Barack Obama last June ordered the US military to pull out 33,000 “surge” troops
from Afghanistan by the end of next summer, leaving nearly 70,000 troops in
place. After the summer of 2012 drawdown, Mr. Obama said, U.S. troops would
continue leaving Afghanistan at “a steady pace” as Afghan security forces assume
US announcement of a significant troop’s withdrawal from Afghanistan in the wake
of Osama’s reported death and on the eve of US re-elections makes a great deal
of sense. A majority of the Americans and the people of the region are fed up
with wars and particularly the ongoing America’s longest war being fought in
Afghanistan. There have been no real gains made thus far in Afghanistan and the
U.S. nation-building project has had very limited success and that the
Afghanistan nation (as planned and perceived by the west) may not survive the
withdrawal according to a two-year congressional investigation report published
by the Washington Post recently.1
The withdrawal announcement was also heard with keen interest in Afghanistan,
Pakistan and the region where thinking of a post-American scenario importantly
The troop withdrawals are often a part of war strategy and military tactics. In
that sense the US announcement has thrown its own troops off-balance. The then
defense secretary Robert Gates had promptly talked about the need for continued
engagement. Leon Panetta who became new defense secretary when asked about in
early July the pace of the U.S. troop drawdown, replied, “We’re going to have
70,000 there through 2014, and obviously, as we get to 2014, we’ll develop a
plan as to how we reduce force at that time,” Mr. Panetta said. “For at least
the next two years we’re going to have a pretty significant force in place to
try to deal with the challenges we face.” Privately, Panetta has to be thinking
seriously of the logistics of withdrawal from a country that has had a
historical track record of leaving little trace of the occupying force except
for the grave-yards of previous empires— the most recent examples testified by
the British in the nineteenth century and the Soviet Union in the twentieth
The Great Game of old scenario comes to the minds of many observers to this day.
The name Great Game was born as it was called by the British and as the
Tournament of Shadows by the Russians. It was a deadly serious game starting
from the late 18th century just about the time the British had consolidated
their hold on India. The main players in the game were Czarist Russia and
Britain and China. What is interesting by today’s notions is that it was Czarist
Russia and British India which were expansionists and the Soviet Union, Russian
Czarist’s successor that eventually dismantled a substantial portion of this
empire in 1991 while Britain had been decolonizing for a long time. There were
many subsidiary players including Napoleon, the Turks, the Germans, the
Iranians, the Japanese, and the Central Asian Khanates. The Great Game’s major
competing rivals were British Imperialists, Czarist Russia and the Chinese for
influence, prestige ensuring that the other players were kept in check in
Central Asia including Afghanistan and what is Pakistan today. The most
important objective of each competitor then was to maximize the interests of his
own country and avoiding creation of a vacuum that could be filled by an
The great game at that time has had its own framework and style. It was played
by political and military men of the era. Although it was played in a subtle and
intelligent manner, the game always was indeed deadly. A missed step would cost
the life of an official and the consequences would be a war between the
similar scenario of the Great Game to Afghanistan and Pakistan today, we can see
three major powers contending for influence. The Americans have had the largest
stake and numbers of troops in Afghanistan, the Chinese and Indians have also
remained involved in an effort to gain influence. In addition, Iran and Pakistan
are also active. Russia is just watching the situation, remembering its own
decade-long and messy war and a defeat in Afghanistan. The US withdrawal
announcement therefore affects the region and amongst a range of people it
evokes varying reactions.
The reaction of Afghanistan’s President Karzai has been an alarm and opposition
to steep withdrawal of American forces because his own security forces are not
going to be able to deal with the threat of the Taliban as pointed out by many
Also, President Karzai has to be nervous and confused imagining the fate of
those previous rulers in Kabul who were seen as stooges of Soviet Union. When
the Taliban last took Kabul in 1996, President Najibullah was castrated, had his
face smashed, body dragged and finally hung in a public square. So Karzai would
certainly want to negotiate with the Taliban or else make plans for a quiet
retirement in the US or elsewhere.
Despite American pullout or no pullout, within the next year or two, there is an
eminent collapse of the present political structure in Kabul. Afghan security
forces are simply not ready and will never be ready under the present set up as
too many of them are non-Pashtun and the Pashtun–Taliban sooner than later will
pay them back in their own cash and coin for high treason.
The Afghans who have been American allies for a decade now —artists, NGOs, media
people, warlords — would complain that the Americans who promised them again
after they defeated the Soviets in the 1980s ( that this second and different
time they would not abandon them after it was over) are about to abandon them
Afghan Talibans are bound to be Jubilant at the announcement of American
withdrawal; they are interpreting the announcement as a fig leaf to cover what,
in effect, would be an American admission of their failure to accomplish the
"stabilization" of Afghanistan and /or "de-Talibanization" of Afghanistan. They
would be proud of their elders who defeated the Soviet Russian Empire and now
they have defeated the American empire as Obama has announced a withdrawal even
if America is continuing to hurl drone missiles at their women, children and
elderly from the remote skies. America has no honor in Taliban’s mind and they
too will make America pay to the last American as they flee from their land.
