Security and a sustainable peace are the biggest challenges for the Afghan government and the international community after the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001. With the election of a Democrat administration to the White house, there has been increasing recognition by President Barack Obama on the need to involve major regional powers such as, Russia, India, Pakistan, Iran and China in stabilizing Afghanistan. This article analyzes the role of the Russian Federation, which is a major player both on the regional and international stage, and leaves an imprint on the security dynamic in Afghanistan. Russia’s core interests in Afghanistan revolve around two of its fundamental concerns, namely: drug trafficking, and rise and spread of radical transnational Islamic extremist groups. Opium originating from Afghanistan often makes its way to the Russian Federation via the Central Asian Republics and this has two implications for Russia: first it is straining Russia’s human security net, thus, creating a human and financial burden, as there is disturbing increase in the number of addicts. Second drug trafficking has emerged as an increasingly lucrative source of funding for transnational Islamic networks, whose rise and spread is a major security concern by Moscow. Russia’s concerns in this direction are further exacerbated, as it fears a contagion from Afghanistan into not only its strategically important neighborhood of Central Asia, but also an exacerbation of the challenge it faces from Islamic extremist groups in Chechnya and the Caucasus. Moscow’s concerns broadly converge with those of the U.S., India and the Central Asian Republics, all of whom wish to see a relatively stable and moderate order take root in Afghanistan. Moreover, its relations with Tehran also provide a window for the West to engage Iran to play a more constructive role in stabilizing Afghanistan. Thus, Russia is well poised to play a constructive role in collaboration with other major powers involved in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan is a country, which has been strategically pivotal to some of the regional and international players during the different periods time. This importance has been derived from its geopolitical location among other countries of South and Central Asia. It connects Central Asian countries to Pakistan, the Indian Ocean and the other South Asian countries. Any country that dominates Afghanistan could have the potential to manipulate the natural resource of Central Asia. Due to this specialty, during the recent history Afghanistan has been victim of various political games, played by the different regional and international rivals. One of these rival countries has been the former Soviet Union and after the fall of the Union, today’s Russian Federation.
Afghanistan has experienced different phases of intervention by the Russians, from the Soviet Union invasion, until the Vladimir Putin’s agenda on regaining the Russians traditional role in Afghanistan. On December 24, 1979 the red army entered Kabul, which has been broadly perceived as a penetration on the people and the Country. Before this event, the Russians were directly supporting the “Peoples’ Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA)”, one of the powerful parties in Afghanistan, to reach Moscow’s regional agenda and impose Marxism on Afghanistan, but they were faced with widespread resistance of the people. Russia was really struggling to empower namely a cleaned-face regime in Kabul to win the people for supporting the Soviet Unions goals. This has been characterized by changing political leaders of the government one after the other in Kabul, such as, bringing Dr. Najeebullah into the power as a replace for Babrak Karmal, but people were no more falling into the trap of these games. In 1980s, Russia could not see even a foot-place for its soldiers in Afghanistan to stay one more day and it had to pull out from of all over Afghanistan.
After the Soviet Union’s break down and the beginning of the new era, Russia has shown up with the different role and policies in the regional and international politics. Genuinely, the Russian interests have been formed into two stages with respect to its relations to Afghanistan: (1): The Russian interests since the fall of the Soviet Unions until the rise of the Taliban; in this stage, primarily Russia was trying to control the security situations in the Central Asian countries, potentially threatened by Islamic radical groups, which were active in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Russia has felt the dominance of the U.S. on the radical groups so far, as the U.S. was intended to control these Islamic groups and get rid of them in the region, which in term also created concerns for Russia. (2): secondly, Russian interests are shaped around fighting the drug, which are trafficked to the Russian borders via the Central Asian countries, and avoid terrorist networks, which are efficient in flaming the fire to the Chechnya and Caucasus. It seems that there is a match between the U.S. and the Russian goals in fighting the terrorist networks, but most of the time this problems has been tackled unilaterally by U.S., which is sidelining the Russian role from the political sphere and Russia does not want to lose its traditional role in Afghanistan, which helps Russia to consolidate its interests in the Central Asian countries and Caucasus. Yet Russia has been serving as a transit way to the Central Asian Countries in terms of their trade to the outside world. Russia fears from spreading of the fundamental Islamic groups and their widespread destruction towards the Central Asia, which undermine Russia’s economic interests gaining though the Central Asian trades.
