Afghan butterflies and Indo-Pacific hurricanes

(To Gino Lanzara)
26/07/21

It is not true, as many say, that one can bury the past. The past clings with its claws to the present1; it is a simple concept, but it does not take root in Afghanistan. Over the centuries, the Macedonian, British, Soviet and, lastly, NATO armies have clashed with a clanic and asymmetrical reality that has made the conquest of a pivotal country in the broad spectrum game of regional relations unattainable, where the territory facilitated the prolongation of a war fatally marked by crime2, and where to focus on religious fundamentalism has proved to be self-defeating intent.

Moments and actors have changed, the Taliban themselves have changed tactics, structure, technologies and propaganda; although it has no access to the sea, Afghanistan plays a decisive role in the fate of a considerable portion of the planet.

In this context, in recent decades Asia has increased its international role and, with the end of the bipolar order, a speed has been impressed that has placed it at the center of global politics, despite the heterogeneity of national contexts and geographical extension.3. And it is here that the concept of the Indo-Pacific took shape, as defined by the former Japanese premier Abe, a single geopolitical extension that encompasses two oceans and which preserves a vast community of interests.

Several more or less evident conflicts have been fought in Afghanistan; to that conducted by the international coalition was added the clash involving Pashtun, Tajik and Hazara fragments which, potential detonators of an ethnic conflict, parceled out the country following conflicting trajectories that showed the Taliban insurgency, a conceptually non-exhaustive term for a such a complex panorama, as a political entity that is certainly not monolithic.

The humiliating withdrawal of NATO troops, armed with undisputed but evidently inane technology, after America's longest and most expensive war, if on the one hand it hurts a Western pride impoverished by internal policies bordering on nihilism and diplomatically dictated affirmations. I realize that, by comparing carriages and pumpkins, they have transformed a defeat historical in a decision epochal, suggests Afghanistan as the classic mine triggered between the paws of a Wile E. Coyote in free fall, also taking into account an institutional reorganization that cannot be accomplished except in a prolonged time; China itself, while confining for a short distance, contributes to the creation of a political entropy which, along the lines of an unstable front, reaches the port of Gwadar, thus completing the picture outlined by the economic corridor to the Pakistani Afghani, a transit that avoids the choke point of Malacca under US control, in a context perceived as unpredictable, bizarre, which exacerbates the need to know if a new civil war will break out, certainly long if we consider the Afghan refractoriness for monopolies, the loss of intelligence sources, and the position taken by the mujahideen of the north, opposed to the Taliban.

So again the Dragon on the shields, with the exaltation, in the Indo Pacific quadrant, of the asymmetrical aspects between Sino-American objectives and strategic lines that leave the possibilities of a kinetic confrontation unaffected that sees the USA starting from a position of advantage based on military superiority and logistics, and on a solid network of strategic alliances, such as those of the Quad4 useful, moreover, for the exercise of an economic influence competing with that of China.

Here it is hardly necessary to recall that Afghanistan has considerable reserves of copper, coal, iron, gas, cobalt, mercury, gold, lithium and thorium, worth more than US $ 1.000 trillion, and that in 2011 the CNPC5 was awarded, for USD 400 million, the right to drill three oil fields, containing approximately 87 million barrels, for 25 years; Finally, Chinese companies have obtained copper mining rights in Mes Aynak, about 40 km south-east of Kabul.

Washington is responsible for overestimating its counter-terrorism capabilities, a strategic mistake that is now repeating itself much more dangerously than in Iraq, where there was no competing political force comparable to that of the Taliban.

The Indo-Pacific thus becomes an integrated and central scenario in the stabilization of international balances, characterized by the redefinition of the power relations conditioned by Chinese assertiveness, fundamental for the drafting of a geopolitical configuration that follows a new Asian map drawn according to an arc of continuity . From this point of view, the disengagement from Kabul will prove counterproductive where the agreements with the Taliban will prove to be advantageous only for the USA; It is palpable that withdrawing forces allows resources to be directed elsewhere, but on the other hand generates a sense of unreliability so strong as to induce the surrounding countries, engaged in the fight against Islamic radicalism, to rely on Xi as the standard bearer of cross-border anti-terrorism. ISIS ed rain man6, definitively abandoning to their fate the Uyghurs of Xinjiang, to whom it is not enough to profess the same Islamic faith.

