What price Russian cooperation on Afghanistan?

January 6, 2009

According to the Washington Post, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates sees opportunities for the United States to cooperate with Russia on Afghanistan. The newspaper says Gates, a longtime Russia analyst during his years with the CIA, sees Moscow as less of a threat than do many inside and outside the U.S. military establishment. “Russia is very worried about the drugs coming out of Afghanistan and has been supportive in terms of providing alternative routes for Europeans in particular to get equipment and supplies into Afghanistan,” it quoted him as saying.

The story is interesting in the context of the United States searching for new supply lines through Central Asia into Afghanistan as an alternative to Pakistan before it sends in thousands more troops.  “The plan to open new paths through Central Asia reflects an American-led effort to seek out a more reliable alternative to the route from Pakistan through the strategic Khyber Pass,” the New York Times said.

It quoted U.S. officials as saying that delicate negotiations were under way not only with the Central Asian states bordering Afghanistan but also with Russia, to work out the details of new supply routes. “The talks show the continued importance of American and NATO cooperation with the Kremlin, despite lingering tension over the war between Russia and Georgia in August.”

In an editorial, the International Herald Tribune picked up the same theme, saying that the passage from Pakistan, through the Khyber Pass, had become too dangerous. “Despite the tension in U.S.-Russian relations since the war in Georgia last August, Russian officials are saying openly that they share with NATO a strategic interest in helping protect Afghanistan from the Taliban. Toward that end, Russian and NATO representatives have been discussing the transport of NATO supplies to Afghanistan through Russia’s airspace.”

The question of how far Russia and the United States will cooperate on Afghanistan could have a major influence on both Pakistan and India.  Going back to the days of the Soviet occupation, Pakistan’s relationship with the United States has been driven by its status as a frontline state in wars in Afghanistan. India in turn resents Pakistan’s pivotal role in the Afghan campaign, fearing this might undermine its efforts to convince the United States to lean on Islamabad to crack down on militants it blames for the Mumbai attacks.

So how far will the United States be willing to modulate its approach to Russia to win its cooperation on Afghanistan and reduce its dependence on Pakistan?  The Washington Post quoted Gates as saying that, “One of the challenges facing the new administration is figuring out kind of where you push back on the Russians and where . . . there are opportunities to build a closer relationship.” But Gates also said in an article in Foreign Affairs that the United States must not fail in Afghanistan.  “To be blunt, to fail — or to be seen to fail — in either Iraq or Afghanistan would be a disastrous blow to U.S. credibility, both among friends and allies and among potential adversaries.”

With President-elect Barack Obama avoiding making comments on foreign policy until he takes office on Jan. 20, it’s hard to judge how he will juggle all the competing foreign policy demands on him, from the Middle East to South Asia to relations with Russia and elsewhere.  But will a man who has declared Afghanistan to be a priority be willing to make compromises on other issues affecting Russia, including U.S. plans to set up a missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic in the face of intense opposition from Moscow?   (This website has a good round-up of stories about the missile shield, including, if you scroll down to the bottom, links to editorials for and against the idea.)

A rhetorical question, obviously, until Obama takes office.  But surely an intriguing one, particularly in South Asia where every nuance of U.S. policy is studied closely. Russian support in Afghanistan might — or might not — influence the U.S. attitude to India and Pakistan. It might — or might not — be affected by issues as apparently different as the missile shield.  But did any of us ever think, before now, that the balance of power in South Asia could be affected by events in Poland and the Czech Republic?

This is one I’m going to watch closely and I would appreciate comments and links to stories that illuminate the subject both before and after Jan .20.


(Photos: Reuters file photo of Russian tanks during crisis with Georgia; Pakistani soldier on guard at the Khyber Pass; President-elect Barack Obama)


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afghanistan surely is an intriguing situation which have a important place in india’s foreign policy and indo-pak relationship.apparently except pakistan none of the regional foreign powers viz. iran, india and russia are interested in a reinstated taliban. so they may help (to some extent) west to stabilise afghanistan.pakistan surely will not be too happy with this development , they will loose the bargaining power with US.but i don’t think with all these corrupt war lords and without a relatively reformed govt. stability of afghanistan can be achieved only through aid and foreign military power.anyway, i guess a russian involvement spells good for india.:)in domestic politics also govt. can have more room to get involved in afghanistan citing it is not the americans only there.

