Thursday, May 1, 2014

Cold war alliance restored in Afghanistan

Pakistan as a loyal friend of the Saudis has promised arms for Syrian rebels in support of a pro-Sunni, anti-Shia (Alawaite) cause. Hafez Assad will not be pleased (he himself gets support from Iran/Hezbollah).

Now it is the turn of Afghanistan to request India to supply arms presumably with US funding. The only problem is how to get tanks across Pakistan. The solution is to have Russia supply weapons for which there is now a green signal. It is unlikely that the Chinese who have considerable mining assets in Afghanistan and who are also suffering from Islamist attacks are going to take the side of the Taliban (and Pakistan).

With Czar Putin ready to play patron, the situation is similar to the decades spanning the 1950-1970s when Afghanistan under Mohammed Daoud Khan pulled closer to Moscow (and away from Islamabad). When the communists seized power in April 1978, the Americans launched a counter-offensive and backed the Islamist resistance (with Pakistan in the lead). The key difference this time may well be Iran on the Indo-Russian side.

Thus the rival alliance formations are complete: Russia-India-Iran (with USA and China in soft support mode) vs. Saudia-GCC-Pakistan. Whatever happens after 2014, it is clear that lot of misery is left in store for beautiful Afghanistan (and the equally beautiful Syria, Ahmed Rashid please note) in the future.
India has signed an agreement under which it will pay Russia to supply arms and equipment to the Afghan military as foreign combat troops prepare to leave the country, in a move that risks infuriating Pakistan.

Under the deal, smaller arms such as light artillery and mortars will be sourced from Russia and moved to Afghanistan. But it could eventually involve the transfer of heavy artillery, tanks and even combat helicopters that the Afghans have been asking India for since last year.

India has already been training military officers from Afghanistan, hosted a 60-member Special Forces group last year in the deserts of Rajasthan and supplied equipment such as combat vehicles and field medical support facilities.

But the decision to meet some of Afghanistan’s military hardware demands — albeit sourcing them from Russia — points to a deepening role in Afghanistan aimed at preventing it from slipping back into the hands of the Taliban and other groups that are hostile to India.

It comes as China, another big player in the region which borders Afghanistan via a small, remote strip of land, is preparing for a more robust role in Afghanistan, also concerned that the withdrawal of Nato troops will leave a hotbed of militancy on its doorstep.

Like China, India is unlikely to put boots on the ground to reinforce its strategy in Afghanistan. “We can’t commit troops on the ground, we can’t give them the military equipment that they have been asking us for, for all sorts of reasons including the lack of surplus stocks,” said an Indian foreign ministry official.

“Involving a third party is the next best option,” the official said, referring to plans to source military supplies from Russia for Afghan forces. The lack of direct access to Afghanistan poses additional hurdles to arms transfers.

An Indian team visited Moscow in February to firm up the deal, the official said. “We’ll work with India directly as well as trilaterally involving Russia,” said an Afghan official in New Delhi. “Most of India’s weapons are made in Russia or co-produced with Russia, so it makes sense."

Pakistan is likely to be angered by any move to help arm Afghan forces, even if indirectly.

Ahmed Rashid, an author and expert on the region, said the deal could aggravate relations between India and Pakistan if the arms supplied were heavy enough to be deemed “offensive”.
“Diplomacy and political dialogue are what will bring peace to Afghanistan,” he said.
“What is not going to bring peace is more weapons.”

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