The king who is situated anywhere immediately on the circumference of the conqueror’s territory is termed the enemy.
The king who is likewise situated close to the enemy, but separated from the conqueror only by the enemy, is termed the friend (of the conqueror).
— Kautilya, Arthasastra: Book VI, “The Source of Sovereign States”
The question arises, why is Afghanistan, a landlocked country with not many resources of its own, so important? One of the reasons is its peculiar geography…
Af-Pak is an expression normally used within US foreign policy circles to designate Afghanistan and Pakistan as a single geographical, military and diplomatic theater of operations. The purpose of this paper is to identify and highlight the role which the US, China, India, Russia, Pakistan and Iran amongst others, perceive for themselves in this volatile region. Of special relevance are the India centric security concerns which make India a major stakeholder as far as political stability and economic development of Afghanistan is concerned.
It is quite obvious that the major stakeholders are following the Kautilian1 principles of saam (political reconciliation), daam (monetary inducement), dand (force) and bhed (split) in one form or the other to implement their national strategies.
To fully comprehend the relevance of the Af-Pak region viz-a-viz India, it needs to be appreciated that the economic, political and military related fallout of any event there has a direct bearing on India. All conventional, sub-conventional and terrorism related threats that India faces today have their roots in this region. Pakistan and India share a border of about 2,912 kilometers.
The border between India and China is about 4,057 kilometers. Pakistan and China share a border of about 523 kilometers. Most people do not appreciate that India has a de-jure 106-km-long border with Afghanistan in the area illegally occupied by Pakistan (POK). Factor this aspect with India’s claim on POK and Pakistan loses its border with China and India gains a de-facto border with Afghanistan.
China eyes Afghan resources but like Russia, it has given no definite commitment to invest in Afghan security and stability.
Here it becomes important to mention ‘The Great Game’, also called the Tournament of Shadows in Russia. The ‘Great Game’ was the name given to the struggle for supremacy in Central Asia between the British and Russian empires for strategic economic and political gains, mainly in the Afghanistan, Iran/Persia and partly in the Tibetan regions. The Russian Tsarist government was a minor party to the Sykes–Picot agreement, and when, following the Russian Revolution of October 1917, the Bolsheviks exposed the agreement — “the British were embarrassed, the Arabs dismayed and the Turks delighted”.2 In continuation of the Great Game, today the Chinese too are players in Afghanistan and Tibet both!
Seth Jones, an authority on Afghanistan calls it “The Graveyard of Empires”3. Afghanistan is a position of the Great Game that is impossible to hold over a protracted period. The USSR discovered the same in its 1979 misadventure in Afghanistan as the British had found in the 19th Century, and finally withdrew its last troops from the so-called “Graveyard of Empires” – Following the terrorist attacks on the United States on 11 September 2001, the United States invaded Afghanistan to aid Afghan rebels of the Northern Alliance in removing the Taliban regime which had allowed al-Qaeda to operate training camps within Afghanistan. This has led to new geopolitical efforts for control and influence in the region and the Great Game continues into the current century with energy resources and military bases as part of the Great Game.
The Af-Pak Region and Its Importance
The question arises, why is Afghanistan, a landlocked country with not many resources of its own, so important? One of the reasons is its peculiar geography, sharing its borders with China, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Iran and Tajikistan (Iran and Turkmenistan have one of the largest natural gas reserves in the world). China is investing its soft power and the millions of US Dollars that it has accumulated to secure the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region from the terrorist forces of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement and its ambitious New Silk Road initiative. China’s Xinjiang province borders eight nations – Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India – and, in China’s view, serves as a funnel for terrorism around the world and within China. Many Uighur fighters now in Syria are known to be members of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement—an often violent separatist organization that seeks to establish an Islamist Uighur state in Xinjiang. China also eyes Afghan resources but like Russia, it has given no definite commitment to invest in Afghan security and stability. Russia is in continuation of its traditional great game.
Moscow is in the difficult position of not wanting American forces to stay in Afghanistan but also not wanting the withdrawal of forces to leave behind chaos.
