India and the Afghan Imbroglio
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Issue Vol. 26.4 Oct-Dec 2011 | Date : 23 Nov , 2011

Pakistan will try and frustrate Indias effort to be a part of any international forum for Afghanistan.

If and when the Taliban do take control of Afghanistan and establish a stable regime, with the passage of time, fundamentalism will gradually fade and there will be a revival of the Pashtun character and value systems. As for relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan, at the level of the governments, it has traditionally been somewhat hostile and tension filled. The chances are that in the long term perspective, the relationship will remain as fractured as the ethnically diverse Afghan society. The inherent divide between the Persian and Pashto speaking sections of Afghan population will continue to persist. This factor will constantly impinge on the equation between the two nations. As Pakistan has a large Pashtun community, it has strong affinity for the Pashtuns in Afghanistan. However, the current bonhomie between the Afghan Pashtun community and Pakistan cannot be taken for granted. Once the Taliban succeed in establishing their own regime in Kabul, the existing bonhomie may not continue at the existing level for long as there is the deep-seated traditional distrust between the Pashtun and the Punjabi Muslim who wields power in Pakistan.

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The Afghans by nature are fiercely independent. They will listen to Pakistan only as long as they need them and not after. In any case, Afghans abhor foreign occupation or influence and will never accept diktats from any one including Pakistan. They have also displayed the capability to wage war endlessly without any inclination for compromise. However, despite the mutual distrust, Afghanistan will never risk open military confrontation with Pakistan purely on account of economic compulsions. Afghanistan is aware that the key to its economic prosperity lies in Pakistan. Being a land locked country, it is the Pakistani port of Karachi that provides the most convenient access to the Indian ocean. Import by Afghan businessmen of consumer goods from South East Asia meant for both the Afghan and Pakistani markets, is routed through Karachi. Besides, the Pak-Afghan border i.e. the Durand Line, is completely porous and two-way informal trade flows freely across the border to the benefit of the people of both nations. The business communities on either side of the border have therefore an abiding interest in keeping the Pak-Afghan border free of military or any other type of conflict. Military intervention by India could just spoil the party and hence is not likely to be welcome by anyone other than the Northern Alliance! With a military intervention, India could get hopelessly bogged down in a meaningless conflict with little or no relevance to own national interests.

Pakistan’s Quest for Strategic Depth

Afghanistan considers Pakistan to be its ‘backyard’ and hence its policies are driven by the perceived need to have full control over it to secure her western flank so that she can concentrate forces on the eastern front against India. On account of her long standing and perpetual confrontation with India, Pakistan seeks a friendly neighbour on the West which would also provide her the strategic depth. But perhaps equally important are the economic compulsions that make control over Afghanistan a critical imperative. Pakistan would like a friendly and pliable government in Kabul that has control over the whole of Afghanistan and is dependent on support from Pakistan. This will serve Pakistan’s economic interests best as she will have unimpeded access to the CAR for trade and as also access to the future energy resources of the world to ensure long term energy security. As oil from the CAR can only flow southwards through Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran, the industrialised nations of Asia such as China and Japan will be at the mercy of those who sit astride the oil pipelines from CAR to the Indian Ocean ports. It is of little wonder that China is investing heavily in infrastructure projects to provide connectivity between Gwadar and Sinkiang Province.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Air Marshal BK Pandey

Former AOC-in-C Training Command, IAF.

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