Afghanistan-Pakistan-India: A Paradigm Shift: Understanding South Asia from the eyes of an ambassador

Published: August 27, 2016

In the book, Pakistan comes under harsh criticism for its “strategic depth” policy in Afghanistan since the 1980s. PHOTO: PINTEREST

When a serving ambassador writes a book, it reflects not only an individual’s observations, but also mirrors the larger thought of the government or the country that he represents.

Shaida Mohammad Abdali, the Afghan ambassador in India, is a rare breed of a diplomat, who has tried to delve into topical issues affecting South Asia. His book, Afghanistan-Pakistan-India: A Paradigm Shift, is an attempt to enter the terrain which occupies the mind space of many. However, not many understand the trajectories of the territory.

The book comes at a time when tensions between India and Pakistan are high. Both countries are also engaged in a bitter war of words aimed at catering to their respective constituencies, rather than addressing the larger economic and political issue that currently plagues the subcontinent. Indians mostly see the conflict between New Delhi and Islamabad as a bilateral affair, but not much thought goes into discussion that the rivalry between the two neighbours in fact impacts Afghanistan to a great extent. It injects instability in the landlocked nation, thereby making the whole region volatile.

Abdali has claimed that the enmity between the two large South Asian neighbours is one of the main causes behind Afghanistan’s instability. At the same time he states that,

“An unstable Afghanistan can have equally negative consequences for the two countries in the long run…therefore; the three countries need to enter into a completely different set of relationship with each other.”

This paradigm shift is all the more important at a time when Afghanistan is at a crucial stage of transition – foreign troops are leaving the country and the conflict between the government and the Taliban is deepening. At this pivotal moment, the book argues that the cooperation between the traditional enemies in South Asia will reduce instability in Afghanistan.

It has been 15 years since the Islamic country got rid of the Taliban; nonetheless, the country is nowhere close to the stability it had envisioned when international troops overthrew the Taliban regime in 2001.

The book lists four important factors for the persisting instability in Kabul.

1. Regional pursuit of geopolitical ambition

2. The destabilising efforts of non-state armed groups

3. A weak government and state institutions

4. The rapid growth of poppy cultivation.

In the book, Pakistan comes under harsh criticism for its ‘strategic depth’ policy in Afghanistan since the 80s. Be it Pakistan’s role in the resistance movement against the Soviets, its policy during the internal fights between the Mujahideens after Russian withdrawal, or its intervention in the post-Taliban phase, the book blames Islamabad for creating havoc in Afghanistan.

The relationship between the two neighbours hasn’t been smooth since the creation of Pakistan in 1947. The Afghan government opposed Pakistan’s admission into the United Nations in the 40s. Both the neighbours were on opposing sides of the Cold War, as Islamabad took up arms with the US and Kabul supported the Soviets. One prominent sore point was India’s proximity with Afghanistan, which Pakistan has always felt insecure about. One of the reasons why Rawalpindi has always wanted a friendly relationship with Kabul is to have a greater say in the landlocked country via a via New Delhi.

But now, India seems to be shaking off its traditional reticence in Afghanistan as far as civilian and military engagements are concerned. If the news reports are to be believed, then New Delhi is preparing itself for a deeper military engagement in the landlocked country. On the heels of supplying four military helicopters to its traditional friend, the government in Delhi is thinking of giving lethal arms to Kabul in order to deal with the deteriorating security situation in the country.

This new geopolitical posture in the region has active encouragement from the US. With India becoming a close strategic ally of Washington and with the South Asian republic agreeing (in principle) to signing a logistic support agreement with the US, the geopolitical dynamics in South Asia are on the verge of undergoing a change. Those days are not far when western countries will use bases in India to launch military offenses in Hindukush.

Will Pakistan be able to reconcile this Indo-US entente in the subcontinent? How will the China-Pakistan axis play out in Afghanistan with Beijing positioning itself as a major stakeholder in Afghanistan? How will this new game impact Afghanistan?

These are questions that trouble the war torn country. With the Hindu right-wing regime in Delhi indulging in jingoistic rhetoric when dealing with its Islamic neighbour, it’s only natural that this growing animosity will also play out in Afghanistan.

In his book, Abdali doesn’t delve much into the changing geopolitical dynamic. However, he does believe that his country can act as a catalyst through a reconciliation process between the two bitter neighbours.