The Russian government under Vladimir Putin has long-term geostrategic interests in Afghanistan: stability, economic development, and curbing narcotics flowing into Central Asia and thence to Russia. Moscow is in the difficult position of not wanting American forces to stay in Afghanistan but also not wanting the withdrawal of forces to leave behind chaos.4 The turmoil in Afghanistan is unlikely to spill over Afghan borders to Russia and it is highly improbable that the Taliban would cross the Amu Darya River towards the Central Asian Republics. A destabilised Afghanistan would probably trigger greater activity on the part of individual radical groups that are directed toward Central Asia, such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.5
Russia does not want this to happen in its ‘backyard’.
America’s involvement is to reduce the threat of terrorist attacks against its homeland and its strategic interest to keep China and Russia at bay. In this cauldron there is India, a ‘natural’ ally of Afghanistan (countering Pakistan and China?), its own problems with Pakistan aided terrorism and its interest in the Chabahar Port (Iran). On the other hand, Pakistan is paranoid about India getting a foothold in this region. Besides, Pakistan is also looking for strategic depth against India and views Afghanistan as its ‘backyard’! Iran has a history of animosity with America and wants to see an end of American forces and American influence in the region.
No one is really interested in the well being of Afghanistan as such. Therefore, the obvious alternative scenario is staring us in the face with ‘every country for itself’ — is incessant turmoil, political instability and possible civil war leading to chaos and disorder.6 This is the true story of Afghanistan.
The Existing Security Paradigm : Af-Pak Region
With the existing security situation in the Af-Pak region showing not much improvement to start complete American troop withdrawal, European NATO allies are already under strong political pressure at home to reconsider their participation in the Af-Pak adventure.
It is important to mention here that it remains to be seen whether President Obama can find individuals with genuine area-specific knowledge. That a deputy national security advisor responsible for Afghanistan was unaware of the well known Durand line, the contested border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, named after Sir Mortimer Durand (Foreign Secretary in British India in 1893), is symptomatic of ignorance experts and advisers in the US administration.7
The Taliban were not involved in 9/11, nor did they assist in the attacks. Rather they allowed Al-Qaeda into their country and then defended them from America. The current relationship between Al-Qaeda and the Taliban is very icy, as the Taliban feel they have been exploited by Al-Qaeda.
It is important to understand the demographic footprint of the region and know something about the main factions operating there. First we have the Taliban and the Al-Qaeda, both of which are distinct terrorist groups of extremist Muslims who misinterpret the tenets of Islam to further a violent agenda. While there may be some overlap in these groups, they are both different. The Taliban which ruled Afghanistan from 1996-20018 is an Islamic group founded by Mullah Mohammed Omar which follows a a combination of Sharia Law and Pashtun tribal codes. It shares some concepts of jihad followed by the Al-Qaeda group. Al–Qaida is an fundamentalist Islamist group following Sharia law and was founded between 1988 and 1990 by Osama Bin Laden and Mohhamed Atef. Next we have the ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), or simply the Islamic State (IS), Daesh or ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant). Made up of a lot of the former Iraqi Republican Guard (in Syria atleast) often called “khawarij” or “takfiri” by other Muslims. These terms refer to Muslims who betray other Muslims and kill them. ISIS is perceived in this way because they betrayed other rebel groups in Syria and started fighting against them.
The ISIS is a violent jihadist organization that has grown from a terrorist organization and insurgency to a proto-state in portions of Iraq and Syria. Al-Qaeda and ISIS perceive America and the West as enemies, whereas the Taliban simply wish to be left alone. Most of the Taliban commanders who have joined ISIS to date were opposing the Taliban’s supreme leader Mullah Omar. Following disclosure of Omar’s death, there has been disillusionment in the ranks of the Taliban and a total disagreement over who should be the next leader; some accepted the new leadership under Mullah Mansoor though others turned to ISIS.
