Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani warned Afghanistan on October 6 that it should stop all cross-border attacks from its territory into Pakistan and added that “the army had made all arrangements to counter any terrorist attack from across the Afghan border”. The warning is significant as it was delivered on the occasion a joint military exercise with Saudi land forces near Jhelum. Although the exercise was a continuation of old practice, it will be taken as a warning to Pakistan’s two antagonists: Afghanistan and India who have just signed a strategic agreement.
The Foreign Office in Islamabad underlined the possibility that Pakistan may view certain aspects of this agreement with concern. Its spokesperson said the same day that the two countries should “avoid taking steps that may affect regional stability”. Read together with General Kayani’s assertion that Saudi Arabia has always contributed to “regional stability”, it seems that India and Pakistan have already started communicating in a hostile manner. Some analysts in Pakistan have made dire predictions about what they say is the “hidden agenda” behind the India-Afghanistan deal, claiming that it is backed by the US which is now taking its anger out on Pakistan.
Unfortunately, exchanges between Afghanistan and Pakistan have taken on a bitter edge — despite a recent remark by President Hamid Karzai that the latter was Afghanistan’s “twin brother” — after the recent assassination of High Peace Committee president Prof Burhanuddin Rabbani in Kabul. As the Foreign Office took care to concede, the making of an agreement between two members of the Saarc group of states was perfectly legitimate, but Pakistan would study the content of the agreement carefully to see if it was inimical to its interests. As things stand, Pakistan itself is in the process of finalising a far more important trade agreement with India. The region would have benefited as a whole had the three members of Saarc come together and made the India-Afghanistan agreement a tripartite accord with Pakistan giving India a transit route and India allowing investments in Pakistan.
With minds inflamed by purely military thinking, Pakistanis tend to be convinced that India has been finally given the go-ahead by America to establish itself firmly in Afghanistan. And if it trained Afghan military personnel in Afghanistan, that might result in the posting of Indian troops there; and this will challenge Pakistan military directly under the doctrine of ‘strategic depth’. If this kind of thinking is advanced further, Pakistan will obliged to bite off far more than it can chew in the coming months. In India, however, there are words of caution in the post-accord period, advising New Delhi against military escalation against Pakistan in Afghanistan. But the truth is that if Pakistan does nothing — which means abstaining from ruining its economy further — the Indians will soon realise the limits of their penetration in Afghanistan. The Foreign Office must develop a less hostile posture and protect the advance it has made in the direction of increased trade with India. It should not allow the talks to wither on the bough just because the Indians will now train Afghan military personnel. It is not only India and Afghanistan as Saarc members who have moved closer, India has closed ranks with Iran as well despite American persuasion to the contrary.
If the current military thinking persists, India and Pakistan can step up the negative activities that South Asia and the neighbouring regions simply can’t afford. India has an air base and a military hospital in Farkhor in Tajikistan which it can refurbish and use; and Pakistan can encourage the Pashtun warriors of Afghanistan to make India suffer simply because its accord with Kabul will tend to leave the Pashtuns out and benefit a predominantly non-Pashtun officer cadre of the Afghan Army. Making Saudi Arabia an actor in South Asia is not advisable because of the internal Pakistani trend of sectarian violence by non-state actors funded by the Arabs against Iran. The region of South Asia can be stable if its states develop economic synergies instead of military confrontation. If this happens, extra-regional actors will become irrelevant.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 8th, 2011.