The X Fac­tor

As the draw­down date for US troops ap­proaches, what role will In­dia play in Afghanistan af­ter 2014?

Southasia - - Contents - By Daud Khattak

In­dia is in­vest­ing heav­ily in Afghanistan in a bid to en­sure its con­tin­ued pres­ence there af­ter 2914.

With the United States and NATO al­lies draw­ing down their mil­i­tary pres­ence in Afghanistan in 2014, and the con­tra­dic­tion be­tween U.S. and Pak­istani in­ter­ests in Afghanistan es­ca­lat­ing, Pak­istan is no longer con­sid­ered the sole coun­try for bring­ing sta­bil­ity in Afghanistan and the re­gion. To bridge the di­vide, NATO al­lies are pin­ning their hopes on other re­gional pow­ers -- In­dia and China – neigh­bors who have al­ready in­vested heav­ily in Afghanistan’s so­cial and se­cu­rity sec­tors.

How­ever, the mil­lion dol­lar ques­tions is: will last­ing peace and sta­bil­ity be pos­si­ble with­out sin­cere ef­forts from Pak­istan, the coun­try en­joy­ing lever­age among the Tal­iban lead­er­ship and dif­fer­ent groups op­er­at­ing from in­side and out­side Afghanistan? Due to its emo­tional prox­im­ity with Afghan ji­hadi groups and close re­la­tions with the pre-9/11 Tal­iban regime, Pak­istan can cer­tainly play a key role in ush­er­ing peace and sta­bil­ity in Afghanistan.

But as those who closely fol­low the re­gion know that the last few years have only strained an al­ready tense re­la­tion­ship be­tween the United States and Pak­istan as far as the ques­tion of Afghan peace, sta­bil­ity and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion is con­cerned.

Among the key fac­tors that af­fected the un­easy re­la­tion­ship was the May 2011 killing of Al-Qaeda leader, Osama bin Laden in Pak­istan’s Ab­b­otabad garrison town and the Salala in­ci­dent that re­sulted in the loss of over a dozen Pak­istan army soldiers, fur­ther ex­ten­u­at­ing the mis­un­der­stand­ings that ex­isted be­tween the two coun­tries.

It was, per­haps, in this back­drop that then U.S. de­fense sec­re­tary Leon Panetta, dur­ing his two-day visit to New Delhi in June last year, urged In­dian of­fi­cials to take a “more ac­tive role” in Afghanistan’s se­cu­rity and re­build­ing ef­forts. In­dia had ear­lier be­come the first coun­try to sign a strate­gic part­ner­ship agree­ment with Afghanistan be­sides sign­ing sev­eral MoUs to boost strate­gic and eco­nomic co­op­er­a­tion. Un­til re­cently, the United States was sup­port­ive of a limited In­dian role in Afghanistan mainly be­cause of Pak­istani con­cerns. How­ever, the con­stant vac­il­la­tion in US-Pak­istan re­la­tions forced the for­mer to pin its hopes on In­dia.

Be­sides the United States, NATO coun­tries are also look­ing at Pak­istan’s

role with hope and sus­pi­cion, par­tic­u­larly at times when pres­sure at home, eco­nomic is­sues in Europe, and war­weari­ness among se­cu­rity quar­ters is forc­ing the po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship to push for an early withdrawal from Afghanistan. On the Afghan front, the Tal­iban and Afghan govern­ment are once again try­ing to bring the on-again-offa­gain peace process back on track. Pres­i­dent Karzai’s visit to the Qatari cap­i­tal of Doha ear­lier this month was a part of this re­newed peace ef­fort. Afghanistan’s For­eign Min­istry spokesper­son, Janan Musazai, con­firmed that Pres­i­dent Karzai’s govern­ment had agreed to open­ing a Tal­iban of­fice in Doha for the pur­pose of peace ne­go­ti­a­tions. As the two sides, plus the United States, pro­ceed with the ne­go­ti­a­tions, the ten­sion with Pak­istan over the struc­ture of a post-withdrawal Afghanistan is likely to mount.

Pak­istan’s se­cu­rity es­tab­lish­ment wants to re­tain a front seat in the peace talks and make sure that Pak­istan does not get the short end of the stick in form­ing the fu­ture Afghan govern­ment and de­cid­ing roles for its neigh­bors, par­tic­u­larly In­dia.

