AFGHANISTAN IN FOCUS – PART THREE: OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM AND ‘THE THIRD GREAT GAME’

Blog Politics

Paul Antonopoulos

Writer at Indus News
The author is the Director of Multipolarity Research Center. He regularly appears on Indus News, RT, Sputnik and PressTV.
Paul Antonopoulos

Before reading further, be sure to backtrack to Part One and Part Two first!

The PDPA government would last three more years until the so-called betrayal of Abdul Rashid Dostum, general of the Afghan armed forces, who allied himself with the insurgent organization Shura-e Nazar, which would lead to the capitulation of the government in early 1992 and the implementation of the Peshawar agreement. The Peshawar agreement established the Islamic State of Afghanistan and created an interim government made up by the majority of the mujahideen factions that were supposed to carry out democratic elections.

Among the opposition to the agreement were groups supported by Pakistan (Hezb-e Islami), Iran (Hazara Hez-i Wahdat) and Saudi Arabia (Ittihad-i Islami). The fighting resumed almost immediately between the different faction, mainly centred around Kabul, meaning the government of the Islamic State of Afghanistan could never get to articulate domestic and international policies as it should, causing the chaos in the country to persist and even worsen.

Chaos was the norm without any force being fully imposed until 1994, where two events marked the subsequent development of Afghanistan: the emergence of the Taliban movement led by Mullah Omar earlier that year, which after taking Kandahar and several nearby provinces would become the predominant faction in the south of the country; and, the defeat of Secretary of Defence Ahmad Shah Massoud of all the armed groups supported by foreign powers around Kabul. These circumstances that articulated the power in Afghanistan around two great factions led Massoud to try to carry out peace negotiations that would bring about democratic elections and the pacification of the country, but the Taliban refused to participate in them.

In 1995, the fighting resumed with the Taliban suffering several defeats at the hands of a very capable Massoud. However, this would change when the Taliban started to receive military support from Pakistan and economic support from Saudi Arabia, turning the balance of power against Massoud so much that he ordered a complete withdrawal of his forces to the northern provinces.

This effectively meant he abandoned Kabul to be captured by the Taliban, which occurred on September 27, 1996 and thus the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan was established. The forces opposed to the Taliban, led mainly by Ahmad Sha Massoud and Abdul Rashid Dostum, would create an alliance by forming the Unified Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan, or more commonly known in the West as the Northern Alliance.

During the Taliban administration over most of Afghanistan, the group would apply a harsh version of Shariah Law combined with local tribal traditions and gave shelter to terrorist organizations such as Al-Qaeda. This organization would assassinate Massoud in Khwaja Bahauddin in Takhar Province in northeast Afghanistan just two days before the infamous attacks of September 11, 2001.

After the 9/11 attacks, US President George W. Bush declared the “War on Terror”, initiating Operation “Enduring Freedom” in October with the aim of ending the Taliban’s rule and thus supposedly destroying the safe refuge that Afghanistan was for Al-Qaeda.

On November 13, the forces of the international coalition led by the United States and those of the Northern Alliance would enter Kabul, quickly gaining ground until the Taliban were completely expelled from all the cities under their control by November 26. This would not bring an end to the fighting, as the Taliban and other groups, such as Al-Qaeda, would focus on the countryside and continue an insurgency struggle that continues to this day, bringing a mockery to the term “Enduring Freedom”.

The world and its balance of powers have changed considerably since the beginning of the US intervention in Afghanistan. New actors, both local, regional and global, have emerged, such as ISIS and the rise of Russia and China, dismantling the unipolar world that emerged with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. And all of them have come to Afghanistan.

ISIS proclaimed the creation of a local branch in the country in January 2015, and since then it has carried out numerous attacks in the country provoking reactions from the United States, including the use of drone attacks to eliminate local leaders. Their presence also alarms other powers such as China, Russia, India and Pakistan, thus creating what we can call ‘The Third Great Game’, if we consider the Soviet intervention as the ‘Second Great Game’.

Beijing severed relations with Afghanistan after the Saur revolution and did not resume them until 2001 when Kabul was ruled by a US-backed government. At present, the Asian giant has great economic interests in the country, mainly mining, which has caused serious distrust with the US coalition who have accusing the Chinese government of supporting the Taliban in exchange for allowing them to operate with tranquillity in its mining facilities. China is also accused of carrying out military patrols along the Wakhan Corridor.

The Russian Federation, for its part, has never looked far away from Afghanistan, since it is the gateway to resource-rich Central Asia, a region commonly considered Russia’s ‘backyard’. The instability in Afghanistan could lead to the growth of large terrorist networks that could endanger their national interests in the region. In the attempt to avoid this, Russia has taken numerous measures, including joint counter-terrorism exercises, the establishment of a new military base in Tajikistan, encouraging economic investment in Afghanistan and supplying weapons for its security forces.

Like China, Russia is accused of arming the Taliban, with former US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, making this claim. And when it comes to discussing current affairs, we cannot forget the Trump administration. On August 21, 2017 President Donald Trump gave a speech presenting the new road map for Afghanistan and South Asia, whose effects are more than visible into 2018: increased military deployment, greater freedom to use all type of conventional weaponry on the ground; and, the resumption encouraged by Pakistan of the multilateral peace talks in Oman after the hardening of the discourse by the United States on the actions of this country.

Various estimations to the cost of the US war on Afghanistan have been made from $841 billion to $2 trillion, all staggering figures, especially when considering that the US debt stands at nearly $22.5 trillion. Therefore, there can be no doubt that the war on Afghanistan has significantly contributed to the precarious economic situation the US finds itself in today. This is not to say that the US wars on Afghanistan, and even Iraq, is the reason for the economic decline of the US, there are a multitude of causes, but the wars have significantly contributed to it.

Find out next week why the US occupation is partly for the control of the heroin industry.

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Paul Antonopoulos
Paul Antonopoulos is the Director of Multipolarity Research Center. His main research interests are the International Relations and Political Economy of the Middle East and Latin America, Multipolarity, Eurasian Integration and anti-imperialism. He regularly appears on Indus News, RT, Sputnik and PressTV.

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