Lethal great games in Afghanistan

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By Lal Khan

On October 17, a day after the four-nation talks on Afghanistan ended in Oman without any breakthrough twin terrorist attacks rocked Gardez and Ghazni, killing 71 people and injuring more than 200.
Afghan army’s ranks are already beset by corruption and desertion problems. And the deadly terrorist attacks in Afghanistan and its spinoff affects in Pakistan are proving devastating for the region.
The war that began with US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 – cynically named by the imperialists as ‘Operation Enduring Freedom’ – and the brutalising Islamist terrorism that had begun with the dollar jihad since 1978 seem to be endless phenomena. Over 111,000 Afghans – including civilians, soldiers and insurgents – are estimated to have been killed in the conflict. These numbers do not include those who have died in Pakistan as a result of this bloody conflict. Such harrowing is the scale of this mayhem that the bazaar of Sarai Shamali in North Kabul has over the years been lined with shops that engage in one of the most thriving and profitable business: coffin making. Afghanistan has remained on the frontline of imperialist wars and colonialisation for centuries now. In the last two centuries, the main combatants were the British imperialists and the Tsarist Russian monarchy.
In his 1901 novel ‘Kim’, Rudyard Kipling had coined the term ‘Great Game’ for the great powers’ rivalry playing out in Afghanistan. Russia was fearful of British commercial and military inroads into Central Asia, and Britain was fearful of Russia annexing British Indian colony.
The Great Game had begun on January 12, 1830, when the British colonialists started building a new trade route to Bukhara. Their design was to annex Afghanistan and make it a protectorate. Tsarist Russia proposed Afghanistan as the neutral zone. This conflict resulted in the imperialist defeat in the First Anglo-Afghan War of 1838 and the Second Anglo-Afghan War of 1878. Meanwhile Russia occupied Khiva, Bukhara and Kokand. The so-called Great Game ended on September 10, 1895, with the signing of the Pamir Boundary Commission protocols through which the border between Afghanistan and the Russian empire was defined. A new Great Game commenced after the Saur revolution of April 1978. British imperialism was replaced by American imperialism. CIA engineered a covert operation through Islamist militants and black money earned through drug trade, crime and terror. In the 40 years, many other international players have joined the fray, wreaking havoc in Afghanistan. There have been several negotiation processes since 2001. All have failed. The latest ‘peace talks’ is name the Quadrilateral Coordination Group that includes USA, Pakistan, China and Afghanistan. But a near-simultaneous flurry of drone strikes along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border has only accentuated the complexity of the conflict.
The recent meeting of the group in Muscat ended in an impasse. The so-called Taliban boycotted Muscat talks. The US sent assistant secretary of state Alice Wells rather reluctantly; Afghan and Pakistan representatives expressed little optimism in the process. The Chinese participated mainly through Pakistani allies.
Splintered Taliban groups are allying with different adversaries in this atrocious war. Lately, the imperialist investments in this violent conflict have increased sharply in pursuit of their political, geo-strategic and resource exploitation interests. Taliban don’t really have any united representation. The American’s started this new Great Game and have been altering their proxy warlords and fundamentalist outfits ever since. From the ‘Mujahedeen’ of the Carter and Reagan era to the Taliban of the mid 1990s and then the proxies during George Bush and Bill Clinton regimes, there have been several and often mutually hostile factions of militants. It is an open secret that US assistant secretary of state Robert Oakley helped Mullah Omar lead Taliban’s capture of Kabul in 1996. Without US support, Omar couldn’t have taken Kabul. Benazir Bhutto’s government played the role of the facilitator. After the Americans abandoned Afghanistan, Pakistan expanded its policy of strategic depth. Now the Americans are facing defeat and are pressuring Pakistan’s agencies to give up that policy. The savvy Chinese are reluctant to intervene militarily but have made huge investments to plunder Afghanistan’s resources. The Chinese elite is relying on Pakistan’s state and certain terror outfits to protect its vested interests. This has emboldened Rawalpindi and certain sections of the state hierarchy into defying the Americans. Inspite of Trump’s pressure on Pakistan to curb its ‘Afghan allies’ the outcome will not be much different with the deep state continuing the policy of running with the hare and hunting with the hounds. Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin is posturing as a new Tsar as he also indulges in this new Great Game. His Mafiosi state has stepped up financial support to the Taliban. The Times (London) recently revealed that Russian-sponsored Taliban were getting around $2.5 million every month for combat operations against US led coalition forces. The Indian state with its reactionary Hindutva regime, alongside the underlying business interests, is also trying to threaten Pakistan. With Trump’s support for India, Pakistan’s deep state will react even more ferociously. This can further escalate this conflagration. Lately some moves made by US officials tend to pacify the situation by ‘giving Pakistan another chance’. Apart from the European involvement in Afghanistan, there is also a gory conflict between regional Islamic powers of Iran and Saudi Arabia. With so many rival stakeholders in Afghanistan’s imbroglio neither war nor any peace process can resolve this conflict. The Durand line drawn in 1893 by Mortimer Durand, the foreign secretary of colonial administration in British India, had divided people inhabiting the region without any dividing lines for centuries. As a result, the oppressed classes have been uprooted and displaced from their homes on both sides. The war has brought bloodshed, poverty, deprivation and misery for these Pakhtun and Baloch masses on both sides of this divide. Numerous imperialist powers are intruding and devastating their ancient civilisations. These people have rich cultures and gallant traditions of anti-imperialist struggles. The Saur revolution is a glowing example of their revolutionary struggle. Only by uniting the oppressed of the region into a class war against the imperialists and religious terrorists can durable peace be attained.
(The writer is the editor of Asian Marxist Review and International Secretary of Pakistan Trade Union Defence Campaign. He can be reached at ptudc@hotmail.com)