Afghan drawdown: The vultures descend
Instead of competing over Afghanistan, isn’t it possible for Pakistan and India to co-operate?
Now that the die is cast and the United States is finally stepping up the process of troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, the vultures are finally swooping down to ensure that they get a piece of the carcass. Pakistan, Iran, India, Russia; all seem to have a stake in Afghanistan’s future. Out of these, Pakistan and India are arch rivals and have conflicting interests in Afghanistan. Pakistan, which often views Afghanistan as an extension of its own backyard seeks to play out the game of strategic depth in the country.
India, on the other hand is taking a more indirect route. Contrary to conspiracy theories, India is not likely to convert Afghanistan as a second front against Pakistan. Most of its work is focused towards infrastructure production, development aid etc. However, it would be naïve to think that India’s role is only that of a Good Samaritan. Previously, India had provided indirect support to the Northern Alliance to counter Taliban, which was supported by Pakistan. Furthermore, it is reported that the Indian Air Force has a presence at the Farkhor Air Base in Tajikistan, just a few kilometres from the border with Afghanistan.
Now that America has begun its withdrawal, it would be interesting to see how the Afghan endgame shapes out. Naturally India would like to depend on its allies like the Tajiks to maintain its influence. Pakistan on the other hand, has a natural advantage and can play the Pashtun card to its advantage. It has previously enjoyed close relations with the Taliban, and now that America seems to be in a mood to talk with them, it seems likely that Pakistan is bound to play a pivotal role in the ensuing negotiations.
India has always been wary of negotiating with the Taliban, and unless it shows some ideological flexibility, it might see its role diminished in face of waning US presence. On the other hand, in spite of its obvious edge over India in this regard, would be foolish for Pakistan to pursue an India-centric policy. Much to the disappointment of its generals, India is neither willing, nor does it have the resources or the desire to turn Afghanistan into a proxy front against Pakistan. However, in case Pakistan does decide to revert to its earlier policy (the one practised in 90s), I don’t think India will just sit on the fence like a passive observer. The biggest loser in this power struggle would be the Afghan.
Once again, he’d fall prey to feuds that aren’t his own.
Cooperation: The better choice
So, this leaves us with a brilliant, but quixotic choice. Instead of competing over Afghanistan, isn’t it possible for us to co-operate? It has advantages for both countries.
First of all, the amelioration of the situation in Afghanistan would have a direct impact on the problem of extremism that seems to have engulfed Pakistan. Conversely, any strategic adventurism can lead to another blowback. And I need not emphasize that Pakistan does not need another wave of unholy warriors lashing at its borders. The cooling of tensions would also be advantageous for India, which also faces the scourge of terrorism. Also, a pact with Pakistan could also provide Indian industry with a direct land route to Afghanistan. This can bolster trade and commerce in the region.
The past few weeks have seen frantic diplomatic negotiations. High level dialogue has resumed between India and Pakistan. On June 24, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan jointly agreed to fight terrorism. It is not entirely unrealistic to enlarge the scope of such co-operation to countries like India, China and Russia. After all, a peaceful Afghanistan is in everyone’s interest.
Last, but by no means the least, this deal would be good for the Afghan. Sick of his nation being used as a geo-political whorehouse, the ending of all games (whether great or not so great) gives him a glimmer of hope against the backdrop of a dark present.