Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Pakistan and India Are Competing for Afghanistan

Pakistan and India Are Competing for Afghanistan

Modern Afghanistan is a place where the interests of global and regional powers clash, especially those of states like India and Pakistan. New Delhi and Islamabad have moved their years-long standoff to a new space—Afghanistan—and they now aspire to take an active role in shaping its future. And the Pakistanis and the Indians each have their own plans for Afghanistan’s future.
Pakistan in Afghanistan
In addressing Islamabad’s positions, we need first to emphasize that Pakistan is key to resolving the situation in Afghanistan. There are extremist sanctuaries in Pakistan’s border regions, and it appears that only the Pakistani military can defeat them. In addition, Pakistan wants to participate in any negotiations affecting Afghanistan’s future, and it is fully capable of disrupting a peace agreement or a negotiation process among the Hamid Karzai government, NATO forces and the Taliban. For example, attempts by Afghan authorities to hold separate discussions with the Taliban failed primarily due to the position taken by Pakistan. Pakistan’s intelligence service arrested the Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar as soon as it became known that he was preparing for peace talks with Kabul without Islamabad being involved. In the future, Pakistan will obviously not allow anyone to hold talks with the Taliban unless Islamabad plays the central role of mediator.
Second, the Pakistani military considers Afghanistan to lie within its sphere of influence. Islamabad looks upon Afghanistan as its backyard, and Pakistan is doing everything it can to keep it that way. Pakistan’s military elite sees Afghanistan as its strategic resource, principally a space where it can deploy non-government formations and terrorist groups that act in Pakistan’s interests. In addition, Afghanistan gives Pakistan strategic depth. An Afghan regime loyal to Islamabad could provide space to maneuver and regroup forces in the event of a conflict with India. Afghanistan would be strategically important to the Pakistani government should there be a military showdown with India.
Third, Pakistan cannot allow a regime loyal to New Delhi to emerge in Afghanistan; it believes that it would then find itself in a hostile encirclement. Accordingly, Pakistan seeks to minimize, and ideally eliminate, Indian influence in Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, extremely dangerous antagonisms are increasing within Pakistan itself. Chaos and violence stemming from the strength of political Islam and the crisis of authority are spreading, and the country is experiencing creeping “Talibanization.” Islamist sentiments are strong in Pakistani society and among the elite. We need only recall the murder of Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab Province. His killer became virtually a national hero.
At the same time, Pakistan is an active US ally in the fight against the Taliban and al-Qaeda. At least, that is what Islamabad says. This political position taken by the civilian authorities puts the Pakistani army in a difficult situation.
On the one hand, Pakistan’s armed forces are a NATO ally in the war against the Taliban and al-Qaeda, and the military carries out operations against terrorists in the northwest of the country in fulfillment of its obligations as an ally.
On the other hand, US actions are extremely unpopular in Pakistani society. Inhabitants of the regions bordering on Afghanistan where counterterrorist operations are conducted have sustained significant losses and have suffered greatly; many people have died in attacks by American UAVs flying from Afghan territory. Many have lost their homes and become refugees and forcibly displaced persons. Thousands of residents of North and South Waziristan have moved to other provinces, fleeing both NATO airstrikes and attacks by the Taliban, who are governing with increasing brutality in the regions they have captured by establishing a most cruel and inhuman system under the guise of inculcating Sharia norms.
Under the circumstances, the Pakistani military’s total submission to US demands inevitably produces a new wave of resentment in Pakistani society and increases social support for extremists.
Not knowing how to extricate itself from this extremely delicate situation, the Pakistani government objectively assisted the Taliban, who overreached themselves and pushed into the Swat Valley, creating a threat both to Pashtun regions and to other areas of the country. The Pakistani army vigorously fought the arrogant Taliban for the first time. However, it did not pursue the retreating fighters into North Waziristan. The reason may have been the heavy flooding, but Pakistan might have been playing a double game, as often happened.
