Foreign Devils on the Road to Afghanistan

Bruised in Africa, Macron is looking for a chance to hit back at Russia in its own backyard in the Caucasus and Central Asia. But he’s punching way above his weight, writes M.K. Bhadrakumar.

Taliban celebration in Kabul in September 2022. (Callum Darragh, CC0, Wikimedia Commons)

By M.K. Bhadrakumar
Peoples Dispatch

Late last month, the Western powers huddled together in Paris for a restricted meeting on the Taliban and Afghanistan situation. It was an exclusive meeting of special envoys for Afghanistan of Australia, Canada, the European Union, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The invitation list was striking — on a need-to-know basis — Turkey out, Norway in. Presumably, the West won’t trust the Turks to keep secrets. But Norway makes itself indispensable as a European country with a first-rate intelligence apparatus that has served Western interests.

Curiously, Australia and Canada took part, but then, they belong to the Five Eyes. And the Five Eyes goes wherever an agenda to destabilize Russia or China is mooted. Washington decides such things.

The Paris meeting rings alarm bells. On March 7, the same day the joint statement on the meeting was released, the U.N. Security Council also held a meeting on women and peace at U.N. headquarters in New York, where, interestingly, U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield bracketed the “the violence and oppression of women and girls” in Afghanistan, Iran and “areas of Ukraine occupied by Russia.”

France’s excessive interest in hosting the meeting comes as no surprise. France is mentoring the so-called National Resistance Front of Afghanistan (NRFA) headed by the Panjshiris loyal to Ahmad Massoud, eldest son of anti-Soviet military leader Ahmad Shah Massoud.

President Emmanuel Macron took a hands-on role to woo Tajikistan President Emomali Rahmon to lend his country as the sanctuary for NRFA to stage an armed insurrection against the Taliban government in Kabul with Western help.

Macron has a chip on his shoulder that Russia’s Wagner Group replaced the French troops in the Sahel region in north Africa, which used to be France’s playpen since the deployment of troops in 2015 to Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger to set up military bases, ostensibly to fight “jihadists.”

November 2014: French military helicopter over the Nigerian town Madama, which serves as a forward operating base for the French, Niger and Chad armies. (Thomas Goisque, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons)

But the French presence became increasingly unpopular in the region and the Islamist threat only spread while France dabbled in local politics in its former colonies, and eventually, Macron’s motives became suspect in the African eyes and the perception grew that the French expeditionary force was acting more like an occupation force.

As the African states began replacing the French contingents with Russia’s Wagner Group, Macron announced in November the end of his celebrated “Operation Barkhane.”

[Macron was also schooled by the president of Congo at a joint press conference in Kinshasa on March 4 about France’s “paternalism” towards Africa.]

Macron Punching Above His Weight

French President Emmanuel Macron, second from left, beside Russian President Vladimir Putin, Versailles, 2017. (, CC BY 4.0, Wikimedia Commons)

Macron is looking for opportunities to hit back at Russia in its own backyard in the Caucasus and Central Asia. But he’s punching way above his weight. Nonetheless, the Paris meeting expressed “grave concern about the increasing threat of terrorist groups in Afghanistan, including ISKP, Al Qaeda, Tehrik-i-Taliban-Pakistan and others, which deeply affects security and stability inside the country, in the region and beyond, and called on the Taliban to uphold Afghanistan’s obligation to deny these groups safe haven.” The joint statement is carefully drafted — an excuse for Western intervention is available now.

The Taliban has actually had considerable success on the ground in stabilizing its rule against heavy odds. But the Western powers are furious that the Taliban is no longer bending over backward to seek engagement. The West’s sponsorship of NRFA antagonized the Taliban. Taliban sees NRFA as presaging the return of warlords bankrolled by the West.

The NRFA has failed to get traction. Macron’s personal diplomacy with Rahmon notwithstanding, the latter cannot afford to annoy Moscow — and the Kremlin’s top priority is to somehow stabilize the Afghan security situation. The Russians and the Chinese are willing to work with the Taliban and make them stakeholders in the security and stability of their country.

