IPCS Discussion

Afghanistan-Pakistan-India: A Paradigm Shift

05 Sep, 2016    ·   5117

Sarral Sharma reports on the proceedings of the discussion held on 11 August 2016

On 11 August 2016, the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS) hosted the third interaction held under the aegis of the IPCS' Twentieth Anniversary Plenum Series. The Ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to India, H.E. Dr. Shaida Mohammad Abdali, discussed issues covered in his 2016 book, titled 'Afghanistan-Pakistan-India: A Paradigm Shift.' The discussion was opened by Mr Atul Chaturvedi, Chairman, Governing Council, IPCS.

Dr Shaida Mohammad Abdali
Ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to the Republic of India

The book Afghanistan-Pakistan-India: A Paradigm Shift sheds light on the current unusual circumstances in the subcontinent. The status quo has not changed in the past many years. The book suggests that a 'paradigm' shift is required in order to evade the progressively perilous situation in the Afghanistan-Pakistan-India region. There are many writings that are linked to either Afghanistan-Pakistan or Afghanistan-India, but not a book that collectively talks about the three countries. This book focuses more on the common interests than the conflicts, in order to look for a solution to all the contentious problems in the region.

Being a point of contact between Central Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia and the West Asia, Afghanistan is currently the missing link for ensuring a smooth transit of people, trade, energy and goods within the massive region. With instability in Afghanistan, a lot has been at stake in the region, mainly pertaining to security and economic development. The price of indifference and contribution to the current regional crisis will become too high. Thus, the background deals with Afghanistan and the various challenges it is currently facing and its overall implications in the region. 

The book highlights the importance of the stable relations between Afghanistan, India and Pakistan in the region and discusses the implications of miscalculated policies implemented by India, Pakistan and the US after the defeat of the Soviets which led to the rise of the Taliban.

Factors of Instability in Afghanistan
Mainly, there are two reasons for instability in Afghanistan: external and internal. The external factors have got more to do with the strategic location of Afghanistan, and how Afghanistan - a landlocked country - has been a victim of its strategic location. Because of its relative economic failure and persistent security crisis, other countries in the region have not relied on it as a transit route to the Central Asia or West Asia. Many countries have used it as a battleground and not as an economic transit route that would have had positive impacts on the country's overall growth. More importantly, Afghanistan's unresolved issues with Pakistan such as the Durand Line, and the latter's use of extremism have gravely impacted the former's economic development. On the hand other, internal factors include Afghanistan's own government structure, lack of skilled labour, lack of merit based appointments, corruption, drug production, among others. Afghanistan is not a 'failed' state - it is a persistently weak state that is moving towards failure. Thus, it is important to look at current criteria on how to fix Afghanistan's problems in order to take it towards the path of development.

Both Afghanistan and Pakistan share a historic relationship. Both countries have been called 'twins' because of their shared values and histories. The Pakistani state's engagement with Afghanistan is more problematic in the current context. Pakistan has always tried to assert itself as a regional power by dominating Afghanistan. Former Pakistani diplomat Hussain Haqqani has said Pakistan has always tried to kill two birds with a single stone, whic that include ensuring Kashmir's inclusion in Pakistan and resolving the Pashtun question in Afghanistan. 

Pakistan has always pursued a policy of 'strategic depth' in Afghanistan through arming, funding, and training terrorist groups. According to Professor K Warikoo of Jawaharlal Nehru University, Pakistan has the these strategic goals in the region: having a client regime in Afghanistan; to neutralise the demand of Pashtunistan; to secure coveted overland access to Central Asia; and establishing 'strategic depth' against India using Afghanistan.

In the historical context, Britain used Afghanistan as a buffer state between the Indian subcontinent and Central Asia. The issue of the Durand Line remains unresolved between Afghanistan and Pakistan. It was Afghanistan that opposed Pakistan's entry into the UN. The struggle of Pashtunistan has been a joint struggle of Pashtuns and Balochis together after the creation of Pakistan. The issue triggered the creation of the Afghanistan cell in Pakistan military during the Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's regime. Radicalism in Pakistan was nurtured prior to the Soviet invasion in early 70s in order to fulfil its goal of defending against certain issues such as demands of Pashtunistan. The Soviet invasion gave Pakistan an opportunity to dominate the politics in Afghanistan. The US turned a blind eye on Pakistan's activities in the Afghanistan. When the Soviets were about to be defeated, Pakistan invaded Afghanistan. The Jihadi elements it used against the Soviets were now used against the people of Afghanistan.

Radicalism has not been only damaging the countries that have been the victims also simultaneously those countries that perpetuate terrorism. Nobody can dispute the fact that the impact of terrorism has been widespread, and it has even impacted Pakistan. The use of terrorism is becoming double edged as it can hit in both directions. 

Ahmed Rashid, a scholar who is aware of the Taliban's policies, has said that after 2001, the U-turn of Pakistan government on allowing the US to topple the Taliban government and their associates were to do, first, what is required for a yes and, second, to do what is required to do no. "Pakistan's double standards in using the coalition group in the beginning was a yes, but later on, no, in order to use terrorist groups in Afghanistan. 