The Taliban were not involved in 9/11, nor did they assist in the attacks. Rather they allowed Al-Qaeda into their country and then defended them from America. The current relationship between Al-Qaeda and the Taliban is very icy, as the Taliban feel they have been exploited by Al-Qaeda.The ISIS considers itself betrayed Al-Qaeda, and is also fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan. The Taliban want to overthrow the government of Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda wants to rid the middle East of American influence and certain other governments. ISIS wants a worldwide caliphate, and will do anything for land and power, even if that means stabbing their friends in the back.9 It has expanded over vast territories in Iraq and Syria and inspired some other terrorist networks and factions in the Middle East and Africa like Boko Haram to join this group. But the only group that defied ISIS and refused allegiance to its leadership is the Taliban. So far, the two groups have engaged in deadly clashes in parts of Afghanistan where it is ”recruiting soldiers in Helmand.”
The current goals of the Taliban is to remove the foreign forces in Afghanistan, overthrow the central Afghan government, and reestablish their control over the country.
India’s Major Concerns
For close to seventy years after independence, India was a non entity as far as the world was concerned, mainly because of its inward looking, in-coherent and inconsistent policies driven by myopic short term agendas resulting in flawed economic and foreign policies. Now with its rising capability and by using its newfound military, economic and political assertiveness, India is looking forward to playing a role in global geo-politics by extending its soft and hard power to improve and actually influence its regional and bi-lateral relations. The biggest worry of India today is terrorism abetted by Pakistan and the possible spillover of the ISIS and / or the Taliban and Afghanistan/Syrian based jihadi and extremist groups. India is also worried about the rising Chinese influence in the region and Chinese forays in the Indian Ocean.
A word about the Pakistan -Taliban – ISI -India equation will be in order here. Following 9/11, the United States and the Northern Alliance (the opposition force in Afghanistan) quickly defeated the Taliban and removed them from power. The remaining leadership of the Taliban fled to Pakistan and after a few years regrouped and regained its strength.They have been fighting both Afghanistan and NATO forces since then, with the continued support of elements of the Pakistani intelligence and armed forces.
The current goals of the Taliban is to remove the foreign forces in Afghanistan, overthrow the central Afghan government, and reestablish their control over the country. Their membership continues to be predominately Pashtuns. They receive significant assistance from portions of the Pakistani military and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). For Pakistan, the Taliban exists as a way to for them to exert influence and possibly control Afghanistan and provides Pakistan a level of strategic depth against their true enemy: India. The Taliban is closely aligned with many other insurgent and terrorist organizations operating in Pakistan and Afghanistan, such as the Haqqani Network. The leadership of the Taliban is based in Pakistan, but nearly all of its attacks are in Afghanistan. There is a separate organization called Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP or the Pakistani Taliban) that is based in Afghanistan and conducts attacks against Pakistan.
Pakistan is wary of the ISIS because of its close alliance with the Pakistani Taliban, which have been caught up in a struggle that has killed more than 4,000 Pakistani soldiers and tens of thousands of civilians. Indeed, the key reason ISIS has appeared most strongly in the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar is because of the presence there of Pakistani Taliban fighters driven over the border by recent Pakistani military offensives.10 Iran fears the ISIS because of its savage anti-Shiite sectarianism. Russia and the former Soviet republics of Central Asia are wary of the ISIS because of the numerous Chechens, Uzbeks and other Islamic militants in its ranks, and its promotion of Islamist revolution in the lands of the former Soviet Union.11
India is wary of the ISIS because of its links to extremist groups that wish to resume jihad against India. An ISIS document found in the tribal areas of Pakistan underlines that war in India is one of the group’s aims, along with destabilizing the region as a whole. In fact, for ISIS a war between India and Pakistan could well be seen as a chief regional goal. Given the ISIS track record in Syria and Iraq, building an army out of disgruntled Taliban fighters with their guns trained on India is a threat New Delhi cannot afford.12
Pakistan is working on raising the constitutional status of its occupied Gilgit-Baltistan to address China’s concerns over the $46-billion economic corridor through the strategic region.
