Afghanistan connects south Asia, central Asia and west Asia, or the Middle East as the Western powers call it. Afghanistan has land borders with Pakistan (south Asia), Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan (central Asia), Iran (the Middle East) and China. Central Asia and the Middle East have rich oil resources, and Afghanistan acts as a bridge to link the entire region. Afghanistan also possesses rich mineral resources. There are large deposits of lithium. It has always been a trade transit country.
India and the United States have got closer, and both countries have worked out broad and dependable strategic partnership with Afghanistan. Pakistan felt threatened by this development.
Afghanistan scenario after 11 September 2001
For more than three decades, a warlike situation has prevailed in Afghanistan, with death and destruction all around. After the 9/11 incident, the United States launched an offensive in Afghanistan. Operation Enduring Freedom was a big success. Initially, Pakistan was forced by the United States to join the war against terror. Afghanistan was liberated from Taliban misrule. Thousands of Taliban and Pakistan army personnel in civilian clothes were encircled in Konduz. The United States permitted Pakistan to organise massive airlifts for them to Pakistan. Later, they became hard-core and began operating against the United States and its allies in Afghanistan from safe havens in Pakistan. The United States’ generous aid of billions of dollars to Pakistan is being used to fund the Taliban and build Pakistan’s military strength for operations against India. The Taliban is out to kill U.S. and NATO soldiers in Afghanistan. Pakistan is playing a double game, attacking terrorist outfits that affect its security and, at the same time, supporting the Taliban covertly in its havens in Pakistan.
Different interests of neighbouring powers in Afghanistan
- Use the Afghanistan territory for “strategic depth” for operations against India. Ensure a weak government in Kabul, willing to accept such an arrangement, which will also keep Indian influence in check.
- Keep the issue of Pashunistan and Durand Line on the backburner by installing a weak Afghan government dependent on Pakistan for support. Pakistan hopes to retain some leverage via Afghan Taliban factions not only for future Afghan outcomes but also for ensuring that Pakistan’s 27 million Pashtuns do not create a blowback for the Pakistani state. It is Pakistan’s Pashtun problem that is the principal driver for its “strategic depth” policies, which are legitimised by the India threat.
- Draw political, military and financial benefits from the United States and prolong the conflict scenario in Afghanistan for as long as it can.
- Use the Afghanistan corridor to central Asia and west Asia for the flow of oil on beneficial terms.
- Enjoy free flow of Afghan river waters by keeping Afghanistan weak, incapable of investing in economic development, and creating proper irrigation infrastructure.
Pakistan is playing a double game, attacking terrorist outfits that affect its security and, at the same time, supporting the Taliban covertly in its havens in Pakistan.
The presence of U.S. troops close to central Asian countries and Caucasus, the area of her influence, is causing concern to Russia. The two seem to be competing for influence. Russia is also worried about increasing terrorist activities and narco trade and their adverse effects. The central Asian countries have used the presence of the U.S. and Western powers close to their borders to get better deals from Russia.
Iran wants both the United States and Taliban to remain in conflict and involved in Afghanistan. Iran is covertly fuelling the conflict by helping the Taliban, primarily because Tehran sees the Taliban in Kabul as a lesser threat than Karzai collaborating with the United States.
It encourages Pakistan to prolong conflict in Afghanistan. Such a scenario will help in keeping al-Qaeda and other Arab jihadi groups opposing the Saudi government busy and involved away from its borders.
India has committed generous funds to help Afghanistan in reconstruction and improving infrastructure. India and the United States have got closer, and both countries have worked out broad and dependable strategic partnership with Afghanistan. Pakistan felt threatened by this development. Pakistan is also apprehensive of India’s consulates in four major cities in Afghanistan and regarding the reconstruction projects. India’s enduring permanent interests in Afghanistan are as under:
- Defeat the Taliban.
- Eradicate Islamist extremism.
- Strengthen institutions, capacity and stability of the Afghan state.
- Help develop Afghanistan as a trade and transit corridor to central Asia and Iran.
- Preclude re-emergence of Afghanistan as a base for launching terrorist attacks on India.
The Afghan government and its military and police should make all efforts to achieve popular support against the Taliban. The aim should be to successfully fight and win against the Taliban.
China is keen to exploit rich mineral resources in Afghanistan to advantage for use in her industries as raw material that is cheap. China is also apprehensive of the Uighur movement and the narco trade in close vicinity.
There are many fish in the murky waters of Afghanistan. The situation is complex due to conflicting interests of different nations in the Afghan issue and its resolution. It has created a crisis situation.
Drawdown of U.S. and NATO Forces
The presidential elections in the United States are scheduled to be held in November 2012. President Obama is seeking a second term in office. He has announced the withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan by the year 2014, commencing from July 2011. Thinning out has already commenced. As the final dates of drawdown in 2014 get closer, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) appears increasingly anxious to leave with as few casualties as possible. The United States also wants an honourable exit to save face. The United States is likely to retain a few military bases in Afghanistan after the troops pull out to safeguard its strategic interests. It may rely more on its superior air power, intelligence, surveillance and high technology assets to interdict from great distances. Some Special Forces may also remain.
The Taliban is scenting victory and is quite content to bide its time with occasional high-profile targeted attacks, like the Rabbani assassination or the attack on the U.S. embassy and NATO headquarters in Kabul, designed to remind the world about its presence.
Elimination of Osama Bin Laden
The brilliant Abbottabad raid in Pakistan by U.S. commandos, eliminating Osama bin Laden, fully exposed Pakistan’s duplicity. The tensions and frustrations that have boiled over in U.S.-Pakistan relations are the logical culmination of the policy of hunting with the hounds while running with the hare.
Objective in Afghanistan
Since the 2010 NATO Summit in Lisbon, Afghanistan is officially in transition. The idea of transition is that from 2014, Afghans will be fully leading what has been a heavily internationalised effort against Taliban, al-Qaeda and their regional allies since 2001—the objective, “an Afghanistan that stands on its own feet, but not alone.”
More miles of roads have been paved in Afghanistan during the last decade. India has contributed generously toward infrastructure development.
An international, conference on the future of Afghanistan was held in the second week of December 2011 in Germany. President Hamid Karzai asked for the continuation of political, military and economic support to Kabul for the next 10 years, which has been promised. According to estimates, Afghanistan would require a minimum of US$10 billion annually during the next decade. The international community, in return, has asked for certain promises as under:
- The Afghan government should ensure good governance and management of economy.
- The Afghan government and its military and police should make all efforts to achieve popular support against the Taliban. The aim should be to successfully fight and win against the Taliban.
Time alone will tell as to what extent promises are kept by both sides and how things take shape.
A Platform for Success
Launch Pad for the Move Forward
During the last decade, Afghanistan has experienced unprecedented development in institutional, human and infrastructural sectors. These can be used as a launch pad for a positive move forward.
It was established and ratified in 2004. Afghanistan is a country of diverse groups—ethnic, religious and geographic. There was the historic challenge of negotiating a working internal framework for all the diverse groups. The constitution in vogue allows diversities in Afghanistan to blossom while extending protection, recognition and equal rights to all. It allows free markets and freedom of expression. It can be consolidated, refined and perfected over time, but the initial major hurdle is over.
Infrastructure for Governance
Prior to 2001, government presence was ill-configured for service delivery and constrained by a lack of resources. The infrastructure for delivery of services and governance has been improved considerably. This development is particularly noticeable in secure areas of the country. More administrative buildings, schools and clinics have also been constructed. More miles of roads have been paved in Afghanistan during the last decade. India has contributed generously toward infrastructure development.