Russia is facing a big challenge towards its national security, Chechnya’s problems increases day after days. If these transnational fundamental Islamic groups find the platform to operate in Central Asia as they are doing in Afghanistan and Pakistan, it will be very difficult for Russia to control Chechnya and Caucuses chaos. Therefor, contribution towards stability in Afghanistan, not only save Afghans from further destruction, but also help Russia to be sure of its internal security.
Transnational Fundamental Islamic Groups
Russia believes that all terrorist networks and the fundamental conservative Islamic groups are linked in a chain; strength of one side causes the other to achieve their goals. From Russian point of view, Chechnya and the Northern Caucasus separatists portray Islamic fundamentalists and terrorists, who create security problems to the Russian people and connected to the broader Al-Qaida networks, active in Pakistan border to Afghanistan.
The Russian government is determined to take actions against the fundamental separatists in Chechnya and Central Asia to ensure the lives of the Russian nationals, living in Chechnya and Central Asia. Chechnya, especially after “Dudayev” came into power, established ties with the Islamic fundamental groups active in Afghanistan, Sudan, and the other international terrorist networks. Dudayev called all Islamic countries and organizations, of abolished borders among them.
During the fighting between the Russian government and Chechen fighters, thousands of Russian and other civilians including Chechens have died.
In deed, Russia holds the largest economic interests in Chechnya and Central Asian Countries. Today a large amount of Central Asian trades have been transported through Russia to the outside world, as a result of providing trade-way, Russia receives a major amount of benefits. If these Islamic fundamentalists reach Central Asia and deteriorate security situations, it will cause two major problems for Russia: (1): Russia will lose its major economic interests in the Central Asia and Caucasus; Currently Russia’s biggest “energy pipeline” passes from the middle of Chechnya to the international markets. If the situation in Chechen gets out of the control, the whole region would be in danger of terrorism. Thus, insecurity in Central Asia means that Russia has to pay a big price in terms of security and stabilization in the region and even inside Russia. (2): it will create a bigger problem for the Russian nationals in terms of their human security. Russia is determined to protect its nations all over the region. Therefor, Russia needs to be fully involved in controlling the situations and it brings Moscow at he same platform with the U.S. to fight against terrorism in Afghanistan and avoid its spread to the Russian borders, however, Russia fears of the U.S. domination and unilateralism in Central Asia, which threats Russia’s interests in terms of Central Asia’s economic dependence on Moscow.
Since 2002 the amount of drug production in Afghanistan have been increased, which a big portion of it have being trafficked via the Central Asia to the Russia and the Europe. Russia is concerned about the narcotics, produced in Afghanistan and trafficked through Tajikistan and from there passing Russia to European markets. On of the Russia’s General Staff, in June 2003 stated that the drug trafficked issue from Afghanistan to Russia is one of the most serious threats to the Russia’s stability
The Russian landscape is being used as a transit for the drug trade, but a huge number of Russians citizens have been addicted to drug. 6 percent of youth population from 15 to 16 years old once tried drug through different means. Drug trade in Russia has a high negative impact on the demographic status of the Russian population. In 2003, only 70000 people died due to the use of drug. The Russian law enforcement agencies, most of the time military personnel have been seen to be involved in drug trade, or being addicted to drug. Drug trafficking also funds the rebels and Islamic fundamental groups, fighting against the Russian government in Chechnya and Caucasus. It threats the human and security of the Russian population in the world and thus, Russia sees its national security in danger, if the situation continues by increasing the drug tracking to Russia.
In conclusion, the kind of role that Russia could play in restoring regional peace and security not only stabilizes Afghanistan, but also could help Russia to overcome the problems against its citizen and fight Islamic rebels active in Russia. However, Russia has made some struggles to help the Afghan government in terms of drug investigation, there is a need for strong step that pledges other regional player to contribute toward peace and security. As Russia has some economic cooperation with Iran and bilateral agreements with Pakistan for fighting terrorism and drug, it could push these counties further to help for restoring the situations. A destabilized situation in Afghanistan can easily result insecurity in whole region, which would be a greater threat to Russia economic, traditional and security interests. Moreover, security can be achieved through a collective cooperation among the different regional and international counterparts. Since the Obama administration came to power, it seems not far from reality to act in a group for restoring security in Afghanistan, which helps the local and regional stabilization.