China is experiencing a Quiet satisfaction most certainly. If America withdraws
from the Great Game, China will be the biggest beneficiary. China has slowly but
surely, in its quiet strategy, been filling the vacuum. China has begun to play
a major role in Pakistan already. China’s commitment of aid to Pakistan
amounting to 30 billion dollars will go in constructing railway links between
China and Pakistan extending its influence right up to the Arabian Sea. It has
been developing the Gwadar port that lies at the door steps of some of the
world’s most important shipping lanes supplying oil to the West. China is
helping Pakistan in its other vitally important strategic interests such as its
nuclear assets, supply of Fierce and advanced Dragon jet fighters, mining of
Gold and copper deposits in Baluchistan, huge coal deposits in Sind and training
of Pakistan navy.
In the context of the Great Game, China has been most successful in quietly
developing a popular image in Pakistan. The President and Prime Minister of
Pakistan have recently and publicly reaffirmed the underlying affiliation with
China their "all weather" friend—unlike their "fair weather" friend, the USA.
After the reported killing of Osama, the Pakistanis felt humiliated and bruised
by American accusations of double game, the Chinese admired Pakistan in terms of
honor and dignity. Strangely enough and after a decade in of pouring billions of
American dollars into Pakistan, the American approval rating in Pakistan is
about 15%. Comparing with, the approval rating for the Chinese being at about
The Chinese have certainly been executing an extremely successful Great Game
strategy. The Chinese have been planning and exercising long term cultural
notions of respect and dignity for Pakistan. A Chinese diplomat reportedly
expressed to an American diplomat that Pakistan was Chinese Israel. An important
geopolitical statement confirming the diplomatic victory of Chinese policy over
American policy in Pakistan.
India too might come out as a satisfied winner. India is emerging as a regional
power and its financial and political support to Afghanistan makes it a player
in the regional Great Game. India has been generous with financial aid to
Afghanistan. 500 million dollars have been an impressive sum. India has also
helped built highways, set up key parts of Afghanistan’s new administration
including the intelligence services. It has offered free medical clinics and is
helping construct a new Afghanistan Parliament building in Kabul. All this
allows India to execute a master plan in terms of the Great Game. Without firing
a shot, it has a presence along Pakistani borders.
America can now increasingly rely on India to help stabilize Afghanistan
especially after the American troops start withdrawing. Howevere, India’s
presence in Afghanistan is a nightmare for Pakistan that has always been
concerned about being squeezed on both its eastern and western borders by a much
bigger neighbor. Pakistan and India have fought three wars in the past; and at
this point both happen to be nuclear nations. Pakistan and India sooner than
later must sign a no war pact and arrive at the resolution of all of their
mutual difference and arrive at a permanent peace accord and form a regional
confederation or a union.
Pakistan remains cautious with a ray of hope in the American troop withdrawal
announcement. Things will most probably be back to what looked like the pre-9/11
days.. The scenario of Pakistan’s Great Game in Afghanistan could be negotiated
peace or a repeat of 1990s-style civil war, sucking in not only the Afghans but
also regional and world powers. The blowback into Pakistan of such misadventure
would be unfortunate — like the 1990s —it is most probably inevitable.
Understanding, not certitude is what is needed of analysts, whether elite or
proletariat. Otherwise, as Kipling had said: “When everyone is dead, the Great
Game is finished. Not before.”
Over the recent years Pakistanis have watched the collapse of law and order,
soaring prices, rampant corruption, load-shedding, lack of clean water
compounded by natural disasters, and the ever widening gap between the rich and
the poor. In Pakistan, the Pakistani Talibans seem to have declared a war on the
state—no one is really safe and the terrorist attacks continue with frightening
frequency. There are ongoing 9/11 type attacks weekly in Pakistan.
Pakistani government has utterly failed to maintain law and order in its tribal
areas and chaos and killings in Karachi have been colossal. Pakistanis see their
leaders as totally incompetent and corrupt and blame them for their woes. They
believe their leaders have brought the country to the brink of disaster and
collaps.It would do everything possible to counter India’s presence on its
western borders by reinforcing and recreating its links with the Taliban so that
when they have a voice in Kabul, Pakistan has a friend. Pakistan would like to
see itself as an important player in the Great Game, but it is punching above
its weight and height at this time.
A large number of Pakistanis today see the United States—supported by the Indian
adversary —behind al Qaeda and Pakistani Taliban, responsible for creating havoc
across Pakistan. The ultimate objective, Pakistanis believe, is to destroy the
country’s nuclear assets.
