AMONG variety of chronic regional issues, Afghanistan conundrum dominates the agenda. The developments in the past few weeks have re-set the regional strategic balance. For Islamabad, the situation is quite disappointing despite series of attempts to normalise the stagnant relations with Kabul. Pakistan’s leverage as a determining factor in the protracted morass of Afghanistan is constantly declining. The intransigent behaviour on both sides of the border and subsequently heated exchanges in the bilateral rhetoric has been leading the prospects of easing tensions away from any hope.
Conversely, taking advantage of the hostile environment between Kabul and Islamabad, India continues to foster its ties with Afghanistan. New Delhi maintains strong presence in Kabul’s political circles sharing its huge investment in infrastructure development of the war-torn country and successfully engaging Kabul in Chabahar, which it deems as a strategic competitor to Gwadar. Surprisingly, the degree of bilateral cooperation between India and Afghanistan has reached to an unprecedented level. Over the years, India shrewdly adjusted its presence in Afghanistan exploiting Pakistan’s role in the prolonged Afghan quagmire. New Delhi swiftly keeps on operationalising Chabahar and also started to conduct commercial activities with Afghanistan via Iran’s Chabahar port. Pakistan had long restricted transit access to India across its territorial neighbours but in recent times, India is materializing her decades-old dream of approaching Pakistan’s neighbours.
The Indian-sponsored port of Chabahar was aimed to fulfil this aspiration. The trilateral transit agreement signed by India, Iran and Afghanistan in the previous year had manifold objectives for India. Firstly, it fulfils India’s desire to further boost up economic ties with Afghanistan and to encircle Pakistan’s influence by consolidating its footings. Ending Kabul’s dependence on Pakistan to access maritime route via Indian Ocean, India also opened up the possibilities to access Central Asian markets. Chabahar also helps India to engage Iran to revive its connection with the global community and compensate its economic woes. Likewise, India also seeks a geo-political advantage in the region against China and Pakistan operationalising the Chabahar port. While Pakistan, contrarily, could not even manage to sustain the already meagre trade relationship with Afghanistan. With seldom skirmishes at the Durand line, the channels of engagement with Afghanistan often disrupts that costs millions in vain.
In the whirlpool of intense relations with India, uncertainty with Iran, Islamabad’s ties with Washington has also turned conditional over its Afghan strategy. Washington is persistently warning Islamabad to alter its Afghan policy and comply with the US demands. However, Pakistan contends that the US strategy is bound to be failed as it has been in the past 16 years. Pakistan also asserts that a broad-based politically negotiable settlement mainstreaming all factions is the only viable option to establish peace and stability in the war-ravaged country. In a chain of bilateral exchanges with Pakistan, the US administration remained at cross roads with Pakistan and showed no leniency in pressurizing Pakistan to act against Haqqani group, a secondary militant faction functioning under the umbrella of the Taliban.
Meanwhile, Islamabad concerns about India’s increasing role in Afghanistan and its backing of insurgent groups to launch terrorist activities inside Pakistan remained unaddressed. Pakistan rejects India’s enhanced security role in Afghanistan, assigned by the US which is only meant to aggravate the violence inside Afghanistan and Pakistan’s bordering areas. Washington’s stress for an Indo-US nexus to determine the future of Afghanistan outweighing all other options evidently remains a major impediment in peace endeavors and contributes to exacerbate the already fragile security environment of Afghanistan. It might be comprehended that the status quo in Afghanistan serves the interests of both India and the US as they are not interested in peace building in Afghanistan at the expense of their interests. Therefore, whenever the peace options are opened up to bring any fruitful outcomes, violence in Afghanistan spurs up with the backing and consent of some internal stakes.
In the very recent scenario, former Afghan President Hamid Karzai unveiled America’s support to IS-K in Afghanistan, an offshoot of ISIS, but it spurred no heat. Ironically, the Kabul government is completely paralyzed even unable to enforce its own will and dictated solely by the US. Therefore, it is unwilling to consider any option that collides with the US interests. Resultantly, a surge of militant attacks by the Taliban and other warring insurgent groups have been witnessed in the recent months following the US resurgence of troops in Afghanistan. Given the current geo-strategic regional environment, Pakistan’s strategic reach and political influence inside South Asia is heading for a downward trajectory. It is high time for Pakistan to introspect upon its foreign policy contours and directives. Imperatively, Islamabad needs to reverse its diminishing influence in the neighboring Afghanistan foiling Indian subversive ambitions in Afghanistan.
— The writer is Research Fellow at South Asian Strategic Stability Institute, a think-tank based in Islamabad.