, there are other places that the Taliban can go."

Immediately after President Barack Obama's June 22 speech announcing a timetable for the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, several other NATO allies, including the United Kingdom, France, and Germany, followed suit with statements detailing pullouts of their own. Canada has since ended its combat mission. “Today the Taliban may lack a physical presence in the former Soviet republics of Central Asia”, says a Central Asia-specific analysis of, “but those are the countries that have the most to fear as the security situation in northern Afghanistan continues to deteriorate.”

It is direct neighbor Tajikistan that is likely to feel the impact most directly. A nation of 7.5 million people that shares a 1,400-kilometer border with Afghanistan, it competes with Kyrgyzstan for the title of Central Asia's poorest country. Tajikistan's already fragile security situation contributes to its vulnerability, with some homegrown militant groups fighting against the government of long-serving President Emomali Rahmon. But the challenges to stability come not only from local militants. Culprits also include regional organizations like the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), with its close ties to the Taliban and Al-Qaeda operatives in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Reports suggest that the IMU is actively coordinating attacks with the Taliban in northern Afghanistan. The IMU is also said to be involved in insurgent activities in other parts of Central Asia and neighboring Pakistan. The IMU's stated goal is the creation of an Islamist caliphate across Central Asia. Founded in 1991, it has fought and trained with Al-Qaeda, notably along the notorious border region separating Afghanistan from Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).

Alexander Cooley, a professor at Barnard College in New York City, notes that "one has to be careful about statements from Central Asian governments, who play militant cards to get military assistance from foreign countries. But the situation in Tajikistan is serious. In the case of Tajikistan, we see a country that's already deteriorating by a number of measures, and especially the eastern part of the country might be susceptible to sort of cross-border types of campaigns and insurgencies," Cooley says.
The cross-border threats are real, and infiltration across the border into Tajikistan is already a serious source of concern despite the presence of thousands of coalition forces on the ground in northern Afghanistan. Incidents in which Afghans cross the border and kidnap Tajik citizens on the other side have lately become a fixture of life for Tajik villages in the border region.

Tajiks whose relatives have been taken hostage are forced to pay large sums to secure the release of their loved ones. In addition to the constant threat of infiltration by militant groups, the cross-border drug trade is another serious cause of concern for Tajikistan and the wider region, including Russia. On July 1, Russian's antidrug tsar, Viktor Ivanov, visited Dushanbe to discuss Tajikistan's border with Afghanistan and the possibility of Russian soldiers returning to the Tajik-Afghan border to bring the situation under control. Russian troops were stationed on that frontier until 2005, when Moscow withdrew them to demonstrate confidence in the Tajikistan government.

Farther to the north, officials in Kyrgyzstan blame Afghan drug money and local Islamist militants for shaky security in southern Kyrgyzstan, where ethnic tensions led to bloodshed and massive displacement in 2010. Uzbekistan's leaders accuse Afghan groups of fomenting a 2005 revolt in the Ferghana Valley -- though such claims are disputed by independent analysts who contend that that rebellion should be blamed on domestic factors rooted in resistance to Uzbekistan's harsh authoritarian government. Afghan security officials acknowledge their failure to clamp down on the border but blame their inability to control the situation on a lack of troops and equipment.

Speaking on Afghan television, the commander of border security forces in the north of the country, General Abdul Habib Sayedkhil, said on July 8 that he had only 4,000 personnel to protect the entire 2,431-kilometer border with Central Asian states.

How the Afghan forces will fare in the absence of coalition troops remains an open question.
The ex-Pentagon official Cropsey, who is now a senior foreign policy fellow at the Hudson Institute, a Washington-based think tank, says that "such a scenario will only raise more serious concerns about the stability and security situation of the Central Asian countries, which are already unstable."

"There are serious problems in Kyrgyzstan...[and there are] serious problems in Uzbekistan," Cropsey says. "The question of political stability is a constant one in central Asia. If a country is politically unstable, its ability to resist invasion is reduced tremendously."

Barnard College professor Cooley points out that the security situation in Central Asia is not only a matter for concern to local governments. It is also a factor in the geopolitical competition among the great powers with direct interests in the region.

"I think one of the hidden consequences of the U.S. drawdown is that it's going to throw into sharper relief Russian and Chinese competition over the region, which I think has been hidden so far, in that they are both concerned and nervous about the permanency of the U.S. presence," Cooley says. "But with the U.S. drawing down, I think it's going to focus more the question of whose security priorities are being served in the region, China's [or] Russia's, and I think it's going to intensify the rivalry between the two."

Additional evidence of the regional anxiety about the drawdown came at the June 15 summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a security forum that brings together Russia, China, and the Central Asian states. The meeting devoted significant discussion to Afghanistan.
In an interview with "The Christian Science Monitor," Russian expert Aleksandr Dugin, who heads the right-wing International Eurasian Movement allying Russian academics, policymakers, and interested observers, said that "the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan concerns all the surrounding countries."

"The West is far away, but we are near," Dugin said. "This is our security zone, and that is why only an organization like the SCO can potentially hold out a constructive alternative for Afghanistan."

And imagine the fate of South Asia; al Qaeda is already in coalition with TTP, an umbrella terrorist organization killing innocent civilians and security personnel in Pakistan. With Pakistan’s army busy fighting these terrorists in FATA region, TTP is trying to broaden the war theater to suck in India and start an Indo-Pakistan war in order to achieve a space in Pakistan’s North Western border with Afghanistan. Pakistan army is hard pressed as it has to commit its resources evenly on both western and eastern borders with Afghanistan and India respectively. The ultimate aim of TTP in the short-term is Pakistan-India conflict through terrorist activities in the whole of South Asia. The region is at the risk of destabilization after the drawdown. The only reason this destabilization is not imminent is Pakistan’s remarkable restrain to open war in North Waziristan where some elements of Afghan Taliban have some sanctuaries. The moment Pakistan engages those elements in war, there will be a broader coalition of TTP, al Qaeda and Afghan Taliban and this coalition will have half the world to itself. And with the sole super power having lost the war in drawdown, nothing will be safe even in the farther lands.

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