By J Jeganaathan
While the US-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) (loosely referred to as the ‘West’) is preparing to withdraw its troops engaged in combat missions in Afghanistan by 2014, security analysts across the world are preoccupied with one big question: what will happen to Afghanistan after 2014? Two opposing perspectives emerge from the ongoing debates. For those who look at the question through a cold war prism foresee a bleak political future for Afghanistan in which the country descends into a civil war and complete chaos. Others who see the future of Afghanistan through a liberal prism anticipate a ‘stable’ Afghanistan supported and sustained by the international community.
When a similar dualistic view is applied to examine India’s role in Afghanistan at present and in the future, a contrasting proposition emerges: Is India a part of the Afghan problem or solution? This is a cyclic thought process which has no relevance for the Afghan question at present due to systemic and structural changes at the global level. This article argues optimistically that the future of Afghanistan will neither be a paradise nor be a nightmare for Afghans, rather it will be as uncertain as for other countries in the region. Undeniably, India will emerge as a hope for the Afghans to re-build their society and nation.
The Taliban, al Qaeda and Pakistan – the strategic trio once used by the CIA against the Soviet Union together form an albatross around the US’s neck, making its mission in Afghanistan an impossible task. However, the killing of Osama bin Laden, considered the backbone of the Taliban movement in terms of financial and other logistical assistance, is a key strategic objective that the mission has achieved. So now, the last speck that irritates US interest as well as Afghan’s political stability is Pakistan. If the Pakistan problem is fully addressed, then Afghanistan’s stability issue is half-solved.
The recent security developments in the region especially post-Osama put Pakistan in a strategically awkward position. It can no longer denote India’s overt role in Afghanistan for its covert support for Taliban in the Af-Pak region and use the Kashmir card in its Afghan strategy. Domestically, anti-American sentiment has been more pervasive than anti-Indian sentiment ever since the US authorised UAV strikes in the north western border region. Its geopolitical interests in Afghanistan seem to have been ruined in the aftermath of Osama’s death, which exposed the nexus between Pakistan’s army, ISI and terrorist networks operating against Western interests. US-Pakistan relations also seem to be on the edge. Now, the international community views Pakistan as a spoiler not only for Afghanistan’s stability but also the region’s stability.
A stable Afghanistan requires sustained external support. Unlike the Cold War bipolar order, the current international system provides ample space for international and regional players to manoeuvre. The structure also favours an international presence in terms of geo-economic interests rather than geopolitical interests in Afghanistan, which eventually helps Afghanistan realize its economic potential. It appears that no external players would prefer a ‘divide and rule’ policy towards Afghanistan as there is an emerging consensus that prefers a ‘unite and govern’ policy for mutual politico-economic benefits.
The regional security organizations can also play a major role in this aspect. The West has earned a bad reputation in Afghanistan due to their military overtures in the last one decade. Pakistan and Iran cannot play a substantial stabilizing role for ethno-demographic reasons. Only China and India have the potential to become acknowledged players in Afghanistan. In fact, India already has strong connections due to its presence through various developmental projects.
Yet, even though India’s role in Afghanistan is historical it has also been controversial. At present its role is being seen by the Afghan people as well as the international community as genuinely committed to re-building Afghanistan through community and infrastructure development. The signing of the strategic partnership is nothing but a strategic signpost pointing in this direction. India had been blamed for its alleged role in abetting the militants in Balochistan against Pakistan. This is the standard reason for Pakistani apprehensions over India’s involvement in Afghanistan. However, in the post 9/11 scenario, India seems to have abandoned any kind of covert or subversive action under its foreign and security policy strategy because of its counter-productive results. The US representative for Af-Pak region recently denied such allegations from Pakistan against India as baseless and lacking credible evidence.
At the same time, the US has been very assertive towards Pakistan to dismantle and destroy terror networks such as the Haqqani Network. It seems that Pakistan will be less apprehensive about India’s growing role in Afghanistan’s post the war reconstruction process. In addition, the recent granting of the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status to India by Pakistan is a goodwill gesture in this direction. India therefore appears to be the hope for the Afghans. But, the question of whether India can fulfil this hope remains to be seen in the future. For this, India needs to articulate its strategy towards Afghanistan very clearly within the ambit of the strategic partnership framework.
Research Officer, IPCS
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