‘Russia is the most difficult partner, even more than Pakistan'

The western game plan of involving Afghanistan's neighbours in tackling the post-2014 situation, by which time the bulk of its troops would be back home, seems to have struck a stumbling block with Russia expressing its reluctance, said diplomats focussed on the Af-Pak region.

“Russia was the most difficult,'' they said of last-November's Bonn conference, which was the last of the mega meets that began with the same location in 2001 and travelled through London, Kabul and Lisbon.

Now, with the West pinning hopes on specialised meets such as the ones in Chicago, Tokyo and Ashgabad to bring focus on Afghanistan's immediate needs, western Af-Pak envoys who have visited India recently realised the need to quickly bring around most of the neighbours who were generally kept on the sidelines while the 10-year-war in the country raged, first with the al-Qaeda and then with the Taliban.

‘Iran not a bad partner'

Despite the U.S. and European Union's attempts to bring Iran to its knees by hitting at its mainstay of oil exports, diplomats described Tehran as “not a bad partner” in stabilising Afghanistan due to its shared concerns of narco-trafficking, Taliban's viciousness in the social sphere and anti-Shia orientation.

But it was Russia which was a cause for concern because its “proxies,” as a western Af-Pak envoy who visited India recently described Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyztstan and Kazakhstan, are also likely to align with Moscow because of the closely guarded NATO plans of leaving behind a military presence. Only Turkmenistan, which styles itself as the “Switzerland of Central Asia” (because of its ‘neutral' position), seems enthusiastic.

“Russia is the most difficult partner, even more than Pakistan. Even China did not support the Russian position at the Bonn conference,'' they said.

With the tough task of going beyond platitudes now looming ahead, the West would need China, Russia and the four Central Asian countries to subscribe to the formulas being discussed in western capitals, including Brussels, where the military component of western forces in the post-2014 era is being discussed.

Funds from China

The West has great expectations from the cash-flush China in contributing to the upkeep of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) as well as development projects.

“We are in the midst of discussions on sharing the costs of maintaining the ANSF” they said, while acknowledging that the present strength of 3.52 lakhs was unsustainable and pushed solely by the U.S. overriding reluctance by the European countries.

In addition to the commitments for maintaining and “monitoring” the ANSF, talks in Tokyo would deliberate on the financing of confidence-building measures in the security, economic and cultural fields that are being drafted in Kabul.

With the western countries already contributing substantially in Afghanistan for the past decade, additional funds are likely to come from other countries such as China.

Diplomats said they could not understand Russia's resistance to falling in line with the “world community.” But with neither the West's military plans in the post-2014 era having been spelt out nor the fine print of quid pro quo expected from Kabul in return for sustained aid till 2024 clear, officials here expect a long line of Afghanistan's neighbours — Iran, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, Kyrgzistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan — to still remain on the sidelines.