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The News Line: Feature Wednesday, 28 October 2009 US LOSING NEW ‘GREAT GAME’ IN CENTRAL ASIA RUSSIAN experts on Afghanistan take a dim view of US ‘achievements’ in their military operations there.

Experts believe that Central Asian countries as well as China benefited the most from the operation, and the US presence in Afghanistan helps to counterbalance Russian influence in the region.

The following is an excerpt from their report entitled ‘Eight years of ISAF operations in Afghanistan.
Who are the winners?’

Russian experts on Afghanistan were asked simple questions: ‘What did America gain in this war? What was beneficial for the EU? Is there anything good this war brought to Afghanistan?’

Valeriy Ivanov, member of th!e board of directors of the Russian-Afghan Business Council, who worked in Afghanistan at various times for over 22 years in total, gave the following answer:

‘So far, there are no winners. Now everyone has started to realize that it is necessary to invest in Afghanistan and restore its economy.

‘While previously there were no serious programmes to develop Afghanistan.

‘The USA believed it would just come and crush everyone, and everything would go according to plan in a democratic way.

‘As far as I am concerned, no-one paid serious attention to subtle processes going on in Afghanistan, nor did anyone take into account the Afghan mentality.

‘No doubt, one of the USA’s goals has been achieved, as Americans have settled in the region for a long time.

‘Another issue is whether this goal is worthy of all the losses that the USA has endured.

‘The second goal, which they announced, was the fight against terrorism and it has not been achieved either, and will never be.

‘Maybe this task will stop being topical in Afghanistan, but there is now a war going on there against local Pashtuns.

‘Afghan people told me: “If Americans really wanted to catch Bin Laden, they would easily do it. Maybe, they have no wish to catch him?” ’

Vladimir Plastun, professor of Novosibirsk State University’s Oriental Studies faculty and doctor of historical sciences, went into more details:

‘What could have the USA won? One needs to consider the tasks they had put forward.

‘In 2001, when they declared a war under the slogan of fighting international terrorism, they were actively supported, in other words, they were winning at that time.

‘However, the goals have gradually changed. At present, Barack Obama has put previous goals aside and says the matter concerns only Al Qaeda.

‘From the very beginning under the pretext of the war against terrorism, the USA’s aim was to put down roots in the region and to take control of hydrocarbon resources in Central Asia and in the Persian Gulf.

‘If the Americans succeed in boosting relations with independent Central Asian countries, perhaps, some of the tasks will be completed.

‘However, I doubt it. The Americans have had their reputation significantly tarnished in the past seven years.

‘They have reached nothing there, perhaps, with the exception of the lesson they have learnt. I do not see any gain for the USA.’

Plastun added: ‘As regards Europe, they also gained no benefits. Europe can only hope that it will be able to supersede the USA in this bridgehead.

‘Europeans are now dissociating themselves from Americans. Unlike Americans, they are not kicking the doors of Afghan houses. They knock on the doors and ask politely whether they can get in, saying in advance: “We are not Americans.”

‘Afghan people have a better opinion of Europe, although the Taleban do not care at all.
‘For them, all of those are foreigners and they do not make essential distinctions. However, they hit Americans more often.

‘If Europe, replacing the USA, manages to strike an agreement with Central Asian states, sources of hydrocarbon reserves, then this will give them a cutting edge.

‘On the whole, nobody knows what to do in Afghanistan. Neither Europe, nor Russia or the USA. They have wrought havoc and it is obscure what should be done next.

‘Obviously, something should be done. Russia has left the country and now there are only good memories of us. I was in Afghanistan for a fortnight this spring. I talked to everyone, party leaders and common Afghan people… No one said a bad word. They saw the Soviets in me.’

Plastun continued: ‘I will tell you what Afghanistan gained in this war.

‘Not the country itself, but some individuals who struck it rich because of the Afghan war.

‘International aid is being successfully misused and about 70 per cent of the aid was received by influential people both from opposition and the Karzai government. I would not draw big differences between them. It is clear that ordinary Afghan citizens have gained nothing from this war.

‘Afghan people are fatalists and consider their losses as unavoidable. . .

‘Only China has benefited from this war in all respects. The USA is now pursuing its new strategy. It is moving away from dominance over the world and wants to play the role of the leader.

‘However, Beijing made a good response to it, by stating that China was a creditor of the United States. . .
‘If one considers that the USA’s main success in the eight-year-long war has been consolidation of its presence in the region, then why at present is Washington seriously mulling over a new strategy, one of the main points of which will be the withdrawal of the USA from Afghanistan?’

‘The Americans have settled in the region and any pullout of US military bases will be a lengthy and gradual process,’ says Arkadiy Dubnov, international observer of the Russian ‘Vremya Novostey’ newspaper.

‘The US incursion into Afghanistan has given an opportunity for Central Asian countries to feel confident that there is no threat to their independence, Arkadiy Dubnov said.

‘Realistically, most of these countries can be considered as failed states. Having come to the region, the USA counterbalanced Russia’s overwhelming influence.

‘It is not for nothing that following the launch of the Operation Enduring Freedom talks started emerging about a new “great game’’ around Afghanistan, which should result in the loss of Russia’s influence in Central Asia.

‘Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan are gaining key benefits from the West’s military operations in Afghanistan.
‘Kyrgyzstan receives substantial financial support from the USA. In addition, the Manas air base in Bishkek has been turned into a transit shipment centre.

‘Uzbekistan has gained an opportunity to build the first railway in Afghanistan from Mazar-e Sharif to Hayratan in northern Balkh Province, bordering Uzbekistan, thanks to loans from the Asian Development Bank, as well as to upgrade power transmission systems in view of an increase in the sale of electricity to Afghanistan.

‘Tajikistan is also benefiting from Afghan operations. Several bridges across the River Panj were built on the border with Afghanistan with the USA’s backing. Dushanbe feels more confident in mutual relations with Moscow, firmly demanding payment for the presence of a Russian military base in its territory.

‘Over the past few years, the rulers of Central Asian governments, from all appearances, have stopped fearing for their posts and being afraid of “colour revolutions” that, they believe, are organised by the West.

‘The leaderships are certain that the strategy of the West, which is interested in the success of the Afghan operations, boils down to maintaining stability in the region at any cost, even at the cost of suppressing democratic freedom. This allows the authorities to pull out all the stops in order to preserve their power.’

Answering a question as to how Moscow feels about the USA’s presence in the region, Dubnov said: ‘It is quite painful. Russia considers every success of ISAF and the USA in Afghanistan as its own defeat.
‘Moscow believes that the US presence in the region is a loss for Russia.

‘However, Moscow started worrying as serious talks started over the fact that the USA may leave Afghanistan. Russia’s representative to NATO, Dmitriy Rogozin, already states that this would be “a disaster’’.’

‘I do not think so, as the USA is resolving its own problems in Afghanistan. This is the reason, above all, for its presence in the region, not rivalry with Russia.’

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