The situation in the region has turned more complicated with increasing Indian interference in Afghanistan, which directly affects Pakistan’s interests in the country
Pakistan’s interest in shaping the discourse on contemporary Afghanistan has always been critical and predominant. Among the neighboring countries of Afghanistan, Pakistan occupies an important position and is supposed to play a significant role in resolving the simmering conflict. Without Pakistan’s positive and meaningful intervention, any solution to Afghanistan’s security problems will be a distant dream. Pakistan is central to all the efforts to defeat terrorist groups and prevent their resurgence in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of NATO troops by the end of this year.
The success of strategies and blueprints proposed by United States and its allies to strengthen the new Afghan government depends on whether the strategies and policies of Pakistan click or not. A politically and economically stable Afghanistan is possible only when it shares a productive relationship with Pakistan. Pakistan’s strategies, in turn, are tied with its security concerns, viz a viz its estranged neighbor and arch enemy, India.
Both India and Pakistan have very obnoxious and sinister agendas in Afghanistan. They use Afghanistan as a battleground to flaunt their muscles and exert their influence in the region. Both the countries navigate their rivalries in Afghanistan to protect their own selfish interests. Both the countries look at Afghanistan through the prism of their longstanding bitterness and animosity, in which one side’s gain is considered other side’s loss. Hence Afghanistan has long been a geopolitical playground for them where they play their power games to acquire regional supremacy. Despite the rollercoaster of their hidden and unhidden motives, both sides have been trading accusations and indulging in mudslinging for years.
The neighboring states of Afghanistan have only played the spoilsport and the lack of Afghan political movements, lack of political structures and problems of governance have only made the matters worse
Afghanistan and Pakistan share many cultural and historical ties. Both neighbors have similar concerns regarding security and stability. The population of about 35 million Pashtun ethnic tribe, who straddle both sides of border, is a thread that binds the people of both the countries together. Pashtun population on either side of the border is the glue that binds the two states together. Although the economy muscle of Pakistan is not much strong, yet Pakistan has invested its financial and political capital in Afghanistan. It has also courteously accepted the additional burden of Afghan refugees on its economy. After Taliban were expelled from Afghanistan, Pakistan recognized the new Karzai administration and accepted the transition of power in Afghanistan. But despite the centuries-old affinities, the cultural and historical ties, the relationship between the two countries has left a lot to be desired. The sinister controversies and smear campaigns have dominated the discourse. Pakistan has and continues to pay heavy price for its interests in Afghanistan.
The situation in the region has turned more complicated with Indian interference in Afghanistan, which directly affects Pakistan’s interests in the country. For Pakistan, the biggest concern and consternation is the presence of India in Afghanistan. Since the fall of Taliban regime, the two neighboring nuclear powers have jumped the bandwagon in Afghanistan with new fervor and out of the box strategies. They have intervened in Afghanistan with new objectives and interests, mostly to downplay each other.
After Taliban were ousted, Indian influence in Afghanistan increased dramatically, and it has only grown in recent years. India’s interference in Afghanistan is a clear reflection of its desire to execute what Pakistan is executing in Kashmir. They saw Afghan war as an opportunity to counter Pakistan’s influence in the region. Most of the Indian strategies in Afghanistan are focused on Pakistan’s role. With an advantage of a stronger economy and industry, India is eagerly exerting its influence through investments in economy of Afghanistan. It has successfully carried out many development projects in post-Taliban Afghanistan. Since the scheduled withdrawal of international forces from Afghanistan inches closer, Afghan government will need to improve the economy to gain legitimacy and build on the progress made in last 12 years. So, India is keenly advancing its defense, geopolitical and economic interests in Afghanistan to facilitate its trade with Central Asia and to prevent Pakistan from gaining any foothold. Today India and Afghanistan have a strategic partnership agreement that provides for joint operations with Indian military and training of Afghan military officers in India.
