According to American academic and Russia expert Professor Stephen F. Cohen, Russia thinks “Obama is repeating the mistakes the Soviet Union made there by sending more troops to fight an essentially unwinnable war.”
“The cities can be defended, the mountains and villages cannot”
Devastated by 30 years of conflict, Afghanistan's economy, ranked 181st of 182 by United Nations, is dependent on foreign aid, which accounts for 70 percent of the government's budget.
”Former Soviet officials regret not having focused on building Afghanistan’s infrastructure, on eliminating terrorists by giving people a better life, on securing the cities and making them bastions of modernization,” writes Prof. Cohen.
“The cities can be defended, the mountains and villages cannot.”
Russia is focused on the poppy trade, as well as the spread of Islamic radicalism in the region.
The Soviet military presence in Afghanistan during the 1980’s, however “ambiguously it might be viewed, nobody disputes the fact that the drug issue in that country practically did not exist in that very period," Ivanov told the conference.
"The explanation is simple: in spite of the military confrontation, the government of Afghanistan with an active support of the Soviet Union paid major attention to social and economic needs of the Afghan population," he added in a speech delivered in English.
Moscow has more than once rang alarm bells over a 40-fold growth in heroin traffic from Afghanistan to Europe through Russia. The growing drug traffic contributes to a fast growth of the number of drug addicts in Russia itself, a situation described by the country's leaders as a major threat national security.
Russian officials have said that the international forces, deployed in Afghanistan since its Taliban rulers were toppled in a US-led invasion in 2001, do little to restrain the growth of drug production in Afghanistan.
U.S.-led operations in Afghanistan will be “in vain” if forces fail to fight opium production and provide people with alternative economic opportunities
The commanders of the force argue that fields of opium poppies feed millions of Afghanis and their destruction could trigger a humanitarian catastrophe in the country.
"Revenues derived from smuggling the "white death" to Europe, Asia and America are estimated in scores of billions of dollars," Ivanov said. "In fact, the production and illegal trafficking of Afghan drugs should be classified as a threat to international peace and security."
"The whole world community and, first of all, those who took the responsibility for ensuring peace and stability in Afghanistan, namely the International Security Assistance Force, should take the trouble and fight this threat," he said.
U.S.-led operations in Afghanistan will be “in vain” if forces fail to fight opium production and provide people with alternative economic opportunities, Ivanov concluded.
Imran Khan, the founder and chairman of the Tehreek-e-Insaf (Movement for Justice) Party in Pakistan, also thinks the war in Afghanistan is unwinnable.
“The war is insane, and heading nowhere,” he told an elite audience in Britain’s House of Commons last week. The 120 MP’s, diplomats and community leaders at the event paid rapt attention as he advised the British Prime Minister to “stop listening to the generals and not follow the surge” the US President Barack Obama is pursuing.
The popular former captain of Pakistan’s cricket team spoke authoritatively of how the war was radicalizing the Pashtun population in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s frontier tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.
He explained to the meeting, organized by the Henry Jackson Society, that these tribal areas had never submitted to central authority – “Not the Mughuls, not the British Empire, not the Pakistani government.”
Taliban are illiterate children of the 1980’s when they
were “recruited, armed and trained by the United States”
“Every village is autonomous,” he says of the Pashtun tribal communities with loyalty owed to 60 major tribes and 400 sub-clans.
“There are 30 groups calling themselves Taliban operating in the region,” he said, “including Chechens and Uzbeks.”
Most of these groups and the larger Pushtan population of the region are inherently peaceful but against their characteristic of unstinting hospitality is balanced the thirst for revenge when they are wronged. This tribal tradition of revenge is being fed by the collateral damage inflicted by the war.
“The ‘drone attacks’ are creating anger. The extra judicial killings are not just of ‘suspects’ but of their families and neighbours,” he said.
Khan warned that this was stoking the radicalization of what was a passive majority.
He dismissed the Taliban as illiterate children of the war against the Soviet presence in Afghanistan in the 1980’s when they were “recruited, armed and trained by the United States.”
He cautioned against lumping Taliban and Al Qaeda groups together and treating them the same.
He said the Taliban could be pacified by improving their economic circumstances but the war was arousing sympathy and support from educated youth including ethnic Pakistani university students in Britain. These educated radicalized youth gravitated to Al Qaeda and they posed the biggest threat.
He cautioned the United States to stop supporting corrupt politicians. “Obama must understand backing discredited politicians is not the way to win support“ (in the region), he said.
“The US should look for friends, not lackeys,” he said.
The Soviet Union torched poppy fields, invested in agriculture and
bought the produce at higher-than- market prices
during its occupation of the country
The United States has about 45,000 troops in Afghanistan, the bulk of a foreign deployment of roughly 70,000 soldiers tasked with hunting down armed Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants, as well as stabilizing the country.
US, British and Afghan troops in January launched the biggest operation against the Taliban since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion, aiming to wipe out an opium production center that has helped fund the guerrilla movement. The number of American troops in Afghanistan surpassed those in Iraq in May by about 94,000 to 92,000, according to the U.S. Defense Department.
Iran is “seriously fighting” drug traffickers along its border with Afghanistan, and Russia has proposed coordinating with former Soviet states to form “counter-drug rings” around Afghanistan, particularly on its northern border with Tajikistan, Ivanov told his Singapore audience. From there “it’s easy to move it to Moscow, London, Paris, Berlin and elsewhere,” he said.
Russia is one of five veto-wielding members of the United Nations Security Council. The Soviet Union torched poppy fields, invested in agriculture and bought the produce at higher-than- market prices during its occupation of the country, Ivanov said.
“If you burn down poppy plantation of course you need to invest in conventional agriculture,” he said. “We understood we should buy higher than the average price to motivate the local peasants.”
Afghanistan is the highest-yielding opium producer in the world and produced 6,900 tons of the drug last year, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. The country’s 1.6 million opium farmers earn in excess of three times more per hectare from poppies than from wheat, according to the UN.
There are nearly 140,000 foreign troops from 42 countries working under the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). The United States has by far the most, with about 80,000, which will rise to 100,000 by the end of this year.
Russia will never again send troops to Afghanistan
"Next year I think the ISAF will break the Soviet record in the duration of their stay in Afghanistan," Ivanov said.
He reiterated that Russia would never again send troops to Afghanistan. Moscow has painful memories of the losses suffered during two decades of Soviet involvement, starting from 1979.
"We are already helping a lot in ISAF operations in Afghanistan providing logistic support, transport support, intelligence support. Except for one thing -- never again will a Russian soldier enter Afghanistan," he said.
"I think you understand why. It is just like asking the U.S. whether they will send troops to Vietnam, something like that is totally impossible."
Khan said that 100,000 troops costing $100 bn a year were not capable of winning the war. He said that the $100 bn invested in Pashtun economy and providing infrastructure in the cities and villages of Afghanistan and Pakistan’s tribal areas would pacify the tribes, eliminate the Taliban and isolate the Al Qaeda quicker than the war.