Posted by unknown indian | Report as abusive

Myra,i would like to have your opinion about russia’s involvement on india in particular.

Posted by unknown indian | Report as abusive

It is high time to put the destructive Cold War mentality behind once and for all. Cooperation between the U.S. and Russia is good for peace and stability not only in Afghanistan but the entire world. U.S. should have asked Moscow for help in Afghanistan much earlier instead of wasting billion of dollars and precious time (seven years) on the military dictatorship of Musharraf, which not only fooled the generous Uncle Sam, but the entire world.Pakistan has used the supply route through Khaibar Pass as a bargaining chip against Afghanistan, the West and India. Therefore it is crucial that the U.S. and NATO expand their supply routes to Afghanistan in order to reduce their dependency on the terrorism sponsoring entity called Pakistan.Russia must unconditionally facilitate West’s supply routes to Afghanistan. A free, moderate, stable, democratic and militarily strong Afghanistan is in the best interests of Russia. Only a strong and democratic Afghanistan can guarantee the security and stability of Russia’s Southern flank and underbelly in Central Asia.Afghanistan in general and Pashtuns in particular, on both sides of the colonial, imposed and defunct Durand Line, are the biggest victims of Indo-Punjabi (Pakistan-India) conflict. Afghanistan will have to close and completely shut her Eastern and Southern borders with Pakistan, until Punjab, Sind and India can sort out their problems, which are affecting Afghanistan.Finally, Russians must remember that in fact it was Pakistan which forced the Soviet to invade Afghanistan, which was threatened by terrorists infiltrating from Pakistan long before the Communist coupe and the subsequent Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Pakistan will do everything in its power to bring the Cold War back to the region in order to be seen as strategically important for the West.Although so far Russia has cooperated with U.S. and NATO in the “war on terror, it must avoid using supply routes to Afghanistan as a bargaining chip against the West. In case Russia refuses to cooperate with the West, the extremists of Taliban and al-Qaeda will be back and threatening Russia’s soft underbelly in Central Asia.Good and cordial relations between Russia and Afghanistan, Russia and the U.S. plus NATO, will defeat terrorism in the region.From a morale and ethical point of view, Russia owes it to the people of Afghanistan that it should help stabilize Afghanistan.

Posted by kabura | Report as abusive

Where Russian r-e-a-l-i-t-y is concerned, one almost has to conclude Robert Gates has some small amount of common sense, after all.

Posted by Prof. K. | Report as abusive

Nice Article! But is it True…… My first point is that the photo of “Pakistani soldier on guard at the Khyber Pass” is the picture which I have seen as picture of “Hammas militant rocketing in israel”—which picture is true — an intelligent person from the picture can easily identify that its not Pakistani Soldier firstly becasue of his hands, eyes and also background, secondly Pakistani never hide thier faces, have you seen any photo like that….My second point we have all recently celebrated the Cristmas and new year and we all prayed for peace and unity so why do you think of war game – lets shake hand with russia and then have alternative to Pakistani route — do you thinks USA – (most power country of the world) would not think of that. Pakistan have been friend to US wend its troop to Afghanistan to fight Soviet (former Russia) invasion. Just go and buy yourself the DVD of RAINBOW III, famous movie of Silversatlone and dot forget to watch it. My third point, do you think Pakistan is in advantage only because of Khyber pass,1) Pakistan has world’s largest WiMAX network2) Pakistan enjoys all weather in its environment3) Pakistan has city called “Swoat”, its Snowfall is much better than Switzerlands’4) Pakistan has the mountainous region, it has K-2, highest peak in the world,5) Pakistan has Gas, Iron, Minerals and etc. resoviour in different parts6) Pakistan has chain of five rivers7) Pakistan has white dolphins8) Pakistan has best sea shores for surfing and boating9) Pakistan is the world best in surgical instruments, sports goods and wodden furntiture.10) Pakistan has more than 5% area covered with natural forest.11) Pakistan is a nuclear state and self sufficient in many things despite being not so priviledged by world11) And many more….All such things in a country called PAKISTAN annoyed india, russia, because only these two countries have problem with PAKISTAN…So wake up and start thinking positively…Long live and Prosperous Pakistan.

