Anssi Kristian Kullberg is presently1 employed as a researcher for the Legal and Country Intelligence Service, Western and Central Asia Desk, at the Finnish Directorate of Immigration. This interview represents his personal views only and not those of his employer. On Black Tuesday, 11th September, he was in Kyrgyzstan, on his way to the notorious Ferghana Valley, in a reconstruction of the late Finnish Marshal C.G.E. Mannerheim's intelligence expedition to Turkistan and China in 1906-1908.
SV: Was the Taliban the creation of Pakistan? Can you tell us about its formation and how was Russia involved in it?
AK: The Taliban was not a creation of Pakistan, although Pakistan was among several states that contributed to the genesis and development of this peculiar movement. It is true that the Taliban (which was established only as late as in 1994 as a religious movement) had a significant influx from Pakistani madrassas. But the Taliban is not only an extreme religious movement, but also an ethnic Pashtun one. The Pashtuns are a bit less than half of Afghanistan's population, but in Pakistan there are 16 million resident Pashtuns plus three million as refugees. There are more Pashtuns in Pakistan than in Afghanistan nowadays. The "Pakistanis" involved in Afghanistan are in fact Afghans.
The role of the Pakistani Islamist opposition in the formation and support of the Taliban is widely recorded. But more important are those who made it a military power. This is where Russia enters the game, too. In order to understand the Taliban, we must recall the background situation in Afghanistan ever since the events in 1970s.
The Taliban is not monolithic. Even less so is the Northern Alliance. Neither were the Afghan communists united. This was made evident by the internal power struggles following the ousting of King Zahir Shah in 1973. Daoud was overthrown and killed by communists in 1978. But the communists were divided into the Khalq faction, favored by China, and the Parcham faction, favored by the Soviet Union. In 1978 it was the Khalq faction that took over, but their more moderate leader Nur Mohammed Taraki was overthrown and killed by the hardliner Khalq communist Hafizullah Amin. In 1979, the Soviet Spetsnaz murdered Amin and replaced him with the Parcham follower Babrak Karmal, who was close to the KGB. Then the Soviet army invaded.
The communist secret service Khad (KhAD), whose leaders were Karmal and Sayid Mohammed Najibullah, was actually an Afghan branch of the KGB. It had been preceded by the communist secret services of Taraki and Amin (AGSA, KAM), but from 1979 onwards this organization of terror was instructed and trained by the KGB. The culture of terror and the horrible persecution of the civil population continued without a pause from the communist takeover up until the overthrowing of Najibullah's regime in 1992 when Massoud liberated Kabul. Western minds seem to implicitly suppose that when the Cold War was over, the communists and the structures they had created just suddenly disappeared. This is a recurrent fatal misperception especially of the Americans.
According to Professor Azmat Hayat Khan of the University of Peshawar, when Ahmad Shah Massoud's mujaheddin liberated Kabul in 1992, and Najibullah gave up power, the communist generals of the army and of Khad agreed to prolong the Afghan civil war in order to discredit President Burhanuddin Rabbani's mujahid government and prevent Afghanistan from stabilizing. The Uzbek communist General Abdurrashid Dostum continued the rebellion against Rabbani and Massoud in Mazar-i-Sharif, massively backed by the Soviet Union and later by Russia and Uzbekistan. Another rebellious general was Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Most of the ethnic Pashtun Khalq army generals as well as those of the Khad defected to Hekmatyar's troops. A decisive role was the one played by General Shahnawaz Tanai, the communist commander of the artillery, who defected to Hekmatyar's side as early as in 1990. Later in 1995, when Hekmatyar's rebellion was losing strength, Tanai defected to the Taliban. So did many other communist army and Khad officers.
It was Tanai's defection that provided the Taliban with Soviet artillery, Soviet air force, Soviet intelligence and Soviet technical and military knowledge. The American Anthony Arnold argued already then that Tanai's moves were a KGB-inspired provocation. The former KGB General Oleg Kalugin said that it was Moscow who trained most of the terrorists the US is now chasing.
As regards the Taliban, it was nothing special when they took over Kandahar in 1994. Kandahar was a Pashtun city and the strict interpretation of Islam the Taliban propounds is not so much based on the Qur'an but on the narrow-minded social norms of an agrarian Pashtun village. Mullah Omar is often described as having the background of a relatively simple-minded rustic mullah, although he was also politically active in Mohammed Nabi Mohammadi's Harakat-i-Inqilab-i-Islami (Revolutionary Islamic Movement), which later opposed the Taliban.