The reason the region as a whole might be persuaded to unite behind a settlement is that the Taliban opponents of peace efforts have either joined or are drawing closer to the Islamic State. In recent months the Iraqi-based Islamist group has been establishing a stronger presence in eastern Afghanistan and has killed a number of local Taliban who have opposed it. The Islamic State, or ISIS, is in the unique position of being feared and hated by the West as well as every country from the Middle East to Central Asia for its terrorism and revolutionary agenda. This choice of ‘what is good for the world and for Afghanistan’ — the Taliban or the ISIS ? ; is a new paradigm which most strategic thinkers now appreciate.
In addition there is the Gilgit – Baltistan area adjoining Afghanistan which India claims. The province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is to the west, the Wakhan Corridor of Afghanistan to the north, Xinjiang, China, to the east and northeast and Jammu and Kashmir to the southeast. The region, together with ‘Azad Kashmir’ or POK, is disputed between India, and Pakistan. This strategic region in the north provides the only vital link with China. It is also on the key route of the ambitious China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), linking western China to southern Pakistan’s Gwadar Port with a network of roads, highways, railways and investment parks.
Gilgit-Baltistan presently consists of nine districts, has a population approaching one million, an area of approximately 28,000 square miles (73,000 km2), Pakistan is working on raising the constitutional status of its occupied Gilgit-Baltistan to address China’s concerns over the $46-billion economic corridor through the strategic region.13
While changing the Kashmir narrative is important, India needs to pay serious attention to the changing nature of power play that has brought PoK to the forefront of China’s geopolitical calculations. The region came under spotlight after Xi Jinping announced plans for developing the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and pledged USD 46 billion for building transport and energy connectivity to link Pakistan with China’s ambitious flagship project ‘One Belt, One Road’ (OBOR). India’s national interests lie in a peaceful and stable Afghanistan, an Afghanistan which is definitely not under the military, political and economic influence of either Pakistan or China. Our best bet is cooperation with the US, non involvement militarily but sustained meaningful political and economic support.
India believes that sustainable development of Afghanistan requires long-term investment in Afghanistan that can help it exploit its natural resource wealth.
What Afghanistan can Expect from India
India has done well to realize that a constructive role in Afghanistan will be necessary for its own security and for it to be a global player in the comity of nations. Afghanistan has rich cultural and heritage ties with India and looks forward to it as a successful Asian democracy. The population, by and large is pro-India. India so far has invested in excess of $2 billion for a number of areas of infrastructural development, capacity building, rural development, military training, education etc. and wisely kept out of any call for direct military intervention. India also looks forward to cooperating with Afghanistan in issues relating to disaster management, counter -terrorism and maritime security.
India believes that sustainable development of Afghanistan requires long-term investment in Afghanistan that can help it exploit its natural resource wealth. India is, thus, at the forefront of the promotion of investment in Afghanistan and a consortium of public and private Indian companies has been selected to make one of the biggest investments in the country’s mining sector, in the Hajigak iron ore reserves. Indian and Afghan authorities consul each other regarding early completion of Salma Dam, New Afghan Parliament building, Doshi Charikar Project, Restoration of store place and it is expected for completion in 2015. India provided high protein biscuits through WFP in schools in Afghanistan in all provinces. India also gave US$ 1 Million assistance for flood relief programme in Badakshan in May 2014. India signed MoU for 57 projects in July 2014 and for 13 ongoing small development projects (SDPs) in October 2014 (under US$ 100 million commitment for SDP) covering Public Health, Education, and community infrastructure in various provinces of Afghanistan. In July 2014, the Embassy completed the scholarship cycle for the academic year 2013-2014, utilizing all the 1000 slots dedicated to Afghans. Besides a record of 100 % achievement, it also had record number of women students – 125.India also sent more than 500 Officials under ITEC program for various capacity building courses in India.
Pakistan wants to reach out to Tajikistan which it cannot do without the help of Afghanistan.