Posted by Peace | Report as abusive

Russians would be very wary of the Americans getting a stronghold in its backyard. After all we have all seen the condemnation coming out of Washington n the West aginst the just action of the Russian forces against Georgia.However I admit as any nation, mistakes were made by the Pakistani Policies in Afghnistan. Pakistan have learned by paying a heavy price to safeguard its intrest in Afghanistan, I mean it could not have ignored it as the Indians have always been close to Northern Aliance and Pakistan is close to the Pashtuns. How could Pakistan have ignored having India threating on is West border and also hostile goverment in Afghanistan.The best strategy is to have a good anti terrorisn co operation between Pakistan n Afghanistan to counter terrorist or their activaties. Without just blaming each other and we will not even need the help of so called superpowers.As ISI head is quoting in saying “We might be crazy but not stupid, Terrorism is our enemy and not India”. We should work with all the neighbours to bring prosperty n hope to the people of Afghnistan n Pakistan as whole. When hope n education to all is provided no mullahs can brainwash the kids to commit acts of terrorism in Pakistan or eleswhere.

Posted by Ali | Report as abusive

One point, I don’t think there is even the slightest possibility of Russia “unconditionally” allowing Western supply routes through its territory. The will be a price and it will be a substantial one, regardless of whether Russia needs a non-Taliban Afghanistan or not. In the 1990s the Russians learned the foolishness and naivete of giving geo-strategic freebies to NATO.

Posted by Brian Fitzgerald | Report as abusive

Pakistan has started its so called antiterrorism campaign against its own created terrorist groups in Khyber Agency blocking the main supply rout to Afghanistan just to get some of the pressure off that Pakistan faces from west and its neighboring countries.Pakistan is a base for all terrorist groups fighting either in Afghanistan or in India or the entire world.Pakistan has done almost nothing to dismantle these organizations instead offered a peace talk with terrorist who kill innocent civilians in Afghanistan and in India.If it wasn’t for 911 USA may have never attacked Taliban and Pakistan would continue supporting the most horrifying terrorist group ever known who were beheading people in public, who deprived girls from school and list goes on…Pakistan was the first and remained one of the two countries in the whole world to recognized Taliban government.In November more than 170 people lost their lives in Mumbai, so far India has presented more than enough evidence to Pakistan to link those terrorist to terror groups based in Pakistan but Pakistan is still not doing anything about it,Yesterday Indian prime Minister Mr. Sign stated that some evidence indicate involvement of Pakistani officials behind the Mumbai attack in November.Pakistan has and continues creating these terrorist groups to achieve its own political agendas, whether it’s spreading horror in Indian cities or halting any effort to stabilize afghan government.To get to the conclusion, what are we waiting for?As long as we ignore the fact that Pakistan is the heaven for terrorist and we don’t do any thing about it, we will never be able to achieve peace in the region and that will cost Afghans, Indians and the whole world a lot of precise lives that could be saved.

Posted by Afghan | Report as abusive

Afghan- Personlay I think you are a Idiot soz Indian hiding behind the name Afghan. But if you are, firstly you should be shameful the fact you have puppet regime in Kabul that does not even control anything outside the capital. But the blame goes to Pakistan, if anyhting goes on in the lawless countryside.Let me tell you Talibans are Pashtuns who are majority in that country and their Government was toppled so offcourse they feel they are not even representedin the current government beside in the form of puppet Karzai himself. Who has failed to deliver to his people economicaly, securtiy and his government should be awarded for being the most corrupt on the planet.Now to the Pakistan, yes there were mistakes made in the past. Terrorism is Pakistans NO1 enemy so all Pakistanis know we have to fight this menace with or without International help.Grow up all the people who think Pakistan is the cause when we are the victims. I mean which country has lost more soldiers, innocent civilians, infrastucture, ecnomicaly so go and tell that bedtime story to your kids. Pakistanis are not buying it and we DONT care what you idiots(indians) think.Infact the puppet Karzai who is runing that country ask him who gave him shelter in Quetta before he was installed = Pakistan!Who feeds Afghans with all the smuggling in Chamman n Khyber pass? Pakisan!Who alllowed millions of refugees to take shelter = Pakistan!We are NOT counting what we have done for Afghan brothers, but at least dont bite the person who is feeding you. What did Pakistan get in return AK47, DRUGS, MILITANTS!!!