But apart from Mullah Mohammed Omar and some other leaders who seem to have truly religious backgrounds (and no other education), the Taliban's military and intelligence are dominated by Soviet-trained communists.
Besides Tanai, there is for example the late first Taliban military commander and one of its founders, "Mullah Borjan", whose real name was Turan Abdurrahman, a prominent communist military officer. Many Taliban "mullahs" have no religious training at all. They are former communist military and security agents who have grown beards and adopted new names and identities replete with the title "mullah". The Taliban artillery commander was the former Soviet Army's Afghan military intelligence officer Shah Sawar. The Taliban intelligence service chief Mohammed Akbar used to head a department of the Khad. And the Taliban air force commander Mohammed Gilani was a communist general, too. Perhaps because of this immensely influential influx into the Taliban, their interpretation of Islam is quite alien for most of the world's Muslims, but closely resembles the interpretation of Islam that the communists and Russia have traditionally espoused in their anti-Islamic propaganda.
The decisive strengthening of the Taliban took place in 1995-1996, when it was seen as a "stabilizing" force in Afghanistan. This was a great fallacy based on the Taliban's success in Kandahar, which was indeed their "home field". Anywhere else the Taliban did not bring about stability, but quite the opposite. Among those with a rising interest in the Taliban forces were all the main players: Russia and its satellite regimes in Central Asia, the U.S., Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. At the initiative of the Turkmen dictator Saparmurat Niyazov, the Russian energy giant Gazprom, headed by the then Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, and the US firm Unocal, contracted to lay a pipeline from Turkmenistan to Pakistan, circumventing Iran and crossing the Afghan territory that the Taliban had supposedly "stabilized". For Pakistan, it has been a traditional national interest to secure energy supplies from Central Asia, since it is sandwiched between two vehemently hostile great powers, India and Iran. For Russia, this was seen as a way to control Central Asian energy resources and to extend its influence towards the Indian Ocean. Two Saudi Arabian oil companies were also involved.
During the same years, the Taliban received sizable armed support. It did not come mainly from Pakistan. Financial succor came from Saudi Arabia. But the most decisive increase in the Taliban's strength came from Russia: the defections of the Khalq and Khad generals directly into the Taliban's leadership, vast amounts of Russian weaponry in several mysteriously "captured" stashes, including a very suspicious "hijacking" and escape of a Russian jet loaded with weapons that ended up in the hands of the Taliban's ex-communist leaders. With these new weapons, the Taliban marched on Herat in 1995, and finally managed to capture Kabul in 1996. Najibullah was hanged, but Najibullah's hanging by his former Taliban-turned protégés seems to have camouflaged the actual developments in the Afghan power struggle.
Russia had an interest to cut the strong ties between Massoud's mujaheddin and the Tajik opposition that Russia had crushed since it attacked Tajikistan in 1992 and backed the communists into power there. The old provocateur Hekmatyar was by then defeated and had finally given up his fight - after losing his men and arms by Tanai's defection to the Taliban - and accepted a seat in the government in compensation. Since Hekmatyar was finished, a new Pashtun force was needed in those years. Taliban was a rising force that various external players tried to exploit by infiltration, support and manipulation.
When the Cold War was declared over by the West, it did not stop elsewhere. After 1989 the West really lost interest in Afghanistan and until some months before his death Massoud was trying to appeal to it in vain. The West was uninterested, but others were. Pakistan, of course, was interested in the goings on in its unstable neighbor. Saudi Arabia was financing and supporting dangerous Sunni fundamentalist groups, and later the Taliban. The Saudis also provided them with their own Saudi fanatics that had become troublesome at home. Iran was supporting its own agents within Afghan Shia groups. And the Soviet Union and later Russia continued to provide massive armed support to the last communist dictator of Afghanistan, Najibullah, and later to the notorious General Dostum.
