|Pak-India wrangling in Afghanistan
Daily: Daily Times
When the context is Afghanistan, an interesting point related to Pakistan and India is that
both are keen to train the Afghan security forces, especially the army. Similarly, both are
keen to provide Afghanistan with light weaponry. Both countries might be supposing some
financial advantage in return but the actual expected yield is different from that: both want
to secure their future relations with Afghanistan in comparison to each other. The question
is this: what special something lies in Afghanistan that both countries wrangle for? There
are five dimensions to this issue.
First, while India lays claim to its civilisational and historical links with Afghanistan, Pakistan
considers itself to be inherently attached to Afghanistan through its ethnic Pashtun
population, which has practically refused to accept the Durand Line dividing them into two
halves, as they keep moving freely across the line. Pakistan seems to not be in any position
to restrict this movement and, consequently, annoy its Pashtun population, the
representatives of which enjoy key positions in the socio-political system of Pakistan.
Second, while India aspires to assert its regional supremacy, expressed through its
necessary role in Afghanistan, Pakistan sees this endeavor as an attempt to encircle it.
Pakistan has refused to accept any role inferior to India in the region. Pakistan thinks that
India’s hegemonic posture may be threatening for other smaller countries in South Asia
such as Nepal and Bhutan but it cannot be intimidating for Pakistan that enjoys nuclear
parity with India regionally.
Third, while India seeks to contact the bigger market of Central Asian Republics (CARs) to
sell its goods, Pakistan seems to scuttle any such Indian effort unless India solves the
Kashmir issue, a bone of contention between both of them since 1947. Many people in
Pakistan believe that both direct (the Kargil war of 1999) and indirect (the Mumbai attacks
of 2008) confrontations with India have failed to convince India of the importance of an
earlier solution to the Kashmir issue. In this regard, India has shown substantial patience by
absorbing both types of conflicts but it has still kept the Kashmir issue low on the priority
Fourth, while India has seen an opening in the post-9/11 attack on Afghanistan (by the US-
NATO allies) to regain the influence it lost in 1996 — when the Taliban replaced the
Northern Alliance that had remained allied to India economically and militarily — with the
advent of the Taliban rule that lasted till 2001, Pakistan is indisposed to forego its claim on
the future of Afghanistan, the land that remained pro-actively visited by Pakistan’s military
and jihadi volunteers for one decade (1979-1989).
Fifth, while India has been trying to develop its bilateral relations with Afghanistan since
2001 by investing millions of dollars in the humanitarian (health and education),
infrastructure (rail and road networks) and development (industry and mining) sectors of
Afghanistan, Pakistan has been unable to find any answer to India’s economic investment
in Afghanistan. This is where Pakistan feels it has been outclassed. In the reconstruction of
Afghanistan, India is enjoying an economic edge over Pakistan.
The dilemma with Afghanistan is that it has grown weak, to the extent that countries (such
as Pakistan and India) in the region that could play a role in its stability are contributing to
its instability owing to their perpetual mutual rivalries. This may be one of reasons for the
US deciding to extend its stay in Afghanistan till at least 2024 through signing a Bilateral
Security Agreement (BSA) with the nascent government of Afghanistan. It is apparent that
the US has been allowing both Pakistan and India to do work that could contribute to the
stability of Afghanistan and not otherwise. In this way, through its presence, the US is doing
two things: first, it is correcting the course of history that went wrong after 1989 when the
former Soviet Union withdrew its army and left Afghanistan in a shambles at the mercy of a
civil war amongst Afghan war lords. Secondly, it is protecting Afghanistan from both
Pakistan and India.
Historically, Afghanistan, besides the countries comprising today’s CARs, has aspired to
reach the warm waters of the Arabian Sea. However, the post-1991 era (at the end of the
Cold War) witnessed a reverse situation. Regional countries such as India, Iran and
Pakistan were found jostling each other pass through Afghanistan to access the CARs.
One of the reasons was that the CARs were keen to sell their extra energy at low rates to
earn money to run their economies. Another reason might be that the CARs (embracing the
capitalist system) carried the buying potential for South Asian goods. Nevertheless, in the
post-9/11 era, a third country has entered this race and that is China.
China has made two major entries into the Afghan theatre. First, in 2008, when two Chinese
state-owned companies, the China Metallurgical Group Corporation and Jiangxi Copper
Company Ltd (as a mining consortium) secured a 30-year lease on the copper deposits at
Mes Aynak for three billion dollars in Logar province. China is interested to keep on mining
the copper deposit (considered one of the world’s largest), having the evaluated potential
of $ 100 billion. Second, in September 2012, when its security chief, Zhou Yongkang,
visited Afghanistan and signed a security deal to train and equip the Afghan police.
In November 2005, India opposed the up-gradation of the status of China (proposed by
Pakistan) from an observer to a member in the South Asian Association for Regional
Cooperation (SAARC). In April 2007, India facilitated the entry of Afghanistan into SAARC.
In September 2014, China has backed both Pakistan and India (also Iran) to upgrade their
statuses from observers to full members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO),
which is related to the CARs. Expectedly, now India will also reciprocate China’s entry into
SAARC. In this way, China holds the potential of becoming the second player in
Afghanistan handling both Pakistan and India regionally.
Back to columns in 2014