The announcement of American withdrawal of troops in Afghanistan is being met
with joy by Iranians who are pleased being old players of the Great Game. Iran
has been unhappy with the presence of American troops on its both flanks --
eastern and western borders. Iran has traditionally looked down upon the Taliban
even if there are reports of Iranians providing arms and ammunition to the
Taliban to fight NATO troops.
A recent high powered Iranian delegation to Pakistan warned Pakistanis about
America’s true intentions to get at its nuclear assets. It also urged Pakistanis
to ally with Turkey and Iran to help Afghanistan get rid of the occupying
forces. Iran also supports Muslim countries reaching out to China and Russia.
Russia is observing with keen interest. Putin had advised Bush Administration
not to employ ground forces in Afghanistan based on Soviet’s own bitter
experience and recognizing that, in the final analysis, neither the Russians nor
the US could ever succeed in occupying Afghanistan. Many Russian commentators
fore-see the America’s uncontrolled economic bleeding will lead to American
bankruptcy and sort of payback to America for its successful strategy in
Afghanistan against the Soviet Russia. They believe that The Americans have
failed to learn from history and are bound to lose eventually.
The world has been watching this new Great Game for the last decade and it has
not been able to help fathom a consistent or persuasive American strategy. Even
the numbers don’t add up: billions of American dollars invested in Afghanistan
and Pakistan–and the masses of people in the region have never been more
anti-American. The American mode of operandi has been as confusing as their
strategy. Foes like Taliban are now being asked to engage in a dialogue and
allies like Kabul and Islamabad are being humiliated in public. It doesn’t make
any sense what-so-ever.
America appears to be fighting several wars: one against an elusive creature
called al Qaeda, which may have morphed into some Taliban; another war to create
a modern nation-state out of the wreckage in Afghanistan; and yet another war
against too many Pashtuns appears as a war against them in alliance with the
non-Pashtun tribal minority.
Considering the importance of this new arena within which the new Great Game is
being played, the US really cannot win or walk away. An announcement of
withdrawal does not mean an end to the war overnight. But it is a clear
indication that America does not want to or even afford to play the game, the
way it has thus far, any longer. It is imperative for America to plan a
short-term and long-term strategy. This war has eroded the strongest economy in
the world and polarized the political support of other nations.
In the short term, America must build up a network of alliances with
Afghanistan, Pakistan and the regional players which will establish the basis
for constructive, cooperative and lasting regional relationships for achieving
peace and harmony in the future.
It certainly needs to pull out American troops with safety, dignity and peace.
It is a depressing sight for American army withdrawing after an inconclusive end
to a war.
American foreign policy should be nonpartisan representing genuine needs to be
formulated for this region. Diplomacy with local culture backed by familiar
scholarship and the local needs are to be posted here through winning hearts and
minds. Focus should be on education, health and development through
communications rather than defense and security.
The US should stick to the Great Game but to play it differently: This time
around not so much with drones and tanks, but better learning and getting to
understand the region and its culture. America playing the game needs to think
long-term. It is a region that has historically been one of the most important
geopolitically in terms of its economic needs and foreign policy interests.
Region is also a strategic piece of real estate in the geopolitical struggle for
influence and dominance in the region. For 2 decades Washington & the west has
promoted a natural gas pipeline south through Afghanistan. The proposed pipeline
is called TAPI, after the initials of the four participating countries
(Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India). Eleven high-level planning
meetings have been held during the past seven years, with Asian Development Bank
sponsorship and multilateral support (including Canada's).
Pipeline construction is planned to start next year. The route would pass
through Kandahar province. In 2007, Richard Boucher, U.S. assistant secretary of
state, said: "One of our goals is to stabilize Afghanistan," and to link South
and Central Asia "so that energy can flow to the south." Oil and gas have
motivated U.S. involvement in the Middle East for decades. Unwittingly or
willingly, Canadians and Europeans are supporting American goals.
America cannot and should not abandon the Great Game. The vacuum America leaves
will be quickly filled by other players and will not represent American
interests. They will have their own interests at heart. The first step for the
America is to become genuinely familiar with the notion of the Great Game and
then master how it is to be played fairly and constructively in a cooperative
manner in the future.
Given the bipartisan nature of American politics, Republicans will oppose the
withdrawal because the president is a Democrat. Washington has to also stop
thinking along party lines if it is to play successfully in the Great Game.
America is to promote and implement globally its own forgotten and the greatest
assets that defined American true identity to begin with— human rights, civil
liberties, popular democracy and the pursuit of happiness for all. At that point
with hearts and minds won, no Afghani or Pakistani or the regional players will
ever fail to connect with the West and the rest.
DeYoung, Washington Post Published: June 07-11: Afghan nation-building programs