Asst. Prof. Dr. Yusuf Çınar from the Department of International Relations in Bitlis Eren University interprets what further Russian involvement in Afghanistan of late could mean with regards to regional politics.
The materialisation of the September 11 attacks in between the then on-going post-Cold War American global hegemony discussions once again put the spotlight back on Afghanistan. Afghanistan has turned into a matter of "prestige" during the War on Terror initiated by the George W. Bush administration. In other words, the "Enduring Freedom Operation" was the first indication that the USA was becoming a global hegemon. The US’ involvement in Afghanistan was unrivalled and different from the "Great Game" of the 19th century - it was made to show its own power to the world. In a sense, it can be said that the USA established its presence in world politics through operations that administered its "carrot-and-stick" policy. As such, the US' involvement in Afghanistan was supported by Russia in the context that it was to fight against terrorism. Even though the US' involvement was a success, it can be said that it failed to produce a stable Afghan State. The Afghan state still struggles to establish its authority beyond Kabul.
Russia's Afghanistan Interest
While the question of why the Soviet Army was sent to Afghanistan is frequently questioned by the Russian thinkers, it is hard to say that there is remorse regarding the fallacy of the decision made by USSR to intervene in Afghanistan. The Russians think USSR failed in Afghanistan because of their hasty method of intervention. It was significant for Putin to have praised the intervention in Afghanistan during his visit to Afghan war veterans for the Russian Afghanistan strategy. It can be said that Russian interest in Afghanistan is loaded with symbolic values, and its tendency to regard Afghanistan as the place where it will once again present itself in world politics is on the rise. Russia regards the USA and NATO as the responsible parties for what happened in Afghanistan. Russian donation of 10.000 Kalashnikov rifles to Afghanistan immediately after NATO forces were pulled out in 2013, and its recent collaboration with Taliban to "fight against ISIS" by exchanging knowledge and intelligence, is important to fully understand the Russian interest of Afghanistan.
Chinese Regional Politics on the Context of One Belt, One Road
An 890-billion-dollar budget has been allotted to the One Belt, One Road project with the leadership of the Chinese Ministry of Development. With the project, China generated an anticipation and rivalry among the countries of the region. The 97-km border between China and Afghanistan has caused China to regard the developments in Afghanistan as part of national security. Afghanistan on the one hand thinks that China is increasing its influence in the region and that is not possible to attain domestic peace without the involvement of China. China on the other than regards Afghanistan as an opportunity to increase its prestige in the region. According to China, if stability of the region increases, then the trade and interaction network which China intends to establish in the region can perform more steadily. Therefore China, by contributing to the security of Afghanistan, also tries to guarantee its own market security. It can be said that the indecisiveness regarding the disengagement of soldiers from Afghanistan during President Obama's term has further encouraged Chin. Hence, when we look at the background of the Chinese "leave Afghanistan to Afghans" discourse, the Chinese interest of Afghanistan is further admissible. Particularly, the activity of Chinese companies in the Afghan infrastructure and energy sector is increases China's prestige in Afghanistan.
The Afghanistan Government and Taliban Peace Talks
The prior and after developments of Taliban's emergence failed to prevent its rise. While the state of Afghanistan restored its authority in the capital and the surrounding the area, its failure to establish the same authority throughout the country has allowed Taliban to remain powerful up until today. It was expressed during Obama's term that in the case that scenarios regarding the US' disengagement from Afghanistan were to be discussed, there could be peace talks with Taliban. While there were some who wanted to establish talks with Taliban, there were also other members who were against talks altogether. Taliban regards the USA and the Afghanistan government as the prime actors responsible for what happened in Afghanistan. In this setting, it can be said that it is futile to expect positive results from establishing talks. The fact that the USA acted without a long-term strategy regarding Afghanistan is another reason preventing a positive result. As the opium trade in Afghanistan exceeded 3 billion dollars, it can be claimed that establishing talks without determining the role Taliban will assume in the drug trade will only ensure that these talks would be doomed from the start. Indeed, the "The political bureau of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan," which was opened in Qatar in 2013 to execute peace talks by Taliban, was closed down after a firm ultimatum by the Afghanistan government. It can be speculated that peace talks with Taliban as a consequence of the US's will regarding the issue is devoid of reality, a reflection of Obama's "optimism”. Moreover, it can be stressed that Obama’s this optimism is a result of his belief to tame Taliban, which is a "conservative" movement in an increasingly radicalized world.
The Taliban-ISIS Rivalry in Afghanistan
When Taliban was formed, it was announced that their raison d'être was to establish an ideal Islamic society in Afghanistan. Taliban, by operating a social message and punishment system, tried to keep its public support alive. ISIS on the other hand, apart from Taliban, sets forth a relatively broader envision of the world. ISIS, by the implementation of the Caliphate, aims to obtain global political power. ISIS has become the first organization to be approved in the East of Afghanistan, and the first to challenge Taliban in Afghanistan. The most important reason why Taliban is determined to tackle ISIS is the threat ISIS poses to its sole authority in Afghanistan. Such that, Taliban strongly feels that its decadent commanders can be seduced by ISIS. Besides, high unemployment in Afghanistan and the pensions offered by ISIS to its militants worries Taliban of losing its social support. ISIS forbids the plantation of drugs in the areas it dominates in Afghanistan. It mercilessly kills those who disobey their commands. Stating that they will not allow ISIS to hold ground in the region and claiming that ISIS divided the unions of Islam, Taliban declared an armed struggle against ISIS in June 2015.
In a final analysis, as a weak state, Afghanistan cannot control 30% of its own soil. Even though it has rich natural resources, it is this fragile political structure that allows it to continue becoming a war zone for great powers and radical organizations. While it is the international community’s wish to develop the "weak state" in Afghanistan, –as in the example of East Timor– this wish failed to attain the support of the Afghan society. In this situation, combined with the social structure which is very convenient for radicalization, ISIS found itself a base in Afghanistan. It can be said that the prime aim of ISIS in Afghanistan is to call the attention of the rest of the world in Afghanistan and away from Iraq and Syria where it lost its power. Despite all, Russia more and more feels different than the USA regarding the future of Afghanistan, especially after the Ukraine and Syria crises. On this regard, it can be said that the indecisive Afghanistan policy of the USA played into the hands of Russia. Namely, while in 2014 the US Air Force conducted 13.000 sorties in Afghanistan even with all this uncertainty, the number dropped to 2000 sorties in 2016. While the radical structuring continues to take root in the region, USA continues to make the same mistake it did in Iraq and leaves behind a "weak state" side by side with radical groups. New US president Donald Trump may follow different path regarding the future of Afghanistan than the one followed by the Obama administration. Despite this, it is not correct to say that the USA will be successful in Afghanistan with presidency of Trump. This is because, similar to Obama, Trump also does not have a long term foreign policy regarding the issue of Afghanistan. Also, within the last days of 2016 there have been several meetings to stabilize Afghanistan which the US did not attend. In this direction, in a joint meeting conducted in Moscow by representatives from Russia, China and Pakistan, concerns regarding the power ISIS attained in Afghanistan were voiced. Besides, while Pakistan brought together authorities from Afghanistan and Taliban in the last days of 2016, no tangible result was obtained. In short, while countries of the region reflect in order to maintain domestic peace in Afghanistan, time will tell whether these reflections will be enough to prevent the spread of the Iraqi and Syrian proxy wars towards Afghanistan.