Dr Nasreen Akhtar
SOUTH Asia is more hybridised region, internal and external actors have their strategic interests, and their rivalry is never ending-Pakistan, Afghanistan, China, India and the US. The presence of multiple forces has made South Asia a very complex region. Presently, Pak-China relations have strengthened Indo-US nexus which aims to sabotage China-Pak Economic Corridor (CPEC). As we know Pakistan-Afghanistan border is more porous in comparison to the Pakistan-India border. It is an established fact that Pakistan’s internal security condition is always exploited by India-Afghanistan cordial relations that aim to halt or endanger CPEC. India assumes that China-Pakistan nexus may curtail Indian’s influence in Afghanistan and would threaten its regional security outlook- to dominate the region and to undermine Pakistan. Whereas, CPEC project will change the regional and international dynamics which may hurt the U.S and India’s influence not only in the region but also in the world, consequently India and the U.S both have common concern which was raised by the US Secretary of Defence, Jim Mattis. He opposed CPEC during the Congressional Hearing which categorically reflected to India’s concerns on CEPC. Mattis said, “The One Belt One Road strategy to secure China’s over both the continental and maritime interests, in their eventual hope of dominating Eurasia and exploiting natural resources there, things that are certainly at odds with US policy. So what do see China playing in Afghanistan, and particularly related to their One Belt One Road Initiative”. China is a sovereign country and has legitimate right to expand its economic markets in the world. Neither India nor the US have authority to halt China to develop its economic projects vis-a-vis Pakistan. China is determined to puruse its long-term goals to globalise its economic and security interests.
Afghanistan is an important country which may lead China’s plan to connect CPEC with Central–Western Asia economic corridor and China is striving to gain Afghanistan’s trust to join CPEC which is eventually increasing India’s apprehensions. In Afghanistan, China and India are two divergent forces; China is relying on its close partner Pakistan to stabilise Afghanistan by brining the Taliban on table talks to end the seventeen-year-old conflict. India has always been investing in economic and security programs to strengthen the Afghan government against the Afghan Taliban and does not want peaceful Afghanistan, because peaceful Afghanistan would not serve India’s interest. . On the hand China is keen ‘in development’ in Afghanistan because a peaceful Afghanistan would help in completing China’s long-term strategy with regard to Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). BRI and CPEC are connected. China knows very well that unrest in Afghanistan would pose a great threat to its interests. Afghanistan is a place where regional and external players are playing their cards in the name of ‘development’. The US’ presence, undeniably, has changed the dynamics of regional power politics and encourages the role of India in Afghanistan and refused to accept Pakistan’s narrative that India is using Afghan soil against Pakistan. Now there is a nexus between India and US with Kabul regime playing to facilitate each other. CPEC has alarmed both India and the US owing to Gwadar Port which provides ‘direct access to the Indian Ocean which eventually would curtail Indian influence.
China’s direct access to Indian Ocean also deters to the US “from blocking the Strait of Malacca, a key passage in the Indo-Pacific region”. To curtail China’s economic and military influence in the Indian Ocean the U.S has renamed the US Pacific Command as ‘US-Indo Pacific Command’ in 2018. Secretary Mattis stated “in recognition of increasing connectivity of the Indian and Pacific Oceans, we renamed the US Pacific Command”. The former US Pacific Command has pointed out China’s impact on the region and he is of the view that “great power competition is back. I believe we are reaching an infliction point in history. A geo-political completion between free and oppressive visions is taking place in the Indo-Pacific. India believes that China will pose a great threat to ‘Indian trade through Indian Ocean’ and also Pakistan would be able to control enormous energy avenues. China’s control over Gwadar port is an irritant for India because this port will enable China to observe Indian’s activity in the Persian Gulf, Arabian Sea and future maritime activities between India and Iran, would be smoothly observed by China. Afghanistan had always mattered to India but today on account of CPEC it matters more than it was considered in the past because it is Pakistan’s immediate neighbour and the post-Taliban era, comparatively, witnessed the unfriendly relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan. India being the regional power has taken an opportunity of deteriorated ties between Pakistan and Afghanistan and successfully established stronger ties with Afghanistan. Theoretically speaking, India has shaped its policy to contain Pakistan economically and militarily by using Afghanistan. India would not allow Afghanistan in normalizing its relations with Pakistan, because healthy and friendly relationship would not support India’s interests in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan’s long borders are penetrable and provide direct trail to enter in Pakistan’s two main troubling provinces-Balochistan and Khyber Kakhtunkhwa. These provinces remain target by the cross border terrorists since the US forces attacked Afghanistan. Balochistan conflict had emerged with the birth of Pakistan and it has never been resolved politically rather Pakistani governments used force to silence the Baloch leaders which increased alienation in Balochistan, “Afghanistan and India would support their cause ‘independence of Balochistan’ the Baloch leaders (insurgents) sought help from Afghanistan or India”. India and Afghanistan both took advantage to aggravate and exploit the Pakistan’s internal situation. Afghanistan always inculpates Pakistan for its chaotic and anarchic security conditions and endorses India’s perception against Pakistan. An ex-spy master, Ajit Doval who has been in Pakistan for spying purpose, cautioned Pakistan that, “you can do one Mumbai and you may lose Balochistan” and Indian active politician and BJP’s leader Parrikar, said “we should neutralize terrorists through terrorists only”. How can the US deny the role of India in Afghanistan against Pakistan?
—The writer is Assistant Professor, IIUI, Islamabad.