Negotiations began last week in Kabul between Afghanistan and the USA on a security agreement regarding the terms for the presence of American troops in the country following the official withdrawl of the foreign contingent in 2014. Evidently, the peacekeeper’s Nobel Laureates already played their role during the second presidential campaign and it is now a case of completely revising President Obama’s declarations in 2009 regarding "a new American strategy in Afghanistan." According to Alexander Knyazev, regional programmes coordinator for the Russian Institute of Oriental Studies, who recently gave an interview to the Russian news agency IA REX, the continued presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan will become a destabilising factor for the security of Eurasia.
IА REX: What is so special about Afghanistan that it has already “broken the teeth” of three empires: British, Soviet and American?
Alexander Knyazev: Saying that Afghanistan has never been defeated is in the realm of myth-making. The British won two wars until they were defeated in the Third Anglo-Afghan war in 1919.
The Soviet Union did not lose the war in Afghanistan, there was a political decision to withdraw the troops and so the troops were withdrawn. The decision was a betrayal to the Afghan government who, incidentally, remained in power for another three years without any support from the USSR. In 1988, with the consent of Mikhail Gorbachev, the then Soviet Minister of Foreign Affairs Eduard Shevardnadze (later the president of the newly-independent Georgia – OR) signed an agreement in Geneva, in accordance with which the USSR stopped all help to President Najibullah’s government. At the same time, the help being given to anti-government forces by the USA as well as European and Arabic countries immediately grew tenfold, if not a hundredfold.
I will refrain from saying anything about the Americans for the time being, since their goal is not to win on a purely military level, they have other objectives in mind.
IА REX: Why is America holding on to this region so resolutely, despite their military losses and the damage it has caused to their image? What have been the real achievements of the Afghan campaign?
AK: Most importantly, American forces are in Afghanistan and a puppet government is sitting in Kabul, so whatever the outcome over the next few years, America’s military bases will remain in Afghanistan and a number of neighbouring countries.
That is really why the campaign was begun in the first place; the “struggle with international terrorism” in Afghanistan is yet more fruit of modern-day political myth-making. There is absolutely no link between the events that took place in New York on 11 September 2011, the Taliban and Afghanistan.
It is a grand spectacle far removed from the producers of Broadway musicals… There are a number of examples in modern and contemporary American history where hundreds and thousands of people are sacrificed, including their own people, for the purposes of America’s foreign policy. The reality is that the USA became a military power in the Middle East and Central Asia, in the sphere of Iran’s, China’s and Russia’s vital interests. That is the main thing. Losses are secondary, whether military or to America’s image.
IА REX: In your opinion, what is the best solution for Afghanistan?
AK: Just the negotiation process with one universal condition: the preservation of the country’s territorial integrity, the inviolability of its borders. There is a danger that one of America’s scenario’s for the region is changing its political geography. Afghanistan is a multi-ethnic country, but the country is not easily divided along ethnic lines. Any attempts would lead to the ethnic communities who live in neighbouring countries becoming involved in the redistribution conflict.
Considering the differences in regional development, Afghanistan would suit a government model in which a strong centre is combined with regions that are independent in many of their functions. Something like the American model, perhaps. But by no means along ethnic lines
For settlement in Afghanistan, it is extremely important to take the religious factor into account. It is possible to meet people in the larger cities who have a relatively secular outlook, but on the whole, the role of Islam in the country, along with its function bearers – the Ulama, remains just as great today as it was in previous phases of history. The social class of the traditional Muslim medieval intelligentsia played and still plays a much more important role in the life of the country than the secular intelligentsia. For many centuries, the Islamic clergy has occupied an important position in Afghan society and is essentially the major consolidating factor. The tradition of the clergy’s involvement in political life (and the obligatory presence of the religious component in political ideology as dominant) was established during the Anglo-Afghan wars and has gradually laid the foundations for the kind of fundamentalism where the bearers later turn into a powerful and wonderfully-organised political force extremely quickly and easily. The Sunni Islamic elite are the main factor conducive to real power potential.
