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Afghan Peace Process: Contradictory Interests Of Regional States – OpEd

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Afghanistan a war-torn country from the last four decades in striving for peace and stability with the main rival group in the country, the Taliban. Despite of having many hurdles to the peace process and reconciliation in the country one of the major obstacle in the peace process is the interests of the regional stakeholders.

The rival group, Taliban which were in power in Afghanistan from 1996-2001 has vast influence in the development of the country that is why on many occasions since 2001 after their defeat by the US forces, the government has endeavored to reconcile them. During president Karzai’s tenure, the government has also worked on to have peace agreement with the Taliban but they have failed, however since ever before the peace process that has been started by the US government in collaboration with the Afghan government is in its intense stage by initiating many rounds of dialogues between US representative Zalmai Khalilzad and Taliban in Qatar, Russia and other states.

With all these efforts on the ground, Afghan government and US cannot ignore the interests of regional states which plays mandatory role in the reconciliation process of Afghan Taliban, therefore US representor for the reconciliation with Taliban Zalmai Khalilzad has traveled many times to Pakistan, India and met Chinese government officials.

Pakistan located in the South-East of Afghanistan is one of the important stakeholder having estimated 2450 km border with Afghanistan. It was one of the country which has recognized the government of Taliban in 1990’s and still having strong relation with them. Islamabad has many issues and interests in its neighboring country Afghanistan. Starting from the very first time of Pakistan’s independence there were some historical issues between the two countries, specifically the “Durand line” and supporting the idea of “Pakhtoonistan” by the Afghan government which was not accepted by the government of Pakistan. In addition, high level Indian influence and involvement in Kabul which Islamabad considers it as threat to its stability, water issue, foreign troops presence, economic, and other political interests are in the core agenda of Pakistan in the peace process of Afghanistan.

For this end, Islamabad has certain policies to befriend the actors inside Afghanistan which can help Islamabad with its interest, Taliban could be an example. Therefore, Taliban’s government recognition in 1990’s was one of the reason for this. Still Pakistan has major impact as well as strong connection with the Taliban leaders and providing them support in terms of money and weapons with save heavens as claimed by the Afghan government.

Some of the major attacks that happened inside Afghanistan was claimed by the government after their investigation that they were planned from the territory of Pakistan, but later has always denied this. Beside this, Afghan government has also claimed Pakistan for proving sanctuaries to the Haqqani network which is labeled as a terrorist group on global level.

Iran located in the west of Afghanistan, an important actor which has vast interests in peace process and development of Afghanistan. Water is one of the important concern for the Iranian government which has a single agreement with Afghan government in 1973 which has provided Iran with 820 million cubic meters of water on annual basis, but the flow of surface water to Iran has increased in the current time. Recently the Afghan government has built the Salma dam with the financial assistance of Indian government which was under objection from Iran.

After the inauguration of the dam Tehran has increased their assistance with the Taliban for their insurgency in Farah and Herat provinces located in border with Iran to disturb further developments in the dam.

During the year 2017 a police checkpoint of Salma dam was attacked by the Taliban militants which has killed 10 security forces, which was claimed by Afghan officials to be backed by Tehran. In addition, the engagement of Iran with the Taliban especially along the Afghanistan-Iran border is for their black-market source to import dollars from the merchants of Farah and Herat provinces as the Iranian currency is continuously deprecating against the US dollars. Therefore, Tehran is creating instability in the region which could provide them with save illegal route.

Along with this emergence of ISIS in some parts of Afghanistan is also a major reason behind support of Tehran to the Taliban which is an effort to ensure that Daesh (ISIS) ideology that has come to Afghan territory does not flow to the Iranian territory. On the same page Russia has also expressed its concern that ISIS has expanded to Jawzjan and Faryab provinces of Afghanistan which has border with Central Asian states of Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan.

Despite these all Iran’s Revolutionary Guards are training the Afghan refugees in Iran to fight against the ISIS in Syria in support of the Assad regime is another interest of Tehran in the instability of Afghan territory.

