22 May 2012

Who's On First: Afghan Edition

The National Interest tries to make sense of who's on which side in Afghanistan.

There are no constant friends in international politics—only interests formed by shifting sands and temporary alliances subject to rapid change. Nowhere is this truer than in Southwest Asia. Pakistan, a U.S. ally and sole conduit for aid to the Afghan resistance during the 1980s, is now the primary supporter of the Taliban and other insurgents targeting Western forces in Afghanistan.

India, which leaned towards the USSR during the latter part of the Cold War and voiced no opposition to the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, is now a U.S. strategic partner and staunch supporter of the international effort in Afghanistan. In today’s Afghan army, Soviet-trained officers have joined with former Afghan resistance commanders to defeat the Taliban and its allies.

During the late 1990s, Washington leaned toward the Taliban to counter Iranian influence and secure pipelines from Central Asia. After 2001, the United States and Iran worked together to create a stable anti-Taliban government in Kabul. As Washington established a permanent presence in southwest Afghanistan close to the Iranian border, Iran began supporting elements of the Taliban—despite the movement’s long history of oppressing Afghanistan’s Shia minority and its role in the 1998 murder of Iranian diplomats.

The Taliban banned the opium trade when it controlled southern Afghanistan, but now it has joined with narcotics traffickers to target Western troops and undermine the Afghan government. Notorious drug lord and former governor of Helmand province Sher Muhammad Akhundzada, was instrumental in helping the United States defeat the Taliban in 2002. When he was ousted as governor in 2005, he told his fighters to join the Taliban.

As the insurgents grew in strength and Washington’s withdrawal drew nearer, the Karzai government began leaning toward the Taliban—so much so that leaders among the non-Pashtun minorities worry he may welcome Mullah Omar into Kabul. Senior Pakistani military and intelligence officials have visited Kabul, attempting to persuade Karzai to resist U.S. pressure.

By: Brant

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