Indo-Afghan strategic partnership
The very outcome the policy of strategic depth was intended to prevent has finally come to pass, precisely because of that policy. Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh have just signed an Indo-Afghan strategic partnership agreement in New Delhi. The agreement deepens existing ties in the trade and culture fields, but most significantly, in security cooperation. It envisages Indian training, equipping and capacity building of the Afghan security forces in the run up to and after the US/Nato withdrawal by 2014. Pakistan’s so-called strategic depth policy could be seen as consisting of denying India influence in Afghanistan, which our military and intelligence establishment has tended to view as its ‘backyard’, a description fiercely contested by all Afghans, even the Taliban. The ingress with the Afghan security forces yields a level of influence at the heart of the Afghan state that can only be understood in the light of history. The Soviet-trained and equipped Afghan army in the past was imbued with revolutionary communist ideas transmitted by exposure to what the Soviet Union represented. The Republican coup of 1973, as the communist one of 1978, would probably never have come about without the tacit and explicit backing of the Afghan army. Indian-trained and equipped Afghan security forces will almost certainly repeat that historical parallel, this time to the advantage of India. The ‘nutcracker’ squeeze from east and west so feared by our military strategists may well now become a reality, especially given the recent frictions between Kabul and Islamabad over the safe havens of Pakistani soil used by the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani network to attack US/Nato/Afghan forces across the border and the assassination of Burhanuddin Rabbani. On the latter issue, the Afghan National Directorate of Security has accused Pakistan of not cooperating in the investigation into the murder. Of course our foreign office, in usual mode, denies this. In short, our brilliant strategists have succeeded beyond measure in driving Afghanistan into the arms of India. How has all this come to pass?
After 9/11 and the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, whereas India projected soft power into Afghanistan, having by now invested some $ 2 billion in reconstruction and infrastructure building in Afghanistan, Pakistan stuck to its old paradigm of offering safe havens to and supporting a proxy war by the Taliban and Haqqani network. A golden opportunity to turn the page and befriend Afghanistan in its hour of need was thus missed. Afghan resentment of long standing interference by Pakistan in its internal affairs has wiped out whatever goodwill Islamabad had earned during the days of the anti-Soviet resistance. Now, Pakistan is hated by most Afghans whereas India is seen as a benefactor and true friend. The shortsightedness of our strategic planners stands badly exposed thereby.
The Indo-Afghan partnership now threatens a renewed and prolonged proxy-cum-civil war in Afghanistan after the foreign forces depart. With Afghanistan not being at peace, Pakistan and the region cannot hope for things to settle down. This war will inevitably slip across borders and destabilise the region further. Pakistan’s military establishment has tried, and failed, to convince the world that it has genuine and legitimate interests in Afghanistan and therefore cannot leave things to take their own course. Had that ‘interest’ been confined to having a friendly government in Kabul while recognising the sovereign right of the Afghan people to manage their own affairs themselves, and backed up by help rather than sabotage of the Afghan polity and society, Islamabad may have obtained more purchase. As things stand now, Afghanistan will continue to lose a great deal in the prolongation of its internal conflict, in which the contending sides may be backed by rivals India and Pakistan. But the real loser in the end will be none other than Pakistan itself, internationally already isolated, regionally seen as a troublemaker extraordinaire.