Afghan peace: India’s failing proxies against Pakistan

Afghanistan is an ideal soil for India's inimical objectives. India turned Afghan chaos into its favour and unleashed relentless proxy war against Pakistan. The worse nightmare for India is the prospective return of the Taliban into power. Dr. Naeem Mahboob Malik describes how Afghan peace is a mutilating event for India.

Afghan

Since the 80s, Delhi has been convinced that a direct conflict with Pakistan would be disastrous because Pakistan had implicitly developed nuclear device. Therefore, it shifted the covert war theatre to other states as a means of inflicting violence and endanger Pakistan’s territorial integrity. Afghanistan was badly embroiled in a war with India’s friendly state Soviet Union, therefore, was an ideal soil for Indian inimical objectives. India turned Afghan chaos into its favour and unleashed relentless proxy war against Pakistan.

In the meanwhile, Pakistan was facing far graver threats from Soviets and later US-led invasion, therefore, was unable to counter Indian designs effectively. Finally, the Doha peace deal provided a chance of prospective peace and manifested the success of forty-year security calculus of Pakistan. It acquired an advantage over its regional rivals along with an effective leverage over the winning Taliban. This offered Pakistan the potential to deter Indian designs.

Pakistan’s trump card lies in an intra-Afghan power-sharing plan, in which Pakistan’s influence over the Taliban is instrumental. This leaves the United States with no other option but to remain dependent on Islamabad for its implementation. Such dependency will ensure a consistent flow of US aid to its struggling economy as well as peace and stability in Afghanistan.

Read more: Afghan Peace: Khalilzad terms prisoner exchange important milestone

Indian position before the deal

For India, most, if not all, regional policy amounts to a zero-sum game with Pakistan. Therefore, India’s Afghan policy should be seen in the context of the South Asian security complex, where Afghanistan is one component of India’s policy. In the wake of “Friendship Treaty” in 1950, Kabul had been closer to Delhi than Islamabad. India supported Afghan claims on Pakistani Pashtun region till the rise of Taliban circumscribed Indian moves. Later, India teamed up with Iran, Russia, and Tajikistan to support Northern Alliance in its efforts to weaken Taliban control. For years, India provided Northern Alliance food, medical care and intelligence. This is the reason, India has considerable support in the Afghan parliament.

After 9/11, India along with other regional players got fresh prospects to coagulate their strategic foothold in Afghanistan. Since then, India has entrenched its presence by taking multiple measures. Further fuelling Pakistani paranoia is the mushrooming of Indian consulates in Jalalabad, Herat, Kandahar and Mazar-e-Sharif adjacent to Pak-Afghan border.

Read more: Hurdles to Afghan Peace: Pak still has foremost role to play

Indian investment in Afghanistan

India has invested US$2 billion in development and reconstruction programs like hydroelectric projects and building roads: electricity transfer from Central Asia to Afghanistan. It considered Afghanistan strategically significant as a trade and transit route to Europe and resource-rich Central Asian states. However, to use this route, India has to go through Pakistan. It has very difficult topography and terrain to reach Afghanistan bypassing Pakistan.

To overcome this hurdle, it has developed an alternative costlier route via Iranian Chabahar port, the Zaranj and Dellaram road that connects Afghanistan to Iran, and ends at Chabahar seaport. The route aims to decrease landlocked Afghanistan dependency over Pakistan. To enhance its soft power, it has constructed new parliament building, established a large network of medical clinics, provide hundreds of educational scholarships to Afghan students. Its entertainment industry is highly popular in Afghanistan.

India’s hostile Relations with the Taliban

Indian relations with the Taliban were hostile during this period. Taliban means to India: It is an entity which is a friend of Pakistan and has links with Kashmir/India focused militant groups including Let, JeM, HuM, and HuJI. The worse nightmare for India is the prospective return of Taliban into power who might extend support to these groups against India.

Therefore, the strategic aim of Indian presence in Afghanistan is mainly a vantage point from where it can keep a closer eye on Pakistan and what is happening inside Afghanistan. That is, it seeks to suppress Islamic militancy as it threatens its strategic goals in the region as well as adversely impacts its domestic security and social fabric by giving impetus to Hindu nationalism.

Consequently, Indian did not hide their disgruntled feelings over any move to engage the Taliban in talks and US withdrawal. To counter any engagement with the Taliban, New Delhi threatened forming a coalition with Iran, as well as Russia and Central Asian states, who are averse to seeing the Taliban poised to takeover. India used its presence effectively by fomenting violent unrest inside Pakistan—Baluchistan and FATA.

Mushahid Hussain Syed accused RAW of training 600 Baluch in Afghanistan, working in cahoots with Afghan security forces. The increased Indian influence in Afghanistan and forging of a strategic US-India relationship seriously threatens to deepen the asymmetry in political and military equation. This might relegate Pakistan’s power status in South Asia’s strategic environment.

