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

Published: August 27, 2016
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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

Sanjay Kumar

The author is a New Delhi based journalist covering South Asian and international politics. He tweets as @destinydefier (twitter.com/destinydefier).

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