Leading article: Nato's Afghan endgame begins with a helping hand from Russia

A formal deal with Russia was always likely to be explored by the Western military alliance

Share
Related Topics

The Great Game reasserts itself. Dmitry Medvedev will attend Nato's summit in Lisbon next month, where the Russian President is expected to provide help for the Western military alliance's faltering mission in Afghanistan.

There is little prospect of Russia sending troops to the country, but this is, nevertheless, a remarkable turn of events. Two decades after the Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan, after a disastrous 10-year occupation which left 15,000 Russian troops dead, Moscow is coming back. Russian engineers are to renovate infrastructure projects, including power stations built during the Soviet occupation, and to provide helicopters for overstretched Nato forces.

Russia has a clear national security interest in stabilising Afghanistan. Moscow does not want chaos to its south when Nato forces depart. Yet the deal is also drenched in realpolitik. The quid pro quo for Russian support is understood to be that Nato will mute its support for Georgia and also rein in its ambitions for expansion into eastern Europe.

This is a bitter pill for Nato to swallow. But beggars cannot be choosers. And Nato is in an extremely weak position in Afghanistan at the moment. America is to begin withdrawing troops from next summer, despite pressure from US military commanders to keep an open-ended commitment. Our own Prime Minister, David Cameron, has stated categorically that he wants all British troops to be out by 2015. Other Nato nations long ago made it clear that they were not interested in stepping up their troop contributions. And some, such as the Netherlands, have already withdrawn their forces.

Afghanistan's neighbours are moving in, as this week's revelation of financial transfers from Iran to the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, demonstrate. Pakistan and India are both stepping up their battle for influence in the country. And President Karzai is preparing for the departure of Nato troops by reaching out to elements within the Taliban (although not, according to reports, to the Taliban's long-standing leader, Mullah Omar).

Nato's hopes of establishing a functioning democracy with guarantees of women's rights and protection for minority groups in Afghanistan have now dissipated. The political will in the West to construct such a society (if it was ever there) has now evaporated. The best that is hoped for now is a peace deal with the Taliban and a broad-based non-intervention accord signed by the major powers in the region.

Whether Afghanistan gets this or not will largely depend on the willingness or ability of the Pakistani intelligence services to force their old Taliban clients to the negotiating table. The West's sole realistic aim is now to leave a relatively stable regime in Kabul and to maintain the ability to mount counter-terrorism operations should al-Qa'ida return to the country.

The plan does not come from out of the blue. Russia's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, outlined a potential deal last month, in which Russia would help to stabilise Afghanistan. And Moscow already permits the transit of certain supplies across Russian territory. An agreement is also in place allowing Nato planes to pass through Russian airspace. With Nato's land supply routes through Pakistan under increasing pressure, the logic has long been closer co-operation with Moscow.

A formal deal with Russia was always likely to be explored. For Nato, this partnership with the old enemy makes sense. But whether this latest twist in the Great Game offers a better future for the long-suffering Afghan people is, sadly, impossible at this stage to say.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: This post arises as a result of the need to...

Tradewind Recruitment: Class Teacher Required ASAP In Uminster

£120 - £150 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: I am recruiting on instruction o...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wimbledon, SW London

£24000 - £28000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wim...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

I’m not sure I fancy any meal that’s been cooked up by a computer

John Walsh
Labour leader Ed Miliband delivers a speech on his party's plans for the NHS, in Sale, on Tuesday  

Why is Miliband fixating on the NHS when he’d be better off focussing on the wealth gap?

Andreas Whittam Smith
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

Homeless Veterans appeal

Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

Front National family feud?

Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

Pot of gold

Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore