Although the latest splits between the United States and Europe dominate the British papers, the changing of the guard in Kabul led to some consideration of what the forces contemplating an attack on Iraq can learn from the Afghan experience.
On Monday Feb. 10, Germany and the Netherlands took over joint command of the 28-nation international peacekeeping force in Afghanistan, relieving Turkey, which had been in charge since June 2002. According to Britain’s Independent, the German defense minister used the occasion to suggest that NATO should take command of the International Security Assistance Force in six months when the German-Dutch command ends, but France opposes such a move, lest it “provoke further resentment in an already tense atmosphere.” The Financial Times pointed out that although France now says it opposes “out-of-area” NATO deployment, even for peacekeeping purposes, last year in Reykjavik it agreed that such missions “were now an acceptable part of the alliance’s future direction. Nato diplomats said France’s main objection to going out of area was that it meant letting the US use Nato beyond its traditional role of providing collective defence on its own territory.” (None of the papers connect this position with France’s involvement in deterring NATO from sending weapons to defend Turkey.)
Currently, ISAF only operates in Kabul and its immediate surroundings, which has allowed former Taliban leaders and renegade warlords to re-establish influence in the regions beyond the capital city. The Guardian reported that Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, “one of Afghanistan’s most fundamentalist warlords,” is now creating an alliance with Taliban and al-Qaida survivors to target U.S. forces, aid agencies, and representatives of the Afghan government. The paper quoted from an interview Hekmatyar gave to the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper last November: “The battle is with the Americans. The reason for what we are facing is the American presence in Afghanistan. We must end this presence, and then its supporters will collapse.”
An alarming piece in Monday’s Daily Telegraph by Ahmed Rashid presented a region in which the old tensions of the “great game” are resurfacing and threatening Afghanistan’s stability: “Despite pledges of help for [Afghan President Hamid] Karzai, Russia is arming one warlord and Iran another. India and Pakistan are continuing their long rivalry and secretly backing different claimants to power, while the central Asian republics are backing their ethnic allies.” The neighboring states are frantically vying for influence because they believe the United States will reduce its commitment to Afghanistan if it goes to war in Iraq. Rashid’s conclusion was depressing but sound: “Hopes of an end to interference lie in a stronger central government and greater western pressure to stop the neighbours from interfering. The latter appears less likely with the world’s attention focused on Iraq.”