India doesn’t share a border with Afghanistan and Afghanistan being landlocked, sea trade with it is not possible. That means, India has to depend on Pakistan’s airspace to deliver aid to Afghanistan. This makes the delivery of a lot of essential things from India harder and contributions less noticeable than they should be. India has been urging Pakistan to allow transit rights for transporting Indian goods to Afghanistan but Pakistan has consistently blocked Indian efforts as it just cannot tolerate the very thought of India and Afghanistan coming together. Consider PM Modi’s expanded remark to get a clearer picture: “President Ghani shared his impressive vision for Afghanistan’s prosperity, based on its talent, resources and location. We believe that Afghanistan’s direct surface link to India and the rest of South Asia, and increased connectivity to sea, could turn Afghanistan into a hub that connects Asia’s diverse regions and beyond.
“We are ready to welcome Afghan trucks at the ICP Attari. We are also prepared to join the successor agreement to Afghan Pakistan Trade and Transit Agreement. This will re-establish one of the oldest trading routes of South Asia. I also reaffirmed my commitment to take the Chabahar Port project in Iran forward.” New Delhi plans to invest in Iran’s southern Chabahar port, a potential rival to the China-funded Gwadar port in Pakistan, and needs a tripartite agreement on a transit route to connect Iran via Afghanistan. The Indian government is investing more than US$100 million in the expansion of the port in south-eastern Iran which will serve as a hub for the transportation of transit goods. Besides as a goodwill gesture, India has also constructed a new Parliament complex for the Afghan government at a cost of INR 710 crores (USD 115 million). This building was inaugurated on 25th December 2015.
Pakistan wants to reach out to Tajikistan which it cannot do without the help of Afghanistan. Pakistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan have almost finalised draft of a landmark trilateral transit agreement among the three countries, hitherto known by different names. Afghanistan is calling it APTTTA or Afghanistan-Pakistan-Tajikistan Trilateral Transit Trade Agreement while Pakistan called it APTTTTA when it sent in January this year its final draft proposal to Afghan and Tajik governments and sought their views. It remains to be seen if Pakistan will be ready to give southern connectivity to gain northern connectivity. The “Take Tajikistan from us but give Afghanistan to India” has changed the narrative in the South Asian context. But it is definitely a giant leap forward in India-Afghanistan bilateral relations.14
India’s quest to achieve domestic, regional and global security depends on a large amount on its foreign policy, specifically in its participation and handling of the Af-Pak card.
Now coming on to military cooperation. India has been wise not to get involved militarily and must continue doing so. Military aid and training of Afghan forces in India is a different matter. The supply of the assault helicopters will be the first offensive weapon to Afghanistan since India signed a strategic partnership agreement with Kabul in 2011 much to the consternation of Pakistan. India has donated light helicopters, vehicles and provided military training in the past also. Pakistan, bordered by India to the east and Afghanistan to the west, has in the past frowned on Indian military assistance to Afghanistan, seeing it as part of a plan to undermine its stability from the rear. It is in India’s interest to limit itself to economic assistance. “This kind of deal will definitely be watched very closely here and people will be concerned about this,” said Ejaz Haider, a Lahore-based security analyst.15
India’s quest to achieve domestic, regional and global security depends on a large amount on its foreign policy, specifically in its participation and handling of the Af-Pak card. It needs to engage with other regional and extra regional players and participate as an effective member of the global coalition.