Post-Doha deal: India’s position

The worst nightmare of Indian establishment–Taliban into power is, sooner or later, transforming into reality. According to Indian critics, US outsourced counter-terror operations to the people they were fighting—the Taliban. Pro-India Ghani govt is out of the peace deal, seems expendable asset for the United States. For Indians, the US has ceded Afghanistan to Pakistan by concluding the Doha Peace Deal. Afghan Taliban, China, Russia and the United States praised Pakistan’s efforts in bringing peace deal into reality.

The grave threat for Indian security establishment is the rule of Islamic militants Taliban as they might provide fresh fuel for anti-state groups operating in Jammu and Kashmir. JeM has also earlier collaborated with the Taliban against its opponents and found safe-havens in Afghanistan. Notably, JeM appears to be left out from the groups the Taliban is required to cut ties with, on the terms of the U.S.-Taliban agreement. The Taliban rule will fizzle out all investment to nothing what India has capitalized yet. Pakistan will be stronger enough to decrease Indian influence to zero.

As a result, India, simultaneously, supporting Ghani Government and keeping diplomatic channels open with the Taliban recognizing their renewed political legitimacy. To keep it relevant, India can use its growing regional clout with Iran, and strategic partnership with the United States. Moreover, India is likely to have its relations with the Afghan government in future to counter Pakistan. On the other hand, India will spare no stone unturned to derail the deal. As reports suggest, it can also use Daesh with the collaboration of Ghani government who is hosting Aslam Farooqi (Daesh Leader) in Presidential palace.

Read more: How does the pandemic provide opportunity to speed up Afghan peace process?

Political manoeuvring in Kabul

Furthermore, Islamabad can mend fences with the Northern Alliance which have complained about its sole support to Taliban. The mutual squabbling between pro-India Ghani and Abdullah provides Islamabad a suitable opportunity to devise political reconciliation and reduce Indian influence over them. The Afghan-owned, Afghan-led, broad-based government is a difficult goal to achieve.

However, Pakistan will benefit from the coalition government in a decentralized Afghanistan where power is shared among tribes, clans and mercenaries. A united Afghan government with a single prevailing ethnic group might limit Islamabad’s influence. Despite a long-standing relationship, a Taliban government having total control would reduce Pakistan’s leverage. In historical allusion, the Taliban refused Pakistan’s request to preserve the huge statue of Buddha in Bamiyan, and hand over Osama to the US as the main culprit of 9/11.

Pakistan & Taliban—A long history of Relations

The relationship with the Taliban has originated from a long history of struggle, culture, religion, and geographical contiguity, along with the incessant interaction between Pashtun tribes on both sides of the border. The alliance built from the legendry Afghan Mujahedeen struggle against Soviet expansion, later the civil war, and lastly, the rise of the Taliban as a decisive force with Pakistani support. Pakistan did not succumb to any foreign coercion while aiding resistance movement against foreign occupations.

The most critical moment in relation came after 9/11. Pakistan managed a very delicate balance between the United States and the Taliban successfully. Pakistan aided Afghan Taliban leadership from the very first day after 9/11 by offering them shelter. The convergence of interest with the United States was on Al-Qaeda. Therefore, Pakistan dismantled its ranks and files inside by capturing the main members and handed them over to the United States. With this background of relations, it is highly expected that the Taliban will be thoughtful of Pakistan’s security sensitivities.

Options for Pakistan

The United States still has a major role to play. To brush aside the deadlock in intra-Afghan dialogue on the prisoner release, US has threatened Ghani government with fund cuts, and in response to Taliban’s attacks on Afghan forces, it used drone attack with an argument that Afghan government is its ally. Thus, the US strikes a balance to expedite the process of dialogue.

Pakistan should continue its efforts towards a successful power-sharing formula among all Afghan factions amicably. Peace in Afghanistan will result in peace in Pakistan and the region. India understands that peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan with Pakistani involvement will not be favourable to its long-term interests. However, the powerful support for peace is coming from the people of Afghanistan who are sick of war and bloodshed.

Read more: Afghan Peace Process analysis: Factors and Possible Outcome

Any hostility among the Afghans has the potential to derail the intra-Afghan negotiations. It is difficult for India to revert its long nourished proxy war against Pakistan from Afghan soil. If it continues such nefarious designs, Pakistan certainly would have gained a high moral ground and a better soft image since chaos suit India but not Pakistan.

Dr Naeem Mahboob Malik has done his PhD from The Department of Political Science Baha Uddin Zakariya University, Multan. He is now visiting faculty in the same department. He is teaching CSS Current affairs, International Relation and Political Science in KIPS. His research interests are international relations, comparative politics, strategic & security studies. (naeemmalik57@gmail.com)

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