Many important players: in the meantime India and Pakistan, with the second, which since the end of the twentieth century has pursued the geopolitical aspiration of founding a great state formed by the southern Afghan territories, which has become fundamental for Beijing and is committed to the preservation of a strategic depth in anti-Indian key, but to which Washington revoked the privileges granted after the Iranian theocratic revolution and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, to grant them in Delhi.

Taking into account that the Koranic students they are not unpopular with the Islamabad authorities, who supported them with the second government of Benazir Bhutto7, it should be remembered that India, despite having made relations more complex after the air raids against Pakistan and even more so after the cancellation of Kashmir's autonomy, has intervened diplomatically since 20118, investing heavily in strategic infrastructural and communication works9, without posing particular problems of a religious order, also thanks to the invitations from Washington conformed to a substantial realpolitik, the same which, however not well managed, in February 2020 led the then US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and the Taliban mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, to sign a bilateral agreement that is not very productive in terms of results, and which has left President Biden, the object of both military dissuasion attempts and Trump's praise, the management of a difficult exit strategy to be completed by September of this year.

Trump, by obtaining an end to hostilities with the Taliban, by excluding him from any negotiations, has effectively weakened the Afghan government by imposing unshared conditions, but by giving the Taliban movement, which does not recognize President Ghani, an unexpected international legitimacy that has not prevented the excesses of violence detected by Western chancelleries.

At the moment, even the support offered to the Taliban by the Pakistani Prime Minister Imram Khan must be interpreted in realistic terms according to a strategic foundation that aims to maintain a strong influence in the Afghan sphere due to the support of the movement by Pakistani public opinion.

There is no doubt that the Americans have guaranteed a balance on the Afghan limes such as to allow the opening of the Chinese window of strategic opportunity now at risk, given the power vacuum that determines a risk of uncertainty in contrasting the tactics of terrorism. , an extremely fluid situation to which China has nevertheless reacted by making agreements both with the Taliban and with Islamabad, sensitive to the funding promised.

But that's not all: Afghanistan is also a geopolitical point of comparison between the superpowers old fashioned, USA and Russia, with Russia which, fearing for the tightness of the southern protective belt, and finding itself the terminal of a large opiate trade, has kept a low profile on Afghanistan by hosting the Taliban, courting the opposition to President Ghani, returning fame to former president Karzai, kindly willing to throw the occupation of Moscow into oblivion, to reappear on the stage with a subtle soft power based on the model Syrian, aiming both at the control of Central Asia, and at preventing the Americans and Chinese from becoming convinced of the Russian difficulty in controlling events10; Moscow has no reason to take possession of the void left by the US, both due to President Ghani's lack of pro-Slavic streak, the wise and inevitable Taliban involvement in political dynamics, and the shadowy support provided to the Taliban militias reported by General J Nicholson in 2016 and by US Intelligence in 2020.

That Yankee, As usual, as in Cuba in 62 and for the Euromissiles of 80, they did not fully understand the determining factors of Russian foreign policy is evident, as is evident the surprise generated by the assertiveness, contradiction and political agility of the Kremlin; it remains only to understand to what extent Russian merit and Western unpreparedness can be calibrated. While the Afghan borders become an international dispute, and the Taliban claim to control the crossings with Pakistan, Tajikistan, China, Uzbekistan, the Chinese Foreign Minister invites the Koranic students to renounce relations with jihadist groups and to reconcile with the subjects Afghan politicians, in accordance with lines that aim to legitimize the Taliban advance against the regular armed forces of Kabul in order to offer themselves as valid interlocutors with neighboring countries and powers of reference; here China is called a country amico a harbinger of investment, and that Russia is being coaxed so as not to run the risk that the armed forces of the Kremlin, close to a stabilization intervention in Tajikistan, will be used otherwise.

While Moscow knows it has no solutions, but is aware that it has acquired political significance internationally, China has taken some control of the mining sector in preparation to make Afghanistan a BRI hub, regardless of the DNA of the next Afghan government. . Self Paris is well worth a mass, China can certainly support a Taliban regime in order to safeguard borders and investments, even at the cost of sacrificing the political relationship with Pakistan, as happened with the coup in Myanmar, taking into account the fact that Beijing is already pervasive more than present, from an economic point of view, in the affairs of Islamabad11. To the west of Kabul, Tehran looks to the possibility of counting on an executive capable of both containing the American presence and controlling the air bases, thorn in the eastern flank of the Islamic Republic12, which in Mashhad has long hosted one shura13 of the guerrillas.