Many experts are convinced of that. On the one hand, the Pakistani extremists doubtless had to be pushed up against the Afghan border and contained in the border regions. It is possible that the operation will yield an unspoken agreement about the rules for future coexistence between the armed Pashtun Islamists and official Islamabad. On the other hand, Pakistan will probably continue supporting the Afghan Taliban. That is why the military is not conducting mopping-up operations in North Waziristan, the Taliban’s main refuge. After all, Pakistan simply cannot allow the United States to win the war against the “violent mullahs,” because not only will that strengthen the Hamid Karzai government, it will also increase India’s influence in Kabul, which will inevitably cause Pakistan to lose influence in Afghanistan.
India in Afghanistan
India is one of the largest Afghanistan’s donors, and it is striving to take a position in Kabul commensurate with its investments, especially since Afghanistan is the gateway to energy-rich Central Asia. India has an interest in seeing Afghanistan stabilized and Pakistan’s influence in Afghanistan reduced.
At $2.1 billion, India today is the sixth largest investor in Afghanistan’s economy. Currently, there are more than 4000 Indian citizens in Afghanistan; most are security personnel and professionals involved in various projects to rebuild Afghanistan (training of Afghan police, education assistance, health care, energy and telecommunications). In addition to its embassy in Kabul, India has four consulates in Iraq, Mazar-e-Sharif, Jalalabad and Kandahar open and working effectively.
India is taking part in projects to rebuild dams in Herat Province, and it is scheduled to complete construction on the new Afghan parliament building in 2011.
In general, India has chosen to follow a “soft power” approach in Afghanistan, and it has reason to hope for success. Afghan society’s opinion towards India is favorable; Indian products are gaining on the local market, and its television and movie industries are popular with the Afghan population.
India’s government has partly financed development of the Chabahar seaport in Iran; and in 2008 it completed reconstruction of the Delaram-Zaranj highway on the border with Iran, which provides an additional outlet to the sea through Iran. That established an alternative route—bypassing Pakistan—for delivering goods to Afghanistan.
India’s strategic interests are the stabilization of Afghanistan and the strengthening of the central government in Kabul, because that promises to reduce the terrorist threat in the region. Afghanistan was a haven for terrorists during the Taliban’s reign, and many training camps were on its territory. Now, graduates of Pakistani madrassas take their “final exams” in Afghanistan, fighting NATO forces. New Delhi is aware that another radical regime in Kabul could export its ideology and destabilize the entire region, including Central Asia; and it could become an ally of Pakistan, which has not abandoned its plans to attack Kashmir.
The Islamists are trying to prevent India from gaining political strength in Kabul. India’s diplomatic missions continually receive threats from the Taliban and other extremist organizations operating in Afghanistan. In 2008, a suicide bomber attacked the Indian Embassy in Afghanistan, killing 40 people; and a terrorist attack was carried out in late 2008 in India itself. At the time, India and Pakistan were virtually on the threshold of a new war. The November 2008 terrorist attack in the Indian city of Mumbai was one of the largest since the 2001 attack on Parliament in New Delhi. The attack took place in India’s richest and most densely populated city. Islamist terrorist groups in Pakistan saw their chance to damage relations between the two states and, perhaps, even provoke a real war between New Delhi and Islamabad.
Everything points to Lashkar-e-Taiba as the radical organization that carried out the terrorist attack in Mumbai which, as it turned out, succeeded in pushing India and Pakistan to the brink of war. That terrorist attack objectively played into the hands of the Taliban and al-Qaeda because the suddenly worsening situation immediately caused the Pakistani army to be redeployed from the northwest (the Taliban’s area) to the border with India, which was in the interest of various terrorist groups.
However, the Islamists’ scheme did not succeed. The war was prevented by strong US pressure on New Delhi and Islamabad, as well, apparently, as the awareness of ruling circles in India and Pakistan of the potential consequences of a large-scale military conflict. We should not forget that the conflict between India and Pakistan has been smoldering for decades, and any exacerbation of the situation, such as another provocation by extremists, could lead to a new confrontation.
The international coalition forces will begin the gradual transfer of responsibility for security to the Afghan military in mid-2011. That event will be a catalyst and a sort of litmus test for how the situation in the region will evolve in the future. In order for the operation to be successful, the countries interested in Afghanistan’s future, especially India and Pakistan, will need to arrive at some kind of compromise. The United States will take the lead in this process. The question is whether the Obama administration will be able to find terms that are acceptable to all of the countries involved in the Afghan project.

1 comment:

Sankalp said...

Hello Shabir,
A well compiled article.

I wrote something related to India-Pakistan a few days back, though from a different perspective: Pakistan is not evil