The Russian principle was "divide and rule", with the basic idea of keeping the West out and assuring that the region would not strengthen so that the Soviet empire could return once it has regained its military might. Because of this stratagem, Russia has supported the Tajiks of the Northern Alliance through Tajikistan - only sufficiently to form a buffer zone against the Taliban, but without being able to gain substantial victories or to intervene in Tajikistan. Moreover, Russia has been arming and supporting the Uzbeks under the command of Dostum and General Malik who later defected to the Taliban's side. This support has been directed through Uzbekistan and still continues - ironically, with the West's full blessing. Less known has been the Russian support directed through Turkmenistan to the Taliban, and to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan that is said to threaten Karimov's rule there.
SV: What was and is the role of the CIA in all this? Was Pakistan's [intelligence agency] ISI the CIA's long arm? Was bin Laden a CIA agent?
AK: A chronic feature of American intelligence policy seems to be historical amnesia and inability to see the complex nature of conflicts and local relationships. This was also manifested during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. British intelligence and part of the Pakistani intelligence community clashed with the US already during the Cold War period, because they wanted to support Ahmad Shah Massoud, the "Lion of Panjshir". It was Massoud and his mujaheddin who finally, after getting Stingers from the British, managed to make the war too expensive for the Soviets, forcing them to retreat in 1989.
Meanwhile, the CIA was incompetent enough to be dependent on the Pakistani intelligence services that, especially in Zia ul-Haq's period, favored Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a pompous figure who claimed to have extensive contacts throughout the Islamic world. He indeed had some contacts, including with Osama bin Laden, but he was considered to be a KGB provocateur by Massoud and many others, and was never of any help in the Afghan independence struggle.
Instead of fighting the Soviet occupants, Hekmatyar preferred to fight other Afghans, and to conspire with suspicious Arab circles imported by his contact bin Laden to Peshawar. The Stingers that the CIA had provided to Hekmatyar, were not used to liberate Afghanistan. Instead, Hekmatyar sold them to Iran, and they were later used against the Americans in a well-known incident.
When the Soviet troops moved out, Hekmatyar pursued a bloody rebellion against the legal Afghan government, devastating the country along with another rebel general, Dostum. (Though they were not aligned.) In 1993, Hekmatyar supported the KGB general and spymaster Haidar Aliyev's coup in Azerbaijan and, in 1994, Hekmatyar was involved in supporting pro-Russian Lezghin terrorists in the Caucasus. Hekmatyar is still active. He lives in Teheran, and has recently finally revealed his true colors by siding with the Taliban.
As far as I know, Osama bin Laden was never a CIA agent. However, there are relatively plausible claims that he was close to Saudi intelligence, especially to the recently fired intelligence chief Prince Turki bin Faizal, until they broke up. Osama first appeared in the Afghan War theater either in 1979, or, at the latest in 1984. But at the beginning he was first and foremost a businessman. He served the interests of those who wished to construct roads accessible for tanks to cross through Afghanistan to the Indian Ocean. This might also explain his characteristic opportunism - quite atypical for a self-proclaimed warrior of faith.
International jihadists surely want to portray him as a religious fighter or Muslim hero, but this is not the true picture, but, mostly, a myth created by the Western media. This is where Arab, Pakistani and Indonesian teenagers learn that Osama is a fighter in a universal struggle of Islam against its oppressors.
But bin Laden never fought the Soviets to liberate Afghanistan. For most of this period, he was not even in Afghanistan. He was managing an office in Peshawar, and the only credible claim about him being in a battle has been made by the former CIA official Milton Bearden concerning a minor skirmish that took place in spring 1987.
Bin Laden's first significant contact in Peshawar was the Palestinian Professor Abdullah Azzam, whom bin Laden has later described as his mentor. Azzam was an Arab idealist, who wanted to concentrate on the liberation of Afghanistan, and who wanted to support Massoud, whom he correctly regarded as being the right person to uphold. Bin Laden disagreed. He wanted to support the disloyal Islamist fanatic Hekmatyar. As a result, Azzam and his son were blown up in a car bomb in 1989, and consequently, bin Laden took over his organization and transformed it into Al-Qaida (the Base). Already before these events, he started to transform the agency by flooding it with his Arab contacts from the Middle East. These Arabs were not interested in liberating Afghanistan as much as in hiding from the law enforcement agencies of their own countries, most of all Egypt's.
When Russia attacked Tajikistan, bin Laden and his folks were by no means interested in liberating Tajikistan from a new communist yoke. Instead, bin Laden left Afghanistan and dispersed his terrorist network, directing it to act against the West. It is bizarre that a man claiming to be an Islamic fundamentalist supported the invasion by the Arab socialist (and thereby atheist) Iraq against Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, both with conservative Islamic regimes.