Not many in South Asia write a book on Afghanistan whilst keeping in mind India and Pakistan. In India, the debate about the repercussions of Indo-Pak tensions in Afghanistan is almost mute. The popular narrative is that Pakistan is the only destabilising element in the Hindukush and India is innocent. A new breed of right-wing experts have gained prominence in recent times which advocate not only civilian, but also military engagement in Kabul, to counter Pakistan’s strategic assets in the landlocked nation.

It would be prudent on New Delhi’s part to assess the repercussions of military engagements in Afghanistan. No country has come out unscathed from Afghanistan.

India has earned good will and international recognition from its soft diplomacy. But will involvement in security serve India’s larger interest? We expose our domestic vulnerabilities by abdicating our traditional soft diplomacy.

The book Afghanistan-Pakistan-India: A Paradigm Shift gives a comprehensive picture of a potential collaboration between the three nations, while also presenting the perils of internal fights between the three prominent nations of South Asia.


Sanjay Kumar

The author is a New Delhi based journalist covering South Asian and international politics.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Tore

    Pakistanis are most hated nationality in Afghanistan, that is throught. Pakistan have only one option, send all Afghan back to teir country, seal the Pak-Afghan border, close Pak embassy in Afghanistan and send Afghan ambassador back to Afghanistan. Fence the border.

    No purpose on trying to repair relationship with Afghanistan. Its a indiana colony now.Recommend

  • Feroz

    Using the same logic, can we see a Chinese colony somewhere ?Recommend

  • Headstrong

    ‘We expose our domestic vulnerabilities by abdicating our traditional soft diplomacy’

    And, sir, you expose yourself with this line. Is increasing military help exclusive to soft diplomacy? Can it not go hand in hand?Recommend

  • Striver

    Afghan political elite that is in power has a credibility problem. Pakistanis do not trust them.
    Everyone seems to be critical of Pakistan’s “strategic depth” idea which has not even seen the light of day. Yet India is trying to achieve its own “strategic depth” in Afghanistan.
    If the above extracts from the book are anything to go by, it seems the book is unlikely to be anything but a promotion of the India-dominant anti-PK views.
    The umbilical cords will be cut between India and Northern Alliance terrosits in good time.Recommend

  • Alann

    Somehow the authors of his breed find ways to twist things to their suitability.
    Pakistan decided to breed terrorists to use as “strategic assets” against Aghanistan and India – must be India’s fault!
    Pakistan decided to attack India multiple times – must be India’s fault!
    Pakistan has the fastest production of nuclear weapons in the world, and has a nuclear weapon stockpile which is already higher than India’s – yet India is the reason for a nuclear arms race in the subcontinent!

    Just yesterday there was an article on ET that said India left red-faced when a UN tribunal dismissed 3 addresses out of 9. Conveniently the article forgot to mention 6 addresses were found to be probable places of Dawood Ibrahim’s stay. In a normal world, any sane person would see which country this incident has embarassed. But in the Denialistan, things present a rosy picture which may not necessarily reflect reality.

    A news portal’s job should be to educate the masses, not buckle under the Establishment’s pressure and write or allow ridiculous crap to be written.Recommend

  • ingeborg Malik

    It is already a semi-colony doing the bidding of the Chinese to further the cause of Enemity with India so that China profits from it and Pakistan is only suffering and yet not realising the repercussions of the Chinese Strategy.India is growing inspite of Pakistan Factor but Pakistan is sliding back…have they still not realised their folly??Recommend

  • Fuzail Zubaid Ahmad

    If this article is a good summary of what is written in the book, then the book does not carry anything new, regarding Pakistan. A good book would analyse why Pakistani perceived “strategic depth” mindset exists, and why doesn’t a peaceful Afghanistan provides a better strategic depth option. To me if Pakistan lets go its perceived links with Haqqanis, would Pakistan be better or worse off. Does Afghan government and its ally India have any solution? They simply don’t.Recommend

  • Patwari

    ‘wb’, you are writing under ‘Feroze’ now?
    Hindu writing under Muslim name. Why? What’s wrong
    with using your hindu name?Recommend

  • The Truth

    India should arm Afganistan same way as China arms Pakistan against India.Recommend

  • Paki Terrorist

    It will not come a as a surprise if in not too distant future, Pakistan goes through the transition to becoming another Chinese province, with a special status perhaps … !! … and who knows, this might work well for China, and the Pakistani people too … !!Recommend

