The Morning After in Afghanistan
It is abundantly clear that if under President Bush the American victory in the Afghan War became impossible, it was under President Obama when the U.S. defeat became inevitable. The biggest mistake of the Bush administration was the draining of the resources designed to protect the U.S. victory achieved over Taliban during the fall of 2001 for the needs of the war in Iraq. It was this situation that enabled the unopposed return of Taliban in 2005-2006 which initiated the outbreak of the second round of the war. There could be little doubt that United States and Russia will be the most affected countries by the outcome of the conflict ravaging Afghanistan for more than three decades. Is there any chance for any change of the relationship between both countries given the magnitude of the common danger hanging over them?
One of the most important decisions made by President Obama in the area of foreign policy undoubtedly was to end the military involvement of the United States in Afghanistan. The motivation of the most important leader of the country to put an end of a protracted, hugely unpopular and unwinnable war is completely understandable. But the way Mr. Obama decided to end the conflict made the American defeat in Afghanistan inevitable, because no one has ever won any war by letting the enemy know when he is about to leave the battlefield.
Let's imagine that the same approach had taken place during WWII. Imagine also that at the end of the 1943 Teheran Conference Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin had stunned the world with a rather dramatic statement. The content of the imaginary document would have addressed the main problems of the anti-fascist coalition. Due to the colossal casualties of the Soviet Army, carrying the main burden of the fight against Nazi Germany, the impact of the heavy bombing over Great Britain in 1940, and the growing difficulties of the American economy overextended by the necessity to supply all armies fighting Hitler, the three leaders decided to terminate the military action against Nazi Germany on January 1, 1945. We can be absolutely positive that in such a case the Nazi Fuehrer would have survived the war.
Turning back to our times, the worst case scenario involving the most probable outcome will be determined by the social, political and strategic consequences of the future reappearance of Taliban as a master of the Afghan society and politics.
One doesn't need a prophetic gift in order to see the upcoming destruction and elimination of everything achieved in Afghanistan after 2001 in the area of education, healthcare, and women's rights. What very few people outside of the United States realize is the magnitude of the American contribution. The establishment of a functional government, (at least temporarily), the development of the educational system, the creation of a healthcare system, and the development of the infrastructure, all this in addition to the complete financing of the Afghan army and police force, reached the level of 90 billion dollars.
Turning to politics, the description will be short -- simply the hands of the clock of history measuring Afghan time seem to be destined to be frozen into the period of medieval barbarity after the Taliban take over.
In addition to that, the huge territory dividing Afghanistan and Pakistan, populated by the Pashtun, which is the largest ethnic group of Afghanistan, will be transformed into a gigantic and almost inaccessible fortress of International Jihad. Islamic terrorists from all over the world will have their training grounds and a coordination center for their assault on the world. In other words, the United States will find itself in the pre-9/11 situation when Afghanistan became the place from where the murderous attack on the Twin Towers was planned and directed. The saddest part of it will be the realization that both, the Afghan and Iraqi wars have been fought in vain.
Looking at the same issue from a Russian prospective, Moscow doesn't have the slightest illusion that an inevitable consequence of the victorious comeback of Taliban will be the spread of radical Islam in Central Asia. Ruled by corrupt and unpopular secular regimes, the countries of the region offer all necessary conditions for the expansion of Jihadist influence by bringing it straight to the southern border of Russia.
The second important reason for Russian concern is further expansion of the traffic of narcotics from Afghanistan. Today many Russians blame the American military authorities for the huge expansion of the narco-traffic given that 90% of the world production of heroin originates from Afghan poppy fields. The truth is that while in power, the Taliban had imposed a strict ban on poppy growth and the use of narcotics. Since the transformation of Taliban leadership however, from ruling elite into a leading military structure engaged in guerilla warfare, the Jihadists' reversed their strategy. As a result, for years the Taliban have strongly encouraged poppy growth and consequently a hefty percentage of the profit is going into the coffers of the Jihadists. The money from traffic of narcotics has reached the level enabling the Taliban to completely finance their military effort and they became independent of any foreign assistance.
The American-Russian rivalry involving international politics and the strength of Cold War stereotypes created a powerful wave of anti-American sentiment in Russia. Looking at the strategic dimensions that will emerge in the aftermath of the Afghan War, not just President Putin and his foreign policy team but the majority of Russians are also convinced that the United States is the main enemy of Russia.
Dr. Ayman Zawahiri, who replaced bin Laden as a living symbol of Al Qaeda, has predicted the intensification of the Jihadist activity in the Caucasian area which one day will reach the shores of the Caspian Sea and the borders of Turkmenistan. Given his firm belief that in the near future Central Asia will be under the control of the jihadists, Zawahiri continued: "This will form a mujahid Islamic belt to the south of Russia that will be connected in the east to Pakistan."
The only winners out of an American-Russian rivalry are the Jihadists. Their purpose, of course, is to materialize their dreams of global Islamic Caliphate over the ruins of both states.
Can chaotic American diplomacy do anything to change this terrible situation for the better? The perfect cooperation between the American and Russian experts as far as the safety of the Winter Olympics is concerned is a step in the right direction. In theory, it would be an enormously encouraging start if Mr. Obama goes to Sochi in order to assure President Putin that the United States is ready to expand cooperation to the point when it will match the Islamic danger hanging over both countries.
Georgy Gounev: Bulgarian born historian received his PhD from the Institute of Foreign Relations in Moscow, Russia. His most recent book, The Dark Side of the Crescent Moon is to be released later in 2014.