A research done by the Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies finds that 55% of Afghan elites has expressed their dissatisfaction toward the political as well as security policies of Iran toward Afghanistan.

India also plays pivotal role in the peace process and developments of Afghanistan. New Delhi has always backed a government in Kabul which is pro-Indian therefore it opposed the government of Taliban in mid-1990’s which was pro-Pakistan and supported the Northern alliance against the Taliban.

Basically, New Delhi has two major interests in Afghanistan:

Political interest, which New Delhi has always endeavored to protect it against its rival state Pakistan in Afghanistan. New Delhi is supporting Kabul regime in many spheres to have influence there and use this platform against Pakistan and not let Islamabad to have greater influence on Kabul. Therefore, India has opposed the pro-Pakistan government of Taliban in the past and still New Delhi is helping to a democratic government in Kabul not the Taliban where it can safeguard its interests. On the ground, India is playing its role in rebuilding Afghanistan.

Due to these contradictory policies of the both states Afghan territory is considered to be an area of proxy war for them. Islamabad has blamed New Delhi for using the Afghan soil against them and creating security threats for Pakistan in provinces of Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the newly merged territory of FATA to KPK province, but New Delhi and Kabul has always rejected it.

Economic interests, India having economy of two trillion U.S dollars, needs more resources to become greater economic power in the region. For this sake, Afghanistan is suitable for New Delhi’s investment and a good market. For all these influences, New Delhi has constructed the Chabahar Port to catch Afghan market and counter Pakistan market in Afghan soil which has imposed huge losses for traders of Pakistan. In addition, it is estimated that Afghanistan has resources of estimated 3 trillion US dollars and a pivotal geographic location which can link South Asia with Central Asian states which is a big market for New Delhi.

Today hundreds of merchants and dozens of Indian companies are operating in Afghan territory while gaining huge amount of money which plays crucial role in India’s economy.

China which has border with Afghanistan in the northeast is an important actor in Afghan peace process, also regional as well as on global level an important actor. Beijing in the past has not recognized the government of Taliban in Kabul due to certain interests in the region, but today China is making hard efforts in the reconciliation process of Afghan government and Taliban for which Beijing has appointed a special representative since last few years.

Afghanistan with its geographically strategic location which connects two different regions of the Asia, the South and Central Asia is very pivotal for China’s successful operation and completion of China-Pakistan economic corridor (CPEC), a project of One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative. It is an estimated 56 billion US dollars’ project which would connect South Asia with Central Asia through Afghanistan that is why peace and stability in Afghan soil is in the core interest of Beijing.

China with estimated 12 Trillion US dollars is second largest economy in the world which needs more resources and energy to sustain its economy, therefore, it has an eye over the energy resources in Afghanistan and specially the vast amount of Oil and Gas reserves in the Central Asian states and Caspian Sea which has huge amount of Oil and Gas reserves in the world.

In addition, East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) which is labeled by Beijing a terrorist group and added by US government in its own terrorist blacklist after 9/11 incident has its presence both in Afghan soil and in the FATA region of Pakistan. It has imposed serious tension on Beijing over its security threats in the Xinjiang province where this group is active for the independence of the Uighur Muslim ethnic group.

China in the Asia region is both economic and military power so, for this end, Beijing has certain long term projects and plans in this area for which Beijing would not let any obstacle in front of its completion. One of those hurdles could be the Peace in Afghanistan, therefore China is struggling its best in the reconciliation process of the Afghan Taliban to bring peace in stability in Afghan soil which is in fact peace in the whole region.

China has also offered for hosting intra-Afghan talks as a mediator if both the parties agrees to such a role. Beside this, China in the year 2015 has also secretly hosted meeting between Afghan government and Taliban, said by Mullah Abdul Jalil former Taliban minister.

Consequently, “There is no permanent friend and enemy in international relations, but a permanent interest”. For this end, every regional stakeholder in the reconciliation of Taliban with Afghan government has their own agendas and endeavoring to gain them. Therefore, this is a very tough process which may take time due to the contradictory interests of the regional and global powers.

*Zabihullah, Student of MPhil International Relations from Iqra National University Islamabad.

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