OpEd- Is Russia coming back to Afghanistan again in Syria style

OpEd- Is Russia coming back to Afghanistan again in Syria style

ISLAMABAD: As the situation in Afghanistan worsens the alarm bells have been raised in Pakistan about an impeding civil war and rising terrorism which can adversely affect Pakistan and it's war on terrorism.

If IS and the Taliban continued to gain strength, it could tempt Russia to stage a Syrian-style intervention, this time on the pretext of protecting its ‘backyard’ in Central Asia.

The source within the Pakistani army said that in recent weeks, high-level discussions had taken place with both Resolute Support Mission commander Gen John Nicholson and James Mattis, the retired US general appointed by Mr Trump as Secretary of Defence.

Gen Nicholson himself admitted last month that Afghan forces were now in a stalemate against a resurgent Taliban. The Pakistani source said even that was an optimistic assessment.

“A stalemate is still a win for the Taliban,” he said. “We have told Gen Mattis that Afghanistan is slipping out of control, and that if things are not put right, America will have a huge crisis on its hands. “Da’ish is also developing there, and if they leave Syria and Iraq, the next place for them to gather in is Afghanistan.”

Pakistan has criticised the Kabul government for not doing enough to seal its side of the Afghan border, from where Islamabad says militants are now launching attacks on both Pakistani and Afghan soil.

However, Islamabad admits that Kabul is limited by the capabilities of the Afghan National Army.

“There are 350,000 troops in the Afghan army, but only about 20,000 are capable of combat missions,” said the Pakistani military source.

“They also have about 1,000 generals, most of whom are appointed because of their tribal affiliations rather than on merit. The problem is that you can’t teach a donkey to gallop.”

The military source added that Russia feared the West was using IS as a “plot to destabilise its backyard”, and could use it as an excuse to extend military operations into Afghanistan.

Last month, Russia held a conference for regional powers on Afghanistan, signalling what could be the opening stages of such a strategy.

The summit, to which the US was not invited, called for dialogue with the Taliban, which Moscow has already started backchannel contacts with. The Kremlin says the Taliban can be used to battle IS.

Washington believes that Kremlin-Taliban contacts are simply to help Moscow build proxy assets in Afghanistan.

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