Posted by Ali | Report as abusive

—But isn’t Russia already blocking the Central Asia route to Afghanistan? Haven’t they almost blocked the Georgian path & is the present Gas supply fiasco with Ukraine a subtle warning to the rest of the former USSR Nations to keep distance from NATO?

Posted by Anup | Report as abusive

‘…after Jan .20.’—The Americans have elected probably the most dangerous man of the 21st century,with him at the helm of affairs, to expect anything globally peaceful or progressive would be self-delusion…

Posted by Anup | Report as abusive

Myra, further the Northern Areas if reclaimed by India are the only alternative land route to Afghanistan (until someone wishes to believe the Iran route as a possibility for NATO, lol) & I hope this unravels the Siachen Glaciers mystery to some extent to you…

Posted by Anup | Report as abusive

((Mr. Ali))Last and first thing that you should have learned from school/home is Manners,The way you continue a conversation shows how amateur your are.When you are confronted with different views and opinions, you don’t reply with vulgar language.As far as Pakistan and terrorism is concern, let me remind you a few things.There are many terrorist organizations in Pakistan that are supported by ISI and Pakistan’s government to fight India in LOC (line of control) area as well as spreading terror in Indian cities,Here are some major ones that we all know.Lashkar-e-taiba,Hiz-e-mujahidenAl-b adar mujahiden and the list goes on and on,Pakistani government has recognized them as Kashmiri freedom fighters therefore Pakistan will do nothing to stop them liberating Kashmir from India where in reality they are labeled as most wanted terrorist groups by the USA.Of course Afghan government of corrupt and does not have enough control outside the capital. Afghanistan has suffered a 35years of war. We are talking about three and a half decades of just war, destruction, poverty and no education. What else could you expect from such a country, to this day we are still proud to be able to fight back our enemies like Pakistan and all other terrorist groups.Of course Pakistan received millions of afghan refugees but didn’t you know that United Nations was paying a huge lump some in aids to Pakistan government to help the refugees and none of those refugees received those help and it got disappeared within Pakistani government. It was afghan refugees who build you cites, Pakistan’s economy was at its highest when it received all those refugees, forget about all the aid that Pakistan got from US. Next time you chose to argue or participate in discussion, try to read the rules. Don’t get too excited and don’t get too angry because truth has never been sweet.Truth is bitter.Pakistan can not see the friendship between India and Afghanistan therefore spreading terrorism between these two countries remain the only objective of Pakistan’s political agendaHope this has cleared some of the doubts you may have had about Afghans and this whole war.

Posted by Afghan | Report as abusive

[…] existing data and information that isn’t otherwise performed within the main stream media.  Myra MacDonald with Reuters has landed on the story of the Khyper Pass and the potential strategic partnership between the U.S. […]

Posted by The Captain’s Journal » Reuters-Come-Lately to Khyber Pass and Georgia Story | Report as abusive

Followup for you, Myra.http://www.captainsjournal.com/2009  /01/08/reuters-come-lately-to-khyber-pa ss-and-georgia-story/

Posted by Herschel Smith | Report as abusive

Ali- add a G in front…that’s what all Paki’s are on Earth…lol

Posted by Anup | Report as abusive

The comments here made me laugh when I see that idiots –ouch..indians start commenting on people from Pakistan. I wonder if they could see, if they could hear and if they could have sense of understanding….please please stop saying the same thing again and again, know Pakistan first and then comments….just you were born in india and you are hindu and the mumbai terrorist were hindu doesnt mean that with word Pakistan you start barking…stop stop and please Stop.PAKISTAN is a country of love and peace, every single Pakistan is degnified.Long live and Prosperous PAKISTAN.

