Interview with Vyacheslav Belokrinitsky, Deputy Director of the Institute for Oriental Studies with the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow, Russia.
The increase in the civilian deaths that has taken place in Afghanistan, actually according to the official information, the last year was one of the deadliest years from the point of view of the civilians, and more than 2700 civilians were killed last year, it is more than 15% of the year before. Though according to the UN report on civilian deaths, the Taliban was responsible for 75% of all deaths, while the number of those killed by the NATO forces accounts for 16%, but still and though, the issue of civilian deaths is very sensitive in Afghanistan. Deaths of Afghans by foreign hands provoke greater outrage in Afghanistan than killings by the Taliban. So this is the situation over there, and I think that the situation is really quite critical, and we can view it with a great doze of pessimism, because Hamid Karzai probably does not feel very confident in his own country, this is one thing; and then he is under the pressure of certain groups, and his circles, and the ruling circles, and there is always this fight for partial success, and partial gains, the fight between Karzai’s administration and the US forces, and the NATO and United States coalition; it is not a very easy and a very smoothly developing relationship, I would say, and the emotional reaction of Hamid Karzai to the recent events like the killings of 9 children by the NATO forces or American forces, it is just the emotional reaction of Karzai, who said publicly: let’s those foreigners stop fighting in our country. That was really kind of a gesture, though it should not be interpreted as a call for the withdrawal of the foreign troops from Afghanistan. Actually what Karzai meant was that they should stop killings of civilians and that he probably meant that they probably would do better if they fight the Taliban in the neighboring Pakistan rather than in his own country. But this is really a play, a game that is going on there, complicated, though quite understandable game, of fighting for influence and strengthening their own positions. But in a broader perspective I would say that the whole issue of the withdrawal of the NATO and the US forces from Afghanistan due to the recent events becomes very questionable, it should be questioned whether these plans will materialize. At least it seems that there are some difficulties, and the process of providing grounds for this partial withdrawal beginning this summer and the final or almost final withdrawal of the forces by the year 2014, I think that we can now question whether this timetable can be really fulfilled, can be really done.
But Mr. Belokrinitsky, if you remember Mr. Karzai said that this war against terror should not be fought in Afghan villages, but from our sad experience in that country we all know that who are peasants are during daytime became warriors at night. And my second question, which derives from this one, is: do you think that at present the western coalition’s tactics is not efficient enough, could they perhaps change their tactics in a more efficient way?
I think that this Karzai’s call not to fight in villages, of course it is correct and it is understandable that he says this, because actually as far as I understand the fight is not in the cities, the cities are more or less controlled by the forces of the Americans and NATO, just as you have mentioned, just as in the days of the Soviet presence there, we have the same picture, the cities are more or less controlled by the government forces, actually helped by the foreigners, and the countryside is not under their control. The same picture emerges now, as it existed in those days, and therefore how to find those terrorists or the Taliban – the Taliban is there in the villages, in the countryside, therefore to fight them you are to go there and try to destroy their bases. Another tactics is just to stick to the cities, to the military bases, just probably reporting that everything is alright, because there were no clashes, no accidental terrorist attacks, but accidental terrorist attacks are happening from time to time, therefore the situation is not healthy, is not stable, and therefore the American/NATO forces are forced to fight terrorists or the Taliban in the countryside, therefore the call of Mr. Karzai, it is not possible to follow his call and his recommendation. This is one thing. As for the tactics, I think the tactics is the same, basically, and it will remain more or less the same, because it seems there is no other way to deal with this situation but to try to stabilize the situation in the major cities, major places and then to create a picture of a more or less stable situation. It is not possible to crash and to destroy the Taliban, the enemy of the Americans and of other forces, to crash them totally, but it is probably possible in the course of time to weaken their position, and the tactics is more or less concealed. The actual success and failures are seen only and can be evaluated by those who are there on the field, and it is not possible, it is very difficult for us from the outside to see the real progress or real failures in this field, therefore I would say that the tactics basically will not change, but some changes in the operations can be undertaken there, probably they will meet with some successes, but in general I think that the situation is rather basically gloomy for the outcome of the whole operation, I think that the Americans will fail to gain the upper hand in this battle, so the withdrawal with no positive result will finally emerge.
So do I get it right that the issue of withdrawal is also an issue of survival for Mr. Karzai, and if so, could it be somehow resolved, or partially naturally resolved by talks with the Taliban?
Yes, I include this as a solution, I would say it is possible probably for Karzai to survive with some kind of partial agreements with his counterparts, with his present day foes, but probably they would be allies or at least would be colleagues, I think some kind of national reconciliation should take place there, probably in this process Karzai finally loses his ground, his personal fortune is not probably clear, but generally they will try to evolve in a kind of coalition, and probably with the help, with the participation of the Pakistani side, so I would say that in the distant future Pakistan-Afghanistan some kind of regional coordination of power, kind of a very dynamic relationship between these two neighbours, this can evolve. I suppose that regionalization of the politics in this part of the world is possible.
To find out more on the issue, read or listen to our Burning Point program from March 15, 2011 in Radio section.