In opposition to Iranian Shiism, the Sunni-Saudi side remains which, however, maintains ties both with Pakistani and Afghan jihadist groups, and with the Haqqani family, the most orthodox in the Taliban universe. After all, the Wahhabi component is of significant importance, given that the Salafist imprint has always characterized the Taliban movement, which has made its Qaidist radicalization its own, which has transformed the Afghan conflict from local to global, an aspect that makes it difficult to Saudi intervention, given the unacceptability of a political and strategic failure in Riyadh.

Qatar, an aspiring regional dominus, also stood out by hosting the Taliban-American negotiation in Doha, boasting all the successes achieved there, with the UAE as a treasure chest capable of ensuring a constant flow of funding regardless of the ideological matrix of the next Afghan government.

As one said hits a few years ago, what will remain? Following the line previously drawn by Obama and Trump, Biden has abandoned the Afghan remora, thus marking the end of this hegemonic phase, and laying the foundations for the beginning of a new conflict, which will affect Eurasian geopolitical subjects.

Whatever the left says them American with B. Sanders and E. Warren, the US by withdrawing revealed a worrying weakness destined to immediately reverberate on the civilian population, especially on women. Never the pivot to Asia American was so uncertain and dangerous.

Turkey, which aims to Somalis Kabul aims to remain militarily on Afghan soil, setting itself up as a Sunni champion, but starting from inconsistent premises: the Taliban have asked for technical support, not soldiers, Ankara has invoked the money necessary to support its war commitment. Ankara is a geopolitical purpose of expansion, which needs banks now offered by Orban's Hungary en route to Brussels and in need of American support, but which should first be financed by the retreating hegemon, and then led by those who have raised a fix his own unreliability. If Ahmet Davutoglu's pan-Islamist project, which aims to establish a sphere of influence in the Eurasian heartland, was not on the ground, it would only be hilarious, so it's grotesque. The Turkish imperial ambitions make the conduct of regional foreign policy more structured, while China looks to the destabilization following the American withdrawal and the Uyghur independenceist regurgitations, not to mention that the economic agreements between Beijing and Ankara do not erase Han doubts about the neo-political coherence. Ottoman, at a time when Xi Jinping is absorbed by the geopolitics of the South China Sea.

Iran also perceives the Taliban threat, so much so that it has opted for the support of the insurgency of the Northern Alliance, in anticipation of having to fill a geopolitical fault that is already forcing Tehran on several fronts, not least the JCPOA; while the great Ayatollah Golpaygani, one of the oldest religious, criticized the political line held by the Islamic Republic, the agenda of President Raisi records relations and negotiations both with the Taliban fringes and with the legitimate government in office. While Islamabad exploits the Taliban as a strategic background with India for the Kashmir issue, New Delhi expresses its disappointment about the Taliban legitimacy, as it rightly believes that all this could contribute to a Chinese encirclement, with Beijing ready to exploit its economic power towards Pakistanis, attracting, ob wrong neck, even the Indian deep state into its orbit. It is time to close the warp and weft of a canvas with changing colors.

To paraphrase Edward Lorenz, a flapping of Afghan butterfly wings causes Indo-Pacific hurricanes. A violent hegemonic phase ends in the US decline and another, enigmatic and controversial one opens, which will require the calibration of a new balance of power. While the Taliban militias, profoundly different from those to which the West, in its drowsiness, was accustomed to, take up arms to restore the emirate of Mullah Omar or a national regime dominated by the Pashtun ethnic group, yielding to the lure of Chinese realpolitik. emptiness generated by the departure of the armies from the west is filled with wise slowness, thanks to a diplomacy and a political philosophy that opt ​​for hidden relations and a shrewd double oven policy, thereby demonstrating that the possession of means although powerful, it does not fill cultural and perspective gaps.

Afghanistan is a Pandora's box from which to profit, but which obliges us to always keep alert on the concrete possibility of losses due to any black swan that no hegemon worthy of this title can afford not to foresee.

The current historical evolution confirms that, in the succession of time cycles, a empire far-sighted: the difficulty of an actor who, despite possessing the maximum military and technological power, is unable to combine it with adequate political wisdom is now evident.

The appeals to the caution of the unheard strategists of the Pentagon and of Hillary Clinton are indicative, counterbalanced by the applause of the extreme wing of the same party, completely devoid of vision and strategic depth, which China knows how to boast. No glorification: politics is like Ravel's Bolero, diabolically impossible to execute on Sundays; but skill, competence and craft cannot be omitted, especially if in possession of a dangerous antagonist who makes realism his only and profitable creed. After all, it is not the first time that the allies from overseas have decided to withdraw, breaking their promises of stabilization and leaving the country in chaos; it happened in Lebanon in 1983, it was repeated in Somalia in 1994: obviously powers and responsibilities go hand in hand only in Hollywood.

