Daily Archives: March 1, 2007

Karzai’s Russian Card

Posted by Cutler on March 01, 2007
Afghanistan, Great Power Rivalry, Russia / No Comments

In a recent post–entitled “Choosing to Lose in Afghanistan?“–I suggested that Vice President Cheney might have geopolitical reasons to want to support the Taliban in Afghanistan, notwithstanding the links between the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

The central idea was that the Taliban is today–as it was in the 1990s–a bulwark against Russian influence in Afghanistan. As a Russia hawk, Cheney might choose to “lose” in Afghanistan–i.e., to lose the Karzai government and the NATO battle against the Taliban–in order to keep Moscow out of Kabul.

It was an interesting exercise to try to make the argument. And it may have some merit.

Nevertheless, there are very few signs of any US overture to the Taliban (i.e., pressure for the cooptation and integration of Taliban forces as part of the political landscape in Kabul). And, well, tensions between the Taliban and Cheney seemed kind of intense this week, what with the former trying to kill the latter.

I continue to think the the Russian angle is part of the story, but I’m not sure that support for the Taliban is the only option for a Russia hawk.

It is true, as I argued, that the so-called “Tajik clique” behind the Karzai government was historically aligned with Russia. It is also true that the Taliban has had and continues to have very tense relations with Moscow.

Perhaps Cheney is now pressing for a major crackdown against the Taliban. Maybe Cheney thinks that the best way to grab Afghanistan and keep it from Russia is to compete for the hearts and minds of the “Tajik clique.” And maybe the “Tajik clique” of the Karzai regime is playing hard to get.

Back in December 2006, Fareed Zakaria published an essay that about efforts by Afghan President Karzai to get Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to crackdown on the Taliban:

Karzai argues that Pakistan has been tacitly—and often actively—supporting the Taliban along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, and in Pakistan itself…

At the dinner that Bush threw for both presidents in September, Karzai was extremely blunt, according to those familiar with the discussions (who wish to remain anonymous because of the private nature of the event). Karzai warned that if the United States was forced to leave Afghanistan, Kabul would ally far more closely with India and Russia, which would not be in Pakistan’s interests.

Is it too much to suggest that Karzai was threatening Cheney as much as Musharraf?

Karzai is often caricatured as a well-dressed US puppet whose weak regime may control the city of Kabul, but little else.

Is it possible, however, that Karzai is using inter-imperialist rivalry between the US and Russia to leverage US pressure on Musharraf and the Taliban?