Afghanistan and India have shared a 2000 year old relationship. Mauryans gave Buddhism to Afghans, whereas the latter gave Sufism to India. When India was fighting for its freedom, the first Indian government in exile formed by freedom fighters was in Kabul in 1915. The relationship has always been cordial except during the period of the Taliban rule. While looking in the current context, former Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's decision to support the Soviet in Afghanistan was a deep thinking of what was going to happen after its retreat in 1989. The decision to back the Soviet was a pragmatic one, which was to find a political solution in Afghanistan. However, Pakistan's use of Jihad against the Soviets led to the destruction of Afghanistan. India's relations with Afghanistan have become very deep after 2001. India is the first strategic partner of Afghanistan in the subcontinent. The assistance that subsequently followed has been aplenty such as in fields of education, health, and economy, among others. India followed its 'no-exit' policy after the withdrawal of foreign troops in 2012.

Afghanistan shares a strained relationship with Pakistan whereas it has a strategic partnership with India. The two countries need to play a constructive role to bring peace and stability in Afghanistan. As Afghanistan has always been geographic bridge between various countries in the region, it can thus help bridging the gap between India and Pakistan. Afghanistan can revitalise its role as a connector to bring both countries to the table and help in catalysing the peace dialogue. Today Afghanistan is moving on a journey towards standing on its feet and that can only be done if the local government is working on its own with the assistance of regional partners.

Various economic projects such as the Chabahar port - which will pass through Afghanistan and connect India to the Central Asia - TAPI and CASA1000 will provide economic development to Afghanistan as well as to other countries in the region. But all these projects will require a conducive security environment in Afghanistan that will ultimately benefit all countries involved in these projects.

Afghanistan would like to have best of the relations with all the countries in the region. There is a big 'if', that all countries will play a constructive role to bring peace and stability in the country. It wants to have similar strategic relations agreement with Pakistan as that it has with India. Afghanistan would like to have a win-win situation with every country involved in providing stability in the country. It is already suffering from widespread terrorism with the Taliban gaining grounds in various parts of the country. Thus, it requires security and economic cooperation in order to fight the menace of terrorism. Cooperation does not take place in common circumstances. Stephen Cohen has said that cooperation does not imply an absence of conflict. He has also said that it takes place in a situation when in which the actors perceive that their policies are actually or potentially are in conflict not when they are in harmony.

The book is the starting point which suggests two major initiatives: inclusion of India in Afghanistan Pakistan Trade and Transit Agreement (APTTA), in exchange for Pakistan getting access to Central Asia through Afghanistan. The APTTA currently excludes India. Afghanistan would want India's inclusion in the Agreement in order to make it part of the journey towards economic development. 

Afghanistan is not just going to be a potential force between the three countries, but for the Indian subcontinent as a whole, connecting it with the Central Asia. 

The Great Game played in Afghanistan has been self-destructive and self-inflictive for all countries that played a part in it. The Game, which began during the time of the Alexander the Great, continues in the subcontinent. More importantly, the issue is as to whether the region has learned any lesson or not. The Game may still be there but the logical conclusion should be to change its results in the region. The countries in the subcontinent need to have proper policies vis-a-vis one another. A new paradigm is required, one that should be based on the win-win situation. Only then will the dream of an Asian Age be justified.

In 2011, around 120000 troops were part of the foreign forces in Afghanistan. After the withdrawal in 2014, only a handful of foreign forces were left in Afghanistan. Thus, the burden on the Afghan security forces became ten-fold. Still, the local forces have managed to single-handedly deal with various security challenges in the country. However, the local forces will require constant support from India, and NATO forces to make them capable enough to handle threats coming from inside and outside of Afghanistan.

Currently, terrorist organisations are concentrating on both southern and northern Afghanistan. The Islamic State (IS) too has entered Afghanistan from the North, through Central Asia, and from the East, through Pakistan. Afghanistan is fighting many countries' war in its territory. The IS threat could make the whole region unstable and insecure. Countries in the region should ensure that Afghanistan is not ignored. It is facing challenges that are linked to the wider region and hence it becomes the collective responsibility for the entire region to take care of the security situation in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan deals with China because the latter has more influence on Pakistan. There are places in China that are affected by terrorism, and narcotics related issues. Afghanistan and China share common problems that need to be addressed before it gets too late. Chinese intervention is more to do with finding a solution to these persistent problems. Afghanistan believes China will help in the rebuilding process and not try to imbalance the situation.

The solution to contentious problems in the subcontinent will begin with economic cooperation, and a political dialogue will follow the suit. After solving easier problems first, the more difficult ones will be tackled later on. Once the economic interests are intertwined, the most difficult issues such as the Durand Line and Kashmir Conflict will be resolved in a peaceful environment.

Rapporteured by Sarral Sharma, Researcher, IPCS