If the US intends to contain China and control the Indo-Pacific, it cannot lose its dominance of Afghanistan, and must face two very specific risks: the return of al-Qaeda, close to becoming the major beneficiary of a Taliban regime, and the possibility of having to board in Kabul.

While Washington intends to devote itself to international dynamics, Beijing is strengthening its position on a regional basis, while Russia, with Iran making use of the presence of a new Shiite militia in Kabul, has assumed a strong-willed posture especially in Syria, Yemen and Ukraine; to be brutally honest, the abandonment of the territory does not fall into the category of flashes of genius, since it does not support either the fight against terrorism or the competition with the great powers, which indeed can benefit from the greater room for maneuver; the US therefore has no choice but to strengthen intelligence and naval engagement in the Gulf, useful for monitoring events in Afghanistan since, once Bagram is abandoned, the closest base on the side of the Central Command will be in Qatar, thousands of miles from China.

The lack of European geopolitical diopters can be found here, on the childish exultation at the apparent solution of a problem that in reality has only been set aside, and on the short-sighted ideological triumph of the courtyard.

Thinking about the risky Wilsonian approach of the new American administration in MO, it is possible to refer to the thought of Richard Dawkins, for whom "A delusion is something that people believe in despite the total lack of evidence": this is the case of Iran, with which the White House believed to settle the differences only for having decreed the end of the Trump campaign of the maximum pressure, eventuality denied by the election of the intransigent Ayatollah Raisi.

In cauda venenum: Italy.

While the return of the Italian contingent from Afghanistan passed in embarrassing silence, other Italian soldiers were preparing to dismantle the al Minhad base in the UAE, a consequence of the crisis triggered with some of the main Arab powers.14; a crisis, however, anticipated, in political terms, by the unexpected difficulties encountered for participation in the European-led French-led air-naval patrol operation of the Strait of Hormuz EMASOH15, a mission that aims to contain Iranian assertiveness, now also linked to Beijing, and which should be based in Emirati structures that may not like Italian presences.

In light of these considerations, the opportunity offered by Anthony Blinken to become an active regional crossroads of Middle Eastern politics appears quite remote; that diplomacy has returned to tread the stage it is true, that our system is ready to fully participate in the representations must be verified, taking into account the fact that, beyond the unjustified absences of military personnel at the airports of arrival, No broad spectrum evaluation has been received of an area which, as we have seen, is very seething and globally connected.

1 Khaled Hosseini, "The Kite Runner"

2 The UN has denounced an increase in the killing of civilians in Afghanistan by anti-government groups, and Amnesty International has called for the Taliban and other insurgent groups to be indicted and tried for war crimes. Australia officially apologizes to Kabul for the killing of civilians and prisoners by its soldiers between 2005 and 2016. CNN: "The Taliban cold executes 22 surrendered soldiers": the Red Cross reports the discovery of 22 bodies in that same village

3 Conceptually from Japan to the east coast of the Mediterranean

4 Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, Australia, Japan, India, USA

5 China National Petroleum Corporation

6 In legal jargon it is the lawyer who procures the richest lawsuits, those that produce the highest profits

7 The support of the Pakistani secret services and of the executive of the Interior Minister Naserullah Babar is recalled 

8 However, relations must be normalized, given that the Taliban have repeatedly hosted groups hostile to India.

9 See the Salma dam which the Italian military provided for safety, and the Shatoot dam along the Kabul river

10 However, the presence of the Uzbek, Kazakh and Tajik forces, the Russian bases in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan should be remembered; Coordination between these various forces is ensured through the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), to which Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan belong; and bilaterally with Uzbekistan. In October 2012, an agreement was signed extending the stationing period of the Russian military base in Tajikistan until 2042.

11 Islamabad has called for the restructuring of 3 billion in interest on a loan of 31 billion granted by Chinese banks to finance energy infrastructure, but Beijing has responded negatively.

12 Some sources report that the agreement between the Americans and the Taliban would include (in part of the documentation left confidential) a clause guaranteeing US control over Afghan air bases

13 Consiglio

14 UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt

15 European Maritime Awareness in the Strait of Hormuz

Photo: Ministry of National Defense of the People's Republic of China / web / Twitter / US DoD / Ministry of Defense