IN 1979, when the former Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, India supported the move making it the only country outside the Warsaw Pact to do so. Afterwithdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan in 1996, India suffered the strategic setback when the Taliban captured Afghanistan. But again, events, in post-9/11, reversed the Indian position of being a key regional player with the US support. This role gave India a chance to ensure that Taliban do not return to power, Pakistan’s influence in Afghanistan and CARs is checkmated, and Pakistan continues to face a “two front” war scenario.
Afghanistan is a landlocked and mountainous country, connecting Central with South Asia. Afghan territory straddles both the KPK and Balochistan, two of Pakistan’s vulnerable and sensitive regions. A hostile Afghanistan on the north western borders may threaten Pakistan’s stability whereas a peaceful and friendly Afghanistan provides multifarious strategic advantages to Pakistan. Indian strategists, traditionally, consider Central Asia, Afghanistan and Pakistan as countries of primary focus for achieving its hegemony in the region which extends far beyond South Asia. Ironically, to justify its military and political overreach, India justifies it by citing fear of geopolitical encirclement by China and Pakistan.
For all its diplomatic shrouded jargon, which hides a country’s real intentions, in simple terms, India considers it of vital importance that Pakistan does not gain a foothold in Afghanistan. By raising the bogey of rise in Islamist extremism in the region, India has also convinced the US to support it in endeavours to maintain not only a stronghold in Afghanistan but also lend its diplomatic and other support to play the role of a regional hegemony. Therefore, India’s interest in Afghanistan has profound implications for Pakistan. India, since the past decade, has conducted an open war against Pakistan using Afghanistan as a base for terrorists operations. It is no open secret that RAW has funded KHAD/RAAM to provide arms, monetary assistance and guidance to Baloch sub-nationalists. India as part of its Machiavellian policies has tried toensure that Pakistan and Afghan armies are never able to establish brotherly ties. It has managed to do so by investing heavily in military cooperation with Afghanistan. Indian militaryplanners are convinced that in the event of a conflict with Pakistan, a friendly Afghanistan would provide it much needed strategic depth which could be in the form of use of its land and air space, if needed.
Currently, Pakistan’s fight against Taliban, al Qaeda and their affiliates is severely hampered by location of terrorist sanctuaries in Afghanistan. There is news that Indians are not only giving financial support to them but are also lending arms, equipment and other technical support to them. Despite several attempts and pleas to the Afghan government, they have been unable to not only clear these sanctuaries but also initiate any steps to stop attacks on Pakistan territory from across the border. Whether by design, under Indian pressure or lack of capacity, it is of great concern that Afghanistan has been unable to lend credible support to Pakistan in the ongoing war on terrorism. Indian hegemonic designs and plans to isolate Pakistan by advancingits economic, military, social and strategic objectives in Afghanistan threaten regional peace and stability. Pakistan’s centrality vis-à-vis Afghanistan cannot be overstated. Pakistan’s interests should transcend neutralization of Indian designs and encompass a regional security framework encompassing China-CARs-Russia-Afghanistan. Pakistan is a key facilitator of the Afghan peace process and should continue these efforts with cooperation of China, Turkey and Iran among others.
The recent improvement of ties between the two countries after the installation of new Afghan President Ashraf Ghani should be exploited to the maximum. China and Pakistan have offered to equip, arm and train Afghan national army and police. This Sino-Af-Pak convergence of interests would help in neutralizing Indian efforts in developing Afghanistan as its satellite.