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Wary neighbors

May 18, 2012

As Washington and Kabul deepen their post-2014 cooperation, the neighboring states have certain misgivings about their own role in the resource-rich region.

Image: dapd

Although foreign troops are due to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014, there is no end in sight to the US presence there. The US plans to continue supporting the weak Afghan government - with military means if necessary. In the recent strategic agreement signed between Kabul and Washington, the US committed to supporting Afghanistan's social and economic development, security, institutions and regional cooperation for 10 years - until 2024. There were few concrete details about what possible military support might entail.

Iran was the first state to protest openly against the agreement. "Iran has had to live with a US military presence in Qatar, Bahrain, Iraq and Turkey. Now Afghanistan," Iran expert Farzaneh Rostayi told DW. "Iran feels completely surrounded by the US military and perceives this situation as a great threat."

Although there is a passage in the agreement which points out that the US does not seek "permanent military bases in Afghanistan," there are no official figures about how many US troops will remain after 2014. Experts estimate that between 10,000 and 20,000 soldiers and trainers will stay.

Pakistan is 'sandwiched'

Apart from Iran, Pakistan - a close US ally in the fight against terrorism - also has its misgivings about the US maintaining a long-term presence in the region.

Not only will Afghanistan's status be enhanced, but Pakistan's role as the US' most important partner in South and Central Asia will be jeopardized, Pakistani political scientist Fazal Rahim Marwat told DW. "Pakistan is worried a Western-backed Afghanistan could form an axis with its arch enemy India," he said. "This would be a nightmare for Pakistan's foreign policy experts. Pakistan perceives itself to be sandwiched between Kabul and Delhi."

Islamabad, which some observers believe would prefer a Taliban-led government in Kabul, had hoped the US would leave Afghanistan for good in 2014 but the agreement has dashed these hopes.

The Taliban
Some would prefer the Taliban to be back in powerImage: picture alliance/dpa

China and Russia share misgivings

The suspicions about the US-Afghanistan agreement extend to China and Russia. Gu Xuewu from Bonn University told DW that China was also banking on the Taliban. In contrast to Islamabad, however, Bejiing would prefer a coalition between Hamid Karzai's government and the more moderate ranks of the Taliban. "This would interest the Chinese because it would put the Western presence into proportion and perhaps even cause it to be reduced," he said.

On the other hand, China also needs the US in Afghanistan for the fight against al Qaeda and other Islamist groups and to prevent a spill over into the volatile parts of China's western region.

Thus, it is in Beijing's interests that there be a stable government in Kabul that is neither too Western nor too fundamentalist.

Gerhard Mangott from the University of Innsbruck said Moscow was following a similar strategy, out of the same fear that fundamentalism could gain ground in Central Asia.

"Russia wants clarity. What tasks will the US troops who remain in the region have? How will these tasks be negotiated with Russia," he said.

Mullah Omar has been in hiding since 2001
Taliban leader Mullah Omar is thought to be in PakistanImage: AP

It is in Moscow's interests to keep Central Asia, which like Afghanistan is very rich in natural resources, under its control like in the past century. It is therefore wary of the US' plans in the region.

The US is thus considered to be a key stabilizing factor but no country in the region really wants its presence to be too strong or long-lasting.

Author: Ratbil Shamel / act
Editor: Shamil Shams