Here is a fact: you don’t keep at something for fifteen years if you don’t think it is to your benefit.
For fifteen years now US generals have been proving they do not know how to “win” the war in Afghanistan, and yet rather than cut their losses they want to keep at it. Why?
Well at this point they want to keep it because it’s good business for the generals, the military and war contractors. Everybody wins! Except the Afghan “bugsplat” of course.
But what if somebody threatens your hustle? Specifically what if Russia (which already terminated your Syria hustle) starts organizing peace conferences?? Now that is cause for alarm!
Recently Russia has established some communication channels with the Taleban. This has sent Americans into a tailspin albeit it is no more than what they themselves had been trying to accomplish for years.
What is worse, Moscow is now gathering regional powers to talk Afghanistan resolution. And if the preliminary meeting last December which brought together Russia, Pakistan and China could be derided as “an Afghanistan conference without Afghanistan” the next one to be held tomorrow is bringing together Russia, China, India, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan — in short everyone but the US.
American response has been appropriately seething. US generals now acuse Russia of purposefuly “undermining” them in Afghanistan:
In his Senate testimony, General Nicholson also complained that Russia was trying to “legitimize” the Taliban by creating the “false narrative” that the militant organization has been fighting the Islamic State and that Afghan forces have not. Russia’s goal, he asserted, was “to undermine the United States and NATO” in Afghanistan.
Can Russia and the rest of the powers really end it? Probably not. If the US is determined to keep fighting the Taliban forever then there is very little anyone else can do about it. But it certainly is interesting to see such a reaction to people getting together to see if they can do something to end a fifteen-year-old (!) war.
The great Indian pundit (and ex-diplomat) M.K. Bhadrakumar has more:
Washington is worried like hell about Russia’s “return” to Afghanistan. The US fears that Russia might do another “Syria” in Afghanistan by hastening the war to a definitive end and erasing the Islamic State from the Hindu Kush and Central Asia, which would of course deprive the raison d’etre for the open-ended western military presence in Afghanistan.
The logical thing will be for the US to accept Russia’s long-standing offer to cooperate to bring the Afghan war to a successful conclusion. But Americans won’t have anything to do with the Russians. They’d rather keep fighting an inconclusive war at their own sweet pace. Of course, geopolitics comes in, given Afghanistan’s strategic location.
The Pentagon is genuinely upset that Russia is moving systematically on the chessboard. A ‘trilateral’ with China and Afghanistan in December in Moscow provided the basis to create the new 6-country regional format. Meanwhile, Moscow also worked hard behind the scenes to get Kabul on board. The visit by the Afghan Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani to Moscow last week helped the two countries to understand each other’s intentions and harmonise their thinking (here and here).
If one knows how Russian diplomacy works in such perilous times, Moscow’s next move will be to take a hand in fostering cordial ties between Kabul and Islamabad. Indeed, in this highly sensitive enterprise, the “thaw” in Russian-Pakistani relations is useful. (The North-South gas pipeline project would enhance Russian influence.)
To be sure, Rabbani’s talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov set alarm bells ringing in the Pentagon. Within 48 hours of Rabbani’s talks in Moscow with Lavrov, Trump telephoned Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to emphasize “the ongoing importance of the U.S.-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership” and US’ support for the leadership in Kabul.