Indeed, on the same day the Western powers ganged up in Paris, Delhi announced that it was shipping another consignment of 20,000 tons of wheat to Afghanistan via the Chabahar route as humanitarian assistance. The Russian ambassador in Kabul, Dmitry Zhirnov, also spoke about Russia’s deepening engagement with the Taliban, focused on economic ties. (Interestingly, the ambassador disclosed that Moscow may repair and reopen the hugely strategic Salang Tunnel — a Soviet legacy — connecting Kabul with northern Afghanistan and Central Asia.)

A Salang Tunnel entrance in Afghanistan, 1975. (Françoise Foliot, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons)

China recently signed a $540 million oil-and-gas deal reached an agreement to extract oil in the Amu Darya basin in northern Afghanistan. One of the first phone calls the new Foreign Minister Qin Gang made after his appointment was to his Taliban counterpart in Kabul to stress the security concerns in Afghanistan. No doubt, similar concerns were reflected in the meeting in the Kremlin between Russian President Vladimir Putin and India’s National Security Advisor Ajit Doval recently.

Central Asian Neutrality 

Russia is very keen to work with India regarding Afghanistan. China shares Russian concerns in Afghanistan’s security and stability. By contrast, the U.S. and EU visualize that Russia’s preoccupations in the Ukraine conflict is an opportune time to stir up the Central Asian pot. But that is a simplistic, self-serving assumption.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who toured Central Asia last month, learnt to his dismay that the regional states are simply not interested in getting entangled in Washington’s zero-sum games. The joint statement issued after Blinken’s meeting with his Central Asian counterparts steered clear of any references critical of Russia (or China.)

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken arriving for a meeting with Foreign Minister Mukhtar Tileuberdi in Astana, Kazakhstan, Feb. 28, 2023. (State Department/Chuck Kennedy/Public domain)

Prof. Melvin Goodman at Johns Hopkins and noted author who used to be a C.I.A. analyst, has described Blinken’s Central Asian tour, first by a senior Biden administration official to the region, to be

“a fool’s errand that merely exposed the futility of U.S. efforts to practice dual containment against Russia and China … . All five Central Asian countries refused to support the United States in last month’s U.N. resolution calling for Russia to withdraw its troops from Ukraine and to recognize Ukraine’s full sovereignty over its territory. All five Central Asian countries will need support from Russia or China if faced with internal opposition in their own countries.”

The neutral stance of the Central Asian states is consistent with their independent position alike on the breakaway ex-Soviet regions of Abkhazia, Ossetia, Crimea, Lugansk, Donetsk, Zaporozhya and Kherson. After all, Moscow never threatened the Central Asians with “Either you’re with us, or are against us.”

The Central Asians witnessed the retreat of the Western alliance from Afghanistan and will not regard them as dependable providers of security. They are also wary of the West’s dalliance with extremist groups. The widely held belief in Central Asia is that the Islamic State is an American creation. Above all, the Western countries pursue mercantilist foreign policies eyeing the region’s mineral resources but take no interest in the region’s development. On the other hand, they are intrusive and prescriptive.

At the Paris meeting, behind closed doors, the American input would have been that the Central Asian states will not support a regime change project in Afghanistan. Even Tajikistan, which has ethnic affinities with the Tajik population of Afghanistan, will mark distance from the NRFA lest it got sucked into an Afghan civil war. Macron fancies himself to be a born charmer, but Rahmon is a hardcore realist.

Looking ahead, the real danger is that, having failed to get the Taliban to bend while also unable to build an anti-Taliban resistance movement or incite the Central Asian states to decouple from Moscow and Beijing, the US and its allies may now be left with the only remaining option, which is to create anarchical conditions in Afghanistan where there are no winners.

The ascendance of the Islamic State and its open threats to the Russian, Pakistani, Chinese, Iranian and Indian embassies functioning in Kabul are signposts. The Paris meeting of Western spies and ‘diplomats’ was an exercise in stocktaking.

MK Bhadrakumar is a former diplomat. He was India’s ambassador to Uzbekistan and Turkey. Views are personal.

This article is from Peoples Dispatch.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

9 comments for “Foreign Devils on the Road to Afghanistan

  1. Dr. Hujjathullah M.H.B. Sahib
    March 29, 2023 at 01:39

    Bhadrakumar has a unique access into Central Asian ground realities. “Foreign devils” is a historical cliche in C.A. and Macron has given it contemporary relevance. The Central Asian leaders have read the geopolitical winds right !