“Bolstered by the fact that Russia helped the United States reach a nuclear accord with Iran, the collective interest in fighting ISIS offers another opportunity for international cooperation. Nations like the United States, Russia, India and Pakistan may have differing interests, but the Islamic State represents a threat to modern civilization itself — and to the goals and aspirations that these states, each in their own way, share”. Most certainly, what Afghanistan doesn’t need is more of the ‘great game’. India should not try to fish in the troubled waters. As a responsible regional power, its role should be to heal the Afghan wounds, not to feast on the blood that oozes out of them.16
The potential for Pakistan and India to come together over Afghan peace is fueled by recognition of the ISIS threat. One reason some Taliban oppose Mullah Mansour’s pursuit of a peace process is that they resent Pakistani pressure to come to the negotiating table. This demonstrates both a real Pakistani commitment to an Afghan settlement (though of course Pakistan’s views on the form of a settlement may still differ very considerably from those of India) and the fact that the Taliban as a whole are not Pakistani puppets. Notwithstanding the ISIS threat, reaching an Afghan settlement that would include a new constitution, a Taliban share in government, the withdrawal of foreign troops and the exclusion of foreign terrorists will be extremely difficult, US leadership is essential.17
- Namrata Goswami, ”Indian National Security and Counterinsurgency : The use of force vs non-violent response”, ISBN: 978-0-415-70550-9 (hbk) P5, 2015 published by Routledge 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN.
- Peter Mansfield, ”The British Empire” Magazine, No. 75, Time-Life Books, 1973.
- Seth G. Jones, ”In the Graveyard of Empires: America’s War in Afghanistan”, Reprint Edition (ISBN-13: 978- 0393338515).
- Kathryn Stoner, ”Russia’s 21st Century Interests in Afghanistan Resetting the Bear Trap”, Asian Survey, Vol. 55 No. 2, March/April 2015; (pp. 398-419).
- Dmitri Trenin, Oleg Kulakov, et.al. ” A Russian Strategy For Afghanistan After The Coalition Troop Withdrawal”, Carnegie Moscow Center.
- Smruti S. Pattanaik, Arvind Gupta, et.al, “Post-2014 Afghanistan and India’s Options”, IDSA, July 18, 2012.
- Hans Christof Von Sponeck, ”America’s AfPak Strategy: From Bush to Obama From Failure to Resolution”? Global Research, June 20, 2010, available at : http://www.globalresearch.ca/americas- afpak-strategy-from-bush-to-obama/19811, accessed on 11 February, 2016.
- Article in ”Diffen” available at : http://www.diffen.com/difference/Al-Qaeda_vs_Taliban, accessed on 06 February, 2016.
- Discussion In ”OutOfTheLoop”, on line forum available at : https://www.reddit.com/r/OutOfTheLoop/comments/3iz4sz/whats_the_difference_between_isis_alqaeda_taliban/acc essed on 08 January 2016.
- Anatol Lieven and Rudra Chaudhri ”Seize Upon the Taliban Split”, Aug. 6, 2015, The New York Times, available at : http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/07/opinion/seize-upon-the-taliban-split.html?_r=0, accessed on 10 January, 2016.
- ”Pakistan raising constitutional status of Gilgit-Baltistan”? The Economic Times, PTI Jan 7, 2016, available at : http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2016-01-07/news/69589842_1_china-pakistan-economic-corridorconstitutional- status-gilgit-baltistan, accessed on 19 February, 2016.
- Rajeev Sharma, ”Take Tajikistan, but give Afghanistan to India: Ghani’s proposal to Pakistan can change narrative in South Asia”, Apr 30, 2015 07:44 IST, available at : http://www.firstpost.com/world/take-tajikistan-butgive- afghanistan-to-india-ghanis-proposal-to-pakistan-can-change-narrative-in-south-asia-2219246.html, accessed on 12 January 2016.
- Bijaya Kumar Das, ”Afghanistan wants military helicopters from India to counter Talibans, likely to anger Pakistan”, Reuters, Kabul/New Delhi by, India Today, November 6, available at : 2015,http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/afghanistan-plans-to-obtain-combat-helicopters-from-india-may-angerpakistan/ 1/517722.html, accessed on 18 February, 2016.
- M. K. Bhadrakumar, ”India’s Modi faces tough Afghan choices”, August 17, 2015 , ASIA TIMES NEWS & FEATURES, M.K. BHADRAKUMAR, SOUTH ASIA
- Anatol Lieven and Rudra Chaudhuri, ”Seize Upon the Taliban Split”, Aug 6, 2015, The New York Times.