March 17, 2008

Will Russia Join NATO to Fight Taliban?

Russia invaded Afghanistan in 1979, giving Charlie Wilson & all the cold warriors an excuse to arm tribal leaders (the Taliban) to fight the Russians. Ten years later Russia was defeated and the Taliban took over. Now, European leaders are looking to Russia to fight the Taliban and assist with the “reconstruction of Afghanistan.” As always, [my bold]:
Russia throws a wrench in NATO's works
By M K Bhadrakumar
For the first time in the 60-year history of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Russia will attend the alliance's summit meeting on April 2-4 in Bucharest, Romania.
It is clear that NATO will defer to a future date any decision to put Ukraine and Georgia on its Membership Action Plan. This means effectively that the two former Soviet republics cannot draw closer to NATO for another year at the very least, which in turn implies that the earliest the two countries can realize their membership claim would be in a four-year timeframe.
That is a huge gesture by NATO to Moscow's sensitivities. Conceivably, it clears the decks for what could prove to be a turning point in Russia-NATO relations. Russia may be about to join hands with NATO in Afghanistan.
[...] From the feverish pace of diplomatic activity, the expectation of the two sides seems to be that an agreement could be formalized at NATO's Bucharest summit. In an interview with German publication Der Spiegel on Monday, Rogozin confirmed this expectation, saying, "We [Russia] support the anti-terror campaign against the Taliban and al-Qaeda. I hope we can manage to reach a series of very important agreements with our Western partners at the Bucharest summit. We will demonstrate that we are ready to contribute to the reconstruction of Afghanistan."
[...] Given the complicated history of Russia-NATO relations, the issue is loaded with geopolitics. Russian President Vladimir Putin hinted as much at a joint press conference with visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Moscow last Saturday. He said, "NATO is already overstepping its limits today. We have no problem to helping Afghanistan, but it is another matter when it is NATO that is providing the assistance. This is a matter beyond the bounds of the North Atlantic, as you are well aware."
ANP leader Amir Haider Khan Hoti bluntly told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in an exclusive interview this week, "Our priorities are clear. We first want to move toward peace through negotiations [with the Taliban], jirgas [tribal councils], and dialogue. God willing, we will learn from [failed talks and jirgas in the past] and will try not to repeat the same mistakes. We will try to take into confidence our people, our tribal leaders, and our [clerics] - and together with them, we will try to move toward peace through negotiations."
Hoti didn't speak a word about the "war on terror" or the George W Bush administration's expectations of Pakistani military operations in the tribal areas. It remains a riddle why the Bush administration should have so far kept out of conflict resolution in Afghanistan countries such as Russia and China, whose interests are vitally affected, perhaps even more immediately than the US or European countries. As US statesman Henry Kissinger wrote in an article in the International Herald Tribune on Monday, "A strategic consensus remains imperative ... Pakistan's stability should not be viewed as an exclusively American challenge." [Thanks, Hank!]
[...] The Kremlin has badly cornered the Bush administration. Taking Russia's help at this critical juncture makes eminent sense for NATO. The alliance is struggling to cope with the war in Afghanistan. By the analogy of Iraq, some observers estimate that a force level close to half a million troops will be required to stabilize Afghanistan, given its size and difficult terrain.
[...] Washington faces an acute predicament insofar as Moscow won't settle for selective engagement by NATO as a mere transit route but will incrementally broaden and deepen the engagement, and major European allies might welcome it. Moscow insists on the involvement of the CSTO and even SCO. On the other hand, Russia's involvement could invigorate the NATO mission in Afghanistan and ensure that the mission is not predicated on the highly unpredictable factor of Pakistan's partnership.
[...] At the very least, history comes full circle when Putin arrives in Bucharest in the next 18 days for the gala 60th anniversary summit of the alliance. That would be 54 years since the Soviet Union suggested it should join NATO to preserve peace in Europe.
M K Bhadrakumar served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for over 29 years, with postings including India's ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-1998) and to Turkey (1998-2001). (Copyright 2008 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved)

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