Al-Qaida's supported all causes and activities against the West: the US, Turkey, Israel, and any pro-Western Muslim regime like Pakistan. Robbers on the island of Jolo in the Philippines qualified for Al-Qaida's support although they hardly knew anything about the Qur'an. They were immediately portrayed as "Islamic fighters". Even the strictly atheist anti-Turkish terrorist organization PKK has been welcomed. At the same time they definitely have not supported Muslims advocating Turkish-modeled moderate independence, like the Chechens, the original Tajik opposition or the Azeri government under President Abulfaz Elchibey.
As concerning Pakistan's intelligence service, the ISI, I think it would be gross underestimation of a potential regional great power and its British colonial traditions of military and intelligence to describe it just as an arm of the CIA or of the Islamists. These are widespread myths. The ISI is neither the hero nor the villain of this story. I think the ISI is interested simply in the national interest of Pakistan, which consists of four main elements: security against the hostile strong neighbors India and Iran, security against the instability and uncontrolled forces ravaging Afghanistan and infiltrating Pakistan through the large Pashtun population, the conflict over Kashmir, and Pakistan's own international status.
Afghanistan is an historical buffer zone in the ancient Great Game of Central Eurasia. It is the gateway through which Pakistan's enemies can attack or destabilize it, and it is equally the buffer that stops these enemies. Pakistan's is interested in regional stability while its enemies seek to use any instability against it. There is a great divide within Pakistan between Pakistani nationalists and internationalist Islamists. Pakistan is relatively democratic compared with its neighbors - even including India, considering its treatment of minorities and the Kashmir issue. It, thus, has the problems of a democracy. Pakistan has quite free and critical press, local administration and intellectual opposition, the Islamists included. It is not, and has never been, an Islamist dictatorship like Saudi Arabia.
SV: Can you chart the relationship between the ISI and the Taliban?
AK: The policy of the ISI was strongly correlated with developments in Pakistan's leadership. The main divide concerning the ISI's Afghanistan policies did not concern religious issues as it did the ethnic question related to the political and military aspirations of the Pashtun people in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. Actually one of the greatest dangers to Pakistan's national existence would be the emergence of the idea of Greater Pashtunistan, splitting Pakistan in two.
This was an idea favored and agitated by the pro-Soviet Pashtuns - many of whom are now influential in the Taliban. The Pakistani researcher Musa Khan Jalalzai noticed this and described these people as "enemies of Pakistani interests".
India and Iran would like to split Pakistan and destroy it, and Russian geopolitics is still based on a "final thrust to the South". Iran and India equally fear that Baluchistan, Kashmir and Punjab would finally be united under Pakistani rule. Incorporating Pashtunistan, Pakistan has the potential to become a South Asian superpower with plausible expansionist chances. Yet this has never really been an aspiration of Pakistan. Like Turkey under Ataturk, Pakistan under such leaders as Ayub Khan and now Pervez Musharraf has been introverted in its nationalism and based on constitutional and national ideas similar to those of present day Turkey and France.
During the military dictatorship of Zia ul-Haq the policy turned more Islamist, and during this period the ISI strongly supported Hekmatyar. Hekmatyar proved disloyal and finally defected to Iran. During Benazir Bhutto's government, support has shifted to the Taliban. This was decided by the Interior Minister Nasirullah Babar. It is history's irony that the first female prime minister of Pakistan helped to strengthen the misogynist Taliban regime. The ISI started to get disillusioned and disappointed with the Taliban during the thoroughly corrupt "democracy" continued under Nawaz Sharif. There have been rumors that the ISI wished to influence the Taliban and to empower "a third force" among the more moderate Taliban leaders to take over it. It is in connection with this that Shahnawaz Tanai actually defected to Pakistan, and the ISI was dealing with the former communists who were so powerful within the Taliban.
