Ghazanfar A Garewal
PAKISTAN’S Afghan policy has been evolving in relation to political and strategic shifts in Afghanistan, ignoring the whole cultural factor in the bilateral equation. Despite having close ethno-religious ties and hosting the largest refugee population, Pakistan couldn’t stem the anti-Pakistan sentiments among the Afghan nationals. India, on the other hand, played the Afghan card cunningly to make troubles for Pakistan. By bringing in the soft power of culture, through media and film industry, New Delhi charmed the Afghan nation alongside wielding diplomatic and political influence in Kabul. Now, Pakistan has get caught in the middle of restive Kabul and hostile New Delhi.
Pak-Afghan relations have experienced historical highs and lows. The relations are haunted by mistrust and suspicion which has always been exploited by India to use the Afghan land against interests of Pakistan. It has heightened anti-Pakistan sentiments among the Afghan masses, in general, and the intellectuals and intelligentsia, in particular. 9/11 proved a golden opportunity for India to increase its diplomatic, political, economic and strategic influence in Afghanistan. Since then, it has been using the Afghan land against Pakistan. Under the diplomatic cover, it has established an extensive network of intelligence and security agencies, causing grave security concerns in Islamabad. Pakistan has been raising its voice against the emerging Indian involvement in Afghanistan, which is growing with each passing day. Recently, Trump, in his new strategy on Afghanistan, not only acknowledged the Indian role in Afghanistan but he also stressed on increasing of Indian engagement to a sustainable solution of Afghanistan.
Pakistan shares close religious and ethnic ties with Afghans. It has a 2640 miles long border, the Durand line. This porous border has been a source of terrorist activities, which requires cooperation to fence the border and to prevent future terrorist attacks, for trust building between the two countries. Pakistan hosted 3 million Afghan refugees since the Soviet attack on Afghanistan. Out of 3 million, 1.7 million (registered and unregistered) refugees are still in Pakistan. The country has also been involved in infrastructure and human development (education and health) projects in Afghanistan in the post 9/11 period. Moreover, it offers scholarships to the Afghan students.
On the other side, India does not have religious and ethnic ties with Afghans. It has no territorial proximity with Afghanistan either. India’s edge over Pakistan has been of its soft image. It has become the largest regional donor of Kabul by granting more than $1 billion aid in 2017. India has penetrated into Afghanistan by using soft power potentials along with hard power. New Delhi’s achievements in Afghanistan are the end result of its smart power initiatives. As Joseph S. Nye has stressed on the use of soft and hard power in parallel to achieve the foreign policy objectives. India has been providing military and intelligence training to the Afghan security agencies.
New Delhi’s soft power initiatives include infrastructure building, power generation projects, hospitals and educational institutions. India has built around 2500 km road in different parts of Afghanistan. The construction of Kabul Parliament Complex makes it a promoter of democratic values. Hundreds of Afghan students get scholarship in Indian institutes. They take India as their second home. In the field of entertainment (film and drama), it has brought revolution in Afghanistan. Indian drama and movies are being aired after being dubbed in the local Afghans languages. By doing so, India has consolidated its cultural influence in the Afghan society.
Today, India’s image among the masses is that of the saviour and promoter of democratic and liberal values. By using soft power, India controls the hearts and minds of the ordinary Afghan. It is the real strength of Indian policy in Afghanistan. Its smart use of soft power is a double-edged sword for Pakistan. On one side, it has heightened anti Pakistan sentiments and, on the other, it has caused for establishment of Indian hold and influence on the Afghan soil. As a result of which India’s image is of trouble shooter and that of Pakistan is of trouble maker. The gravity of the situation requires Pakistan to challenge the Indian role at Soft Power front. Islamabad is in dire need of proactive and aggressive soft power projection to ensure its national interest in western neighbourhood. Foreign office must launch a soft image campaign along with the support of electronic and print media. By doing so, Pakistan will be able to achieve its foreign policy objectives. Post 9/11 has brought drastic changes in Indo-Afghans ties, so Pakistan needs to revisit its policy and initiatives because only softer power can counter soft power.
— The writer teaches at National University of Modern Languages, Islamabad.
Ghazanfar A Garewal