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Iran, Pakistan jockey for Afghanistan influence

Posted By F. Michael Maloof On 11/18/2012 @ 5:05 pm In Front Page,Politics,U.S.,World | No Comments

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WASHINGTON – Iran and Pakistan are jockeying for influence in Afghanistan once troops of the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization leave at the end of 2014, but the internal dynamics – especially with the Taliban which envisions running the country – could cause the country to degenerate into a civil war, according to a report in Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin.

In Afghanistan, there already is an effort under way by some anti-Taliban officials to set up militias to oppose the Taliban once U.S. and coalition forces leave, but this effort is facing internal opposition by current Afghan officials who believe working with the Taliban will be necessary.

One Afghan lawmaker taking such an initiative is Afghan Minister of Water and Energy Mohammad Ismail Khan, who is closely allied with Iran. He wants to create a group of militias to fight the Taliban.

This initiative strongly suggests a lack of confidence in the ability of the government to deal with the Taliban after 2014. It also will impair efforts to limit the Taliban in any post-NATO period.

Khan’s efforts suggest an early effort by neighboring Iran to assert its own influence in competition with that of Pakistan, the other neighbor to Afghanistan.

Given Iran’s interest in a post-NATO Afghanistan, sources say that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force is assisting in forming the group of militias to fight the Sunni al-Qaida-backed Taliban, which Shi’ite Iran opposes.

Sources believe that such an arrangement of backing the creation of the militias gives Iran more clout in negotiating the future of Afghanistan and giving it a final say in the outcome of any political settlement.

Pakistan similarly seeks to extend its influence in Afghanistan in a post-NATO period, but now Pakistan is beginning to have a change of heart on its backing of the Taliban which it originally created as its proxy in Islamabad’s fight with India.

Now, the Taliban has developed into such a major Islamist force that the group it created could turn on the Pakistani government. For that reason, Pakistan is undertaking a major shift in approach by now wanting to work more with the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Up until recently, Pakistan opposed the U.S.-backed Karzai government, but due to the rising influence of the Taliban may be more inclined to work with it to contain the Islamist militant group’s growing influence in Afghanistan at the expense of its own.

In addition, Pakistan also appears to be reaching out with the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, India and Iran and Russia.

“Pakistan’s goal is to have a broad-based coalition government in power in Afghanistan that can limit the power of the Afghan Taliban,” according to a report of the open intelligence group Stratfor.

“The dilemma that Pakistan faces is how to deal with an inevitable Taliban political resurgence on its western flank while neutralizing the jihadist threat at home – since the latter is a natural outcome of the former,” the report said.

Sources acknowledge, however, that it will be difficult to contain the Taliban in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. In addition, the Taliban increasingly is linked with al-Qaida and other transnational Islamist militant groups.

Further muddling an already big mess is the shaky relationship the United States has not only with Pakistan and Afghanistan and its efforts to attempt to manage a situation that clearly is leaning in favor of the Islamist militants.

Given this trend, sources believe that in a post-NATO period, Afghanistan could disintegrate into another civil war while a rebounding Islamist insurgency in the region could threaten the government of Pakistan.

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