Luckily for Western interests, General Pervez Musharraf2 took over. This takeover was the best event in Pakistani history as far as the West is concerned, although it was sadly ignored in the West during the Clinton administration. Musharraf was portrayed as a military dictator and a supporter of the causes of the Taliban and of an alliance with China (all sins of his predecessors). Musharraf is profoundly pro-Western, secular in mind and pragmatic in foreign policy. He in fact tried to form constructive relationships with all the neighboring countries (Iran, India and Afghanistan). His peace initiatives in Kashmir were stalled by Indian arrogance, and the West turned a cold shoulder to its old ally, which has been a source of great bitterness in Pakistan, especially since the West has been very inconsistent in choosing when to support Pakistan and when not to. But during the Musharraf reign, human rights and the position of women in Pakistan have improved considerably.
Constructive relations with whomever rules Afghanistan have been Realpolitik for Pakistan. Although Musharraf, immediately after seizing power, started to undermine the support for the Taliban, he could not remove the recognition given to the Taliban government, as there was no other Afghan government - the Rabbani government having been ousted and categorically hostile to Pakistan, partly for legitimate reasons. Pakistan has been trying ever since to construct new anti-Taliban alliances, as well as trying to find intra-Taliban frictions to exploit. But the West should be very careful and measured in its pressure on Pakistan. The Taliban is really not under Pakistan's thumb, and never was.
I think the ISI first saw the Taliban as a potential instrument. Then it saw it as a threat that had to be infiltrated and controlled. Then they saw it as a burden. Surely the ISI wished to control and contain the Taliban, but their success has been rather doubtful (as has been others'). Many analysts have paid attention to the fact that Afghan as well as non-Afghan adventurers like bin Laden, have always been very talented at exploiting the surrounding states as well as both superpowers.
Another distorted myth is propagated by India. It is that the Kashmiri secessionism is terrorism and a Pakistani creation. This is very far from reality. More than 80% of Kashmiris would probably prefer independence, but at the same time they reject the Islamist model. There are several small but media-visible Islamist groups operating in Kashmir, or at least proclaiming the Kashmiri cause. But these people are not really interested in Kashmiri independence. They are interested in jihad. Such Islamists appear wherever there is a war (during Bosnia's struggle for independence and in the Albanian civil war, in Chechnya, Kashmir and so on). Their "help" is usually just an added burden to the ones they purport to help, since they are seldom fighting for any liberation. These "professional" jihadists also seem to be more common in Internet cafes and among Arab diasporas in the West than in places where Muslim nations face real oppression.
We must remember that Musharraf cannot possibly surrender to India in the Kashmir dispute. This would not only be political suicide, but it would not end the Kashmir conflict - quite the contrary. It would mean importing the Kashmiri conflict into Pakistan, and against Pakistan. What happened in Afghanistan, with millions of refugees flooding to Pakistan, should not happen with Kashmir. This would be an outright catastrophe for both Pakistan and India, let alone the Kashmiri people. Therefore it is the most crucial interest of the West to prevent India from escalating the Kashmir conflict and turning Kashmir into another weapon against Pakistan's stability.
SV: The "Arab" fighters in Afghanistan - are they a state with a state, or the long arm for covert operations (e.g., the assassination of Massoud) for the Taliban? Who is the dog and who is the tail?
AK: The dog and tail can get very entangled here. Everybody is exploiting everybody, and finally all organizations and states are tools which consist of individuals and used by them. The Arabs in Afghanistan are indeed Arabs. There are also lots of "Pakistani" volunteers on the Taliban side, but these are mainly Pashtuns, that is, Afghans.
The mentioning of Chechens, Uighurs and so on is more designed to satisfy the propaganda purposes of Russia and China. There are less than one million Chechens and they have a very harsh war going on in Chechnya. Chechens who choose to go to Afghanistan instead must be quite unpatriotic.
The Arabs form the hard core of Al-Qaida. They are the Egyptian, Syrian, Iraqi etc. professional revolutionaries and terrorists who have gathered around the figurehead of Osama bin Laden. Many of these share the same old background in Marxist-inspired revolutionary movements in the Middle East. Ideology and facade have changed when green replaced red, but their methods as well as foreign contacts have mainly remained the same. This is why they are much more interested in attacking the West and pro-Western Muslim regimes than in supporting any true national liberation movements. Even if they try to infiltrate and influence conflict outcomes in the Balkans, the Caucasus, East Turkistan and Kashmir, they are set against the nationalist and secular - and usually pro-Western - policies of the legitimate leadership of these secessionist movements. So the people whom Al-Qaida may support and try to infiltrate are usually exiled or otherwise opposition forces acting in fact against the idea of independence. This has been the case in Chechnya, Dagestan, Bosnia, Kashmir and so on.
