India’s deepening influence in Afghanistan is not new, but after 2014, it is surely going to create a more bitter environment of mistrust and apprehensions between the two neighbors having nukes in hands.
Every country in the world pursues her national interests; some even at the cost of regional stability and peace. As the 2014 US withdrawal from Afghanistan is approaching fast, every country in the region, i.e., Pakistan, India, Iran and China, is looking to secure their short and long term gains/interests in Afghanistan. At the moment, every regional country must be devising some policy regarding how to move after the allied forces leave and the combat mission ends in Afghanistan. In this changing and emerging scenario, India is also looking for her interests in the region, particularly in Afghanistan. Besides huge Indian investment, reconstruction work, defense and security ties and training of Afghan National Security Forces, there is, somehow, an inevitable Indian presence in Afghanistan that is posing some serious questions and threats for regional peace and stability.
As the US withdrawal is approaching, the memories from the past haunt Pakistan, as it felt abandoned after the Soviet defeat and the Americans left both Pakistan and Afghanistan at the mercy of no one. The US reinforcement of India as a power in south Asia is an extra worrisome move that is disturbing Pakistan. Presently, Afghanistan relies on the presence of allies and international troops so as to avoid regional games and threats to peace and security. So, ideally, Pakistan may prefer a prolonged presence of the ISAF in Afghanistan, as it will somewhat neutralize India’s presence and moves in the region that threaten the security of Pakistan. A real exit, in which financial aid is cut off as soon as the US exits Afghanistan, will be a major blow for the stability of Pakistan. Irrespective of the US presence and actions in Afghanistan, Pakistan is gradually becoming unstable, so a real exit strategy may strain the US-Pak relation and can be very destructive for the internal stability of Pakistan.
The post-2014 situation in Afghanistan, good or bad, will definitely be going to affect Pakistan. According to Cordesman analysis, most likely Pakistan will not get stable and it will keep on leaning towards a “failed state”, unless some revolution or change in leadership starts responding to internal issues and problems. Pakistan’s internal conflicts and problems go far beyond the war in Afghanistan, and no group has seriously addressed this issue to talk about the reforms from inside and internal revamping. Cordesman summarized this whole transition as, “In short, the most probable result of “transition” will not be what some US policymakers have come to call “Afghan Good Enough” – a stable democratic state – nor will it be a stable Pakistan. It will be an unstable form of “Afghan Muddle Through,” coupled with an unstable Pakistan still driven largely by its internal problems and tensions with India.”
At the moment, Pakistan has some vital interests in Afghanistan that primarily include the restoration of peace and stability in Afghanistan, complete eradication of terrorism and extremism, preventing Afghan soil from being used against Pakistan’s sovereignty and security, especially preventing hostile Indian military presence which threatens Pakistan’s security and stability. Besides, Pakistan is looking for a peaceful border with Afghanistan, which can ensure cooperation at bilateral, regional and multilateral levels. The return of Afghan refugees is also one of the important things Pakistan is looking forward to. Pakistan has no doubt an important role in the transition period in Afghanistan, and Pakistan will facilitate a smooth and systematic transition. To realize its interests, Pakistan has to facilitate the process leading to peace and stability in Afghanistan.
One of the academicians who were interviewed in this regard shared that Pakistan does not want and cannot wish for an anti-Pak government in Kabul, as it will keep the strains high on both sides of the border. If in any case it is not pro-Pak, at least it should not be anti-Pak either, or it should not be much pro-India. Pakistan wants stability and peace in Afghanistan at this moment, as it will ensure peace and stability in Pakistan as well. Pakistan has to keep its approach friendly through diplomatic channels and needs to invest in the Afghan infrastructure that should be tangible in the longer run.
While communicating for a research project, Dr. Marvin G. Weinbaum explained, “India’s involvement in Afghanistan will increase somewhat with a US withdrawal, but will probably continue to show some restraint in order to avoid frightening Pakistan with its assistance policies. But India’s influence could become far more important should the Afghan state come apart and the Indian government decides to provide substantial assistance, including military, in a civil war to those fighting the Taliban.”
In William Dalrymple’s article “Forget NATO v the Taliban. The real Afghan fight is India v Pakistan”, published in The Guardian, the author describes that besides the Taliban/Alqaeda vs NATO/US forces, the Afghan conflict is actually a fight between two nuclear-armed regional powers, India and Pakistan. He mentions that “some Indian hawks argue that by taking on a more robust military role in Afghanistan, India could fill the security vacuum left by the US withdrawal, advance its regional interests, compete with its Chinese rival for influence in the country, and thwart its Pakistani enemy at the same time.”
