(MENAFN- Jordan Times) Conventional thinking should go that Russia is anxious to see the US withdraw from Afghanistan because Moscow is concerned over the massive US military presence in the region. In reality, Russia wants the US to continue the fight against Afghan, and Pakistani Taliban and allied militants who, if left alone, could eventually threaten Russian stability and security.
Russian President Vladimir Putin last week expressed "regret" at the idea that the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) could leave Afghanistan at the end of 2014, saying that he believes the Western alliance should remain in the country for as long as it takes to "get the job done".
"NATO maintains a permanent presence in Afghanistan at present. We should help them. Let them keep fighting there," Putin said at a meeting with top Russian air force officers.
"They have made the commitment, let them follow through on it," Putin added, saying that it is in Russia's interest to keep NATO troops fighting against narcotics smuggling from Afghanistan.
"That is in our interest. It's in our interest that we should have peace on our southern borders," he said.
A massive amount of Afghan heroin is said to be entering Russia through former Soviet Central Asian republics, which prompted Moscow to cooperate with NATO in fighting the drug business in Afghanistan for years.
A report produced by the Canadian Centre for Investigative Reporting says that since the 2001 launch of the Afghan war, heroin production has reached record levels in the country and a significant amount of that heroin is ending up in Russia.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime says that Russia is the world's largest national market for heroin, consuming about 20 per cent of all the heroin trafficked from Afghanistan annually.
The report says that there are at least 1.5 million heroin users in Russia and it is estimated that every day 80 people die from heroin addiction.
Russia's Federal Drug Control Services and the US military have carried out joint operations in Afghanistan to destroy drug laboratories. Russia's involvement angered Afghan President Hamid Karzai, as any Russian military presence is a highly sensitive issue for Afghans who remember the Soviet occupation of their country during the 1980s.
There are several other reasons for the Russian stand on the Afghan war. Moscow has seen the resurgence of Islamists in North Africa - starting with Tunisia and Egypt - and worries about the threat of militancy reaching its shores as it grapples with unrest in Chechnya. That concern is also one of the reasons for Russian support for the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, which is fighting a rebellion largely dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood. Moscow knows it will not be able to deal with an Islamist movement in power in Damascus.
Putin should know that his positions on Afghanistan and Syria are contradictory. While he backs the US intervention in Afghanistan, he opposes any external role in the effort to change the regime in Damascus.
The Russian president should also be aware of the impossibility of a military solution to end the Afghan conflict because of the Soviet Union's bitter experience after it invaded Afghanistan in 1979 and occupied it for a decade before being left with no option but to end the costly war.
Many others tried to control Afghanistan through the centuries, but none of them succeeded. The nature of the Afghans is such that they do not allow foreigners to control them. The Moguls, the Mongols, the Persians and the British learnt that lesson the hard way, and the US is now following in their footsteps.
In his comments last week, Putin also reaffirmed the fact that Russia will not send soldiers to fight the Afghan insurgents.
US-Russian cooperation has a mixed history, with both sides opting to interact with each other on a case-by-case basis. They are cooperating in the fight against Somalia-based piracy, in sea-based search and rescue operation. Russia is also helping the US in the "war against terrorism", but the two sides are diagonally opposed over how to deal with Syria and Iran. Russia is also upset about a US-led NATO missile defence plan that the Obama administration says is aimed at countering a potential Iranian threat.
Moscow is concerned the Turkey-based missile defence system could eventually neutralise Russia's nuclear deterrent. However, it has put aside those concerns and, as Putin reiterated last week, it wants the US to continue its war against Afghan and Pakistani insurgents.
Russia has also extended significant support to the Western alliance on the ground. It allows air cargo transit into and out of Afghanistan and recently signed an agreement under which NATO is setting up a transit hub in the Volga River city of Ulyanovsk to facilitate the alliance's withdrawal from the war-torn country by 2014.
Moscow signed a $367.5 million deal in 2011 with the Pentagon for 21 Mi-17V5 transport/attack helicopters to expand the fleet in service with the Afghan military.
Although NATO is supposed to end the Afghan war in 2014, the foreign military presence in the country will not end by that time. The administration of US President Barack Obama signed an agreement early this year under which the Pentagon will keep US soldiers there until 2024.
So, Putin does not have to worry about the scheduled NATO withdrawal since the US military will still be fighting Afghan and Pakistani insurgents in 12 years from now.
The writer, who worked as a senior editor and writer for The Jordan Times for 20 years, now works for the UAE-based Gulf Today newspaper.
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