The Afghan legacy in Ukraine and Taiwan 

Proxy wars have existed for a long time, but the Afghan conflict marked the most notable return of proxy warfare in contemporary times.

| Updated: 17 April, 2023 11:04 am IST

My last week’s brief reminisce about Cold War architect Zbigniew Brzezinski, his veiled warnings to the USA to observe minutely the coming of the global shifts and adjust, and how it fell on the deaf ears of the American establishment would be incomplete without a brief mention of what legacy of ZBig, The Beltway chose to  hold on to instead.

Most nations have different dead albatrosses hanging around their neck that end up defining their major policies. If one of India’s albatrosses is the near crash of its national economy during the end-80s, one of America’s albatrosses is Vietnam: a global embarrassment that finally ended in 1975. To make matters worse, it was the decade when the Afghanistan government, irrespective of whoever was in power, remained firmly aligned with the Soviet Union. Smarting from the defeat in the hands of Vietnamese farmers but hardwired for armed conflicts, ZBig pushed Jimmy Carter to trap the USSR in ‘their Vietnam’, when the PDPA Government in Kabul began its Soviet styled reforms in a radically Islamic Afghanistan during 1978.

Proxy wars have existed for a long time, but the Afghan conflict marked the most notable return of proxy warfare in contemporary times.

Fast forward through the decades after the Soviet Afghan war. You would have the creation of the Pakistani and Kashmiri terrorists and Kashmir insurgence. The creation of Al Qaeda and its different offshoots like AQAP and the civil war of Iraq. The Chechen or Bosnian terrorists, and the Yugoslav balkanization and Chechen Wars. The creation of ISIS and their offshoots like ISKP, the devastation of Libya or Syria, and present disturbances in central Asia. Pushing different proxy wars, sectarian killings, terror attacks, or effecting different colour revolutions to weaken or topple a seated government, with minimal to zero boots on the ground – at its base, remains the legacy of Brzezinski.

Take the example of Ukraine. Any mainstream outlet – including most Indian media houses – would tell you that it was an act of ‘unprovoked aggression’ on the part of President Putin and that he had no business in Ukraine. But what don’t they tell you?

For starters, they do not tell you about the eight long years (2014-2022) of killings that the Ukrainians carried out on the east of their country – that is dominated by the Russian speaking people (estimated, about 14000 dead). Next, they do not tell you that one full week before the Russian SMO troops walked in Ukraine – “the Ukrainian Army began the heavy bombardment of the area (in east Ukraine) occupied by mainly ethnic Russians. Officials from the Observer Mission of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) were located in the vicinity at the time and kept a record of the shelling as it took place. What the OSCE discovered was that the bombardment dramatically intensified as the week went on until it reached a peak on February 19, when a total of 2,026 artillery strikes were recorded” – as Mike Whitney notes. OSCE released a detailed map of the line along which the ceasefire violations took place – no one in the MSM was interested in that (you can check it here).

The third thing that the media – including most Indian media – does not tell you is that Putin invoked Article 51 of the UN, which provides legal justification for military intervention. He did so with evidence of the eight-year targeted killing of Russian speakers by the Ukrainian militia and the rampant bombings recorded by the OSCE. The media also fails to mention that the invocation of Article 51 remained uncontested. If the media did report this, it would make the ‘unprovoked aggression’ angle redundant.

Does this situation remind you of Afghanistan? Zbigniew Brzezinski pushing Carter to ‘create’ conditions for the USSR to intervene and then fighting a proxy war through the Mujahideen in a similar manner to how the Ukrainian army is currently fighting the Russians?

The same model would probably be employed in Taiwan as well. The US is arming Taiwan at an alarming rate. The present reduction of arms flow due to the Ukraine war is only a minor, temporary hiccup. That aside, they are dramatically engaged in “democracy and rule of law” flag-waving, and are influencing the Taiwanese state to do the same. And the western media is running the usual provocative pieces about China’s intent (with most houses of the Indian mainstream media copy pasting the same).

This is a rerun of the past, with America continuing to follow the model of provoking and trapping large adversaries into a war of attrition – a model that was perfected by Cold War architects like Brzezinski.

What would be the outcome of the Ukraine war? Or Taiwan? Alternatively, what would be the result of the recent crisis brewing in the Middle East and Caucasus region with Iran, Israel, Syria, Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan all gravitating towards a showdown? No one knows for sure. But the one thing which is clear is that short of a nuclear exchange, conflicts in this part of the globe would not physically harm the USA – separated from the rest of the world by two giant oceans and two pliable neighbours.

And since it is clear that the USA has chosen to continue as usual (call it Cold War tactics, or call it unipolar hangover), the Indo-Pacific theatre is the one area where India needs to be especially cautious. We have unresolved issues with China; hence, the temptation to get involved in case of an escalation could be strong. Yet, it would be prudent to remember that irrespective of the outcome, India, or any other neighbouring nation that choose to become pawn(s) of the Brzezinski legacy would suffer from the same fate as the Afghans and the Ukrainians in this war of attrition – bleed continuously until there is no more to offer.

 Arindam Mukherjee is a geopolitical analyst and the author of Journey Dog Tales, The Puppeteer, and A Matter of Greed. These are the views of the author


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