And this has been the case in Afghanistan as well. Osama bin Laden and his Arabs never contributed to the actual Afghan national liberation struggle. Instead they acted against it by infiltrating Afghan circles and turning them against each other. Their jihad is not intended to defend the Muslims against infidel oppressors, but to cause chaos and destruction, in which they apparently hope to overthrow Muslim regimes and replace them with the utopia of Salafi rule. It is not hard to see how this set of mind was inherited from the communist utopian terrorist movements that preceded the present Islamist ones. They had the same structures, the same cadres, the same leaders, the same sponsors and the same methods.
The Arabs in Afghanistan have feathered their nests, though. Osama bin Laden and his closest associates have all married daughters of Afghan elders - from different factions and tribes - and their sons and daughters have, in turn, married the offspring of eminent Afghan leaders. This is how they secured their foothold in Afghan social networks - something neither the West nor Pakistan succeeded in doing. When issues are reduced to family relationships, it is not to be expected that the Afghans would hand over the Arabs to the West or to Pakistan. Al-Qaida is not only fortifying itself physically, but also socially. At the same time their cells and countless collaborating agencies - some of whom are clearly non-Islamist, and some of which are government agencies of certain hostile states - are hoping to escalate this "war against terrorism" and to exploit it for their own purposes.
SV: Do you believe that the USA had long standing designs to conquer Afghanistan and used the September 11 atrocities as a pretext?
AK: I would rather say that somebody else had long standing designs for a major conflict in which it was necessary to get the US involved. Those who wiped out Mr. Massoud a couple of days before the terror strikes in the US probably knew that the terrorists will be hunted in Afghanistan.
It is clear that the US, among many others, has long desired to overthrow the Taliban, and I see nothing wrong with it. Afghanistan was the easiest target, because the Taliban was not internationally recognized (except by three countries at the beginning of the war), and because there was nobody strong enough to really side with the Taliban. There was no special need to demonize them, as they seemed to have done a good job demonizing themselves. The West was more concerned with the blowing up a couple of Buddha statues than with the thousands of victims of the Taliban's tyranny and of the civil war that continued to rage in Afghanistan all this time totally ignored by the Western media until the US got involved again. The US can, of course, be blamed for hypocrisy, as always, but the truth is that getting the US involved has greatly helped those in Afghanistan who had hoped for decades to overthrow the Taliban.
It is also quite surprising that even Musharraf's Pakistan seems to have actually benefited from the present course of affairs, since terrorism has given Musharraf the pretext of openly siding with the West, and abandoning all remnants of Pakistan's tolerance of the Taliban.
Still I would be inclined against any conspiratorial depiction of the recent events that would blame the US for all that happened. The US had to react, and Afghanistan was a logical target. In this sense, the US did what the terrorists wanted. But they did so in a much more moderate way, and after much longer preparations than their enemies had probably hoped for. One reason is that in the Bush administration there seems to be significantly more foreign political expertise than in the Clinton administration that hastily bombed a couple of targets, including a factory in Sudan, but always failed to respond to the real challenge.
In the long run, the threat posed by terrorism will not be defeated by military operations and not in Afghanistan. What can be done there is just the removal of the Taliban regime and helping to construct a stable and recognized Afghan government. It is important to give security guarantees to Pakistan and to support the development that is transforming Pakistan into a strong and relatively stable pro-Western Muslim country that can play a similar role in Central and Southern Asia as Turkey does in the West and Middle East. At best, this could even encourage a Musharraf to rise in Iran, which would yield ultimate benefits to Western interests in Asia.
But then, terrorism must be fought by other means. This means that Western intelligence must rise to the level of the Cold War to face challenges by terrorist organizations as well as by colluding governments. The West must also resist Huntington's vision coming true, since this is exactly what the terrorists want: a clash of civilizations. And we must keep in mind that there are also many others who would like to see a worldwide conflagration between the West and Islam.
SV: What is the geostrategic and geopolitical importance of Afghanistan?
