Newspaper examines prospects for Russian "return" to Afghanistan

Newspaper examines prospects for Russian "return" to Afghanistan

Gazeta, Moscow
1 Aug 07

[Article by Nadezhda Kevorkova: "Afghan Sadness" – Taken from the HTML
version of source provided by ISP]

Nikolay Bordyuzha, the general secretary of the Collective Security
Treaty Organization (CSTO) yesterday [ 31 July] made a suggestion,
which is quite hard for the West to refuse and which has already evoked
a response in the world. Talking after a Moscow-Beijing video bridge
devoted to "the role of the CSTO in guaranteeing the regional security
of the treaty member countries", the former head of the presidential
administration stated that the CSTO was ready to cooperate with the
antiterrorist coalition headed by America, which operates in
Afghanistan. It is not a matter of dispatching a military contingent
but of aid to Hamid Karzai’s government in the form of finance, weapons
and investment projects. But these words also mean that Russia wants to
return to Afghanistan.

Like thirty years or so ago, "Afghan sadness" has emerged because of
rivalry with the West. The USSR openly opposed it and Russia is
following the principle of "if you cannot prevent it, head it". First
at the G8 summit and at the informal meeting with George Bush, Vladimir
Putin suggested they jointly use the Gabalin radar station. Russia is
not in a position to really change the West’s plans on aircraft defence
issues, a Far East settlement, the status of Kosovo or the situation
around Iran and North Korea. However, in offering its help Russia has
nothing to lose and it could gain a great deal in Afghanistan where the
coalition’s troops have got as firmly bogged down as the Soviet troops

Afghan Sadness

Russia Wants to Return to Afghanistan

Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are
members of the CSTO, in addition to Russia. "If we ignore the situation
in Afghanistan, we will again get problems in Central Asia for long
years ahead. So we are planning to put efforts into stabilizing the
situation in Afghanistan," Bordyuzha stated. "There can be no question
of any military participation by the CSTO countries in the
antiterrorist coalition."

Nikolay Bordyuzha reproached the world community for its passivity,
noting that the process of Afghan settlement should not include only
proving the Afghan army with weapons and the central authorities with
financial aid and investment projects -that is, all that the CSTO is
prepared to provide. The West, for example, should engage more actively
in police operations and fighting drugs trafficking.

In parallel with the general secretary of the CSTO, Konstantin
Kosachev, the head of the State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee, spoke
about Afghanistan yesterday. Commenting on the situation which has
developed in connection with the Taleban having seized South Korean
citizens, he stated that "the situation in Afghanistan is unfortunately
becoming degraded so the current format for the operation is starting
to lose prospects and is starting to exhaust itself". "It is my
conviction," Kosachev stated, "that the situation requires wider
discussion including, with the participation of countries which are not
involved in the operation. In particular, Russia". After all our
country is, in his opinion, "perceived by ordinary people as an ally".

In Conjunction with China

Does yesterday’s surge in official figures’ interest in Afghanistan
mean that Russia is prepared to return there, not only as an investor,
sponsor and supplier of weapons but also to send in its military
advisers? Dmitriy Oreshkin, the head of the Merkator analytical group,
does not rule out such a prospect. "The interests of the
military-industrial complex and a desire to compete with the Americans
lie behind such statements. Afghanistan is virtually the only place
where we are in a position to do this," he stated to the Gazeta

If the CSTO general secretary’s statements really are only the first
ball directed at the southern borders and others thrown by a higher
status hand will follow it, then everything is ready for this. There is
a potential and very strong ally -China. Nikolay Bordyuzha announced
that in the next few days or weeks a protocol would be signed on
cooperation between the CSTO and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization
(SCO), which includes China in addition to Russia and the Central Asian
countries. Moreover, one of the components of this protocol will be
joint work on the "post-conflict construction" of Afghanistan. Let us
note that military cooperation between the CSTO and Afghanistan is
already underway. On 14 May, Bordyuzha stated that the Afghan
leadership had sent a four-page document to his organization’s
secretariat with a list of matters on which he expected help. As the
general secretary reported at the time, it was a matter mainly of
supplying and repairing military hardware as well as preparing staff
for the security structures.

