Afghan Crisis: US-Russia and Pakistan

Spearhead Analysis – 26.04.2017

By Hira A. Shafi
Research Analyst, Spearhead Research

Amidst a Russian-US relations low point, Afghanistan continues to be one of the key zones where both powers appear to hold opposing views. After the recent unfortunate attacks on an Afghan military base, following the MOAB use, the US seems to have amplified its criticism of alleged Russian backing of Taliban forces. Despite, the Russian Ambassador to Kabul’s recent reassurance that Russia does not seek to undermine US or NATO in Afghanistan. A similar dislike for any direct Russian military involvement in Afghanistan was also recently enunciated by Putin.

Moscow has, however, remained concerned over the Afghan drug trafficking issues posing a threat to its national security, it also views IS presence in its periphery with suspicion. Voicing these concerns , the ambassador defended Moscow’s overtures to Taliban–which he believes is a goal supported even by the UN, but denied any arms support to the force.

On the other hand, while, discussing the situation in Afghanistan in February, General Nicholson appeared to have placed Russia’s involvement in Afghanistan as a potentially greater threat than the belligerents. Apart from the ongoing requests of enhancing troops and other offensive capabilities, he went on to discuss the scope of replacing some Russian defense equipment with US defense supplies, which he believes could lead to an enduring strategic partnership between US and Afghanistan and possibly limit scope of Russian involvements in the zone. He viewed Taliban’s continuity in serving as a medium for various groups as a critical threat. He did, however, see the IS as a disparate entity from Taliban, with convergence between the two groups unlikely for now.

In his discourse the IS was seen as an alien entity as they comprise primarily of those terrorist elements which fled Pakistan because of the counterinsurgency operations by Pakistan.

The influx through the porous border has remained a constant bickering point between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Pakistan, on its hand has been working on enhanced border monitoring to counter cross border infiltrations. But the success of such moves is also dependent on Afghan initiatives.

Closely aligned to the cross border infiltrations, is also the US view of Pakistan’s alleged selectiveness. After declaring his willingness to work closely with the Pakistan military, Nicholson shared his concerns about sanctuaries in parts of Baluchistan and the Tribal areas. Echoing a similar concern, General McMaster, reiterated the allegations.  

There is little doubt, that closer cooperation between the US and Pakistan on tackling the Afghan crisis could produce fruitful results. In the current regional scenario, it is imperative that the US and Pakistan reach convergence on all issues. The current scenario sees Pakistan conducting determined counter terror operations which include securing its borders. The US appears to be gearing up for an enhanced offensive against various belligerents, prior to initiating any form of reconciliation. This would mean a troops surge.

Russia remains concerned with possible spillovers into its ‘backyard’; and continues to develop closer defense cooperation and border management initiatives with Central Asian countries bordering Afghanistan. Ideally, in order to wrap up the conflict, the various countries would have to align their actions in order to prevent any misunderstandings. But the US appears to view Russian movements along the Afghan border with a certain degree of suspicion. To counter Russian initiatives, the US has also been trying to enhance cooperation in various sectors with certain Central Asian countries– it recently also conducted its own counter terrorism exercises with Tajikistan.

At this stage Russia’s overtures to Pakistan is a welcome step. Apart from serving as a positive boost towards regionalism, improved ties with Russia are of significance both for economic and security reasons. Given the current emerging rivalry between the US and Russia, their level of coordination on the Afghan issue cannot be assessed with any certainty. Pakistan should look into developing coherent strategies with both countries as they gear up to defend their designated interests. Not doing so might complicate the regional dynamics further. Lastly, closer cooperation between Afghan and Pakistan leadership would be an enormous game changer for the region and could set the stage for an improved India-Pakistan relationship. This is what the US needs to encourage.