  2. CaaeyG
    March 28, 2023 at 13:33

    I wonder if Mr.Blinken ever read up on George Washington’s comment of, ” Beware of entangling alliances..” I think George Washington had a good idea. Maybe Mr. Blinken should read up on that.

  3. March 27, 2023 at 22:50

    Excellent article!

  4. bardamu
    March 27, 2023 at 17:08

    More neoliberal attrition.

    Norway was apparently part of exploding Nordstream II, with the US. The principal victim is probably Germany, but of course France took a hit as well, likely also more so than did Russia. As I write, France is in its tenth day or so of nationwide strikes over Macron’s attempt to steal French pensions by bumping up the retirement age. Sound familiar?

    One wonders why Europe’s governments toddle around behind the US in this “It’s a war | It’s not a war” thing in Ukraine and thereabouts. But I suppose that the explanation is mundane: French and English and German governments have no interest in common with their populations. They are in it for the bribe money, or for a favorable place in the Godfather’s turf wars.

    The point here is not that it is preposterous that France should think that it can approach Russia in conventional–or other–arms. It would take a neurological anomaly for Macron to ignore that. It is possible that he imagines that the US would not laughingly gambit France so quickly as it has Ukraine or Germany. That’s stupid, but stupid is a big part of politics. More likely, he sees a risk but may be playing in part to stop that.

    But all that is speculative–and a stretch, really. The level of finance that powers this goat rodeo spans the Atlantic, so it is likely operating in Europe much as it does in the US and between the US and Latin America. Why would one not imagine that Macron is as open to blackmail and as committed to international black and grey market operations as is Joe Biden in the US?

    The 21st Century development of fascism apparently does not involve nationalism and racism so much as it does a sort of internationalist tribalism, with castes mostly following family and corporate ties.

    Surely there is something these people are not guilty of, but I cannot find what.

  5. Summitflyer
    March 27, 2023 at 15:48

    I have stated it before .The beast is now cornered and so is becoming that much more dangerous ,but this too shall pass .A new world is being born and we will all feel the birth pangs with some more so than others ,depending upon where you happen to be at this time in history .

  6. rosemerry
    March 27, 2023 at 13:52

    MK Bhadrakumar is not a “former” diplomat! He remains a formidable version of diplomacy as exists in India, Russia, China and some other nations but NEVER in recent years the United States!! As always a very interesting and informative article for us all.

  7. vinnieoh
    March 27, 2023 at 13:45

    Thanks CN, for posting this from MK B – that’s what I been talkin’ about. Would have been nice to also get an update on the Balochi regions of Southern Afghanistan and Southeastern Iran. If the “widely held” belief in Central Asia is correct, and IS is a US project (that’s long been my belief,) then the Sunni madrasas amongst the Balochi are also suspect as being a joint project of US and KSA.

    It is not surprising that the western powers excluded Turkey from their deliberations. The region under discussion had historically been occupied/controlled/influenced by the various Turkish Caliphates, and Erdogan has delusions of grandeur and a longing to restore Turkish dominance in that region.

  8. Jeff Harrison
    March 27, 2023 at 11:17

    “The West” and it’s colonial mindset has made itself toxic. I love the “they are intrusive and prescriptive.” A diplomat’s way of saying arrogant.

  9. JonnyJames
    March 27, 2023 at 11:14

    A fool’s errand indeed. Ol’ Blinkered was surprised that the central Asian countries were not interested; but the situation should be obvious for Central Asians: after witnessing the US stealing billions of dollars from the poorest country in the world, and then attempting to impose a full blockade to starve the population to death and prevent medical supplies etc. from entering Afghanistan.

    I agree with the author: Macron is a poseur, this whole affair is laughable. France is a third rate power (like the UK) trying to punch above its weight class.

    Instead of stealing from Afghanistan, China and Russia are the ones who will help ameliorate the situation. Instead of trying to starve millions of people to death, Russia has sent food and other aid to Afghanistan. Those evil Russkies again.

    No wonder the neo-fascist tyrants in the West view Russians as “uentermenschen” eh.

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