  • Ze-yom-Durrani

    There is a place Afghans call it Chirkistan.. I am pretty sure that is the Chinese colony!Recommend

  • ABKhan

    Just for your information, India is not China. China is the next superpower and India can still not provide toilets to its populationRecommend

  • ABKhan

    He is too ashamed of his backgroundRecommend

  • Headstrong

    But for Pakistan, Afghanistan is enough. After all, Pakistan is nowhere near India, toilets or not. In fact, Pakistan is the toilet of India :-)Recommend

  • omaranis

    its Afghanistan collusion with RAW that is destabilizing the region. had Afghanistan been in the middle, its concerns would have been valid. after so much beating over the last decades, afghans still haven’t learnt to behave. ignoring support given by Pakistan during Russian invasion, taking in 25 million refugees at enormous consequences to Pakistan and then helping in rehabilitation. Afghan rulers and there families, many of them would have perished had they not found safe sanctuaries in Pakistan.
    the bottom line is that afghan can’t learn from experience, I have extensive interaction with afghans so i knowRecommend

  • omaranis

    don’t worry that’s not gonna happen :)Recommend

  • omaranis

    sure then we will shift those mujahideen fighters to Kashmir to use those weapons against indian forces :)Recommend

  • omaranis

    braham bugti and numerous other terrorists were harbored and financed by india, Dawood Ibrahim is an international businessman not a terrorist who openly enjoys the trust and confidence of a lot of members of indian parliament.Recommend

  • omaranis

    In his book, Abdali doesn’t delve much into the changing geopolitical dynamic. However, he does believe that his country can act as a catalyst through a reconciliation process between the two bitter neighbours.
    lol that’s a big statement from a country who cannot manage its own internal affairs, its like offering to put out fire in the neighborhood while helplessly watching your own house burn down.Recommend

  • omaranis

    after fighting Russia with Pakistani help, afghans will now fight india with Pakistani help…..nice.Recommend

  • omaranis

    These are questions that trouble the war torn country. With the Hindu right-wing regime in Delhi indulging in jingoistic rhetoric when dealing with its Islamic neighbour, it’s only natural that this growing animosity will also play out in Afghanistan.
    well Afghanistan should have thought about this before partnering with india. who do you share the border with? who are you dependent on for transit trade? who feeds you? who did you run to for protection and help?…………….points to ponder……….. Afghanistan would be the same after another 500 years.Recommend

  • numbersnumbers

    BTW, can Pakistan provide toilets to its population????Recommend

  • Humza

    Afghans may call their own country Chirkistan or whatever else when they leave it but at some point they have to all stop running away, smuggling for asylum in foreign lands and living hand to mouth on social assistance or menial jobs. This was said by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani himself when he referred to Afghan refugees as dog washers in Germany and Europe where they live in ghettos instead of working in Afghanistan to build it up. Stop referring to Afghanistan as Chirkistan, Chatalistan or what the American soldiers call Assghanistan. Instead of working for Indian interests like Afghans have done for 70 years, it’s time to work in good faith with neighbours. If so many millions of Afghans want to live in Pakistan preferring it over their own country or even India, does it not make sense to have good relations with Pakistan?Recommend

  • LS

    Fighting Russia with paki help.. lol… never knew that being a transit country for arms means providing help while ISI constantly back-stabbed and continues to do so for strategic depth…Recommend

  • LS

    Afghans simply want to invest money into their development not fighting.. there is no solution needed. Recommend

  • Grace

    Read about volunteer Muslims from Pakistan and elsewhere that joined the struggle. Pakistanis joined despite Afghan governments being Indian lackeys for decades.Recommend

  • LS

    Those so called “Volunteers” were either terrorists or ISI agents.. get your facts straight. No one asked them to fight. they were fighting to gain control of Afghanistan.. Not to free Afghanistan since 1971 when Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto sent 7 ISI agents… WAY BEFORE RUSSIANS ATTACKED AFGHANISTAN…Recommend

  • Patwari

    Well,, see, Saudia paid and US supplied the guns, to train the Afghans. to fight the Russians, who invaded their country.
    to reach a warm water port. Gawadar. At that time and even NOW Russians do not have warm water ports. Anywhere.
    During the freezing Russian winters, their ports, including the
    Black Sea ports freeze up.[but none of this will make sense to a hindu.]
    So, the Russians, they failed miserably. Russians are like Punjabis,…self centered, provincial, and not well educated.
    and very ethnically minded.
    You savvy?Recommend