AK: Afghanistan is not so significant in itself, if we only consider economic interests. Of more importance are some countries situated near Afghanistan, especially those in Central Asia and Azerbaijan. Afghanistan is also a traditional buffer zone, since its landscape is hard to penetrate for tanks and modern armies. It has prevented the expansion of the Eurasian Heartland Empire towards Eurasia's southern rim lands for centuries. It has protected the areas included in Pakistan and India today, but on the other hand, turning Afghanistan into a politically or militarily active area was used to destabilize Pakistan, or Central Asia, in order to alter the status quo, whatever it was.
Regarding oil, Afghanistan again forms a bridge or a barrier. As long as Iran is regarded as a hostile country by the US, Afghanistan forms an oil transport route from Central Asia to Pakistan. As long as there is war in Afghanistan, it remains a barrier preventing the countries of the Caspian Sea from benefiting from their oil. Wars in the Caucasus have exactly the same outcome. While this is the case, only Russia and perhaps China will have access to and hegemony over the energy resources in the vast Eurasian heartland.
I think this is the main geopolitical importance of both Afghanistan and the Caucasus. It is the question of Russia monopolizing the geopolitical heartland, first and foremost. Considering the colossal weight of geopolitics and geopolitical thought in present Russian security thinking, these implications cannot be overestimated.
SV: Can Turkey be drawn into the conflict and, if yes, what effect will this have on Iran, Central Asia, and NATO?
AK: It seems Turkey has been drawn into it already. Or rather, Turkey has volunteered to be drawn into it. Iran and Russia, of course, share a very hostile attitude towards any expansion of Turkish influence in Central Asia and the Caucasus. Turkey and Pakistan, on the other hand, may finally find each other after a long period of mutual hostility. They both share a similar geopolitical importance as potential guardians of the West. They are among the most important rim land nations, to borrow a phrase from classical geopolitics. This means that they are also the most important barriers on the way of a heartland empire to aspire to sole Eurasian hegemony.
Turkey has sought to advocate its interests in Central Asia, where most of the Turkistani nations are ethnically Turkic (that is, Uzbeks, Turkmens, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz and Uighurs, while Tajiks are Persian). At the beginning of the 1990's Turkey tried to play the ethnic and linguistic cards and the Central Asians were quite enthusiastic to embrace "the Turkish model" - that is, a Western orientation and secular state. But the Central Asian states are still dominated by communist nomenclatures with strong ties with Moscow.
Turkey's economic problems and generally overly cautious foreign policy have greatly undermined its capacity to advocate its own and Western interests in Central Asia. Moreover, the Central Asian dictators have interpreted the "Turkish model" in most peculiar ways, being often closer to the Chinese model than the Turkish one.
I think Turkey is again trying to prove how pro-Western it is and how loyal it is to NATO. The West has usually been much less loyal to Turkey. When it comes to NATO's influence in Central Eurasia, once Afghanistan is pacified and US presence probably strengthened through Uzbekistan (though it is one of the notoriously disloyal allies of any Western interest, much resembling the role played by Saudi Arabia), it is time to come to Georgia's rescue again. The West had better not be too late in coming to the aid of Georgia and Azerbaijan, which are both under serious Russian pressure right now. If the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline3 can be completed, then it could be time for a major reform in Iran as well.
1This interview was conducted at the end of 2001. I am reprinting it now on the wild assumption that the average Western reader still hasn't made a study of the political situation in Afghanistan and the surrounding countries.
2Musharraf remains the President of Pakistan. 3The Baku-Ceyhan pipeline carries oil underground from Azerbaijan (an oil-rich nation on the Caspian Sea) to the Turkish coast. The pipeline was completed August 15, 2005. It was built by British Petroleum, and heavily financed by the U.S., since it should reduce Western dependence on Russian oil. It is hoped that it will eventually reduce Western dependence on Middle Eastern oil, as well. Most Western critics of the pipeline say that the path the pipeline follows is environmentally irresponsible; many Eastern critics fear that the pipeline will force the U.S. into seeking greater control of the region. For a very brief synopsis, see http://www.newsahead.com/content/view/956/71/. A Google search on the pipeline will yield many diverse facts and opinions.
Dr. Sam Vaknin is the author of Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited and After the Rain - How the West Lost the East. He served as a columnist for Central Europe Review, PopMatters, Bellaonline, and eBookWeb, a United Press International (UPI) Senior Business Correspondent, and the editor of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory and Suite101.
Until recently, he served as the Economic Advisor to the Government of Macedonia.
Visit Sam's Web site at http://samvak.tripod.com.