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Afghanistan: a problem shared by Russia, United States

Afghanistan: a problem shared by Russia, United States
19:07 29/06/2009

MOSCOW. (Vladimir Yevseyev for RIA Novosti) - It is highly unwise and often downright impossible to build a nation's security on its own interests alone in a modern world.

This is especially true of Afghanistan, which is virtually the only region where Russia's and U.S. interests are not clashing but even coincide. Afghanistan is likely to be one of the key issues for discussion at the Russian-U.S. summit next week.

Unfortunately, Russian analysts rarely realize this is no time and place for a zero-sum game, while an early pullout of the U.S. force will pose a serious threat to Russia's national interests in a strategic Central Asian region.

Americans have been in Afghanistan for seven years now, but have failed over this time to change the security situation there. The new U.S. government has already cited the Afghanistan issue as its top priority. To resolve it, they plan to establish relations with the moderate part of the Islamic opposition and to increase economic assistance, while at the same time sending more troops to the country. This policy will lead to an increase in shipment of military and civilian freight to Afghanistan. But there will be a problem here, arising from the growing activity of the Pakistani branch of the Taliban: the United States and their allies are currently losing up to 200 trucks a month in Pakistan.

The United States already has agreements on transit of non-military cargo with Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. In March 2009, they began to carry this cargo to Afghanistan along the northern route, via Latvia, Russia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. It transpires that Moscow is tangibly helping Washington in resolving the Afghan problem.

Still, Moscow could do more by allowing the transportation of military cargo to Afghanistan across its territory.

At the second stage of the Russian-U.S. partnership in Afghanistan, an increase in the freight traffic along the northern route could be up for discussion. However, this would be impossible without previously arranged infrastructure in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, which is seriously underdeveloped. Investment in it should be made now.

American cargo could also be shipped to Afghanistan via Georgia. But for that, transport terminals will have to be built or at the very least modernized along the Caspian coastline. That route will include double transshipment. It will certainly depend on the further route chosen; but in any case, they will have to use rather worn-out rails.

The time of shipment across the Caucasus will be shortened after the Baku-Tbilisi-Akhalkalaki-Kars railway corridor is built. But in that case, there will be the matter of crossing the Caspian Sea and further transportation to Afghanistan. Therefore, this route will be only auxiliary.

The planned shutdown of the Manas air base in Kyrgyzstan is also a major factor in the region. A substantial flow of American freight currently goes through this base; it also provides refilling of aircraft supporting the coalition forces in Afghanistan.

Until recently, the Kyrgyz government insisted on closing the base before August 18, 2009. However, it must have been all along in talks on further use of Manas as a U.S. rear service base, with Russia participating informally in the consultations. As a result, on June 22, they announced plans to establish a U.S. transit center in its place, with the existing transport infrastructure preserved.

Keeping it as a transport hub to support the U.S. forces in Afghanistan has created a favorable environment for discussing the Afghan problem at the upcoming Moscow meeting between Dmitry Medvedev and Barack Obama.

Therefore, there is a window of political opportunities opening for Russia and the United States in Afghanistan - and it would be highly unwise to miss the chance. Each of the parties realizes that the issue at stake cannot be resolved by one of them alone. The threat of Islamic radicalism and drugs posed by an unstable Afghanistan is so real that we will not be able to avoid building a common security zone, albeit limited to one region.

Vladimir Yevseyev is senior research associate with the Institute for World Economy and International Relations of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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