As part of the increasingly overt US geo-political strategy to prevent China from making progress on the One Belt—One Road, the US is engaged in both igniting and fuelling conflicts in and around important junctions of the land roads and maritime belts that will allow China to usher in a new age of global interconnectivity.
Two of the biggest roadblocks are currently in Afghanistan and Syria. This effects not only China but also China’s partner Pakistan. Currently the only thing preventing a land route linking Pakistan to the Mediterranean are the conflicts in Afghanistan and Syria and this is exactly why the US wants these conflicts to go on in perpetuity. In terms of political and military strategies, the conflicts in Afghanistan and Syria could not be more different, especially where US involvement is concerned.
Prior to the ignition of the US proxy war, Syria was a stable, united, pluralistic country with a long history of political and cultural sophistication, as well as peaceful interaction with nearby cultural entities. In Syria, the stable, secular, progressive government was weakened by the importation of Takfiri terrorists seeking to transform the country into a backward, sectarian theocratic dictatorship. However, since 2011, it has become clear that this original goal is untenable, so instead the US has shifted to a strategy of semi-permanent occupation of north east Syria, using Kurdish terrorists as the preferred method of entrenching US power in the region. More importantly, while prior to 2011 Turkey and Syria had healthy relations, today it is a US goal to use the Kurdish question to create permanent conflict between Ankara and Damascus. So long as the Kurdish issue burns in Syria, Turkey will never vacate its troops and likewise, as much as Damascus opposes Kurdish terrorism, so long as Turkish troops remain on Syrian soil, Damascus will never normalise relations with its northern neighbour.
In Afghanistan one sees an equal and opposite strategy. In the 1980s, US proxy Takfiri Mujahedeen terrorists worked with the CIA to destabilise and eventually overthrow the socialist government in Kabul which came to power after 1978’s Saur Revolution. This government was the last time Afghanistan had anything approximating a non-sectarian, non-tribal, progressive and unifying government.
In the years that followed, Afghanistan had an ideologically backward anti-progressive regime between 1992 and 1996 and an even more extreme Taliban regime in 1996. Since the 2001 US invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, the country has been ruled by a rag-tag group of largely incompetent politicians who are ill equipped to deal with the fact that the genuine moderate rebellion that is the Taliban, is a group that increasingly speaks for Afghanistan’s majority Pashtun population. So while in Syria the US has created and subsequently backed sectarian forces which threaten the territorial unity of a country fully capable of re-uniting under the secular government, in Afghanistan, the US is pushing an effective pretender government that is genuinely isolated from the majority Pashtun “street”. So while the strategies are largely antithetical, the goal of the US in both countries is the same.
Currently, the war in Afghanistan is partly preventing a full-scale rapprochement between Iran and Pakistan, not to mention the increased road traffic between the two state’s that would be mutually beneficial to Tehran, Islamabad and also Kabul. While Iran and Pakistan continue to slowly but surely improve relations, the conflict in Afghanistan serves as an uncomfortable reminder of the recent past when the two countries found themselves entirely at odds over Afghanistan, particularly during the 1990s when Islamabad’s sympathies were with the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan while Tehran favoured the Northern Alliance.
The US seeks to perpetuate ethnic and tribal conflicts in Afghanistan at the expense of Pakistan and Iran fully reconciling themselves with the differences of the past and create a united front in the future. In this sense, while the US will certainly continue to encourage Indian sponsored terrorism in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province to create havoc near Pakistan’s southern border with Iran, Washington will also continue to perpetuate chaos in Afghanistan to prevent a smooth road of commerce and friendship being built from Pakistan to Iran, through Afghanistan.
The best way for Pakistan and Iran to overcome the effective booby-trap the US has set, is to use the ports of Gwadar and Chabahar in ways that complement one another, rather than compete. Pakistan’s Gwadar port on the Indian Ocean, and nearby Chabahar on Iran’s Gulf of Oman coast, ought to function in the same way that two large airports in a single metropolitan area function in terms of passenger traffic and cargo shipments. To use an even more strident example, the Port of Los Angeles and the separately administered Port of Long Beach on the Pacific are literally a 3 minute drive from one another, but nevertheless, there is plenty of freight traffic at both. In this sense, Chabahar and Gwadar’s operators can work cooperatively. This will not only thwart the US Afghan strategy designed to keep Pakistan and Iran at odds, but it will furthermore show India that try as it might, it cannot negatively influence Pakistan’s growing relations with Iran. Indeed, Iran’s political leadership has made this last point clear.
By building bonds on the maritime belt between Gwadar and Chabahar, Iran and Pakistan can also forge a trusting partnership that will allow both countries to actively participate in formulating a realistic peace process along the lines discussed by China and Russia. China and Russia, like Pakistan are clear that the only way to end the conflict in Afghanistan is to form a multi-ethnic/multi-tribal unity government which includes elements of the Taliban who have indicated that upon a US exit from the country, will be willing to work cooperatively with other factions.
The open hostility towards Pakistan from the Trump White House, is proof positive that Pakistan can and should advocate for such a solution alongside coming out in favour of an unconditional US withdrawal from Afghanistan. As Pakistan now shares Iran’s common American enemy, this could be yet another stepping stone towards re-building trust between Islamabad and Iran. Such an understanding along with Russia and China’s moderating influence could help assure Iran that Pakistan does not seek to prop up a would-be Afghan government that would discriminate against Afghan minorities who often look to Iran for guidance.
In Syria, Russia and Iran must work harder behind the scenes to get Turkey and Syria to reach an understanding. While Syria is absolutely justified in seeking Turkey’s withdrawal from its territory, the bigger picture necessitates a united front against the illegal US occupation of Syria. It is a fact that insurgent Kurds in Syria would lose all of the military and political power if the US withdrew from Syria. Just as “Israel” was not able to supply Iraqi Kurds during their attempted insurgency in September of 2017, so too will the Zionist regime find it difficult to meaningfully supply the Syrian Kurds.
If America leaves Syria, the Kurdish question will be answered with a definitive “no”, in respect of any attempts at an YPG led unilateral separation from Syria and the accompanying springboard from which to attack Turkey with their PKK brethren. This will take away Turkey’s only legitimate security concern in respect of Syria and would allow the formation of a calm approach, guided by Russia and Iran, in respect of addressing Turkey’s presence in Idlib and parts of Aleppo Governorate.
This is why the US is keen on remaining in both Afghanistan and Syria. The US knows it cannot “win” the wars they started in either country, but they do know that Afghanistan can create both a physical and political roadblock to a full reconciliation between Pakistan and Iran, just as sure as a US backed Kurdish entity in Syria could prevent reconciliation between Turkey and Syria as well as clogging important roads of connectivity between Iraq and Syria whose relationship is at its highest point since prior to the Ba’ath Party split of 1966. Zooming out further, the US roadblocks in Afghanistan and Syria serve to make China’s otherwise long, windy but open road to the Mediterranean, all the more difficult.
While Syria and Turkey as well as Pakistan and Iran have their own very unique issues to address, it is ultimately the US presence in each respective region that is intended to keep countries that ought to reconcile at odds. In the case of Syria and Turkey, the relations are far more critical than those between Pakistan and Iran.
Nevertheless, it now behoves both Russia and China to work at removing the American cancer from both Afghanistan and Syria. There is no point in making compromises with a country whose very presence in both Afghanistan and Syria is designed to thwart China’s flagship global project as well as retard Russia’s key role in the new eastern model of interconnectivity. The US may not know how to win a war, but they certainly still know how to complicate peace for countries that could genuinely benefit from an outbreak of peace.