AFGHANISTAN is an unfortunate country in two respects. It is divided culturally, linguistically and more important politically. The tribes - particularly the Pakhtun tribes - never fully surrendered their autonomy to the central government. Their loyalty has to be bought on a per-day, per-month and per-year basis, depending on the nature of the bargain. There is/was no onetime payment or settlement unless sanctioned by the Loya Jirga.
Then, the Afghans jokingly say that when God created the universe, He threw all the debris of creation on their land. Because of the poverty of the land, Afghan kings and rulers could not martial indigenous resources to build strong forces to establish a proper state by overpowering the tribes. The rulers always looked to foreign powers to bankroll them and keep them on the shaky throne of Kabul. It opened the way for foreign meddling in their affairs.
India and Pakistan are playing the modern version of the Great Game. However, Afghans viscerally oppose foreign-sponsored initiatives and interference. No matter how much influence you may try to buy there, at the end of the day they will make their own decisions and choices. An Afghan is nobody's man: he will deal with both India and Pakistan on their own merit. India has reportedly spent $1.3 billion to build roads, power lines and the Afghan parliament. It has raised the ire of Pakistan. It is peanuts compared to what other powers spent there to no avail.
In the mid-19th century, the British got themselves entangled in Barakzai-Sadozai family rivalries. They thought they had found a puppet in Shah Shuja Sadozai to do their bidding. They placed him on the throne of Kabul at the head of the army of the Indus in August 1839. Sixty thousand British troops went to Afghanistan, at a point when the British controlled more of the world economy than they would ever do. Afghan opposition to the British occupation and foreign-imposed Shah Shuja built steadily throughout 1840 and 1841. By 1841 the combined expenses of the occupation were amounting to £2 million a year (in 1841 terms), far more than the profits of East India Company's opium and tea trade could support.
When the Kabul theatre started heating up, the occupying force started clamouring for more and more money. Lord Auckland was informed that at that rate Calcutta would go broke. After the harrowing slaughter of the occupying force in Kabul, some 16,000 British and Indian troops and followers began a death march to Peshawar on Jan 6, 1842. All perished on the way except one. In the mid-20th century, the Soviet Union started to invest heavily in Afghanistan. Their penetration was methodical and deep within the Afghan economy, intelligentsia and armed forces. In April 1978 they succeeded in installing the first communist government in Afghanistan. The Afghan forces and economy were totally dependent on the treasure of Moscow.
The Afghan communist party (PDPA) soon got into the Afghans' favourite pastime of inter-party and inter-tribal bloodshed. Despite holding all the purse strings, Moscow could not bridge the ParchamKhalq split. Seeing their decades of investment going down the drain, they invaded Afghanistan in late December 1979. Their occupation cost them 15,000 lives. They never disclosed their financial losses but they were big enough to contribute to the dissolution of the Soviet empire.
With Pakistan in the lead, a grand Mujahideen alliance was cobbled together with American arms, along with Saudi and American dollars, from 1980 till April 1992, when Najibullah became history. Peshawar and Quetta became the most interesting places in the world with spies thronging them, suitcases and sacks full of dollars changing hands every day, and awash with arms. After the fall of Najibullah, Pakistani geo-strategists saw their best opportunity to shape Afghanistan in their own mould. This was the legacy of Gen Zia. A made-in-Pakistan Afghan Interim Government (AIG) was formed in 1992. It comprised of the heads of the seven-parties alliance.
It was a house divided from the word go and totally unacceptable to the general people of Afghanistan. Pakistan was not so much interested in the AIG as it was in the fortunes of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. A radical Islamist, he was their man who would be king. This choice led to terrible mistakes and bloodshed.
America abandoned Afghanistan but re-entered it after 9/11. Ever since, it is wandering in that intractable wilderness.
Three recognised superpowers at the height of their glory could not bend the Afghans to their will. Yet Pakistan, a poor country with abysmal socio-economic statistics, has not abandoned its imperial dreams in that country. Enthrone Haqqani or Hekmatyar or Mullah Mansoor or Abdullah Abdullah; each one will do what is in the best interest of Afghanistan and not India or Pakistan. Our follies have caused acrid blowback to us, not to mention rivers of Afghan blood.