Saturday, March 15, 2008

Bringing the Russians back to Afghanistan?

Former Indian diplomat M K Bhadrakumar, a frequent commentator for Asia Times, reveals that the buzz in diplomatic circles is that the NATO/US war machine is attempting to enlist Russian support for the war. Specifically, the Western armies hope that Russia will set up supply lines for the war near their southern frontier. while this sounds like a dramatic shift in allegiance, the Russians are expected to limit the supplies to non-military items.

Currently, supply lines for foreign forces in Afghanistan run through Pakistan, a dubious and unstable ally to say the least.

Russia throws a wrench in NATO's works
By M K Bhadrakumar

For the first time in the 60-year history of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Russia will attend the alliance's summit meeting on April 2-4 in Bucharest, Romania.

... Conceivably, it clears the decks for what could prove to be a turning point in Russia-NATO relations. Russia may be about to join hands with NATO in Afghanistan. ...

According to the Russian newspaper Kommersant and the Financial Times of London, the initiative came from Russia when its new ambassador to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin - erstwhile Russian politician with a controversial record as a staunch Russian nationalist who routinely berated the West - signaled a strong interest in this area at a recent meeting of the NATO-Russia Council at Brussels. The plan involves Russia providing a land corridor for NATO to transport its goods - "non-military materials" - destined for the mission in Afghanistan. Intensive talks have been going on since then over a framework agreement.

From the feverish pace of diplomatic activity, the expectation of the two sides seems to be that an agreement could be formalized at NATO's Bucharest summit. ...

Russian diplomats have been quoted as saying that Moscow is engaged in consultations with the governments of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan as regards the proposed land corridor to be made available to NATO.

Given the complicated history of Russia-NATO relations, the issue is loaded with geopolitics. Russian President Vladimir Putin hinted as much at a joint press conference with visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Moscow last Saturday. He said, "NATO is already overstepping its limits today. We have no problem to helping Afghanistan, but it is another matter when it is NATO that is providing the assistance. This is a matter beyond the bounds of the North Atlantic, as you are well aware." ...

The implications are obvious. Russia would be willing to cooperate with NATO, but on an equal and comprehensive basis, and, secondly, the sort of selective engagement of Russia by NATO that the US has been advocating will be unacceptable to Moscow. Significantly, Putin frontally questioned the standing of NATO's monopoly of conflict resolution in Afghanistan. ...

The coming to power of the Awami National Party (ANP), an avowedly Pashtun nationalist leftist party, in the sensitive North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan, further complicates political alignments.

ANP leader Amir Haider Khan Hoti bluntly told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in an exclusive interview this week, "Our priorities are clear. We first want to move toward peace through negotiations [with the Taliban], jirgas [tribal councils], and dialogue. God willing, we will learn from [failed talks and jirgas in the past] and will try not to repeat the same mistakes. We will try to take into confidence our people, our tribal leaders, and our [clerics] - and together with them, we will try to move toward peace through negotiations."

Hoti didn't speak a word about the "war on terror" or the George W Bush administration's expectations of Pakistani military operations in the tribal areas. ... (link)

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