Posted by Peace | Report as abusive

[…] By Myra MacDonald Reuters Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Pakistan Closes NATO Supply Route Amid […]

Posted by Pakistan: Now or Never? « The Terror Journal | Report as abusive

In response to the above comments:Peace – that photo was definitely taken in Pakistan. (I’ve rechecked the pix archive just to be sure there was no mistake)Brian – You say there will be a price for Russian cooperation on supply lines. But what price?Anup – Re the Northern Areas, even Nehru said that Gilgit could be treated as an exception. But that is taking us off track. Seriously, Obama has a four-year term. I presume you are not suggesting that he would somehow miraculously sort out J&K in order to succeed in Afghanistan?Herschel – I’ve answered your comment by e-mail, but do you not think that the context has changed post-Mumbai?Myra

Posted by Myra MacDonald | Report as abusive

Myra, In India the Nehruvian era is dead & so are his words consumed by his pyre & turned into ashes, for your information Nehru had once also suggested to dismantle the Armed forces, claiming that policemen with sticks are more than enough to tackle India’s security, until his Chinese ‘brothers’ forced him to have a rethink over it, I hope this explains the irrelevance of his words…What I am saying of Obama is not that he will solve anything, he’s too stupid to achieve anything of the sort you’ve stated, rather I am stating that at the end of his 4 yrs. term (if he survives it), he will have made a mess of everything & spread chaos not only in this region, but across the globe,the ‘change’ slogan will blow up on his face…may I be proven wrong.further, I also went thru Herschel’s article,even he doesn’t clarifies how will the Georgian route be accessible with south Ossetia under Russian hold, the Abhakazians controlling the Black Sea, & then whether Azerbaijan or Turkey etc. will allow at their own perils, the transit route thru their territories against the wishes of the Russians…The Russians will never let the Americans win the Afghan war, they surely haven’t forgotten their wounds & are gleefully waiting for the Americans to meet the same fate…

Posted by Anup | Report as abusive

Anup,You write that “The Russians will never let the Americans win the Afghan war, they surely haven’t forgotten their wounds & are gleefully waiting for the Americans to meet the same fate…”Did you read this article by Monu Nalapat: http://www.upi.com/Emerging_Threats/2009  /01/07/The_road_to_terror_leads_through _Pakistan/UPI-86601231346346/in which he says the defeat of the Soviets in Afghanistan was an own goal for the west.I’m not a Russia expert, but wouldn’t the Russians know that? In other words, doesn’t the risk of instability in Afghanistan, combined with Putin’s fierce opposition to the heroin trade, make it more in Russia’s interest to help on supply lines rather than see the United States and NATO defeated?Also here’s a story I just noticed on AP on supply lines:http://www.google.com/hostednews/a p/article/ALeqM5imflKllK5uBbqeWPMbBaLqXq GpZQD95J4MH00And one final question. Why did India offer the use of its bases immediately after 9/11 for the campaign in Afghanistan? Does that not suggest that India at the time believed Pakistan was not essential as a transit route? And has that changed?Myra

Posted by Myra MacDonald | Report as abusive

Myra,Which bases are offered by India for the Afgan campaign ?? As far as my knowledge India has only accepted for allowing refulling in its naval area.

Posted by Om | Report as abusive

((Myra))Yes your are right, India was the first country offering its bases to be used by US campaign against the terrorist group of Taliban.Until then Pakistan was still supporting Taliban government and to get US support and make Pakistan a debt free nation Pakistan announced its support of war against Taliban and will let US use its bases that created a lot of tension among Pakistani politicians.India has always been a very close friend of Northern Alliance of Afghanistan that was fighting Taliban for years. Offering US to use its base was another example of two country’s friendship.lets not forget that Pakistani Taliban hijacked Air India and demanded release of one of the most wanted terrorist jailed in India in return of Indian passengers who is still living in Pakistan as a free man.

Posted by Afghan | Report as abusive

Too much of wishful thinking to view that Russia will allow passage of supplies for US troops in Afghanistan. Why the Russians would axe their own feet? 2)Central Asian Republics presently have a sort of detente with Islamic movements operating in Afghanistan, but the moment the supplies if at all will start moving through Central Asian republics the so called religious fighters who are presently in Afghanistan will destablise the whole region and the fragile regimes which are unpopular would never want that to happen to pay the cost for the US regional wars. And what will they get in return even if risk is assumed. Quite a presumptive move!

