The measure of success of president-elect Barack Obama’s new “Afghan strategy” will be directly proportional to his ability to delink the war from its geopolitical agenda inherited from the George W Bush administration.
It is obvious that Russia and Iran’s cooperation is no less critical for the success of the war than what the US is painstakingly extracting from the Pakistani generals. Arguably, Obama will even be in a stronger negotiating position vis-a-vis the tough generals in Rawalpindi if only he has Moscow and Tehran on board his Afghan strategy.
But then, Moscow and Iran will expect that Obama reciprocates with a willingness to jettison the US’s containment strategy towards them. The signs do not look good. This is not only from the look of Obama’s national security team and the continuance of Robert Gates as defense secretary.
On the contrary, in the dying weeks of the Bush administration, the US is robustly pushing for an increased military presence in the Russian (and Chinese) backyard in Central Asia on the ground that the exigencies of a stepped-up war effort in Afghanistan necessitate precisely such an expanded US military presence.
Again, the Bush administration’s insistence on bringing Saudi Arabia into the Afghan problem on the specious plea that a Wahhabi partner will be useful for taming the Taliban doesn’t carry conviction with Iran. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on Wednesday pointedly stressed the need to be vigilant about “plots by the world’s arrogance to create disunity” between Sunnis and Shi’ites.
It seems almost inevitable that Moscow and Tehran will join hands. In all likelihood, they may have already begun doing so. The Central Asian countries and China and India will also be closely watching the dynamics of this grim power struggle. They are interested parties insofar as they may have to suffer the collateral damage of the great game in Afghanistan. The US’s “war on terror” in Afghanistan has already destabilized Pakistan. The debris threatens to fall on India, too.
Most certainly, the terrorist attack on Mumbai last month cannot be seen in isolation from the militancy radiating from the Afghan war. Even as the high-level Russian-Indian Working Group on terrorism met in Delhi on Tuesday and Wednesday, another top diplomat dealing with the Afghan problem arrived in the Indian capital for consultations - Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Mahdi Akhounjadeh.
Speaking in Moscow on Tuesday, chief of the General Staff of the Russian armed forces, General Nikolai Makarov, just about lifted the veil on the geopolitics of the Afghan war to let the world know that the Bush administration was having one last fling at the great game in Central Asia. Makarov couldn’t have spoken without Kremlin clearance. Moscow seems to be flagging its frustration to Obama’s camp. Makarov revealed Moscow had information to the effect that the US was pushing for new military bases in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.