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Shifting the Afghan “Great Game”

Tel Aviv – So President Barack Obama has decided to “stay the course.” The obstinate battle cry of the Bush administration in Iraq has now won out in Obama’s planned surge of an additional 30,000 troops in Afghanistan. A Taliban victory there, the advocates of the surge had warned, would radicalize the entire region and create a domino effect, with Islamic insurgencies unleashed across Central Asia. Al Qaeda, inextricably entwined with the Taliban, would also claim victory if America had signaled a retreat.

But victory for the forces of jihad is not the only possible scenario. Al Qaeda, for example, has now become a franchised global concern whose capabilities no longer depend on its Afghan base. In fact, disconnected from the heroin trade, which has turned the Taliban into a colossal economic concern, Al Qaeda is in clear financial decline. Nor is it clear that NATO’s withdrawal would inevitably usher in a Taliban takeover. A fragmentation of the country along ethnic lines is a more probable scenario.

In reality, the question of what to do in Afghanistan concerns the old vocation of the “white man’s burden,” which never seems to die, however costly and duplicitous it might be. For, even if the calamities predicted by the prophets of doom are the most likely scenario, why are they a greater threat to the West than they are to regional powers like India, China, Russia, and Iran (for which the Sunni Taliban are a dangerous ideological challenge). None of these countries is considering a military solution to the Afghan crisis.

Pakistan’s macabre association with the Taliban stems mostly from its constant effort to pressure its mortal enemy, India. A stable and secular Afghanistan is therefore a vital strategic necessity for India. Indeed, India was alone in the non-aligned movement in supporting the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980’s, and it also desperately supported the secular Northern Alliance after the Taliban victory of the 1990’s.