If Russia, Pakistan and China join forces to eradicate terrorists from Afghanistan, it would not only allow the Troika (Rus-Pak-Chi) to prevent Afghan terrorism from spilling into their borders, but also peel off the United States’ superpower status in the process.
As Moscow, Islamabad and Beijing seem to be opening a new, trilateral chapter in their Central and South Asia policies, Afghanistan is becoming the main focus of the Troika and the rest of the world.
After ISIS claimed responsibility for killing at least 30 people and injuring 50 more in a brutal March 8 terrorist attack on Sardar Daud military hospital in Kabul, there’s now no denying that Afghanistan is spiraling out of control.
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While the U.S. has made numerous attempts to fight terrorism in the region, it has failed to eradicate at least half of the terrorist groups operating on Afghan soil. In fact, General John Nicholson, top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, revealed in December that 20 out of 98 U.S.-designated terrorist groups globally are operating in Afghanistan – the highest concentration of terrorist elements anywhere in the world.
Russia, China, Pakistan joining forces in Afghanistan
While there are more and more reports of a Chinese presence in Eastern Afghanistan, Pakistan and Russia seem equally hell-bent on eradicating terrorism from Afghanistan.
Last month, Pakistan launched a nationwide anti-terrorism operation and attacked terrorists hiding in Afghanistan following a string of terrorist attacks all over Pakistan that killed nearly 150 people.
Russia, for its part, has been an active driving force in regional talks on terrorism and Afghanistan issues. On February 15, Moscow hosted six-nation talks with Pakistan, China, Iran, India and Afghanistan. Prior to this six-nation discussion, Russia had only invited Pakistan and China to discuss the regional terrorism in trilateral talks.
Russia-China joint intervention in Afghanistan
Earlier this month, an unnamed Pakistani army source warned that if the U.S. doesn’t sort out the “total mess” in Afghanistan, Russia will. The Pakistani source explained that Russia may stage a Syria-like intervention in Afghanistan if the U.S. and its allies fail to stop the advance of ISIS and the Taliban.
According to a February report by the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR), the Afghan government controlled only 57.2% of the country at the end of 2016. At the end of 2015, Kabul had control of 63.5% of the territory. However, Washington and Kabul continue to deny that the Taliban has further advanced in the country.
And while the U.S. doesn’t really consider the Afghan issue to be the most pressing issue to its interests – especially now that Washington has a lot on its hands with the presidency of Donald Trump – Russia, China and Pakistan risk getting burned by terrorism from Afghanistan if it spills into their borders.
If the latest string of violent terrorist attacks in Pakistan is any indication, ISIS and terrorist groups in the region are continuing to advance further, far beyond Syria and Afghanistan.
Russia, China and Pakistan risk getting burned by terror
That’s why Moscow, Beijing and Islamabad see the need to eradicate terrorism in Afghanistan. While the Chinese continue to dismiss reports that their military is operating in Eastern Afghanistan, Russia is getting closer to both China and Pakistan despite its decades-long friendship with India, a major rival of both of them.
The spread of terrorism into Central Asia threatens Russian interests directly, as it would mean terrorist groups would stand at Russia’s border, fully prepared to bring terror and chaos to Russia just like they did in Pakistan recently. Although the Chinese media has suspicions that Russian President Vladimir Putin doesn’t know what he’s doing in dealing with the Taliban in the region, one can argue that since it’s Putin we’re talking about, he may be playing a large-scale, long-term strategic game in the region.
But not only that.
Russia aims to shrink U.S. global dominance, China and Pakistan are in
During Barack Obama’s presidential term, Washington decided to start withdrawing its troops from the Middle East and Afghanistan. Obama showed a lack of interest in maintaining U.S. influence in the region, as he refused to intervene in Syria, which resulted in Russia taking the Syrian issue under its control.
On top of intervening in Syria, Moscow has also sought improved relations with key players in the region: Iraq, Iran, Israel, Egypt and even the Gulf States. In South Asia, meanwhile, Russia has strengthened relations with Pakistan and hasn’t lost India’s friendship in the process.
Spreading its influence in the Middle East – starting from Syria and Afghanistan – would allow Russia to eventually replace the U.S. in its role as key foreign player in the region. One can argue that giving up Afghanistan so easily would result in the inevitable shrinking of its influence in the region and even losing its status as the sole global superpower.
China, which – especially during Trump’s presidency – views the U.S. as its rival and wants to bring down U.S. global dominance, would certainly be on board with Russia gaining a solid foothold in the region. Pakistan, which has numerous grievances with Washington (America’s growing friendship with India, for one), is equally interested in joining Russia and China’s efforts and forming the Troika.
Will Trump abandon the Middle East so easily?
One can argue that the U.S. won’t abandon Afghanistan and its interests in the Middle East so easily, as Washington has spent more than $117 billion in Afghanistan alone since 2002. However, so far, the U.S. has made no solid actions to prevent Russia, China and Pakistan from taking the Afghan issue into their own hands.
As part of its efforts to solve the Afghan issue once and for all, Russia reportedly proposed engaging in a dialogue with the Taliban. Establishing contacts with the Taliban would allow Russia to build proxy assets on Afghan soil in order to stage a Syria-like intervention in the terrorism-ridden country.
If Moscow indeed announces a military operation against terrorist groups in Afghanistan – and possibly brings China and Pakistan on board as its allies – would the Trump administration stop it from launching its large-scale strategic game in the Middle East? Or would Trump follow Obama’s strategy in Syria and not intervene?