Influencing Afghanistan

Peshawar-based journalist Rahimullah Yusufzai has an interesting article on the “new great game” in Afghanistan between players Iran, Pakistan, India and Saudi Arabia. Yusufzai argues for the Pakistani viewpoint, but his insights are relevant for all policy players in the region.

He writes:

Many Afghans and those following the political situation in Afghanistan sometimes liken the country to their national sport, buzkashi. In this free-for-all game, sturdy horse-riders grab a headless goat and drag it to a circle to score a goal.

The situation in war-ravaged Afghanistan over the past 33 years has become something of a buzkashi game. It features numerous players in a vast, almost boundary-less arena, with no proper rules governing their behaviour. One has to be tough and ready to suffer injuries while playing this exciting game.

An added feature: super and regional powers, neighbours and faraway states, all consider it their right to interfere in Afghanistan’s affairs and play favourites among the many warlords and politicians with dual nationalities. One major reason for the endless conflict in Afghanistan is the foreign military intervention and brazen interference in its affairs.

The nation is preparing for a new game of buzkashi as the US and NATO announced plans to start withdrawing troops from the country last month and complete their uncertain military mission by 2014. The phased drawdown has already begun as 10,000 American troops have to be sent home by the end of this year and another 23,000 by September 2012. A security transition also started in July, with NATO soldiers handing over responsibility to the untested Afghan security forces in seven relatively secure places: four cities and three provinces. However, foreign contingents are staying back in these areas to reinforce the Afghan security forces just in case there any emergencies.

Watchful neighbours are keen to find out if the US will be maintaining a military presence in Afghanistan beyond 2014. If the embattled Afghan President Hamid Karzai is to be believed, the US is interested in retaining some military bases in Afghanistan, and this is one of the issues under discussion as part of the proposed strategic partnership agreement between Kabul and Washington. The slow-moving talks have reportedly hit snags as the fragile Afghan government, punching above its weight, is making impossible demands on the US: have American troops bound by Afghanistan’s laws, halt night-time raids and refrain from taking prisoners and maintaining American prisons. Kabul also wants Washington to respect Afghanistan’s sovereignty and pledge continued military and economic assistance, both critical in sustaining the Afghan government and meeting its financial needs.

Read the entire article here.

Jasmin Ramsey

Jasmin Ramsey is a journalist based in Washington, DC.