India’s interference in Afghanistan is a clear reflection of its desire to execute what Pakistan is executing in Kashmir; they saw Afghan war as an opportunity to counter Pakistan’s influence in the region
The irony from Pakistan’s point of view is that the premeditated and calculated strategies of India sound simple; however, in reality they are not. From Pakistan’s perspective, Indian objectives in Afghanistan stem from the calculated assessment to establish itself firmly by obstructing its principle adversary and expanding its military footprints in Afghanistan. By pledging its military support to Afghanistan and supplying lethal and non-lethal weapons, India is trying to increase its influence in the war-torn country. Trapped in the middle, Pakistan has been outsmarted by its two hostile neighbors, with India to the east and Afghanistan to the west. As security analysts on this side of the border have been arguing quite vociferously, Pakistan cannot afford its arch enemy cozying up to its neighbor.
In view of India’s increasing influence in Afghanistan, Pakistan's concerns are quite legitimate. Indian assistance to Afghan army and its diplomacy is perceived as a ploy to trap and ultimately destroy Pakistan. In this way, India’s overwhelming aid and mission in Afghanistan has not been appreciated well by Pakistan. The devious foreign policies of India and its influence in Afghanistan are what drive Pakistan’s policy in Afghanistan. It is worried about India’s intentions of vying for influence in the region with Americans leaving Afghanistan. Staggering economic investments and defense activities in Afghanistan by India, its proxy involvement in Baluchistan and efforts to gain monopoly on the Afghan transit trade routes has forced Pakistan to focus not only towards its eastern border but also on the western border.
Unlike UK, US and some other western powers, Pakistan cannot boast of financial muscle and aid to Afghanistan, but it has always extended its helping hand to this conflict ridden country, because of the age-old geographical, cultural and ethnic ties, unlike other countries. However, in the cacophony of conspiracy theories and mistrust that dominate the relations between the two neighbors, it will not be easy to convince Afghans of Pakistan’s good intentions. The political environment in Afghanistan is no longer the same as it was before 9/11. The war-torn nation today blames Pakistan for nurturing Haqqani network, supporting other insurgents and fueling instability in Afghanistan. It accuses Pakistan for much of its problems and prefers to be dealt separately. The dubious policies of using their strategic assets against each other have put both the countries at loggerheads. Despite disagreements and incongruities, it is time for both countries, particularly Pakistan, to get rid of its policies, transform themselves from the patterns of “strategic depth” and “national security states” to “neighbor-friendly” and “social welfare states”. It is time for both the countries to break the ice and embrace each other.
With regard to the India–Pakistan rivalry, the fears of Pakistan are genuine and legitimate, not parochial. The politico-security component of India Afghanistan strategic agreement is seen as a threat by Pakistan to its interests in Afghanistan. Pakistan has high stakes in peaceful and stable Afghanistan. It does not intend to keep India completely out of Afghanistan and recognizes the role and contribution of India in economy and development of Afghanistan. However, for everything to become hunky dory, the ‘competition’ between India and Pakistan should change into ‘cooperation’. The blame games and mudslinging must stop from both sides and as the bigger neighbors; they must work together for the peace and stability in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s prime concern is to ensure that India’s economic and political interventions in Afghanistan are not meant to undermine Pakistan.
As they say, you cannot understand the beginning until you see the end. The past forty years in Afghanistan have been marred by civil wars and political unrest. The neighboring states of Afghanistan have only played the spoilsport and the lack of Afghan political movements, lack of political structures and problems of governance have only made the matters worse. With no credible leader to replace Hamid Karzai, weak political institutions and the ominous clouds of corruption, there still are grave concerns over Taliban’s return to rule Afghanistan following the withdrawal of the U.S. and NATO forces this year.
All the stakeholders are keeping cards close to their chest. None of the parties involved are clearly pronouncing the end-game in Afghanistan. At the end of day, the decision on the fate of the country has to be made by Afghans themselves. The success of the peace process depends on the truly Afghan-led and Afghan-owned strategy and the credibility of their local security forces to take up the responsibility from international forces. Afghan political parties may have to think differently and astutely for “a strong and sovereign Afghanistan”. And the people of Afghanistan have to be the change makers. They are the future of this country. The ball is in their court now.
Tuba Aslam Khan has Masters in International Relations from Quaid e Azam University, Islamabad, Pakistan. She has worked with some international think tanks and is currently based in Rawalpindi