Posted by Ali | Report as abusive

myra, having problem on blog posting reply…

Posted by anup | Report as abusive

India was among the first to offer to co-operate with the US in combating terrorism post 9/11. As far as I know there were no specifics mentioned or discussed. Berthing facilities to US ships for R&R, re-fuelling, servicing etc were eventually provided. It was a spontaneous gesture offered by a country which was facing problems of cross border terrorism to another which had been subjected to brutal terror attacks. That co-operation with the US in combatting terror would also benefit India was obviously also a factor in making the offer. I don’t think the Indian offer was Pakistan specific or made to counter Pakistan’s role.

Posted by Dara | Report as abusive

MyraThe Russian would want their pound of flesh, insisting that they be incorporated along with NATO in Afghanistan,- some NATO Nations may consent, America shall however not agree at any cost, thus the subject is status quo, (whilst strategists shall live up to their job…hoping as always.)Putin should crush the Russian Mafia (former KGB) if he’s really interested in ending the drug menace…

Posted by Anup | Report as abusive

Myra, The officially appointed connivers by Nations are in no way on the same wavelength as of individual analysts or intellectuals, The article by Mr. Nalpat is a standard ‘Indian understanding’ of Global matters, customary adversary is the Pakistan Army & it gyrates around it, the truth is far away from their assumptions as frankly India is of no real significance to the Big Powers & they are in need of Pakistan, for the time being… Nalpat makes it sound as if the US Intelligence Agencies are a bunch of rookies,

Posted by Anup | Report as abusive

Myra-‘And one final question. Why did India offer …’—Simple, At that point in time it was politically correct to do so & Vajpayee knew that America cannot accept it’s genorosity… because Pakistan was the only immediate route with no alternative, but the gesture worked wonders for Indo-American relationship much to the chagrin of both Pakistan & China, & it’s still bearing fruits…Why doesn’t any analysts / strategists suggest China as a conduit route to Afghanistan? that would be fun, don’t you think???

Posted by anup | Report as abusive

JUST TO OPEN YOUR EYES:Former British Foreign Secretary: Al Qaeda is Not a Real Group, Just a U.S. Propaganda Campaign.Former British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook says:The truth is, there is no Islamic army or terrorist group called Al Qaida. And any informed intelligence officer knows this. But there is a propaganda campaign to make the public believe in the presence of an identified entity representing the ‘devil’ only in order to drive the TV watcher to accept a unified international leadership for a war against terrorism. The country behind this propaganda is the US. Cook has previously written:Al-Qaida, literally “the database”, was originally the computer file of the thousands of mujahideen who were recruited and trained with help from the CIA to defeat the Russians. Cook is merely confirming what others have said. Former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski told the Senate that the war on terror is “a mythical historical narrative”.

Posted by Peace | Report as abusive

Islamic Terror is a clear & present danger, which would aggravate further if US stands defeated in Afganistan. Thus key players in the region – Russia, India, Iran , Pakistan and possible China should get involved. Each has varied interest in Afganistan, but Pakistan stands to loose the most if Afganistan ever becomes peaceful. ISI-jehadi nexus has been sucessfully deployed in low intensity war against India, it keeps Central Asia under stress and is rewarded by China to keep jihad away from Uyghyr Muslims. Pakistan Govt has no administrative control over autonomous Tribal Pathan belts in Baloch & NW Frontier, thus it has become defacto Taliban Land, where it gets its shelter,arms supplies, and finance the war by selling poppies. Pakistan is unstable and would breaking up- if war on terror continues. Russia has agreed to open its skys for US supplies, it may reduce dependence on Pakistan, and enable US to infiltrate inside Pakistan’s Tribal Areas. Another alternative is if US limits economic sanctions on Iran, without compromising on nuclear issue, Russia,China & India can urge Iran to give access through Chabahar Port. Then India can join the war efforts directly. Indian army has 35 years of counter insurgency and mountain warfare experiance, and providing 60000 to 100000 troops on the ground should’nt be an issue. The war would be economically sustainable and politically acceptable to western capitals if the body counts comes down. Otherwise this war is good as over and Taliban knows that ” Americans have the watch, but we have the time”.

Posted by Sam | Report as abusive