But in general, military cooperation between the current Afghan
authorities and the CSTO has a longer history. Back in the 1990s,
Russia provided different kinds of military aid to the Northern
Alliance forces, who were fighting the Taleban. According to some data,
things even went as far as aircraft from Ahmad-Shah Masud’s army being
permitted to base themselves on the territory of neighbouring
Tajikistan. So in conjunction with China, Russia is now quite capable
of gradually taking the initiative in Afghanistan in its own hands. If
losses in the anti-terrorist coalition contingent are reduced, this
will lead to a real improvement in Russia’s image in the West.

Afghans are Waiting

There is another argument in favour of returning to Afghanistan -the
liking of the local inhabitants, apart from those who work with the
Americans. The reason for this is the way of dealing with the
population, which has wiped out negative memories of the Soviet
occupation. The difference is obvious both to the minister and to the
trader and to the refugee. From the point of view of the Afghans,
Soviets are brave soldiers who have generously built schools, plants
and hospitals, outside the combat situation they did not fear contact
with locals and did not consider them second-class citizens. Westerners
communicate via a gun sight, use harsh methods against women and
children and have not started up a single real humanitarian project.

There are still several tens of thousands of specialists who obtained
their education in the USSR and Russia and many people who understand
the Russian language. This is an extremely large lobby, which supports
Russia’s return to Afghanistan at various levels. Against the
background of American defeats and their lack of clear policies, Russia
is gaining points in the eyes of the local population and America is
losing them. For example, Russia has written off Afghan debts to the
Soviet Union, the Americans have not.

The Gazeta special correspond met representatives of the ruling and
opposition coalitions in April 2007. They all, to a man, expected
Russia to return with humanitarian, construction, road, foodstuffs and
industrial programmes.

Sibghatullah Mujadadi, the first president of the Islamic State of
Afghanistan, substantiated the government’s firm intention to develop
relations in all spheres in an interview with Gazeta (20 April edition).

Afghanistan’s Defence Ministry has immediate plans to make extensive
purchases from Russia, after all the Afghan army has Russian weapons
any way.

Shaker Kargar, the former vice-president and currently one of the
opposition leaders and a parliamentary deputy, thinks that the strategy
of Russia’s return should begin with humanitarian programmes and
Afghanistan’s military department has to purchase weapons from its
great northern neighbour however much Karzai’s Western partners want to
move the army to NATO standards.

Karzai’s position is extremely shaky in the country; he and his allies
have still not succeeded not only in defeating the Taleban but also in
getting the negotiations process going. In the opinion of those Gazeta
spoke to in the parliament and ministries, the less successful Karzai
is, the more active leaders in Afghanistan who have maintained business
contacts with Russia become.

Kabul Today

Sibghatullah Mujadadi remarked that the Russians departed from a Kabul
where construction had been completed and it now lies in ruins. It is a
huge single-story city in which there is no electricity, asphalt,
running water or sewerage system -nothing. Villas are being built in
some areas but for the most part there are clay shacks stuck to the
slopes of hills. The only thing they have is kerosene lamps.

Explosions occur in the city with a frequency of around once a week -at
police departments, army checkpoints and parliament. The Taleban have
acquired the halo of fighters against the occupiers in the eyes of the
Afghans. They are on the offensive not only in a number of provinces
but are also doing okay in Kabul. It is impossible to control this city
using the methods of the American troops and Karzai’s army has
sympathies with the Taleban.

This is unlikely to impede the return of Russian businesses since, in
contrast to the Americans; the Russians have a reasonable reputation
among the Taleban and the former Northern Alliance. Both sides have
identical weapons -Kalashnikovs -and both have a large number of
graduates from Russian higher educational establishments.