Or should I say, ‘Continue!’
When it comes to the geopolitical game, Afghanistan President Karzai, Iranian President Ahmadinejad, and US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates are more than willing to let the dice roll. Gates got to go first, when he made an unannounced visit to Kabul earlier in the week, and was followed by Ahmadinejad’s stop in the Afghan capitol, and after he left Karzai himself finished the geopolitical charades by flying to Islamabad to meet with Prime Minister Gilani. So how did Gates open the play? Well, he accused Tehran of playing a “double game” in Afghanistan, by professing support for President Hamid Karzai’s government while at the same time trying to undermine the U.S.-led military effort that protects it. In front of reporters, Gates said he told Karzai Washington wanted Kabul to have “good relations with all of its neighbors.” “But we also want all of Afghanistan’s neighbors to play an up front game dealing with the government of Afghanistan.”
Gates, Karzai, and Ahmadinejad all had a lot to say about regional politics and below are some of the choice quotes from their meetings and statements:
“People still need to understand there is some very hard fighting, very hard days ahead.” “The early signs are encouraging but I worry that people will get too impatient and think things are better than they actually are.”
[Talking about Iranian interference in Afghanistan] “They also understand that our reaction, should they get too aggressive in this, is not one they would want to think about.”
“I told President Karzai that we want Afghanistan to have good relations with all of its neighbors. But we also want all of Afghanistan’s neighbors to play an upfront game dealing with the government of Afghanistan.”
[Criticizing the American war on terror in Afghanistan] “What are you even doing in this area? You are from 10,000 km over there. Your country is on the other side of the world. What are you doing here?”
“Why is it that those who say they want to fight terrorism are never successful? I think it is because they are the ones who are playing a double game.”
“Our policy is full support for the Afghan people and Afghan government and reconstruction of Afghanistan.”
“We are very hopeful that our brother nation of Iran will work with us in bringing peace and security to Afghanistan so that both our countries will be secure.”
“Pakistan is a brother of Afghanistan. Pakistan is a twin brother of Afghanistan. We are more than twins — we are conjoined twins.”
“The bottom line here is that Afghanistan does not want any proxy wars on its territory.”
There’s a lot to digest here. Gates trip had many missions, but two are specifically clear; 1. Show progress to the American public while warning them that tough times remain 2. The US will not be bullied by Iran in Afghanistan. All parties, at least rhetorically, support stable, constructive relations with their neighbors. Unfortunately, what is good for one regional partner’s government (or the US) may not be good for another. For instance, Iran indeed desires a secure, prosperous Afghanistan to its east, but it definitely opposes being stuck between two American allies (Afghanistan and Iraq). Tehran would no doubt support nearly any Afghan government that could control its territory and when required, follow the wishes of its regional power broker, you guessed it, Iran. What Tehran assuredly is against is a long term American military presence in the region.
The Karzai-led Afghan state is extremely weak so it is no surprise that it sees its neighbors as ‘brothers’. The problem is Pakistan has historically wished to treat it like a son (maybe even a stepson) or a Milhouse to their Bart, whom it could control enough to provide strategic depth as it concentrates on India. India on the other hand desperately desires at minimal an independent Afghan state that is secure enough not to be a hotbed for Islamic radicals nor a Pakistani protectorate.