Afghanistan Presents Risk of Confrontation Between the US and Russia

The situation in Afghanistan is rapidly deteriorating. The central government in Kabul is losing control in the provinces, handing it into the hands of the ISIS and Taliban militants. The country’s problems are aggravated by contradictions inside the ruling regime. During a recent visit to Kabul, US Secretary of Defense James Mattis accused Russia of supporting the Taliban and even of supplying it with weapons. Moscow categorically rejects these accusations. Valdai Club expert Alexei Fenenko believes that cooperation between Russia and the United States on Afghanistan could be possible only without the US’ intrusive attempts to use the Afghan conflict for a new big game in Central Asia.

In an interview with Alexei Fenenko, Leading Research Fellow at the Institute for International Security Problems of the Russian Academy of Sciences, described the situation in Afghanistan as "sustained instability".

In his opinion, the war in Afghanistan is a sluggish constant phenomenon with no end in the coming years. There are several reasons for this, the expert believes. First, the Afghan government proved to be more solid than it was thought. Second, there is no agreement among its Islamist opponents, as there is constant conflicts between Al-Qaeda, Taliban, ISIS and other groups. Moreover, the so-called Tribal Zone has always been only under the nominal control government of Afghan state. Finally, there is the problem of the Durand Line, which at one time determined the division of the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, has become more acute.

"The line was always recognized by Pakistan, but it was contested by the Afghan government. The Americans at one time artificially put this topic in motion, and in summer of 2015, we already saw open clashes along the Durand Line. I do not rule out that it will be the Durand Line factor that will bring the Afghan conflict to a new level in the near future", the expert suggested.

A New Stage of the Afghan Crisis and Tajikistan’s Security Report
The security situation in Afghanistan is worsening each year despite considerable efforts by the international community. The United States and a number of its allies continue supporting the Kabul government . Large donors from inside and outside the region are responsible for much of Afghanistan’s national budget. Any changes in this situation will affect the government’s stability. The situation is compounded by the country’s internal political and constitutional crises.

Afghanistan will always remain a source of conflicts in its current borders and current quality, Fenenko said. It can hardly become a zone of cooperation between the US and Russia, since these two countries have opposing interests in Afghanistan. The United States, according to Fenenko, wants to revive its long-standing AfPak project as the basis of a strategic alliance between Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. "And then, using the conflict in Afghanistan, to squeeze Russia out of Central Asia or maximally to weaken its position by concluding alliances with the Central Asian countries. The fact that Trump is revising the strategy in Afghanistan is perhaps an attempt to revive the old project of cooperation with India," he said.

The desire of the United States to connect India to the Afghan settlement is part of the AfPak concept. Thus, the US seeks to solve several problems at once. "The first is to collect under its auspices the legacy of the former British Empire, the second is to set India against China, and the third is to drive a wedge between Russia and India," the expert said.

According to Fenenko, Russia fears that within the framework of this concept "the Americans will erode the SCO and the CSTO and try to consolidate themselves on the territory of Central Asia." Now, such a hope is dawning in the United States, as India and Pakistan join the SCO. "From now on, any conflict between India and Pakistan, India and China is a crisis of the SCO, and the United States, I think, will try to exploit it," Alexei Fenenko concluded. 

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.