US looks for bases to keep an eye on Afghanistan - GulfToday

US looks for bases to keep an eye on Afghanistan


US Joint Chiefs Chairman General Mark Milley discusses the end of the military mission in Afghanistan during a news conference at the Pentagon in Washington. File/ Reuters

According to reports, United States Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley met his Russian counterpart, Chief of the Russian General Staff General Valery Gerasimov in Helsinki on Wednesday apparently to discuss the use of bases in the Afghan neighbourhood in Central Asia to maintain surveillance over activities of Daesh. The Russians are not open to the idea.

The Americans fear that Daesh will regroup in a year or two and strike the United States. The other option for the Americans is to use the military bases in the Gulf to launch aerial strike “over the horizon”. But experts seem to feel that it does not provide enough tactical advantage. The Russians are apprehensive that the Taliban in power in Afghanistan would destabilise the Central Asian republics, which were formerly part of the erstwhile Soviet Union, to the north. Though these former Soviet republics are independent, they continue to be in the Russian sphere of influence. Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, under Russian pressure the two had asked the United States to close the operating bases in their territory. In the meeting of the generals, Russia made it clear that American military presence in the Central Asian region would change a lot of things, as it would relations between Russia and America.

It is a surprise, and perhaps it should not come as a surprise at all, that the Americans are planning ways to maintain surveillance over Afghanistan, and they are making a provision for aerial strikes if there are signs that Daesh is regrouping. This also makes evident that the Americans do not trust the Taliban to keep their word that they would not allow any extremist group to operate from Afghan territory. The lack of trust and goodwill between the Taliban and the Americans does not augur well for Afghanistan. Of course, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said that the Taliban would have to earn the trust. This would mean that the United States and the rest of the Western countries would not recognise the Taliban government in Kabul in a hurry.

Even China, which has appeared to be most open to the Taliban, have their own informal conditionality to recognise the Taliban. Chinese President Xi Jinping said that the Taliban must establish an inclusive government. Though Pakistan, the closest Taliban ally, is arguing the case of the Taliban with other countries, it is painfully aware that the new government in Kabul must be inclusive, which would mean inclusion of women in the government. The Taliban appear to be reluctant to yield to external pressure of any kind. And if they were to induct women, they would want to do it on their own terms.

If it appeared at the end of August that the Americans have turned their back on Afghanistan, it is a wrong impression. The Americans may have physically left Afghanistan, but Afghanistan is playing on the American mind. The Americans seem to believe that an Afghanistan under Taliban is a fertile ground for groups like Daesh to pose a security threat to America as it had happened in the late 1990s. Americans feel that they cannot afford to take their eyes off Afghanistan as they had done after the Soviet Union (Russia) withdrew troops in 1989. In the American calculation, it is easier to keep a watch over Afghanistan from the outside rather than stay inside Afghanistan, and that the economic costs would be much less. It is not a good sign for Afghanistan that Americans feel the need to look over the shoulders at the country because it would only make the Taliban unsure of their hold over the country, and they would adopt hardline measures to allay their own sense of insecurity.

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