Religious leaders are the force capable of mobilising successful resistance to any central government. This became apparent, in fact, during attempts to introduce into Afghan society both socialist ideas in the 1980s and the democratic experiments of the last decade. A dialogue is needed with the clergy, and only with the condition mentioned above will the dialogue be a successful and nationwide one.
IА REX: What should the international community do to reduce the risk of terrorist and drug threats coming out of Afghanistan today?
AK: The “international community” is a fiction. There are powers or centres of power that are interested in the presence of these kinds of threats; there are countries whose national security is being threatened. I would include the Anglo-Saxon community in the former, the Establishment of which has already publicly declared an interest in reducing the planet’s population. For the USA, for instance, drugs from Afghanistan are not a systemic problem, their export to the USA is of a one-off nature, they are isolated incidents. For Russia, countries of the region and Europe, however, it is actually one of the most serious threats to their security and existence.
In Europe, the main centres for the distribution of Afghan opiates are American air bases in Germany, Italy, Kosovo and Spain. Of these, the main centre is the Bondsteel base in Kosovo. Kosovo was only created in order to create problems for Europe, but the Europeans have deteriorated so much mentally that they apparently do not want to see this or understand it.
External help for settlement in Afghanistan can only be provided by those with an unbiased interest: Russia, Iran, Pakistan, China, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and possibly India, onto which many of the threats from Afghanistan are projected.
It is only possible to guarantee stability in Afghanistan by negotiating and finding the necessary compromises. Painstaking negotiation work with the leaders of every community is needed without exception. It needs to be understood that the Taliban is a conglomeration of many different groups.
A full withdrawal of Anglo-Saxon troops from the country needs to be achieved, ways to block external intervention need to be found and an inter-Afghan negotiation mechanism based on the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, for example, needs to be created.
IА REX: Afghanistan is rich in minerals. It has enormous reserves of copper, for example. Is there any chance of refocusing the economy from the production of opiates, for example, to mining?
AK: The answer to that question follows directly from what I have just said. Yes, there are a great number of minerals, including one of the largest copper deposits in the world at Aynak in Afghanistan’s Logar province, which is what you are referring to. In 2007, the Chinese state company China Metallurgical Corporation won a bid to mine the copper deposit. The economy needs to stabilise, however. In the meantime, the Chinese are able to spend a minuscule amount of time on the development of this project.
At present, Chinese companies are working on oil and gas fields in the north, particularly in the Jowzjan province. But I do not think that any of the most important projects will be carried out without at least some degree of stability having been achieved first. If companies from China, Russia and Iran are going to be working in Afghanistan, they will face direct opposition from the Anglo-Saxons by way of the separate Taliban groups they are in control of…
As for the drugs, one should not start with Afghanistan, but with its transit. The price of heroin, starting from the plantation where the raw opium is cultivated and ending with the consumers in Europe, increases a hundredfold.
The Afghan farmer makes a matter of pennies from this production process, but those further along the chain earn millions and billions and simply do not allow the farmers to give up production. Opium is a guaranteed sale – the buyers go to the fields themselves. For the farmers, there is a credit system.
By way of example, for the harvesting of wheat or sesame from a hectare of land, the farmer would not receive the same as he would earn from that same hectare if it was opium, although neither is very much. So what should be done with the harvest? Who, in a country at war, is going to travel through the fields and gather in that kind of produce? When it comes to opium, however, they travel and they gather it in.
It is an enormous international corporation which involves not only the law-enforcement agencies of whole countries, but also the heads of a number of states. So far, the greatest chances of dealing with at least its transit have been demonstrated by Iran. This has even been recognised by the UN, where the Iranian government has few friends. For any activities associated with drugs there is the death penalty. I am convinced that this is more than humane when you think of the results of these activities for a great number of other people…