The increasing interest and influence of India in Afghanistan and the US support to lift India as a regional power definitely will polarize the strategic environment in the region. India and Afghanistan also reached a strategic partnership, Karzai leading the case from the Afghan side. It is also important to note that due to this growing Indian influence in Afghanistan (and for a few other security reasons), Pakistan has deployed over 150,000 troops along the Afghan border for first time in history. If the United States is leaving the region at this mode, it surely will not go towards stability or peace; rather it has become more volatile, uncertain and will be regionally polarized. This polarization and hostile environment will prove fatal for the region in general and in particular for India and Pakistan.
India’s deepening influence in Afghanistan is not new, but after 2014, it is surely going to create a more bitter environment of mistrust and apprehensions between the two neighbors having nukes in hands. Pakistan certainly has not any problems with “India-Afghanistan Friendship” and the rehabilitation work India is doing in Afghanistan, but when Afghan soil is used by India to create instability and chaos in Pakistan, then it certainly has its repercussions and impact. As NATO combat missions are going to be over and most of the combat forces will leave, both India and Afghanistan are keen on deepening their defense and security ties, with several initiatives intended to increase the capabilities of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). As the US/NATO are steadily losing influence in Kabul, India is gearing up all her activities and power to stay in the loop. India invested a great deal, both politically and financially, in Afghanistan to secure and guarantee its long term interests in the region, but we have to wait and see how adequately they are returned in the near future.
Pakistan has certain reservations about Afghan land being used against Pakistan, and time and again, Pakistan has provided facts of Indian involvement in the Balochistan insurgency. Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, Jalil Abbas Jilani, during an interview with ‘Dawn’, rejected the claim that Pakistan was against giving India a role in Afghanistan. He said, “Pakistan will not object to any legitimate mandate that is pursued by any country, but when they go beyond their legitimate mandate, we will have very serious concerns”. He further added, “We have no problem if India plays a stabilizing role, but to destabilize Pakistan by using Afghan territory that will be a major concern.” These statements form a senior official reflect apprehensions on the part of Pakistan about India’s present and future aims that can cause serious security concerns, specifically for Pakistan and for the region in general. He also made a very important comment on India’s role in destabilizing Pakistan in relevance to Balochistan insurgency, “India is certainly not playing a very positive role, they are definitely involved.” These comments from a very senior person at this crucial time when the United States is packing up from Afghanistan certainly hold primary importance.
India is exploiting the volatile situation in Balochistan, and there are evidences of Indian meddling in Balochistan via Afghanistan. Foreign footprints are quite visible in the aggravating instability and chaos in Balochistan. In an analysis “From Daisy Cutters to Democracy Cutters” published on PKKH, it was mentioned that ‘It is notable that the Indian Army’s increasingly suspicious activities and movements are being monitored by Pakistan all over Afghanistan, especially in Jalalabad and Qandahar, apart from the dozens of Indian consulates operating near the Af-Pak borders’. The Baloch separatists have often sought refuge in Afghanistan, morally boosted and financially backed by India; Pakistan has reported this as well. Pakistan is well aware of the Indian games and proxy planned via Afghanistan, as insurgents cannot survive without proper material support and sustenance, of which India has taken the burden for quite some time.
Both India and Pakistan see Afghanistan as a battleground to defeat each other, but for now, things have to be re-examined and re-judged in order to create an environment of trust and cooperation. If after the US/NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan, Pakistan and India continue to play their proxies, then in the near future, a stable and peaceful region is nowhere to be seen. So, India needs to examine her policies and initiatives that are creating suspicions. With an internal deteriorating condition, crisis and chaos, Pakistan cannot afford to have India in place of the US/NATO in Afghanistan, as it will be an alarming condition for regional security and stability. More so, Pakistan cannot further stand Afghan soil being used by India to pursue her ‘long term aims of being a regional power’. The growing Indian presence in Afghanistan is something not desirable at the moment, and if India will pursue her national interests at the cost of regional stability and peace and will threaten Pakistan’s security and stability, then Pakistan will have to devise some counter strategy to stand Indian moves and plans accordingly.