Still, Washington's long game is to continue to generate endless conspiracy theories in Pakistan - betting on chaos in the country to sooner or later try to get hold of Pakistan's nuclear weapons, as the ISI sees it. And yet, the current peace process has been more or less "approved" by Washington. The drone war is more or less on hold. For now.Karzai strikes again
Now to the elections in Afghanistan next month. Wily President Hamid Karzai is busy pushing "his" candidate for president, Zalmay Rassoul. He appointed former interior minister and speaker of the lower house of parliament Younus Qanooni as the vice-presidential candidate, replacing the recently deceased Mohammad Fahim.
Qanooni, like Fahim, comes from the Panjshir valley and was very close to the legendary Ahmad Shah Massoud, the Lion of the Panjshir assassinated by Al-Qaeda two days before 9/11. Qanooni was against the US bombing in 2001 and never minced his words criticizing Karzai.
Karzai's power play is brilliant because it reinforces his Tajik connection while undermining the rival candidacy of Abdullah Abdullah, Washington's favorite. Rassoul now enjoys a cross-section Pashtun/Tajik appeal.
The Afghan presidential election will be decided in the second round of voting. Then we will really see who the top mujahideen commanders -- from Ismail Khan in Herat to Gul Agha Sherzai in Kandahar -- are really endorsing. And how Karzai maneuvered to once again get what he wants.
From Washington's point of view Rassoul may be acceptable because he's willing to sign the much controversial Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) that will allow "residual" US troops in Afghanistan.
Or at least he said he will sign, after bribing all the warlords that matter. Rassoul knows if that happens the Taliban will go for his throat, even if he's a Pashtun. More likely, if he's a wily Pashtun, he's saying one thing and thinking of doing another.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
(image by Reuters / Mohammad Ismail)
So there are two parallel peace processes going on, in Pakistan and in Afghanistan. The key problem is that "peace" being reached in Pakistan may eventually translate into chaos in Afghanistan, because then the Afghan Taliban would be reinforced by the "liberated" Pakistani Taliban in an offensive against the new government in Kabul.
Some TTP fighters pursued by the Pakistani army are now safely parked across the border -- especially in the aforementioned Kunar and Nuristan. And over there they would be protected by Afghan security services, as the Pakistanis complain.
Make no mistake; Pakistani-Afghan rivalry remains extremely fierce. It wouldn't be any other way; Afghanistan never recognized the Durand line, which has deprived it of many of its own Pashtun lands. Blame the British Empire over 100 years ago. This remains the key to all this mess.
There's no question Pashtuns on both sides of the border are paying immense attention to Crimea. A similar secession would result in their long-life dream -- Pashtunistan. Their problem is that they would have to be fighting two central governments at the same time -- Kabul and Islamabad. And in terms of representation, the Taliban, on both sides of the border, certainly do not answer for the majority of Pashtuns.We just want to make money
China's position adds even more spice to this brew. Beijing is focusing like a laser on the US and NATO withdrawing for good from Afghanistan at the end of the year. That's one less hub of the US Empire of Bases -- too close for comfort to the Chinese border.
Beijing wants a profitable Afghanistan. It's not happening in the foreseeable future. In 2008 Chinese Metallurgical Group and Jiangxi Copper Co bought a 30-year lease on Mes Aynak -- the largest copper mine in the world -- in Logar province, for a cool $3 billion.
Then the Taliban started attacking the mine. And Beijing started regarding Afghanistan more like a security headache than a source of profits -- even contributing in security cooperation with the Karzai administration.
An extremely complicating factor is that Beijing has identified these Taliban attackers as originating from Pakistan. Add that to Uighurs doing a back and forth with Pakistan, where they receive training to "destabilize" Xinjiang, and we have a major problem between staunch allies Beijing-Islamabad. Beijing is puzzled that Islamabad seems to be doing nothing to stop these infiltrations.
Pakistani paramilitary soldiers.
(image by AFP Photo / Aamir Qureshi)
It gets even murkier when it is quite well known in the region that some Uighur activists have been infiltrated/manipulated by the CIA -- for decades. So if you're crossing from northern Pakistan to Xinjiang, parallel to the Karakoram highway, there's a strong possibility you're an American spy -- as Beijing sees it.
Still that is not enough to provoke a serious split between Beijing and Islamabad. Both roughly agree on the US and NATO out of Afghanistan. Both roughly disagree on the Taliban having a say in the new Afghanistan (out of the question for China; depends on how pliable they would be, for Pakistan).
Most of all, both definitely agree on more trade ties -- with Pakistan fully profiting from a trade corridor from the port of Gwadar to Xinjiang. And both definitely agree that if Crimea ends up boosting the Pashtunistan dream, that would be a whole new, immensely unpredictable, and "destabilizing" ball game.