  • gp65

    Bugti lives in Switzerland not India. So what do you mean harbored in India? India has so far never financed Baloch freedom fighters but if Pakistan continues its policy of using non-state actors against India, it should review its policy.
    If Dawood is an international businessman, why does Pakistan deny that he lives in India? The realityis that he has been convicted of 1993 serial bombing in Mumbai and is unquestionably a terrorist. Unsure which parliamentarians in India trust him.Recommend

  • gp65

    Feroz is a Parsi Indian and has been writing in ET long before wb started commenting here.Recommend

  • gp65

    There was not a single soldier from Pakistani army that was involved in Afghan war. Pakistan was simply used as a conduit for money arms from Saudi Arabia and USA to mujahidinRecommend

  • np

    25 million refugees? I guess you are confusing million with lakh. In any case Pakistan was paid for keeping the refugees by UN. IT did not do anything for free.Recommend

  • Ze-yom-Durrani

    Mate I was referring to Pakistan not my Motherland AFGHANISTAN, I will not compare whole Pakistan with messy toilet in Afghanistan.
    When it comes to good relation you better go and lecture your own politicians to have normal relation with their neighbour cause except china who you are milking there is no neighbouring country that is happy with you guys or has at least normal relation.
    The ones who apply for social benefits are merely Afghans, we are not a country of 180 million and any hosting country can afford to provide a merely 1000 refugees with jobs. We have mentioned in the past and will mention again that there are scores of Pakistanis who have sought asylum pretending to be Afghans.
    A good example is the terrorist who went on rampage in a train in Germany, there are scores of Pakistanis who can’t talk even Pashtu and claim to be from Kandahar or Helmand or Jalabaad. You can find heaps of them in Australia where they came by boat and abusing the social benefits.. there are documentaries about the false claims they have made – too late to return them to their pakland!
    Those Afghans who stay in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and prefer to stay there is not because they think they are refugees, rather they believe the Durand line is just a line.
    In relation to Afghans in India, let me ask you a question, given the friendly relationship Pakistan has with India! why so many of your artists go and beg for a tiny roles in Bollywood movies.. is it because they prefer India? they have gone to the point that a Pakistani actress had to preform pole dance, very Islamic and someone was chanting Pakistan zindabad ! lol
    Think about what I wrote and think before writing anything to an Afghan.Recommend

  • LS

    ha ha ha ha… warm water port — Gawadar… No they did don’t need any port.. like all pakistanis you think world is after you because you have something people want.. No you have nothing that people want.. NOTHING..

    Look at the traffic from your stupidity called warm water port..

    Almost nothing lands there.. The port has been in operation for more that 9 YEARS (was completed in 2007). Two of the companies have already left the operations (Singaporean and Pakistani) now handed over to Chinese..

    BTW: Russians already have a port that does not freeze..Kaliningrad never freezes.. [Learn some geography to know where it is..]

    Stop living in history and get current.. but I know it won’t make any sense to these folks

    When was the last time Kaliningrad, sevastopol or Sochi were frozen? Russians are better educated than Pakistani Punjabis.. ANY DAY…Recommend

  • LS

    These are the lies they peddle to amuse themselves and call themselves Martial race (having won nothing EVER). A race that could not defend their religion, land (what is today pakistan, they have never ruled themselves… NEVER … or even fight for freedom.. (Indian Muslims mostly from bihar, UP did most of the work for pakistan).. what can they do but cook up fake stories to please themselves… Which is why they had to resort to bastardizing the history to make themselves sound grand, associated themselves with Turko-Mongols and do not hesitate to call their oppressors as their heroes and ancestors.. what did you expect?Recommend

  • Dk
  • Dk

    Spoken like a true terrorist sponsoring country aka PakistanRecommend

  • wanky

    you are already did this in continuing doing so
    please read wikipedia because your madarsa edu. dont tell you you this truthRecommend

  • wanky

    i didn’t read the name of the author but its looks like some pakistani writing this until i read the name of the author. i now know why the indian media does not allow youRecommend

  • wanky

    sir best reply.Recommend

  • wanky

    why india needs “strategic depth” in Afghanistan. please explain
    what india achieve form so called “strategic depth” in Afghanistan. there is some merit in itRecommend

  • wanky

    why the indian has right wing regime but there is none in pakistan i am surprised ?Recommend