On the other hand, Pres­i­dent Karzai as well as some eth­nic groups have a soft cor­ner for In­dia. The roots of closer ties be­tween the two sides go back to the era of Ji­had and the hard­liner Tal­iban regime in Kabul. In­dia, like sev­eral other re­gional coun­tries, sup­ported the then North­ern Al­liance of late Ah­mad Shah Ma­sood against the Pak­istan-backed Tal­iban.

In re­cent years, Pres­i­dent Karzai had made at least 12 trips to In­dia while the In­dian in­vest­ment in Afghanistan, both in se­cu­rity and so­cial sec­tors, is now reach­ing al­most $2 bil­lion.

Dur­ing Karzai’s last visit to In­dia in Novem­ber 2012, the In­dian prime min­is­ter pledged to pro­vide $100 mil­lion for small so­cio-eco­nomic proj- ects. “Pres­i­dent Karzai and I agreed to in­ten­sify our co­op­er­a­tion with a spe­cial fo­cus on deep­en­ing our eco­nomic en­gage­ment in ar­eas rang­ing from agri­cul­ture and small busi­ness to min­ing and in­fra­struc­ture,” Man­mo­han Singh an­nounced. In­dia’s in­creas­ing fo­cus on Afghanistan and its re­con­struc­tion ef­forts are a way to block Pak­istan’s in­flu­ence and pre­vent Afghanistan from be­com­ing a breed­ing ground for ex­trem­ism. Af­ter all, who knows bet­ter, than In­dia, the

Apart from In­dia, key pow­ers such as China, Rus­sia and the United States are also eye­ing an Afghanistan, free of ter­ror­ism and ex­trem­ism be­yond 2014. Con­ver­gence of this ma­jor in­ter­est is bring­ing In­dia closer to its part­ners and neigh­bors – China, Rus­sia and the U.S. – than Pak­istan in a post­with­drawal Afghanistan.

neg­a­tive ef­fects on se­cu­rity should a pro-Pak­istan Tal­iban regime es­tab­lish it­self in Kabul?

Apart from In­dia, key pow­ers such as China, Rus­sia and the United States are also eye­ing an Afghanistan, free of ter­ror­ism and ex­trem­ism be­yond 2014. Con­ver­gence of this ma­jor in­ter­est is bring­ing In­dia closer to its part­ners and neigh­bors – China, Rus­sia and the U.S. – than Pak­istan in a post-withdrawal Afghanistan.

Akin to In­dia, Pak­istan has its own con­cerns about the in­creas­ing In­dian in­flu­ence and pres­ence in its neigh­bor­hood. At times when Pak­istan’s ties with the United States and Afghanistan are suf­fer­ing from mis­un­der­stand­ings and sus­pi­cions, an in­creased In­dian in­flu­ence in Afghanistan would cre­ate fur­ther ob­sta­cles in the way of last­ing peace and sta­bil­ity as far as Pak­istan’s role as a peace­maker is con­cerned.

In the worst case sce­nario, the Tal­iban fight­ing in Afghanistan and the eth­nic ten­sions ris­ing in the coun­try can turn into a full-fledged covert war be­tween the two South Asian nu­cle­ar­armed ri­vals by ex­tend­ing fi­nan­cial and ma­te­rial sup­port to the mil­i­tant groups both in Afghanistan and the tribal ar­eas of Pak­istan.

How­ever, to look for a sil­ver lin­ing on the Afghan hori­zon, the ex­is­tence of a strong sup­port­ing voice among Pak­ista­nis for peace in Afghanistan is giv­ing room to the hope that re­turn of peace and sta­bil­ity, though lately, can’t be ruled out.

Speak­ing dur­ing a pri­vate tele­vi­sion de­bate on Pak­istan’s For­eign Pol­icy ear­lier this month, top lead­ers of lead­ing po­lit­i­cal par­ties were unan­i­mous in the view that the world should see Afghanistan as a fully sov­er­eign coun­try. They agreed that Pak­istan’s se­cu­rity es­tab­lish­ment was ac­cused of con­sid­er­ing Afghanistan as its ‘fifth prov­ince’ and ‘that ap­proach needs to change.’

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